By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"When I was young, it wasn't so expensive," Kenny remarks. "I'd spend maybe $10,000 to fix up a car the way I wanted. I couldn't afford to spend what that kid spent."
Taking a $2,000 grandpa-mobile and investing thousands in its obsolescence requires a certain sort of fellow.
But when you finally roll it out and your fantasy comes to life, when people on the highway stare at you like you're riding in Air Force One, it's a triumphant moment.
The day Drew first steered the Cutlass into B+C, there was one word to describe it, he says: raggedy. "Everyone said I was crazy puttin' anything in it." The interior had no seats, so the driver had to use a Publix milk crate. "And that wasn't even bolted down," he says.
How much money has he sunk into his dream? Drew thinks for a moment. "They tell me $40,000," he laughs, "but I think it's really only about $30,000."
With that in mind, he walks through the shop, past cars in various cannibalized states, to the air-conditioned office bunker, where the door slides shut.
Underneath the Cutlass, Karim continues hammering the tailpipe into place. Six-year-old Cody Lewis, clad in pink sandals and her hair in barrettes, peeks under the car at Karim, puffing and sweating. Swinging underneath the "SAVE FLORIDA WHALES" license plate are a shiny pair of chrome-plated balls, and she slaps at them absent-mindedly.
Since the trunk-rattling arsenal of subwoofers, speakers, and amps pumping out hundreds of watts of power is de rigueur, Drew changed his mind about having a small aquarium built into the dashboard with live fish. He figured the stress would be too much. "The shock waves from the bass gonna kill 'em all," he says. "I don't wanna hurt anyone."
It's too late for that, though; Kenny can't help but show off the true pièce de résistance. Deep in the bowels of the customized Cutlass is an air compressor exactly like the kind found in the Tri-Rail engines that roll by 100 feet away. It's connected to a series of black plastic horns, also exactly the same array as a Tri-Rail locomotive's.
Kenny reaches in the car, turns the key, and gets ready to honk the horn. When he does, it's less a sound than a painful atmospheric pressure, the sort of sonic boom that makes pants legs ripple as if in a stiff wind. Drew and his crew are slack-jawed, amazed. Drew doubles and then triples over in laughter; he can't speak for several seconds.
"Damn," he finally says, with a mixture of pride, fear, and amazement. "I didn't want it that loud!"
Karim shakes his head. "Boy, that noise ordinance gonna get you."
When it's finally time to leave, it isn't Drew but his 561-loving partner who fires up the (sluggish) Cutlass. The short white dude appears with a mix CD for the driver to jam out to on the ride back to Boynton Beach. The Cutlass rolls out on the street, its chassis a full 24 inches off the ground, and the train horn honks again. Drew ducks back into the other car.
Double take from the shop's employees. A problem with Drew's license, perhaps? Chuckles and smirks all around.
On the asphalt outside the shop, Kenny and Brian struggle with the front axle of a blood-red 1965 Galaxie 500. The old whitewalls with wire rims are stacked inside, and the car is being readied to accept both hydraulic suspension that will double its height as well as a set of massive, 26-inch rims. After cleaning it up, the two get ready to carry it back inside, but Kenny, Marlboro Light clenched in one corner of his chiseled jaw, gets a bad grip on his end. In a second, and with nothing more than a snap, he's holding up a visibly broken pinky.
"Well, why were you trying to move that?" Karim chides. Topped off with a lumpy afro, a smoldering cigar with its white-filter tip lolling in his mouth, Karim is drenched in grease and garage-floor grime. He'd look at home on a Sanford and Son rerun, but his expertise is hard to miss. Like everyone else in the B+C universe, Karim was obsessed with cars from childhood.
With an impressive grasp of hydraulic engineering and electrical systems, Karim builds and installs devices that allow drivers to raise and lower individual parts of their automobiles via control units on the dash. Specially positioned airbags can be deployed for "popping," when one axle or tire is made to bounce. He knows how to weld trailing arms so they look good and work right, and he factors gravity into each equation while tinkering with hydraulic lift diagrams.
"You gotta know some physics," the self-taught mechanic says, biting his cigar as he tightens up an air tank he welded to the bed of a Toyota pickup truck. "Otherwise, you're gonna fuck somebody up."
With mad-scientist glee, Karim's like a shop-class freak who never grew up, actually getting paid to tinker with what he'd probably be doing in his spare time anyway. He puts together compressors, valves, lines, and fittings like a kid playing with Legos.