If your car is stock, it’s just like everybody else’s. And that’s no fun. How we customize our cars is a form of expression. It’s our art. But sometimes our strange and wonderful car mods can run concurrently with those of others, and we end up with custom car movements. Many of these overlap, such as the stance movement and slamming, but they’re all unforgettable.
Disclaimer: These are ordered by increasing weirdness, but weird does not equal bad, especially to car customizers. So please take this as a compliment, rather than criticism.
Rat rodding, despite its rebellious, chain-smoking demeanor, might be the most practical and least weird car mods movement of all. Rat rods are for people who like to drive their hot rods, who don’t care if the paint gets scratched because there’s no paint left anyway, but that’s okay, because there’s still another quarter inch of steel beneath that rust. Rat rodding is so non-weird that any Craigslister with peeling clearcoat and a collapsed suspension can now claim, “It’s a rat rod.”
Any movement that can be identified with a film like Corvette Summer has to make the list. Yes, the Pro Street movement of the 80s meant the demise of many an honest and beautiful C2 and C3, their hoods all hacked to bits to make way for chrome-dipped superchargers and their perfect noses plastered all over with fiberglass and bondo. At least most of them were fast.
You want comfort and practicality? Drop your small pickup truck, 90s GM wagon, or Beetle to within a finger of the ground. You’ll destroy the undercarriage and your back in a single afternoon. Slamming might have its roots in the “Lead Sled” Mercury coupes of the early 50s, but it’s alive and well today, especially on imports. Slammers tend to take pride in/complain about how difficult it is to get up their own driveways without bottoming out.
Stance is something of a sub-genre of slamming. Technically, stance refers to any suspension modification, but for our purposes, we’ll focus on extreme camber, in which wheels, especially rear wheels, are angled outward at the bottom, giving the car the appearance of being severely broken. Stretched tires are generally an accompaniment, and they’re good for about two weeks unless they delaminate on the highway first.
60s Show Rods
Say what you will about modern custom channels, but the show rods of the 1960s were just bonkers. Some, like Dean Jeffries’ Mantaray, looked like space machines. Others, like Norm Grabowski’s “Kookie II” 1929 Ford, went with the “gross-out” theme. They were all rebellious and extreme, like they were trying to sell more Revell model kits and Hot Wheels toys than actual cars.
If you didn’t live through the 70s, you might not think vans are that weird. Not the ones with fantasy murals sprawled across their flanks, rather than “free candy” in cheap spray paint, anyway. See, in the 70s, cars got so miserably slow that car people had to turn their attention from performance to aesthetics. It is suspected that vans were also given so much attention for the things you could do inside without anyone watching, but that makes them no less weird. There were theme vans for every movie, comic book, and sweaty soft rock band. Interiors were full of velour, velvet, and shag. Owners often substituted actual female companionship for airbrushed murals of the same.
So you’re not going to go off-road, ever, but you want to lift your diesel truck high enough to warrant an aircraft warning light? It’s a strange collision of bling and redneck, two worlds that usually don’t get along. The Diesel branch of the phylum Brozodicus also tends to “roll coal,” spewing huge clouds of smoke as thick and black as possible, on other humans, shortening their lifespans. It’s an alien world.
Take one powerful American car and remove all ability to use that power by lifting the car on 30 inch wheels with rubber bands for tires. Destroy the car’s body by sawzalling out the sheet metal around the wheel arches to make room for new wheels. Watch the wheels break off and fly all over the place. Don’t forget to theme your car after a popular fast food restaurant or candy bar.
But we haven’t really discussed weird cars yet. To find the weirdest custom car movement, you must travel to Japan. Motorcycle gangs took root in Japan during the US occupation after WWII. Defiant military veterans took to the highways. Over the years, this rebellion translated to motorcycle styling, and eventually to car styling, which is how we have Bosozoku today. Your average modern Boso car is a mid-’80s Toyota with unmuffled exhaust pipes running vertically out of the hood and straight back over the car, as many comically huge spoilers as can be physically bolted to the trunk, and a front splitter extending several feet in front of the bumper. There are even Boso vans with the same characteristics.
So no, it’s not weird if you want to get a steering wheel cover. Customize your car to your heart’s content.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.