By on April 14, 2014

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This well-traveled Houstonian thinks his town is Pistonhead Nirvana, proven every month via fanboi scale and diversity at Cars and Coffee gatherings.  Or with every 1000+hp racer on at Texas2k, every shoestring budget’d LeMons racer and Art Car fanatic: it’s all here. Except there’s nothing like Houston’s SLAB culture.

A confession: I know automotive subcultures, no matter which socioeconomic population nurtures it, always raise the ire of outsiders. My response?  Every generalization about SLABs applies to anyone building a custom, race or show car. We are all the same, deal with it.   

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Like most automotive hobbies, the Houston SLAB scene starts with the belief that the factory’s work needs improvement.  While spec racers turn a depreciated hulk into a track beast, the SLAB rider takes a slice of unloved Americana, bringing it back to a time when Japanese cars were cheap rust buckets that’d never threaten General Motor’s existence! I mean, look at our grilles and look at theirs, right?

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A car that traces its roots back to the 1970s Pimp Rides is necessary to make a modern SLAB: Camcords need not apply. Any Blaxploitation movie gets you up to speed on Pimp Rides, but the Houston SLAB scene uses them as a springboard to something new.

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Depreciated American luxury cars are the norm: Cadillacs, Buicks and certain Oldsmobiles are preferred.  Lincolns/Panthers and Chryslers are cool too, even Jaguars and Quattroportes pull it off vis-à-vis distinctly luxurious proportions.  But don’t break your budget on the ride, GM’s W-body is one of the most common platforms for good reason, as costly modifications are necessary to pay homage to the Pimp Riders while advancing the game:

  • Massive stereos, some are IASCA worthy with a little tweaking.
  • Kitted out power popping trunks, slathered in custom vinyl and personalized phrases in neon/mirrors.
  • Wire wheels much like the Cragar units supplied as OEM for Cadillac in 1983 and 1984, except replacing the fragile tin content with 100% steel. Texan Wire Wheels sells them as “83s” and “84s”, seemingly cornering this niche market.
  • Vogue tires in new sizes for new cars, naturally.
  • Replacement steering wheels, usually with wood grain rims.
  • Candy Paint, just like any vintage rodder.
  • Reupholstered interiors, taking advantage of the latest trimmings on the market.
  • Aftermarket HID lights, custom LEDs, Lambo doors, flat panel TVs and anything else you’ll find in the custom car scene.
  • Oversized brand logos, like the tailgate emblem from an Escalade.
  • Lowered suspensions (often aftermarket Air Ride) for obvious curb appeal.

That stance is at the SLAB’s core: it’s a sweet American luxury sedan ridin’ close to the curb.  Close to the concrete, up against the “slab”…hence the name. Some suggest that SLAB is an acronym for Slow-Loud-And-Bangin’ but that definition seemingly came later.

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But the wheels make SLABs so eye-catching: references percolating through Houston’s music, Houston’s culture.  Originally a re-pop of those Cadillac rims from 1983 and 1984, some are fed pro-baseball grade growth hormones to extend the hub far beyond Cadillac’s factory specification.  Ordinary wires have “pokes” while insanity ensues when you go “super poke.”  While not sure of their origin, odds are that having more poke comes people’s need to out-do each other. Like everything else in this world!

IMG_1759Your taste in poke is subjective, but they are all known as swangas and elbows.

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Elbows are when the hub and spoke of your wheels “poke” out of your body just like your arm’s elbow when perched atop the door sill.  Makes sense, but Swangas?

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Again, not sure: it’s connected to the organized dance that multiple SLABs do on an open stretch of road.  It’s like watching racers warming up their tires during pace laps.  It’s infectious: even the cops do it.

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Here’s what I saw at the first annual SLAB Parade, put on by the Houston Arts Alliance.  This cow town’s been good about supporting the art scene, especially our Art Cars and our screwed and chopped Rap artists.  While H-town Rap is a “thing” for the likes of Jay Z and Justin Timberlake, Detroit has yet to embrace Houston’s re-branding of their Camry prey/Rental Car fodder and their highline euro-wannabes. Aside from the Chrysler 300, of course.

So welcome to the Third Coast, the coast that actually likes American cars. How they were: with real names, impressive proportions and maybe even SLAB hugging overhangs, too. And the people who make them?  They are no different than other car nuts.

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No doubt, Houston is the best place to be a car fanatic, mostly thanks to our diverse population.  Love it or hate it, hopefully you enjoyed seeing this slice of Automotive Americana while I avoided the pitfalls of a milquetoast overview of an automotive sub-culture. Fingers crossed on that last part.

 

 

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74 Comments on “A Primer On SLAB Culture...”


