I was about ten years old sitting on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons when the unmistakable lope of a Chevy V8 chugged towards our house. It wasn’t as loud as my dad’s Chevy C/K pickup with the 402 cu in V8 and a ‘special’ cam, but it sounded racy, so I jumped up and headed to the front screen door for a look.
It was a Nova; it might have been my age, and it had its nose lowered; its rear raised. It reminded me of Speed Buggy right before he took off fast. Like Speed Buggy the front tires were smaller, and the rears fat with an inch or so of tire sticking out of the rear fenders and as the car drove past they proved to be at least twice as wide as stock.
I heard my dad chuckle with more than a little cynicism behind me and he said. “They ruined it.”
“It looks cool though.” I reply.
“Nah; the front that low it won’t steer for beans and that rake with its ass in the air you can’t see out the back. Look how wide those tires are. They had to cut the trunk out to get them under there.”
The Nova continued chugging and rumbling down the street, so dad grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and drew me a sketch to explain how they had ‘ruined’ it. He explained how suspension worked and all about camber and caster. How lowering the front of a car that much ‘pinned’ its ears and wouldn’t let you turn the wheel to full lock before the tires would rub on the inner or outer edge making the car ridiculous to turn around, made even more difficult by the ‘rake’ where the back was so much higher than the front. Dad had done some racing in his time, both drag racing and late model oval stuff; back when late model still looked street legal. Dad went on to explain a balanced suspension and weight distribution in the details a ten year old could barely understand. I think his point was either to convince me engineers were geniuses whose work shouldn’t be fooled with, or overwhelm me with technical jargon so I wouldn’t want to become a mechanic like him.
The problem with dads plan though was we still went to car shows, which back then, were mostly custom hotrods; and therefore by dads own characterizations; ruined. Then at one show in Chicago I met George Barris. If you don’t know about Mr. Barris, go check your car enthusiast card; I think it may have expired. The Batmobile, Munsters hotrod, and the Monkeys mobile were some of the most iconic custom cars ever made. Dads terminology of ‘ruined’ suddenly lost most of its authority.
After decades of going to auto shows of all types I’ve gained an appreciation of all things auto. There are many cars that I would say; ‘That’s not the way I would have done it.’ Or ‘That’s not the car I would have spent all that money on.’ But sometimes you have champagne dreams and a beer budget. Sometimes life gets in the way and the project car stays a half built daily driver. I try to appreciate everyone’s car as a work of art or a work in progress, and I try to see it from their perspective and allow them to build it their way, on their budget.
This week is SEMA week. (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Anyone who is anyone in the automotive aftermarket auto parts, fabrication, or modifying business is in Las Vegas to show off how much you can ruin a car and the products to do it with.
I love the idea of SEMA, but in recent years it’s become a proliferation of one builder trying to out build the others and in so doing I feel like they are forgetting the guy who works in his garage with jack stands and his own tools. Many of the SEMA projects are commissioned and have sponsored parts that make the finished project just as unattainable as the car that guy with the jack stands dreams about.
Today I provide a collection of photos from car shows I’ve seen. Some of these cars are literally priceless works of art. Some others are the kind of car you make if you don’t chase after the prom queen and just dance with the girl you brought. In this era of “Rocket Bunny all the things!” that SEMA seems to have become; where is that fine line between an Automotive van Gogh created masterpiece where form is the function; and a ‘Not so much’ Bro-Bro No-No?
All photos by the author. He can be found at; @Im_JustJim on Twitter and just_jim13 on Instagram