Tag Archive | car shows

Put Down the Frosting and Start Designing

show me
I have always been baffled that anyone who has no real experience building a car could ever consider customizing (or “designing”) one. I mean, consider the engineers who worked on the first computers. Guys like Gordon Bell or Alan Kotok who, having worked on the earliest computers like the TX-0 and so forth, and called upon their experience with the limitations of that machine when designing future machines (like the PDP-10 for example). They understood the machine. They had a grasp on the engineering behind the very function of it, and could utilize that experience in the trenches to craft each newer and better iteration. They found limitations in the machine. Weaknesses. They sought answers to the question “How can I make this BETTER?” …and they did so from the bones outward. They were connected to the very ideas behind what they worked on, and could thus move in new directions in an intelligent manner.
 
Being a custom car designer is no different. Without having an intimate understanding of the design and engineering of the systems which comprise the machine as a whole, it’s virtually impossible to “design” anything for it. Oh, sure, you can decorate that cake and put little frosting flowers all over, or plop a neat-o dingleberry or put some twist on an existing part, but you’re not really DESIGNING anything. If you’ve never torn a car down and then repaired things and put it all back together, you’re ill-prepared to hot rod anything. If you’ve never diagnosed an issue and then found a way to REPAIR a component (NOT simply “unbolt-and-replace”), or given thought to a shortcoming in the performance of or a component on said vehicle, and then engineered a fix, you’re not prepared to design ANYTHING custom for one. Even if you can imagine the shapes and flow of lines, or draw them in stunning detail, without that understanding and experience, you simply cannot effectively design fucking anything. You may be able to alter the look, but you sure as hell cannot design a better one.
 
This truth laid out, I find myself in an industry wherein I’m constantly reviewing and revising “designs” conceived by some talented illustrators, but the ideas presented lack application in any real-world scenario most times. And while I can’t blame these guys for trying, and certainly cannot fault them on creativity, I am forced to battle uphill, working through a pile of dreams and hopes that have gelled when met with the cold, hard truth of ENGINEERING. In almost every case, the pitfalls presented could have been avoided by having had some time in a shop, building and engineering solutions to the very design problems faced on each project. I’m forced to ask once again: How in the fuck can you DESIGN a complex machine when you LACK THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOW THE DAMNED THING WORKS IN THE FIRST PLACE?! In many cases, I’d bet that it’s innocent omission… But every now and then you come across a blatant slap in the face, wherein the “designer” doesn’t give the respect to understanding the very thing he’s working on in the first place.
 
Is it too much to ask to have armed yourself with core fundamentals like basic suspension geometry or structural engineering or even chassis architecture? I’m not asking for someone to know it ALL (shit… there’s ALWAYS something to learn), but if you’re “designing” a wheel arch or opening, and you give little or NO thought to the wheel/tire combo and the resulting radius needed to clear that nifty new fender lip and avoid rubbing, or are slicing into a panel to move it with no thought of how that will affect the understructure (or how changing THAT will affect the vehicle in terms of strength or handling dynamics, and where plumbing or wiring will need to be re-routed), then you’re doing it wrong. Grab a fucking crash book, or spend a day in the wrecking yard. Do your homework. Measure things. KNOW that car, and design it INTELLIGENTLY. “That door handle is sure slick, buddy… but you have left no room to utilize any sort of MOUNTING HARDWARE.” From the simplest things to the more complex, I find that some guys pass by function and go straight for “wow” factor.
 
This all brings us back to our pal Leepu. The guy has a TV show, and in a bio it is stated that he had visited GMI (General Motors Institute), and I quote from that: “However, he was put off studying there by the volume of technical work therefore he decided to open his own workshop to get some practical experience.” VISITED a school. Put off by technical work. This may explain why he’s so willing to slice into a main structural component on a vehicle and compromise the very bones of the car, or ignore things like aerodynamics or suspension or even pesky trifles like wheel fitment. Effectively, we are presented with a hack… a 1:1 scale kit basher. Don’t get me wrong, it takes some skill to weld two things together, but it doesn’t impress me when you have no fucking plan or explanation for just WHY you’re joining those things in the first place. And you lose all respect from me when the combination of those parts you’ve created is questionably functional at best, and marginally pleasing to look at on the best of days. I bring this guy into our conversation here because he illustrates, nay, REPRESENTS everything that is wrong with what is sold as “design” in many cases.
 
Our industry sees a few shining stars each year, build-wise… Cars that look great and perform just as well. Yet for each of those, we have a handful that are loaded with “custom” touches applied simply for the sake of applying them, and can barely tolerate a drive from the trailer around the fairgrounds and back. The price tags are high, yet the engineering level is limited. And therein lies my frustration: We have at our disposal some of the finest engineering with regard to components… Bolt-in ready chassis, near-1000 HP engines and transmissions that can live behind them. Wiring systems that allow for plug and play performance and luxury accessories in hours versus days. Everything engineered to free up time to ENGINEER. We have the perfect storm of self-perpetuating design advancement, yet we lack the manpower and the fortitude to raise the fucking sails and capture that wind. The work involved in hoisting those sails is metaphorical, of course, it being more a case of learning vehicle systems and construction, and then applying that knowledge to DESIGNING versus simply decorating another theme cake.
 
