How Danny Koker Turned His Passion for Cars into a Hit TV Show

How Danny Koker Turned His Passion for Cars into a Hit TV Show

For 10 seasons, History Channel’s “Counting Cars” featured the restoration and customization of vehicles from choppers to hot rods at Count’s Kustoms owned by Danny “The Count” Koker, along with the wheeling and dealing of them. As he lives and breathes cars, the Las Vegas car flipper has been known to do whatever it takes to acquire those that he wants, even making cash-on-the-spot deals. He was the creative genius behind every project, so it wasn’t surprising that his hobby evolved into a thriving business and a successful reality TV show.

Get to know Danny Koker

Daniel Nicholas Koker II was born in 1964, in Ohio, USA, and spent the majority of his youth in Cleveland, or every summer with his cousins in Detroit, Michigan, from where his father hailed. As far back as he could remember, his interest lay in bikes and automobiles, as he grew up around them, saying that it was in his blood. At one time or another, his relatives on his father’s side had worked at Ford Motor Company, and one of his uncles was a biker, who had Harleys, Indians, and hot rods back then.

Danny was eight when his father bought him his first motorcycle, and he’s been riding two wheels since then. If he were to single out a car that started it all for him, it would be the 1966 GT 350 that his father brought home one day, and which the latter eventually passed down to him before he died in 2008 at the age of 75. ‘That Mustang…What an impression a car like that makes on a nine-year-old kid – going into the garage at night when no one’s around, opening things up and tinkering with things.’ He understood how people become attached to or fall in love with all sorts of things – clothes, shoes, or pieces of jewelry; for him, it was cars and bikes.

As to what got him hooked on customizing cars, it was his first car, a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28. He was 17 when he took the car apart, customized it from front to back, and made it into a street-style Can-Am race car. Restoring a classic car or saving it from being relegated to a pile of junk is something that he loves to do, being the car addict that he is. Even if it was for a customer, he still found it a blast to bring people’s dreams back to life.

His passion for music

Danny’s father was a musician, composer-arranger, and singer in many bands and quartets such as The Cathedral Quartet, Foggy River Boys, The Rex Humbard Family Singers and The Koker Family Singers. As a pianist, he played for Pat Boone and his family, June Carter and Johnny Cash, and Mahalia Jackson.  He brought up his son in music, and 11-year-old Danny once performed at Carnegie Hall. Danny’s background was in gospel music, and he was later influenced by R&B and hard rock in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

‘Music really really feeds my soul,’ Danny said. He has been doing it for most of his life and only stepped away from it for a time when he focused on cars and motorcycles. Later on, he somehow found a balance between his shop and his hard rock band, Count’s 77, with him as the frontman. He owned a recording studio, and wrote the lyrics of most of the songs in their self-titled album “Soul Transfusion” released under Shrapnel Records. During weekends, he was out performing in various cities or at his rock club called Count’s Vamp’d Rock Bar & Grill. He feels a connection to his father every time he does music, and this is important to him.

His passion for cars

As of 2019, he had about 100 cars in his collection – at one point he had 135, but had been trying to slow down and get rid of some vehicles that he thought other people would enjoy more, considering he wasn’t spending that much time driving them. On a regular basis, he’d been personally driving around 25 to 30 cars, with the rest kept in what he referred to as dry storage, in which they were sort of put to sleep.

The most powerful one that he has in his collection is the 1932 Ford Roadster, one of the oldest hot rods in the US. He and his father bought it in 1983, and he kept it in the mid-1970s  configuration. The flame was done by Von Dutch, a pioneer in doing paint work in custom vehicles. It was chosen by Mattel Corporation for its Hot Wheels collection. The next one was a 1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S Super Quatro, an extremely rare car.