  • avatar
    raph

    Pretty cool, I can respect anybody’s passion for a car even if its not my thing. Well with the exception of the “stanced” crowd and their extreme negative camber and narrow tire on excessively wide wheel fetish.

    Both of which and in combination are about as smart as dropping your sack into a food processor and setting it on eleven.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I can respect passion and skill to pull off some of these things, but I don’t have to respect their ‘vision.’ There are plenty of subcultures of which I’m not a part, but still respect & admire, but some of these folks are just too ridiculous. It may be a case of only the most outrageous gaining the attention and forming the stereotypes, and if so, that’s a shame for the real artists/craftsman, because their work is buried under a pile of crap.

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    The first time I saw these wheels a few years ago I had a chuckle with my wife at them because they were so ostentatious. I guess the people chuckling are the manufacturers, because elbow wheels cost upward of $2000 for a set. I am in the wrong industry.

  • avatar
    Hemi

    I mean to each his own, but those wheels…. Sooo wonder how often those wheels bump into someone’s car and ruin shit lol. Or go into a narrow garage and lose them elbows.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Or how about parallel parking with a decent curb height, do they make curb feelers that long?

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      I imagine they come off because in most cases they aren’t street legal (hubs can only be 1-2 inches beyond body panels in most states). So I’m guessing they go at or near the show and come off afterwards. Some of those extreme hubs could clearly go into the next lane…so yeah…least I hope so?

    • 0 avatar

      > but those wheels…. Sooo wonder how often those wheels bump into someone’s car and ruin shit lol.

      Naw, that’s the point:

      http://media.treehugger.com/assets/images/2011/10/gladiator-spikes.jpg

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Looking at those wheels makes me think the author forgot one other obvious influence, the chariot race scene from the movie “Ben Hur”.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      That was my first thought as well.

      The possibility of being sideswiped chariot-style by those wheels is really the only thing about these cars that I don’t appreciate. I love seeing someone’s hard work on the road, but I would appreciate it eben more if those dangerous looking chariot spikes stayed at home.

      There’s NFW this scene is for me, but seeing someone else’s project looking good makes me happy! I try to give a wave or a thumbs up when I can, and my son thinks they’re cool too.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Trying..so hard…to be…politically correct….

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    Expect those wheels to be outlawed the first time some jackass turns a toddler on a tricycle into hamburger meat.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      A toddler should not be in the street on a tricycle, or at all.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        That’s easy to say, much harder to guarantee. Its like kids have minds of their own!

        I’m much stricter with my son when we’re near roads for his own safety, and I love getting him away from roads so that I can lighten up a bit and tell him to just do whatever.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I am lucky enough to live on a dead end street that has very little traffic. However, it seems to give some of the neighborhood kids a false sense of security.

          I’m more worried about the 90 year old guy across the street with a Volvo brick and glaucoma than some 70s iron with pokes. It still comes down to me doing the best I can to keep my daughter safe, and hopefully out of the street.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        Those things stick out so far they could snag someone on the sidewalk. There should be a limit on how far out they can go. Save the really big ones for car shows.

        • 0 avatar
          Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

          Yeah, I’d vote for ‘hubcaps can extend no further than the widest point of the fender, or the outside edge of the rim, whichever is further, while operating on public roads”.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      +1: I’m all for individual rights but it doesn’t take much imagination to see how this is very dangerous. A simple tight turn at an intersection is enough to take off the shins of a pedestrian near the curb. Better keep your lawyer on speed dial.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    These are a lot better than “donks.” At least when these guys get done customizing, their cars still ride nice and cushy like a Cadillac (or Lincoln, Buick, or Oldsmobile) should.

  • avatar
    LuciferV8

    I’ll say it then. These wheels are hideous.

    That said, I’m very glad that this is happening. Here’s why:

    This trend is getting more people to work on and modify their own rides. That leads to two benefits:

    1. Like having more people owning guns creates a sizeable enough power bloc to preserve my second amendment rights, and having more people listen to offensive music/comedy creates a power bloc big enough to protect the first amendment, having more people customize their cars creates a power bloc protecting my interests as a gearhead, as well as creates a healthier aftermarket economy. For this, I’ll gladly support the SLAB folks, in the same way that supporting the rights of 2 Live Crew (which I can’t stand either) supports my right to listen to Marilyn Manson and Pantera. For an example of the gearhead power bloc protecting its own, look no further than the exemption to EPA regulations that exists for the enthusiast wanting to paint his own car (thanks, SEMA Action Network).

    2. Aftermarket car culture breeds a strong attachment to the act of driving. Attachment to driving means a population dedicated to preserving that access. My (and your) rights as a driver in general are better protected when people care more about their rides.