Yet, here we are, sitting back while the world consumes shitty TV show after shitty TV show that do nothing but slap what I and many more have fought to make a legitimate industry of… Watching two-bit hacks run around like primates, pantomiming to some “drama” written by someone outside of the industry, and playing up the “grease monkey” mentality. I don’t see this industry as a soap opera. I see it as the means by which I feed my family. It’s about passion and intellect and talent and drive. Applying experience, knowledge and a desire to not just hang a scoop or bolt some large-by-fucking-hugely-oversize rims to a car, but to change the game and dig deep into that original hot rodding ethic of working to make something better in all ways than it could have ever been imagined when it rolled off of the assembly line. And as I see it, if you lack the fundamental knowledge and skill set to be a true custom car designer, then you are nothing more to me than some panel-banging monkey on a reality show, and my sworn enemy in the business.
 
Don’t get me wrong: If the TV shows like the one mentioned above are some sort of satire, at least have the courtesy of mentioning that in the credits or opening sequence. Give a disclaimer before some idiot attempts to mimic this crap, or worse, walks away with the feeling that this is what our industry is all about. Over the course of our history, we’ve had enough black eyes handed to us courtesy of a few miscreants. We stand at the crossroads of becoming the legitimate powerhouse of creativity and engineering that can push us well into the next century, or we can become the punchline to a joke on some poorly-produced cable TV show.
 
That said, ask yourself the next time you sit at the drawing board if you’re a designer or a decorator. And don’t get me wrong, there is a place for both… But know that if you’re the latter masquerading as the former that while I’m laughing at your shit, I do sincerely appreciate the check that came with the job of actually making your flourishes into something that works… even if two-thirds of it wind-up in the trash. And if that doesn’t get you angry enough to step up your game, you can always get a TV show and blow signal flare smoke at that rear spoiler. Some people like to watch that crap, and with your TV money you can open that bakery and really decorate some stuff, cupcake.
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Fuck You, History Channel

