Car Culture In America

Hello all! This is my first time writing to Oppo but I have been a long time reader and commenter on Jalopnik. I decided to try my hand at authorship to have some open discussions about car culture and how its changed (or not) over the years.

To start off, I want to be able to actually give you a sense of where I am coming from. I feel it is best to provide a little bit of back story about myself before launching into any further writings.


I have always been somewhat of a car guy though I wouldn’t say I became a true Jalop until I went to college. My first somewhat reachable dream car was the Z32 300zx when I was in high school (mid 90s). Back then, the tuning scene wasn’t something I knew about. It had not hit mainstream just yet.

Flash forward to my junior year in college (1999). My old hand-me-down Accord bit the dust due to someone blowing through a stop sign and I needed a new car. I had already had the car bug so my top three contenders where what you might have expected. It was either an Eclipse GS-T (couldn’t afford a used GSX), an Integra, or a Prelude. I ended up falling for the unique styling of the Prelude and the exceptional condition of the one I found. It wasn’t till just a little later that the mod bug hit me. It was the ones you would expect. It was a whole new world for me…..I was hooked.

After I graduated college I moved down to Virginia just outside of DC. The Fast & The Furious had just came out that summer and the tuner car culture was exploding. Of course you had people involved because it was the thing to do or a way to show off but I was amazed at the number of people who really had a connection to their cars. Whether it be an old Civic that had seen better days with a body kit and neons or a Supra, people seemed to cherish their cars and the work that was put into them. I made some of my closest friends wrenching on our cars on weekends. Hell, even one of my friends let me use his garage to do my single turbo swap so we could put my old upgraded twin turbos on his car. My other friend’s father was an old hot-rodder who would always open up his house (and loaded backyard garage) to all of us car nuts to have a place to work on our cars. He would lend us his tools and provide help and advice to us novices. This was true across the whole region as well. There were meet ups both big and small all around the beltway and there would be monthly mega-meets that would have thousands upon thousands of people and cars show up. It was a grand time to be a gear head.


For work and life reasons I ended up having to leave the DC area for NYC Metro in the mid 2000’s. I started off living in NJ which did not have as big of a car culture as DC did but it was still there. I quickly found friends with local rotary guys and general car lovers alike. It didn’t seem like the scene was dying, just a bit different.

Sadly, life has a way of making decisions for you and I had to make a choice to better myself which prompted a move closer to the city and a situation where it was no longer feasible to have such a heavily modified car. I ended up selling my car and getting a stock manual IS300. I did not touch the car for years and years while I focused on work and grad school. I kind of drifted away from cars as I just didn’t have time.


Another skip forward and its now 2014. I am out of grad school and in the process of changing careers. To do this, I needed to move out of NYC to gain experience where the cost of living was not so dramatic. I ended up getting a job in Phoenix AZ. By this point, the old desires for a performance car came back again. Car wise, the Phoenix area is the ‘land that time forgot’. Tuner culture is alive in well and they still host meets all over the place. Every Saturday you could go out to Pavillions and see everything whether your tastes lied in classic restorations, muscle cars, tuners, drift missiles, or even exotics. It was all represented there. Every year a car club would host Race Wars (yes, they actually had the copywrite for it) where cars would compete on an airstrip in a half mile roll race. I ended up staying in Arizona for two years until I got a position back in the DC area.


In my return to the area, I experienced somewhat of a culture shock. While Arizona was a throwback to everything I had loved previously, DC had changed. It was a change that I feel is not so much a divergence for the area so much as Arizona was just a capsule for the old ways. There are still modded cars here and there and meets still do happen but it is nowhere near the scale of what used to be. Seeing a modified car on the road is now a rarity rather than an everyday occurrence. Those cars that are modded tend to be lightly so with usually just wheels and a suspension with a few bolt on tweaks there and there. Many of the dozens of tuner shops have shuttered their doors. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a car culture in the DC area but rather that it has changed. What used to be evening meetups at commuter lots, Burger Kings, or Shell Gas Stations are now Saturday morning Cars & Coffee. Tuner cars and hot rods have been replaced with exotics and number matching restorations.


To me, I feel like I have woken up from a coma and seeing the world with fresh eyes while others have gotten used to the gradual pace of change. I was locked away in a bubble and am now seeing the world for what it is.

So I shall ask you all this. How has car culture changed for you or has it at all? If so, has it changed for the better, worse or maybe its just a change?


Thanks for reading!

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