SPECIAL SERIES : [X]Press Magazine Issue Three: Toys and Technology
Old School Cars, New School Favorites
Why Classic Cars Never Go Out of Style
November 21, 2005 9:59 AM
Pablo Cusi Jr. fell in love with Cecilia the moment he laid eyes on her. Her body was sleek and smooth, and boy did she have a lot of junk in the trunk. Sure, she’d been around the block a few times, but that only meant she was more experienced. Cecelia was the kind you took home to mother, but showed off to every man you knew. Cusi had been dreaming about her beauty since the ninth grade, and 10 years later, Cecelia, his ‘84 sky blue Cadillac El Dorado, was finally his.
“I feel like ‘The man’ when I’m in it,” Cusi says. “I just can’t get that from a Mercedes Benz or Lamborghini.”
While the emergence of old school cars in pop culture has helped increase their popularity among young Americans, their presence in hip-hop and gangster films has also placed negative stereotypes on some of their younger owners.
Cusi bought Cecilia at a steal for only $900 last August. Although she’s in good condition and has no major damage, he still plans to spend thousands of dollars more on a new paint job, suede interior, wood grain, Rolls Royce grill, stereo system, 18-inch chrome rims and white-wall Vogue Tyre tires. “I want people to say ‘Goddamn, look at that sexy-ass bitch’ when they see her down the street,” he says.
In the distance, Ramirez saw what could’ve easily been mistaken for a celebrity. Surrounded by lights and crowds of people filming and taking pictures was Joker, a ‘65 Chevy Malibu. With the entire car fully detailed and murals extending all the way to the wheels, Joker was like nothing Ramirez had ever seen before.
When he bought his '48 Chevy Fleetmaster Bombs Away for $3,000 10 years ago, it had no interior, no windows and no molding. Five years and over $20,000 later, it’s become the emerald green head turner it is today. At the 2004 Las Vegas Super Show, it took second place.
Ramirez loves the fact that his car is unique. He says this is a big reason so many young people are into older cars now. Car models from the '50s and '60s changed every year, whereas a car now can have the same shell three years in a row.
“Everyone wants to be different and these old-schools are rare," Ramirez says. "You just can’t go to Kragen to find parts.”
He can tell the difference between a true car enthusiast and a trend follower. A real old school car lover will drive his car around no matter how much money he spent fixing it up, whereas a trend follower or a “trailer queen” will keep his or her car locked in a garage or on a trailer. Although De Jesus has spent nearly $40,000 customizing his car, he refuses to be a trailer queen.
When he eagerly unveils El Caddy from underneath the car cover, it's clear why. Looking like a proud parent showing off his baby’s first steps, he points out that all the door handles and side markers on the golden orange beauty are shaved off. With yellow streaks of fire blazing across both sides and onto the hood, it resembles a flaming bullet streaming across the room and heating up the cold auto body shop floor. A skull is painted onto the hood, below which rests a 350 cubic inch motor. And don't even bother looking at his 20-inch chrome rims unless you have sunglasses on.
“The main thing is respect. When people see my car and notice how much work has been put in, that’s the best thing right there,” De Jesus says.
Ramirez agrees. “What’s the use of having a toy when you can’t play with it?” he says.
Ramirez, De Jesus and Carlos Quintero are all part of a car club called Nuestro Estilo, spanish for “Our Style.” The group formed over 10 years ago and currently has 17 active members and 19 cars. Many of the members have been harassed for owning an expensive looking car often associated with drug dealers and gang members.
“It’s not true, the real gangsters drive around in their buckets with only the primer on it,” says Quintero, a 30-year-old auto technician at The Service Stop in San Bruno.
Like most adults, these young people take pride in the fruits of their labor. Although Quintero’s aunt thinks he’s crazy for spending thousands of dollars on Sinful '66, his ‘66 Chevy Impala, he says the money is justified.
“I grew up in San Francisco, so if I wasn’t doing the car thing, I’d be doing other things,” he says. “Plus, old cars are just cool, man. The newer ones aren’t loud, and don’t scare little kids—you know, cool stuff like that.”
Mangundayo compares old school cars to old school music. In the same way that younger singers pay respect to older artists who’ve inspired them, young people respect old cars, bringing them back and adding a little new-school flavor.
Within the last year, Mangundayo has witnessed an increase in young people coming in to restore cars, many of them older than their owners. He says shows like MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” contribute to this phenomenon. The influence rappers have on young America is obvious as well.
When gangster rapper Dr. Dre became popular, many saw lowriders in his video and wanted to buy one. Then, rappers like the Cash Money Millionaires ushered in the “bling-bling” era, in which Escalades and luxury cars on 20-inch rims were imperative.
At the Goodguys Rod and Custom Association’s 2005 Autumn Get-Together at the Alameda Fair Grounds, heads turn and a woman bites her lip as a black ‘62 Chevy Impala rolls through the crowd. Rap music blares from the car speakers just as the sound of hydraulics pierces the air. The Impala pops up from the ground. The driver smiles to the crowd as if he just left the room with the most beautiful woman there. Cusi can’t help but shake his head.
“See what I’m talking about?” he says. “I’d like to see you get that response from a Honda Civic.”
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