abomination
You know why the Bangladeshi space program never really took off (I mean notwithstanding their technological breakthroughs in… uh… well, gee… screwing up their environment, or more dirt bikes per capita than any other country also named Bangladesh it’s hard to just name one, really)? I’d imagine due in part to having a country full of “designers” like this Leepu guy. Far be it for me to shit all over someone’s parade route, but I have to be as frank as possible when I shout a hearty “FUCK YOU, HISTORY CHANNEL!!” from the rooftop. What in the serious fuck were you thinking with this show??!
I have two theories:
One: The people behind this show are absolute trolling geniuses. From the creators and writers on through the actors, this could be the funniest thing on TV. And not in the “Ha-ha!” way, but the “Fill a viewer with absolute rage and send his mental state plummeting through concentric circle after concentric circle of blind hatred and sorrow and mistrust and fear and then something like understanding and then back to unrivaled anger and then a depressed state and then hopelessness and finally numbness and resolute passiveness” funny. Like a Woody Allen film wherein all of the jokes were written for his friends, so the hope of understanding it all is lost on you, unless you were married to the adopted daughter of your girlfriend, which is not unlike one of those jokes I just mentioned. It wants to be funny, but it leaves you feeling like you just showered with that odd little bar of soap in the hotel, and you can’t rinse something off of yourself.
Two: This show is serious, and the central characters and all members of History Network’s creative department are brain damaged.
Should it be numero two, then by golly, anyone watching this and thinking “hey, this guys IS brilliant” is in even worse shape than the stars of the show. I’m talking Dominoes pizza-ordering-and-setting-aside-time-to-gather-friends-for-the-show-level moron. The sort of guy you’ve worked with who is content to be in his entry-level job for eleven years, but bitches because he knows more than the suits, while showing up late every day and failing to complete even the simplest of tasks, yet can tell you every “fact” about some race bike he’ll never own and just how it’s all Bush’s fault as he brushes his ever-whitening mullety mane back from his forehead.
And far be it for me to bring “science” to the table, but for fuck’s sake… Watching a full episode the other night had me teaching my TV (and neighbors, I’m told) all about Bernoulli’s principle and other such engineering trivialities at very high decibels. Let me bring you up to speed.
Loophole and Fartwad were apparently setting out to build some drag car from an Olds Cutlass… but let’s not hold that against them. The slow kids all start someplace, and for many, it involves thinking that a GM-powered car can be a “race car”. The REALLY dim ones stick with that idea later in life (some even slap a fiberglass body around a Chrysler HEMI-powered tube chassis and think it’s a Camaro or some shit. That, my friends, is called NHRA Funny Car and Pro-Stock, but I digress). Having (thankfully – occasionally the universe throws even ME a bone) missed part ONE of this travesty (yes, a TWO-PARTER! In the first season. WTF.), I quickly gathered that a boat race led to some challenge to build a car, using a preposterous betting scenario – which may have been contrived by someone slightly LESS intelligent than our pizza-eating friend from earlier – which was somehow going to generate EIGHT HUNDRED HORSEPOWER from some wrecking yard LS engine with some poorly-designed turbo plumbing. Don’t even get me started on the PCV/catch can fix or the apparently left-alone stock rear end, mystery transmission and other nonsense. But hey, it has big-ass, shiny calipered brakes.
Aside from the technical faux pas all over this mess, it was the “aerodynamic research” that had me laughing and then thrown into a rage.
Limeaid was going to do the usual “groundbreaking design” and slap a Daytona/Superbird-style nose cone and rear wing on the car, but oh, my friend, ’twas the “logic” and “science” of it all that leads me to believe that the minds behind this are either again severely damaged, or of an utter demigod-level trolling brilliance that simply cannot be captured by mere mortals. You see, they were going to wind tunnel test this. Yes, test the aerodynamic properties of a slope-nose design wherein, mind you, THE FUCKING TOP WAS LEFT OPEN, CREATING A CLEAR PATH TO THE VERTICAL WALL THAT IS THE RADIATOR. So this “genius” has, in effect, created a shape that creates and probably AMPLIFIES the eddies as air tries to flow over this sad iteration of an automobile. I can’t begin to imagine what the Cd of this monstrosity is now, compared with its former brick-shaped self. But THAT isn’t even the funniest part. No… that comes when you see the “wind tunnel”. Now, when you think “wind tunnel”, you think “a tunnel with some wind-generating machinery”, correct? Apparently not in Bada-Fucking-Bing Noo Yawk or Bangladesh. No… they can make do with a shop fan in an open area. And a DAMNED SMOKE SIGNAL FLARE. While I could choose to go on about THAT, let’s concentrate on the science behind their “wind tunnel”, shall we? A shop fan. Benefit of the doubt given, let’s say we have a fan displacing sixty inches of blade length, each blade being three or so inches in width. Such a fan, if it’s a good one, can push between 17,000 and 19,000 CFM. That known, we can estimate air flow, when operating at peak efficiency to be around oh, say EIGHT, maybe EIGHT AND A HALF MILES PER HOUR. Add to that using a signal flare that is designed to disperse over large distances, and you can see where this is headed. Yet, the “genius designer” was out to prove that the three-foot wing “worked”… if the smoke were to flow to it. Let’s examine that just a bit. ANYTHING blown over a car will reach the back. Water. Poo. The kerosene film emanating from the landscaper’s truck ahead of me because he filled the tank in Enchilada before crossing the border this morning. A drunken bum (if you have enough lead-in speed). Apparently smoke from a signal flare blown at 8 MPH in a dispersed breeze. None of this proves any worth of design or function. Even in the remotest sense. The only scientific data to be gleaned regarding said wing would be that of visual proof that it exists somewhere on the physical plane, and that could be accomplished without the aid of Linguini’s thick-ass glasses. Yup… there it is, tacked onto the deck lid, providing absolutely no function whatsoever, unless that function is to waste materials, which you’d think that coming from a place like the sneaker-sewing capital of the universe that this ass hat would be far more frugal when it comes to things like steel or aluminum.
That all said, dear History Channel, please fuck yourself one more time. You’re undermining the things that I and others in the custom car design community have worked for, by presenting this hack as some “designer” (for fuck’s sake,he was “put off studying” automotive design “by the volume of technical work”. Jesus H. Christ… IT’S ALL FUCKING TECHNICAL WORK IF YOU UNDERSTAND THE JOB), and showing some wrench sketching something that passes for a “rendering” on the skill level of a seven year old, and then cobbling-together unsafe heaps in the name of “cars”??! Stick to “HISTORY” like your contrived bullshit shows like “Life After People” and other nonsense. It’s one thing to present garbage in the names of “entertainment” (i.e. Lifetime, Oprah’s network and MTV, for example), but to bold-faced lie to viewers (i.e. made-up timelines and budgets and other dramatic bullshit, but a quick stop on Wikipedia of all places (I know… it’s like going to CNN, MSNBC or Brian Williams for the truth most times, but till, let’s try to keep things on the level here), but in the intro, Loadsofbull claims that he brought Leapfrog to the US to build cars. Hmmm. Seems that Discovery Networks has a long history with this guy, starting as far back as 2006. This latest show is just another iteration of the prior two failed attempts. He’s lived in Idaho since at least 2013. Again, this could be one of two things going on:
One: The people behind this are mad geniuses, furthering the agenda to push the “immigrant comes to America and makes it big” pablum via a contrived TV show or
Two: The creative development at your network is in the spiral grip of the flushing toilet you float in, and you feel that this is the best you can do to feed the viewing public with insipid programming that further insults their steadily declining intelligence.
I’m really looking forward to Life After the History Channel.

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.

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