Here's the scenario: You think your car has been stolen, repossessed, wrecked or the victim of some other senseless act of automotive violence. As the week drags on, the news -- sometimes delivered by your closest friends and relatives -- gets worse and worse.
Then, just when you think your vehicular nightmare has kicked into a new gear, you're presented with a tricked-out, glammed-up, off-the-hook version of your old heap, transformed from junkyard dog to best in show in only seven days.
No, it's not Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, it's TLC's "Overhaulin'."
A high-octane combination of the makeover and hidden-camera genres, "Overhaulin'" is airing its second season Tuesdays, offering up a new batch of hapless motorists whose devoted loved ones make sure their freewheeling dreams come true, with a little help from co-hosts and chief pranksters Chris Jacobs and Courtney Hansen, along with top-notch auto designer Chip Foose.
"I'm not really the Santa Claus one," Jacobs said. "I feel like Chip Foose and the guys who are working on the car are more Santa Claus. But the devil? Definitely. But I'm like that anyway."
The team, led by executive producer Bud Brutsman, won't do just any car. Boring econoboxes and busted-out station wagons are probably off the list, along with vintage models that need sensitive restoration instead of an extreme makeover. What the team looks for is a car that just needs a little love -- and a lot of work -- to become mad cool.
For example, on a sunny summer day in Canoga Park, Calif., a 1970 Monte Carlo goes from beloved beater to beauty (the owner having been told it was riddled with bullet holes after being used in a crime). The makeover includes new wheels and brakes, new innards (including a supercharger) and a sleek paint job that includes subtle "ghost flames" on the hood.
"Most people can't believe the quality is what it is," Foose said on the frantic final day of the build.
"It's very high, especially for a week. Most of the cars that we're doing are going to car shows and winning, which is exciting. Now these owners are going for a weekend car show, and they're going home with a trophy."
The inspiration for the show came from the last-minute rush Brutsman observed while watching designers complete flashy show cars for manufacturers and auto shows. Like anything with a deadline, the last few days are the roughest.
"Leaders will rise to the occasion, focus," he said, "doesn't matter how tired they are. Character-wise and drama-wise, you'll get a few people that will fold under the pressure. There's no turning back."
Hansen's the Girl -- er, Dude -- on the Set
Leggy, blonde Courtney Hansen may have done her stint in modeling, but catching up with her on the set of TLC's "Overhaulin'," the runway seems to have been replaced by the speedway -- or at least the pit.
Baseball cap perched on her head and grimy from fingertips to elbows, Hansen isn't just a presenter on the show, she's one of the guys -- or dudes, as she likes to put it.
"They're like, 'We have four guys working on the brakes, and one girl,' " she said, "and I said, 'No, five dudes!'"
Hansen gets to show off her acting ability in the various pranks played on the unwitting car owners. She then gets to show off her mechanical ability in the garage as she pitches in with the build (hence the grime).
"I definitely think it's sexy when women break out in a traditionally male-dominated world," she said, taking a break outside a garage during the last day of a build, "but some guys find it threatening. Maybe some still have chauvinistic ideas, and maybe that's why it's difficult for them to trust a woman welder or a woman engine tuner.
"Maybe men just think of it as their world, and suddenly, we're breaking into it. I wonder if these guys like the fact that I hang out with them?"
Birthplace: Orono, Minn.
Favorite wheels: 1965 Mustang convertible.
Current wheels: Brand-spanking new black 2004 Ford Thunderbird convertible (customized by Chip Foose, of course).
Favorite TV wheels: The General Lee from "The Dukes of Hazzard" (otherwise known as a bright orange 1969 Dodge Charger).
Not just a pretty face: Hansen has a degree in marketing from Florida State University.
TV history: Host of Travel Channel's "Killer Golf."
-- Kate O'Hare
Overhaulin' on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on TLC