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Posted by Count’s Kustoms on Friday, September 15, 2017

Danny has a list of cars that he prays he never has to sell. On top of the list is his father’s ‘66 Mustang GT 350, followed by his mother’s 1955 Chevy Bel Air convertible with a turquoise and ivory finish. His mom had one when she was young, and his dad bought another one and restored it for her as a gift. Selling his cars had never been easy for Danny, and he always felt heartbroken whenever one left his shop. He even kept tabs on some of those cars, as he informed the new owners that if they ever wanted to get rid of them, they should give him a call, because he might want to buy them back.

His collection was already quite impressive, but there was one that he’d always wanted but never got his hands on – a 1972 Lamborghini Miura SV. He considered it one of the most gorgeous cars ever made, and came close to owning one years ago, and thought it was a done deal, but the guy from Palm Beach, Florida had got sentimental over the car at the last minute and couldn’t let it go. Danny understood where the guy was coming from as he’d done the same thing in the past.

Danny loves all kinds of cars for different reasons, and so when asked if he has a favorite, he said that he really can’t narrow it down to just one.

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From hobby to business

‘When you spend literally your entire life—starting as a hobby and then evolving into an actual business—it really is a self-taught type of thing.’ He shared that other than the basic shop class and automotive class he attended in high school, he learned whatever it was he needed to know by taking things apart to see how they worked, and then figuring out how to put them all back together. Danny set roots with Count’s Kustoms as a hobby shop in a small warehouse in Las Vegas for five years, before it officially became a business. They chose that name simply because everybody in Sin City already knew the Count, as it was Danny’s character when he hosted a television show that lasted about a decade.

The shop was initially focused on doing custom choppers; Danny hooked up with Shannon Aikau and they built a crazy chopper that he had in mind, and it went from there. People took notice, and word spread about their bikes. They made various kinds although leaning towards long bikes. ‘I feel like our bikes are a good combination of old school chopper…combined with modern drive trains so that they become functional.’ Many found their bikes to be cool but doubted that they would run, and he was happy to prove them wrong. He said that one could ride an 11-foot-long chopper all day long if it was built correctly, and its geometry was correct.

Interestingly, they didn’t make sketches of the bikes, they just sat around and talked ideas. He said that at his shop, everyone had ideas, and so they all worked together as a team to make them come to life. Style was the most important; their bikes had to look cool.

The shop was getting recognition, as their builds were being featured in magazines and TV shows, and this meant more work for them. Soon the business expanded, and he hired more mechanics, fabricators, and those that would do administrative work. Danny admitted to not being a morning person, so he would come in late after checking in with Kevin Mack, his right-hand man. He would make his rounds to see how everybody was doing, inspect the vehicles and see what state they were in, and then approve or critique the work.

Owning a business is great, as he’s his own boss. The downside is that he’s the one who’s ultimately responsible for everything. When the pressure and the stress got to be too much, he would get on the chopper and ride all the worries away. Riding a bike is therapeutic for him.

How does he choose his projects?

Danny said, ‘You’ve got to start with a decent enough vehicle that you feel you can make a profit from by the time you’re done with it.’ If it was only up to him, he would be looking for something he wished he could have had in the past, or he had a personal connection with. As a business owner, Danny is always checking the market on what cars are selling. He would make an assessment of both the creative and financial aspects of it – he had to know that if he did something to it, the car would look cool. Completing a project takes a lot of time and money, so it has to be worth it in the end.

Out of all the cars he’s restored, the one that meant a lot to him, he said, was the two-time Grammy Award winner Barry White’s 1979 Stutz IV-Porte. It was what Danny called ‘the Car of Kings’ as some of Hollywood’s Royalty owned one, including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr. The widow of the “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” singer Barry is a personal friend of Danny, and she asked for his help in locating the last car that her husband owned and drove.  Fortunately they found it, bought it back, and restored it to its former glory for Barry’s family.

