A Primer On Houston SLAB Culture
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
Your taste in poke is subjective, but they are all known as swangas and elbows.
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?
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.
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.
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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