The Darkness Amid the Sparkle
A lot of talk the past few days regarding the car show world, from politics to rules and more. I had been writing a piece about this very subject prior to Detroit, and then felt it best to hold off on publishing it, as there were things afoot that could have made my post look, well, far more bitter for all of the wrong reasons. Rest assured, this is nothing more than my observations on the whole car show/industry slide toward oblivion, and not some “oh, they didn’t give us a trophy” or other nonsense. For fuck’s sake, we’re adults. And yes, it’s long. Should you happen to be some illiterate shit, or far too busy looking up memes or fail videos to read a few paragraphs, well, there’s the wonder of the internet, Billy Bob: Scroll the fuck past. Nobody asked you to chime in with your “I dun dint read, cuz it were long” reply. It’s a safer world knowing that the likes of you stick to looking at pictures anyway.
Some may be offended by my opinions/observations, and that’s cool. The truth can pack a nasty stinger.
Think back to the first indoor car show you attended. Chances are, you were a young and impressionable gear head who was floored by the kandy and chrome ocean you found yourself dropped into. Take that a step further, and consider the first ISCA-type show car that made an impression on you. Chances are, you went home and drew that car, or built a scale model of it, or simply daydreamed about it in class. I’m betting that to this day you can picture the car, and still get a little blip in the heart rate from it. It’s etched somewhere in your car psyche. It plays a role to this very day in what you like or don’t like on four wheels. It’s IMPRINTED on the very part of you that’s tagged “CARS” on that dotted-line diagram of your brain.
Custom cars, to anyone just discovering them are MAGICAL. They have a power far beyond propelling people across the pavement. They take on a life beyond their perceived purpose. They tend to grow with us. I’d bet that your memory even skews a few facts about them, and maybe even glosses over a flaw or two, lifting them even higher in your memory of their perfection. You do that with nearly everything you grow attached to. I’m betting my wife does that about me. Thinking about this, I should go give her a hug. And clean the living room.
Compare the above to recent shows, assuming that you still attend them. Any cars that simply “do it” for you like that? Do you still feel that emotional attachment or charge? I certainly don’t, and I’m smack dab in the middle of this whole thing, designing custom vehicles for a living. I try to create the kinds of things that some kid will recall 30 or more years down the road, and bring up in bench racing sessions. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some in the recent past that come close to “doing it” for me, and continue to inspire, but the industry as a whole has changed… the whole mood is dark lately.
Let’s not sugar coat this:
Car shows are the NFL of our world. A money-making enterprise. It makes sense, as they are a business, and the purpose of any business is to make money. I’m all for success, and doubly-so if your mission is to pocket some coin, and you happen to be doing that. Good on you. But the focus on the money changes things… It’s warped the very spirit of this car thing, and dragged it so far away from celebrating the automobile as art, and taken us to the automobile as return on investment or a showdown of who can spend more or grab the most ink in some magazine that’s months behind the times, and struggling to tell you that it’s still somehow relevant and that the internet is killing it, when in fact, they’re killing themselves and the industry by celebrating this push downward with third-rate articles and seven page features on uninspiring cars that would have been better served as a savings account. Again, don’t get me wrong. We are in a time of incredible talent with regard to the builders and designers and tools we have available to us in this industry. Yet, we’re losing the youth. Involvement is dropping among the next generation. And it is most certainly NOT because some kid grew up in the back seat of a Honda, or inherited a mini van as his first ride. That is a bullshit cop-out. Not every major builder or designer today grew up riding shotgun in a pro-street Chevelle, or had some Boss Mustang dropped in their lap for a first car. We drove uninspiring shitboxes. If you think that somehow more inspiration to build a ground-breaking, next-level beast of a ride comes from looking at a non-functional fuel gauge in a cracked dashboard in a rusty ’73 Monte Carlo any more than it does from the same situation in a third-hand Subaru, you are brain damaged. The next self-righteous motherfucker to use that excuse gets a foot in their ass. Allow me to shed some light on the REAL problem:
Today, it’s all nothing more than some bullshit cool kids club. Gone are the days of the “car as design statement” or even “rolling testament to craftsmanship” for the most part; we’ve hacked and slashed the soul from it all, and would up in a wasteland of cubic budgets and branding. It’s not about a fun build that pushes the limits of imagination, or thumbs its nose at conventional transportation, or even inspiring some budding builder to go and do likewise. Rather, it’s intimidating at best with endless checkbook builds where the goal is closer to making a name or a shop or builder, or trading damned-near a million (ad sometimes more) dollars for a trophy and a check that covers the transportation and week-long lodging and food for the crew supporting the car than it is to build for the sake of pushing skill. What in the serious fuck?! You expect ANY kid to want a part of that? Unless daddy is a CEO and is bankrolling the project, the odds get slimmer as we venture further down the income ladder. And don’t throw me this bone of plopping some car into the top five that doesn’t belong there as some gesture of “giving the average guy hope”. We all know it’s bullshit, and you can bet that you aren’t doing that guy or some kid attending his first show any good. He can see though the “everyone is a winner” bullshit. He has to each day at school.
Like anything, the moment it becomes more about money than the challenge of creating something, all is lost; it becomes a caricature of the very thing it used to be. We’re creating a hobby and industry filled to the brim with reality show-grade celebrities and hucksters, some with legions of fans who are undereducated enough to praise mundane and often idiotic design choices. And seeing the shows pander to one or two big-name builders, well… If you’re going to tell me that you can’t, without some degree of near pin-point accuracy pick put the cars that will be at the top of any show before the gates even open, then you’re either a lying sack of shit, or you’re holding onto that childhood innocence, and hoping to be inspired again. Perhaps the Pearl Paint Fairy will leave an airbrushed monster shirt under your pillow tonight, too. Innocence is lost. And it ain’t going to be found in the direction we’re headed.
The irony here is that we live in the greatest time, technologically speaking anyway, for production performance cars. 707 HP Challengers and Chargers??! While we were wandering the show indoors, looking at ‘flake paneled and blown bad-assery, outside in the frozen parking lot was a dismal (at best) display of smog-choked, poorly assembled and designed garbage. It was depressing. 170 HP was considered “performance”, and there wasn’t any sunlight poking over the next hill. That glow was from the flashers on the broken-down heap that couldn’t make it up the next grade. And maybe, just maybe THAT is what makes it all so fucking soft today. We DON’T HAVE TO AIM HIGH ANYMORE. We’ve managed to settle into a world of instant gratification., and that creates a laziness, and an unwillingness to try to raise a bar that we’re told is already so sky-high. That in mind, we’ve abandoned the things that brought us all here in the first place, and instead are chasing the lowest common denominator, the “my dick and checkbook are THIS BIG” attitude.
It’s a dark time, kids. Replace the breaker before it’s too late.