A Matter of Taste

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

Since the Model T, car owners have paid good money to make their rides stand out from the crowd. A brass radiator cap, special head lights, a steering wheel that pivoted out of the way– these are just a few of the hundreds of mods that could turn a Tin Lizzie into your Tin Lizzie. Today, the trend continues with an even wider (and wilder) array of goodies lining the aisles of automotive parts emporia, tempting whoever wanders past with the promise of aesthetic liberation. With a few exceptions, the only thing that results from these efforts is a 9-1-1 to the taste police.

I know taste is subjective. I realize that we live in a society that guarantees its citizens’ freedom of expression. But there should be limits to what someone can do to a perfectly good car. On what grounds can you defend putting a vinyl coating on your car’s roof so it looks like a convertible when it clearly isn’t? Although vinyl roofs had their heyday in the 70’s and early 80’s, along with platform shoes with fish in the heels, this unconscionable vulgarity refuses to disappear. The Chrysler 300 is the current favorite for this abomination but anything with wheels seems to be fair game. Anyone ever see an Aztec with a fake convertible top? I have. I still have nightmares about it.

Most of the cosmetic accessories sold today do little more than identify their owner as a world-class poseur. Can anyone tell me the logic of slapping air dams and wings onto a car that’s never driven anywhere but the streets at speeds that require no aerodynamic addenda? Air dams and side skirts are one thing on an M3 prepped for a race course. They’re something else entirely on a Honda CRX being driven back and forth to work. And they fool no one. Nine times out of ten, the only thing they’re good for is hanging up on speed bumps, curbs and car washes.

The bright chrome wheels that look like an attachment for a Cuisinart are equally ludicrous. Adding spinners to the wheels only heightens the impression they are better suited for slicing salami than supporting a set of tires. Most cars are styled for specific wheel sizes; adding dubs or double dubs makes them look like something that ended-up in Big Daddy Roth’s waste basket. When you see a $2k car with $4k wheels and spinners, it’s all show and no go. Sometimes you have to wonder if the engine can produce enough torque to turn over those monstrosities.

Special mention goes to that category of modifications known as donks, bubbles and boxes. For those of you who haven’t kept up with the latest in urban transportation, these are 70’s and 80’s era GM rear wheel-drivers that have been jacked-up to fit the largest set of wheels possible (26-inchers are the most common size), sporting paint jobs that cost more than the book value of the vehicle. Lambo-style doors are optional, but highly desired. These sick cars (in the classic meaning of the word, not the urban vernacular) bring to mind Back to the Future III. You know; the scene where Dr. Emmett Brown retrofits the Delorean with stagecoach wheels. I can’t imagine what it must be like to try to turn a corner in one of these tipsy-looking hoopties-– which may explain why you see them driven slowly on city streets and never on the highways.

Thankfully, some customizers limit their forays to their car’s interior (instead of assaulting the sensibilities of innocent bystanders). Once upon a time, automotive interior decorating was limited to some new seat covers and a pair of fuzzy dice. Today, there are almost as many ways to screw-up the inside of a car as there are people willing to do it. You can cover your chairs, dashboard, headliner and doors with everything from cow spots to urine-colored leather. Steering wheel covers range from the patently faux (petrochemical leather), to what the fo’ (fake fur). Neon lights can appear everywhere from the ash trays to the cupholders.

I’m not picking on America’s automotive underclass. I know there are dozens of tuners who inflict massive taste failures on box fresh, world-class sports cars: Porsches, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and yes, Aston Martins. I also know that most owners who individualize their rides have good intentions– in the same sense that a teenage girl with a Mohawk haircut only wants to draw a little attention to herself (so she can tell onlookers to f-off). Unfortunately, they have no taste. They don’t understand the subtle joys of owning the right car perfectly specced-up at the factory, unmolested. Luckily for us, rappers and sports stars do. More and more of the cars I see in Celebrity Rides are just that. Thank God.

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

More by Frank Williams

Join the conversation
2 of 49 comments
  • Ichi_ban1 Ichi_ban1 on Sep 07, 2006

    There are some modifications on small sport compacts that can be tasteful. Very few, but I have seen some. Indianapolis (where I reside) has plenty of the Civics, Accords, Neons, Cavaliers, etc. with the shower-door spoilers, unpainted body kits, and 6" Exhaust tips. Those don't really bother me. It's when someone hacks up a BMW, Supra, 3KGT, 300ZX, something that could be a really tasteful street machine and turns it into a monstrosity is when I shake my head and think "it could've been so much better." But oh well, to each his own.

  • Nick Nick on Jan 09, 2007

    Worst ever? This was actually a fews years ago on a white 5.0 Mustang. The guy had attached lower body cladding the whole way round. Then every couple of inches he'd drilled a whole, and suspended a half dozen links or so of white painted chain (like you'd use on a fence), with the tips a quarter inch of the ground. Even driving on a relatively smooth road, the chains swished and swooshed like a hula dancers skirt. It was beyond ridiculous. Resale value anyone?

  • Honda1 More disposable junk from Hyundai.
  • Analoggrotto The ORDER BOOKS in Australia have netted 300% above projection. Australia is so awesome and they are embracing the Telluride DIesel to overtake the Prado. Pentagon data, and eATPs rule the discussion, bar none. Toyota fans can go home with their sorry little turbo 4 cylinder.
  • Analoggrotto Such a loving artful tribute to TTAC's greatest godfather is much welcomed. There's a new and better PORSCHE and they are from SOUTH KOREA baby! After years of Japanese oppression, SOUTH KOREA is the TIGER of the Far EAST. We just need a modern day James Dean and that would be Rhys Millen!
  • Groza George Our roads and bridges are crumbling and increasing vehicle weight will only make bridges crumble faster. We need more infrastructure work.
  • Wolfwagen Pennsylvania - Two long straights, 1 medium straight, 1 super short straight and a bunch of curves all on one end