Downey’s Dream Cars Takes Classic Cars into the Modern – And Electric – Age

Robert Downey Jr. raids his collection of classic cars to create more environmentally friendly yet still beautiful icons in the Max series Downey's Dream Cars. And then, he's giving them away!

Robert Downey Jr. Featured Image Photo

Robert Downey Jr., lends his star power, and his cars.

It’s an interesting premise: Marvel star Robert Downey, Jr. restores cars from his own collection of classic cars to make them environmentally friendly, from full electric conversions to bio diesel, to simply installing more fuel-efficient engines. It’s all captured on a new show on HBO Max called Downey’s Dream Cars. But, RDJ isn’t the one under the hood or wrenching metal; he calls on his friend Chris Mazzilli, co-owner of New York-based Dream Car Restorations to help connect him with people who can do the eco-mods. The result? Six episodes that offer up RDJ’s trademark wit and snark, great entertainment, a peek into what it takes to make classic cars better for the planet and a chance to win one of the cars that was modified.

Why Would Someone Do This to Their Classic Cars?

Let’s get this most important question out of the way first. At its heart, Downey’s Dream Cars is a show about a man who is reconciling two of his passions: a love for old cars and his stewardship over the environment. Through the show also helps to advance the mission of the Footprint Coalition; RDJ and the FC are giving away all the modified cars. Anyone can enter to win by making a donation.  But more than attracting attention to the mission, the show is full of interesting people and both heart-felt and funny moments. There’s also plenty of eye candy in his car collection, so let’s get to the good stuff.

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Downey’s Dream Cars: The Collection

These are the cars that RDJ & team modify:

  • 1972 Chevy K10 Pickup – electric conversion
  • 1969 Mercedes 280 SE – biodiesel conversion
  • 1966 Buick Riviera – modern gasoline engine with a twist
  • 1965 Chevy Corvette Stingray – electric conversion
  • 1985 Chevy El Camino – modern gas engine, turned into an offroad vehicle
  • 1972 VW Bus – electric conversion

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It’s the People Who Make this Show Fun

For me, the most interesting thing about the show is the people who actually do the conversions. They’re true car guys at heart and are oftentimes conflicted by what Downey asks them to do. This is no more apparent than when he asks them to convert his untouched, all-original 1965 Stingray to an electric vehicle. Even Rich Benoit of YouTube fame takes pause. He did enjoy converting the Chevy K10 to an electric truck, so in the end, he decided he was up for the challenge. And that’s the thing. They’re always up for the challenge. Innovation has always been at the heart of the automotive industry. Some might even say it’s the American way. 

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Rdj And Team On Set Of Downey'S Dream Cars Photo

RDJ and team on set of Downey’s Dream Cars. Photo:

Innovation is Always Interesting

These guys are innovators, and so we learn a lot alongside them as the show goes on. We get to look at some of the challenges that come with eco-friendly modifications, such as making modern components fit in spaces that were never designed for things like battery packs. An interesting challenge that came up was when RDJ wanted to convert his 1966 Buick Riviera to a hybrid. But there was just no way to fit the much larger transmission into the space without ruining the interior of the car. The compromise was to install a modern, more fuel-efficient gas-combustion engine while adding an Aclima air quality sensor to the roof. This essentially turned the car into a mobile lab capable of gathering air quality data in real time. Woven into each episode are interviews with other innovators who are working on various aspects of environmentally-friendly automotive design, like Derek Jenkins, VP of Design at Lucid Motors. We learn their thoughts on where they think the industry is going – which right now, is anyone’s guess. In one episode, RDJ says, “The future is a hodgepodge of experiments, as all breakthroughs are.”

Robert Downey Jr. With The Downey'S Dream Cars Collection. Photo: @Rdjpicsvault Via Instagram

Robert Downey Jr. with his dream car collection. Photo: @rdjpicsvault via Instagram

Learning is Fun 

The team takes side trips throughout the show, including one out to Clean Energy Biofuels, which is a company that collects used cooking oil from area restaurants and converts it to biodiesel. We get to see the process they go through, which includes several steps of filtration and purification. The fourth step is called transesterification, which is what turns it into fuel, and finally, refinement. Interestingly, they give a quick lesson that shows how the color of the fuel varies, depending on what type of fat was used. It actually reminded me of how honey comes in various colors based on the type of flowers the nectar was collected from, or what time of the year it was. Another nice aspect is that Downey also offers lots of easily digestible nuggets as to how cars and their different systems work, so you don’t have to be “in the industry,” as they say, to enjoy an episode.

Downey’s Dream Cars Has Heart

For the big finish of the Mercedes episode (it belonged to his mother) RDJ has the guys bring the car to an Oyster Bar in Montauk, New York, where he is waiting with his equally wise-cracking young son, Exton Downey. It’s fitting, as the car is a family heirloom. The car rolls in with a new matte green and gold paint job. RDJ says, “There’s something kind of official-looking about it.” He’s given a tour of the special filtration system that will keep the fats in the biodiesel from clogging up the fuel lines. In the end, RDJ lets Exton sit in the driver’s seat and shows him a picture of his grandmother. “Don’t you think she’d be proud of this conversion?” Exton agrees. “I know the technicals, but you know how to bring the heart,” he says.

El Camino Converted By Robert Downey Jr.s Dream Cars Photo

The El Camino converted by Robert Downey Jr.’s Dream Cars team. Photo:

A Personal Surprise

I loved what they did to this El Camino! This was my favorite conversion. Why? Because it’s an El Camino. You know, the eternally confusing conundrum of a car. Or is it a truck? See what I mean? Chris Mazzilli convinces Downey to replace the old combustion engine with a modern combustion engine which is smaller, more fuel-efficient, and more powerful. They also lifted it, added a custom roof rack, and bigger wheels and tires. The result was a super cool-looking, environmentally friendly, off-roading beast of a machine. 

So why should you watch this show?

If you’re already an RDJ fan, you’ll appreciate his wise-guy snarkiness. The show itself is informative, with side trips to visit experts who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening with the planet. The show isn’t at all in-your-face, nor does it virtue-signal or shame you for driving a gas-powered car. It’s more like an interesting take on one man’s journey to reconcile his love of cars with his passion for the environment. You can stream all six episodes of Downey’s Dream Cars on HBO Max.

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Cindy is a life-long car enthusiast who began writing about cars in 2001 for As a kid, she... More about Cindy Stagg