    The rising tide lifts all ships, and when it all comes down to it, perhaps the very worst modification to make on a car really is none at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      The wheels are hideous and detract from the the car, but it’s not any deeper then that. Just a bunch of guys who like to pimp their rides. Being a car enthusiast is a broad label, this particular niche is not my thing, but I’d rather hang with these guys then people who don’t know their cars from a toaster

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    I think this is… great.

    Here’s why- they aren’t following any other trend.

    These aren’t Civics with fart pipes, or black lux SUV’s in your upscale neighboring county where your doctor lives.

    The paint is gorgeous on these cars, which is subjective, I know. But the paint on those cars is absolutely unbelievable, and generally, no expense is spared.

    While the interior is “gaudy”, with phrases (interesting), it seems to be their own subculture.

    I wonder if toning it down would be “unSLABlike”?

    The elbows remind me of something from MadMax (albeit a touch more flashy) which would tear up someone’s tires that you’re trying to wipe out.

    It’s nice to see a town have it’s own influence on its cars.

    Three cheers for “H-Town”. (No F-150 Slabs?) Haters need not comment.

    Now if I could only find some “purple stuff” for my styrofoam cup, here…

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      In Detroit, cars like this tend to be SUVs. Yukons, Tahoes, Suburbans, Expeditions, Escalades, and Navigators. Two door SUVs are popular as well. Especially the Yukon/Tahoe two door versions. I saw an all chrome first gen Navigator with elbow wheels last Friday. Of course the Grosse Pointe police had him pulled over.

      • 0 avatar
        raresleeper

        Hmmm… two door SUV’s.

        Me likey.

        Kind of the same thing here in St. Louis. Take for example… the Yukon GT.

        You hardly ever see those things. All of the sudden, here in the city of St. Louis, you’ll see a relatively clean one still in use.

        May have gigantic chrome wheels (unfortunately), but still in use, nonetheless.

        EDIT: Regarding two door SUV’s… my 80 year old grandmother actually had a two-door XJ Cherokee… lol

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I liked all the two door SUVs GM and Ford used to make. I’ve always wanted a Yukon GT or especially a 4th gen Bronco with a 302 and 5 speed.

          • 0 avatar
            raresleeper

            For me, it’s all about the GMC Typhoon, my man.

            Although the Syclone (truck) would likely be a little lighter, I am having trouble finding its weight on a whim in comparison to its two door SUV brethren.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The Syclone was about 200 lbs lighter than the Typhoon. Both were between 3500-3900 lbs and awesome. I see them up and down Woodward Ave around dream cruise time. I like sport trucks, but the price Ford wants for the Tremor pushes me into waiting for a Mustang (OR A LINCOLN SEDAN BASED ON THE MUSTANG IF YOU ARE LISTENING FORD!!!!). I like the Mustang at $40K much better than a regular cab pickup.

  • avatar
    Hillman

    The cars look great even if it is not my thing. You have to respect anyone who puts that much energy into their cars. That said, those wheels need to be outlawed IMHO. They will hurt someone really bad on a bicycle.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Pointless. Tasteless.

    I’ll admit to being PC-less. But this makes the bosozoku scene look sane in comparison.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    That green Coupe de Ville was the most tasteful to me. Just like vinyl roofs and such, most of that stuff is just does not fit the styling on anything built past 1997. The old cars rock it pretty good, but the MKZ and the CTS? Sorry, doesn’t work.

    I just don’t get the wheels. I just don’t. I can enjoy the custom paint and interiors, even the truly gaudy stuff. But the wheels, I don’t get.

    I remember the Top Gear where Clarkson had these spikes crudely fitted these to a Fiat coupe of some kind. They were disturbingly effective at removing the tires, paint,lower rocker panels and anything they touched before the Fiat self-destructed. These are well made, though not sharp. I can’t imagine clipping a bike, pedestrian or another car.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    So this is what Lil’ Troy was rapping about.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    I like to fish off of a slab.

  • avatar

    Do those “pokes” have any structural function? If so, they must be under tremendous stress.

    From what I know about spoked wheels from being a cyclist, even if they look good, I’m not sure I’d want to put spokes on a car. Keeping the wheels round and true has to be a nightmare.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      I doubt there’s any structural function, I would bet that they’re simply hubcaps.

      Having functional spokes go out that far, wouldn’t that make for a _really_ weak and wobbly wheel?

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      If you look at pictures 5 and 7 you can see interior cast “spokes” that carry the load/torque from the axle to the tires. The elbows are just ornamental; remove them and they look like any other wheel.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    Not the first to comment on it, but these people killers called “elbows” wouldn’t have the slightest chance of being road legal in Europe. Never ever.

  • avatar
    Monty

    This is not what I prefer to own as a “specialty” car (or collector car, however you want to define them), but man, I sure respect the effort in creating these salutes to another era. And I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the paint colours – why can’t regular cars be this colourful?

