Rim Job

The price, the perspiration, and the inspired impracticality of pimpin' a ride.

Drew is on his way, and his car better be done when he gets there.

It'll take him maybe 45 minutes to make it down from Boynton Beach to a dark, dingy bay in a warehouse lodged against I-95 where his 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass has been transformed into a playa's fantasy piece.

But the boys at B+C Industries, the shop where the car is now being given the once-over twice, forgot one important detail. The tailpipe, dawg!

Drew's powder-blue miracle looks like a caricature of the car Granny would take to the A&P once a week — if it had been kidnapped and shot full of chrome and steroids.

The Cutlass actually does have a tailpipe, gleaming with a torpedo-like grace, extending under the car's rear bumper like a cigar in a fat cat's mouth. But it's not what Drew Burrell ordered. Drew, not exactly a man who avoids attention, has a concept for the Cutlass relying not only on sight but on sound. Thus, the crew at B+C has about 45 minutes to slice off that tailpipe and weld a new one on there, the right way. One that's pointed directly at the ground for maximum sonic menace.

What were they thinking?

Brian Stangznve and Karim Meghani don't have time to freak out now — it's time to get cuttin'. "A sawzall or a big old knife," Karim calls out from underneath the car. Stacked as it is on 28-inch rims and a suspension system that looks capable of launching small missiles, Karim can sit upright under Drew's ride. Brian disappears but returns with sections of curved steel tube cut like a furnace pipe. Karim starts welding.

Earlier that day, the interior of the car had been finished, new carpet on the floors, walls, and doors that matches the old-school two-tone paint job. Powder blue and baby blue is what Drew wanted, and that's what he'll have.

By now, Drew's car is almost unrecognizable as a Cutlass or anything else. Nearly 90 percent of it has been custom-built for him at B+C. The front grille and the steering wheel were made according to his design, and the shop eagerly complied with computer software and a plasma torch that can sculpt a crazy idea into reality within minutes. In the past, intricate custom chrome work had to be done painstakingly by hand — and looked like it.

Time's almost up, announces Kenny Lewis, who runs the shop with his wife, Bobbie Jo. Gaunt but toughened, with the big arms of a streetfighter and the half-golden grille of a rapper, he lights up a Marlboro Light with fingers so black, they look almost burned.

The whole grease-stained scene looks like a muggy South Florida version of Pimp My Ride, with what was once a rust-bucket clunker polished to blinding, chrome-enhanced perfection. Where Xzibit and his crew are generally about expensive modifications that end up serving some sort of utilitarian purpose, a good portion of B+C's work is for customers seeking pointlessly exhibitionist modifications. But the air is similarly charged with anticipation as the final touches are applied.

Right on time, Drew makes a grand appearance. With perfectly appointed dreads under a white terrycloth headband, bling-blinging here, there, and everywhere, denim shorts, and a Miami Heat jersey with the number 30, Drew is as fresh and clean as a long-range missile.

Drew's on the tall side, at least six feet, contrasting nicely with his entourage: a white dude in the same blinding-white T-shirt and gleaming gold chains who stands five-foot-six at most, and a hulking black guy with a white 561 baseball cap and white shirt. All three are so perfectly clad in immaculately new clothes and shoes, they could be extras in The Wire or a Lil Jon video. The energy level at B+C somehow escalates dramatically.

Bobbie Jo, pipe-cleaner-thin, plays the doting midwife perfectly. "That's his baby," she says. She's riding a double high watching Drew's beatific expression and thinking about the fat envelope he's about to deliver.

"He's king of the street in West Palm Beach now."


Today's customized car business is a mixture of hubris, risk, ingenuity, and showmanship. Size really matters, with outlandish automobile rims now nearing the 30-inch mark. At that circumference, the tires themselves resemble a thin licorice whip wound around a telephone-cable spool. Like body piercings, not all of the modifications are functional; in fact, over-the-top visual appeal is often the prime directive. Loudest, biggest, highest, lowest: custom cars are about extremes and about having something truly unique.

Drew stubbornly refers to his Cutlass as "money in the bank." The caveat is that "anybody who gets me $30,000, they can have it."

Recouping expenses in this game isn't easy. In fact, the custom-car craze must be among pop culture's most outlandish vanity projects, with thousands of dollars thrown into oft-illegal modifications designed not for utility but to show off. And by the time it's finally primped, pimped, painted, and ready to roll out, owners might still end up behind the fad curve by the time the thing is ready: a white elephant sleeping in a garage.

The fads are often driven by the latest hip-hop videos. And like music, what's huge one year is likely to be passe the next. Money down the drain.

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