The hardest project he tackled was a full custom chopper for Ozzy Osbourne, as he said, ‘It was really a challenging build, because we really wanted it to reflect what would be Ozzy’s flavor without it being like a theme bike.’ Since Ozzy loved crosses, the gas tank was done in the shape of a cross and there were five-spoke crosses on the wheels. They put a Gibson Flying V guitar on the back fender as a tribute to Ozzy’s guitar player, Randy Rhoads, who passed away years ago. The English heavy metal vocalist had this bike for a time before it changed hands – Danny bought it back, and it was on display in his showroom.

Danny’s foray into television

Most people only know Danny from “Pawn Stars” or “Counting Cars,” but his first venture into TV was in “Saturday Fright at the Movies.”

Danny’s father launched the TV station, Channel 29, home to the family’s award-winning show called “Rejoice” in the early 1980s in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1989, he started the KFBT, Channel 33, in Las Vegas Nevada, which later became a WB affiliate. Danny moved to Las Vegas in 1988, and at that time the TV station that he co-owned was looking for someone to host a late-night show that featured horror movies. He was chosen to do it, and they developed a character named Count Cool Rider, who was a vampire and a huge Elvis fan. He hosted the show from 1989 to 2000, and enjoyed doing it. Of note, the family sold the TV station to Montecito Broadcasting Corporation in 1997.

Guest appearances in “Pawn Stars”

History Channel’s reality TV series, “Pawn Stars,” premiered in 2009, which chronicled the operations of the family-run business, Gold & Silver Pawn Shop based in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was originally managed by the patriarch “Old Man” Harrison with his son Rick, grandson Corey, and Corey’s friend Chumlee.

As customers brought in a variety of items that they wanted to pawn or sell; there were instances when experts were called in to appraise those items, and Danny Koker was one of them. One time, he was asked to verify a 1968 Mustang GT fastback and its condition. It was the quintessential muscle car, identical to the one that Steve McQueen drove in the neo-noir action thriller, “Bullitt” (1968) – the car chase scene was regarded as the greatest in film history. The car owner wanted $20,000 for it, but Danny put it between $12,000 and $15,000 in the state it was in at that time. After haggling, the price was set at $12,500. It was returned to its former glory by Count’s Kustoms, and cost Rick $22,000, but he was happy with the transformation.

Danny and Rick are friends, and the former rode motorcycles with the latter’s brother for many years. With Danny’s expertise in cars, Rick was interested in making him a regular on the show. It turned out that the producers took notice of not just his skills but also his magnetic personality, and offered him his own reality TV show.

Danny headlines “Counting Cars” TV series

“Pawn Stars” spawned the spin-off series, “Counting Cars,” with Danny “The Count” Koker at the helm – it chronicled the day-to-day operations of his shop, Count’s Kustoms, as they restored and customized vehicles. He was always on the lookout for cars, motorcycles, or anything interesting, and often did a little wheeling and dealing on the spot, so he could give them a little style or flair. Next came the hard part, as he would have to decide if he would keep it or sell it.

The show was fun to watch even for non-car enthusiasts, and Danny believed that part of the reason was that it was ‘good, clean, family entertainment.’ He shared that initially, the producers tried to present him as a hard-ass kind of guy; they wanted him to be yelling and throwing things around. They convinced him to do that to appease the executives of Leftfield Pictures in New York, but as soon as they stopped filming, he started hugging his boys and telling them he was sorry, and they all began laughing about it. He said, ‘That’s just not me. The boys in my shop are like family. We’ve been together for years.’ After the executive producers watched some of the footage, they told Danny, ‘That is just not you.’ He said that they were then allowed to keep things real in the shop – the show aired for 10 seasons from 2012 to 2021.

Growing up, the three things that Danny was most passionate about and that he considered to be crucial in his life were music, motorcycles, and cars. It’s still the same to this day, and he said that he’s fortunate that he can do all three. Danny thought that Count’s Kustoms was just going to be a local hot rod and chopper shop, but because of the success of “Counting Cars,” it became known worldwide. When asked what his proudest moment was, he had a hard time answering, but said that it all boiled down to something that would make his father proud of him.

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