    I applaud anybody with the vision to create these rolling works of art.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Regular cars CAN be that colorful – all you have to do is get yours painted.

      They’re not that colorful from the factory because nobody buys them.

      Most people are more conservative in their preferences – and don’t want the perceived/probably resale hit.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Lucifer, you’re right on the money. I was driving in northern Montana several years ago when eight or ten cars went by me while gyrating on the air suspension. One actually was going down the road on three wheels. I cannot vouch for the safety of this maneuver, but no one else was within 10 miles and the one spectator – me – slowed down and observed from a distance. Takes all kinds to make a world. Don’t the French say “viva la difference’? What’s in that Texas water?

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    Semi-relatedly: What’s the name of the thing where they take a Japanese car, usually a Honda, and put tiny wheels with insane negative camber on it?

    I see that occasionally, and it baffles me in a way that SLABs and Donks don’t (though I don’t *like* either, I find them more comprehensible).

    • 0 avatar
      rjscribbles

      That is generally called “Stancing” as people who do that like to call themselves members of “Stance Nation.”

      Alternatively it could be called “VIP Style.”

    • 0 avatar

      HellaFlush ?

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I keep seeing the phrase and confess to being ignorant as to what “donk” means?

      These cars are definitely not me, but some can be interesting to look at in moderation.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        Tankinbeans It’s based on the Impala emblem. some figured it looked like a Donkey. The old B Impalas were some of the first Donks. . They call them “boxes”. the newer RWD/BOF’s are called “bubbles”

        • 0 avatar
          Willyam

          Hmmm…I didn’t know that.

          The more you know (queue whooshing star)

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Same thing with 20″ wheels being dubbed..”Dubs!” Only thing is 10*2, and it doesn’t make any sense!

          Didn’t see any G-bodies in the pix, though I’m sure that they are!

          Just can’t get my arms around this one! Glass raining down on Houston streets from busted skyscraper windows from the 2,000W sound systems, but at least Hobby and Bush airports don’t appear to be missing wheels for 747s and the like!

          And the Impala is a sort of deer, correct? (If so, WTH did they get “donkey?”) Best not to ask!

  • avatar
    rjscribbles

    As a proud, native Houstonian it brings me great pleasure to see this article talking about some of the Houston car culture. While SLABS aren’t my particular fancy, I do enjoy seeing them on the roads. I wish more people knew about the great car culture that Houston has.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I didn’t realize my imagination existed as a real place.

    The purple car in the pic with the dark colored minivan behind it… it looks like it has a Cadillac front end and E&G grille, but the car itself appears to be a Ninety Eight if I’m not mistaken. Sail panel and rear fender skirts give it away…

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Sajeev, did you happen to see under any of those hoods of those classic Cadillacs? I’m just curious if these folks are still running 4100s or if they replaced them and if so, then with what. Thx.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    I thought we had a thing in Texas where you aren’t supposed to have stuff sticking out past your mirrors… I can’t actually find that though… These are dumb and the people that have them are generally trash…

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    If I were a drug dealer I’d hate these custom car tribes. All that money so misspent.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I see , practically every day , cars with these long , ” dog killer ” wire wheels and I certainly have never , to my knowledge seen any law enforcement officer stopping a car with these absurd wheels . That being said , I live in the ” Greater Third Ward ” area of Houston , less than a mile from MacGregor Park , where the Slab Parade was held ( although the Slab culture actually developed in the Sunnyside area of Houston , a few miles south ). The parade was actually pretty entertaining , although it created the only major traffic jam I’ve seen in the area since I moved here 6 years ago .

  • avatar
    ajla

    Looks like no LH-platform (or any pre 2005 ChryslerCO product) or Genesis/Equus love among this crowd.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    You should go boating and offroading with Troy and I some time. We’d probably make these gentlemen look like Rhodes scholars.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    One of my favorite E40 songs focuses on this scene:

    “Candy Paint” linkhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwGUdiIjROg

    Slim Thug (Houston native) is also big into this stuff,

    “Cadillac music” linkhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQj7Clsscus

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-2_qYWkjIE

      A little old school, copied from earlier up the page…Tops Drop by Fat Pat, an early-ish Houston rapper. Definitely some SLAB action in here.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I’ve seen these cars around but never knew it was a thing. Just thought they were low riders/cruisers with goofy wheels. Thanks for the education.

  • avatar
    gmrn

    It looks like those “elbows” would be difficult to balance. When I first glanced, I saw a looming projectile at highway speed.
    Still, they’re so outragous, I kinda like them!

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Backronym or not, given that ‘SLAB’ is referenced in both the title and first paragraph, I’d appreciate it if the definition of what it referred to wasn’t buried so deep in the story.


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