By Richard Ecke

“I love cars,” bellows Jim Eli from the television screen.

The Great Falls man starred last year in a surprise hit called “Pick, Flip and Drive,” but viewers are most likely to have seen it on a smart phone, iPad, laptop, or even a computer, rather than on a television set.

The amusing car show appears on a video platform known as Facebook Watch, an arm of the social media giant. And this Montana-based show has garnered plenty of attention, even if it can be a little hard to find online.

Eli’s enthusiasm, and his colorful family, shine through on the program.

“They’re great people and they love cars,” says Dirk Gibson, an executive producer for the show in Great Falls. “Every episode has been viewed over a million times.”

“It’s a big deal,” Jim Eli says with a grin.

Now the show may gain even greater prominence as it goes beyond Facebook Watch to appear on A+E’s FYI Channel on Saturday evenings this fall, beginning Saturday, September 7. (Check your cable, satellite or streaming service listings to find the FYI Channel.)

If the re-airing of “Pick, Flip and Drive” is well-received, a second season may be ordered which could be co-produced by Facebook and A+E.

The first season on Facebook features eight episodes, filmed around Montana, especially in Great Falls, where Eli and his family have operated vehicle-related lots, auctions, and other car-related businesses for several decades.

On the program, the Elis locate and buy a vehicle to restore, send it for restoration to various Great Falls area body shops and other businesses, and then offer the vehicle for sale at the end of the program on Facebook Marketplace. All eight vehicles restored on the show have been sold.

A+E is excited about bringing the Eli family’s show on board. This time, people can watch it on television.

“A+E Networks is thrilled to partner with Facebook on content that appeals to our viewers who are hardcore fans of automotive content,” says Jordan Harman, an executive producer for A+E Networks. “Facebook Watch’s original series ‘Pick, Flip & Drive,’ is a perfect fit. Jim Eli and his hilarious family adventures felt like a breath of fresh air in the automotive TV landscape. The incredible work his team does to these barn finds while turning them into one-of-a-kind vehicles is a sight to behold.”

Jim’s wife, Carol, theorizes why the program became a hit.

“That’s because it’s a redneck show,” she says.

It’s as if “Duck Dynasty” had a car show, muses Gibson, one of few television producers based in Montana. Gibson was out shooting another Montana show he helped create, “Young Guns,” featuring teenagers and set in the Fairfield area. The Elis’ auto auction appeared in the show, and a light bulb went off for both Gibson and his show co-creator, Sam Wasserman.

“This is a show,” Gibson recalls thinking. About two years later, it made its debut on Facebook Watch.

Among those appearing on the show in Season One are Jim; son Jason, an expert in body work; son Josh, a mechanical whiz; nephew Cory, the money man; and Carol. All are Elis. Filming took place from summer of 2018 through January 2019.

One amusing episode featured a 1958 Chevy pickup that the Elis needed an engine for, so they quickly focused on Carol’s 1970 Chevy Chevelle, a speedy car with a snappy 350-cubic-inch engine in it. The Eli men decided to swipe the engine from her car and put it into the pickup truck.

“I didn’t tell her,” Jim recalls with a chuckle. Cameras rolled when Carol went to start her own car.

“Of course it won’t start,” Jim remembers. “She doesn’t know the engine’s gone.”

Carol says the program had to bleep out some of her salty language, during that episode and others.

As it turns out, Carol sports a bit of a lead foot when it comes to driving her Chevelle.

“She’s a nut behind the wheel,” her husband says.

“I like speed,” Carol agrees.

Episode 3 features a 1965 Ford Mustang coupe a young woman planned to restore before she was killed tragically in an airplane crash. The white Mustang ended up a beautiful red color, fully restored, and her parents were pleased.

Each show ends with a vehicle being offered for sale on Facebook Marketplace, the social media outlet’s sales arm, for $25,000 or less.

“We want the viewers to be able to buy them,” Jim says.

“Pick, Flip and Drive” was the first car show launched on Facebook Watch. The program varies locations and also uses a variety of body shops and other auto repair outlets to restore the cars.

“It’s not just a car show,” Gibson says. “It has a heartbeat.” He adds the show’s first-year budget was close to $3 million and boosted northcentral Montana’s economy.

Jim Eli’s favorite vehicle restored so far on the show was a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which talented specialists converted from what he calls a “grandma car” to a white sporty vehicle.

“It came out fantastic!” Jim says.

The show’s originality helped win the program four Telly awards, which honors excellence in video and television across all screens. Jim Eli says he was nominated for best narrator in a category, although he didn’t win.

If “Pick, Flip and Drive” continues, Jim has his eyes on other cars to restore.

“We want to do a Dodge Charger,” Jim says. “There’s a lot of these beautiful cars out there that need restoring in Montana.” Montana appears to be a gold mine of old collector cars that have not rusted out in the state’s dry climate, Jim reports.

The Elis hope the show will go on, but that will depend on how many viewers tune in this fall to watch Season One, this time around on the FYI Channel.

Even if the show only lasted one season, Jim says he will be able to look back at 2018 and say, “Hey, look what we did.”

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