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Back at the shop, Donnel Constantine is fretting. He doesn't want to see his beloved Chevy S-10 lowrider, which coasts mere inches above the pavement, burst into flames. A friend with a similar rig nearly lost his life last year when he hit a pair of speed bumps on a residential street.
"The first one punctured the gas tank," Donnel relates, "and the second one sparked it." His friend was lucky to escape with his pants on fire and a burn on his leg, but the truck was done. "That was it," Donnel says solemnly. "Completely gone." The modification he's seeking is simply to spare himself his friend's fate.
To avoid the same river of fire, Donnel came down to B+C, explaining to Karim how he'd like the shop to weld a series of steel plates to the bottom of the chassis. "In case I hit something," he says. "This way, I'll have play, so I can still drag, no problem."
Donnel a real estate inspector from Pompano Beach has always lived with a penchant for craziness, starting with dirt bikes as a kid, drag racing as a teen, and now cruising around in a freakishly unrecognizable S-10 that he once drove to Colorado and back.
"My cars have always been juiced," he says. The attention, he explains, is a thrill he can't pass up.
As Donnel gestures and Karim contemplates exactly how this gas-tank protection system is going to work, a 50-something City of Fort Lauderdale employee strolls in. He owns a 1999 Suburban, he says, and wants to put 24-inch rims on it.
"I need to lift it up," he says. "Every time I hit the brakes, it's just sittin' down in the front."
"You should be able to put 26s on there, no problem," Karim advises. "Maybe some new springs or tighten up the torsion bars."
"Damn, you know your shit," says the Suburban's owner, who promises to return when he's off his shift.
Kenny struts in, cigarette smoldering. "Off that car!"he barks at Donnel's friend, who had been leaning against a midnight-blue '72 Caprice that came in beige and broken. Now it's as sweet as anything in the shop, poised on huge chrome rims, with a custom chrome steering wheel and a grille that spells out Ghetto Fabulous.
Donnel tries to get Kenny to schedule an appointment to look at the S-10 and see what it'll take to do the work. "You'll have to call Wednesday," Kenny says, as Bobbie Jo walks through the shop. "She won't let you talk to me, so make sure you tell her your name and that I'm expecting your call."
Can you do it? Donnel wants to know. Kenny tosses a spent Marlboro butt to the floor. Hell yeah, he says, we can make anything. "I'll build you a building if you want."
Karim explains the simple appeal of radical custom work: "Anything you can't buy, we make."
Bobbie Jo's own pickup is customized with an airbrushed paint job and a tricked-out interior, into which she's sunk nearly $23,000. After Kenny got out of the trucking business he was in charge of a fleet of semis and 19 drivers he and Bobbie Jo opened the shop eight years ago.
"We started out as a lowrider shop," Bobbie Jo says. Called Drop Zone, the company started strong but then endured perilously lean years as the lowrider movement in South Florida waned. Becoming more popular were blinged-out African-American convertibles and coupes, with the requisite big-ass rims. So Kenny and Bobbie Jo rolled with the punches.
Bobbie Jo laughs when she's asked if Brianna and Cody will one day run the business that bears their initials. "Maybe when they're 18 and 21," she says. "But we'd like to get where this isn't so much work. We'd like to work on newer, South Beach-type cars. Maybe sell accessories. A showroom. Instead of correcting other people's mistakes or [compensating for] their lack of imagination."
Just as the lowrider bubble has burst and spinners have spun out, it's a matter of time before the big-rim craze dissipates too. At some point, B+C is aware, the hassle of putting wheels designed for a Hummer on a two-door car will outweigh the benefits.
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news," Kenny quips, "but the golden era of hydraulic suspension has come and gone." Tracking trends, he calculates that the next big thing will be rims, even bigger rims.
Wheels as big as 26 and 28 inches in diameter, outrageously expensive and rare a few years ago, are now standard fare on the most outlandish rides. "Thirties we haven't had yet," Kenny remarks, "but I'm sure we will."
Within a week, the Galaxie 500 is sitting on four massive wheels that look like caricatures of Popeye's dumbbells. The tires are taller than the car's body is high. With a black convertible top and chrome polished to a blinding shine, it looks knife-sharp. The customer, a man in Georgia, should be pleased with the way his 41-year-old antique has been transformed into a beautiful, if bastardized, beast.
Back over on the Toyota pickup which now looks as if four completely different science projects have been crammed into its innards Karim puffs a cigar and tries to figure out the best way to run lines, fittings, and valves so that each corner of the vehicle can move up and down independently. "I'm putting shit where it's really not supposed to go," he explains.
Kenny just watches, wipes sweat from his forehead, and advises, "Just do what you gotta do to make it work."