Guest Opinion: There Goes The Neighborhood

As we all know, the latest automotive trend for the average buyer is the SUV.

They’re spacious and possess a larger presence on the road and have the ability to carry all the crap we accumulate through life (children, friends and family included). Since many of these SUVs are not taken off road and are used solely for daily driving duties, upgrades to the SUV’s “truck” image were unnecessary. When you’re driving a giant hunk of metal and plastic down the road that weighs over two tons, performance, speed and handling are out of the question. So here’s how it starts – big truck owners with the urge to upgrade oozing out of every orifice and the options are minimal. There is one last department of modifying left to consider and style is the answer. If it’s meant to go from point A to point B, only, and will never see anything besides pavement, it all makes sense. There’s another area we’re missing, though – the cabin of the SUV is far bigger than that of a regular car and this allows us to put all sorts of crazy audio and visual systems inside. If you’re driving to Grandma’s house and it’s a three-hour drive away, it’d be nice to shut the kids up with “Finding Nemo” playing in the headrests and flip-down monitors in the ceiling. Or if you’re not in the mood to please the kids, you can put on your favorite CD and let the three fifteen-inch subs in the custom enclosure that sits in the cargo compartment vibrate your kids to sleep while you enjoy the music. The options are endless!

So we’ve got it figured out – we can customize the trucks for style and have a nice little niche in the realm of automotive culture and enthusiasts. How do we go about this, though? This was uncharted territory and we needed something to start from. Enter the Cash Money Millionaires…

This group of guys from down south brought a new style to rap. They had distinctive beats, so-so lyrics, and a pretty good flow. They may have been a rags to riches story like many rappers are, but their main focus was the newly acquired riches. All they needed was a name that could be sold and they took care of it themselves in 1999. The Cash Money rapper B.G. released his CD “Chopper City in the Ghetto” and had his one hit single “Bling Bling”. This was the song that described it all as a little buzzword. The riches of a rapper who was so used to have nothing displayed as over-the-top as humanly possible.

As the saying goes, “the rest is history”. Now SUV owners have a solid base to work from. The outline was set and big wheels soon took over. At first, twenty inches was the epitome of it all. Now it’s 2004 and we’re starting to see the first sets of thirty-inch wheels available to the public. The craze has caught on with just about everyone. Now we see Escalades with their stock 16 or 17-inch wheel diameters looking entirely inadequate. Large vehicles like the Navigator now sit on tires with a profile that makes you wonder if it’s just riding on the wheels themselves. The issue of climbing in these behemoths has been changed as well now that airbag suspensions have been introduced. A truck that sat up so high and mighty is now slammed to the floor.

A new facet of automotive culture has been established in a big way. Why, though, does this cause so much controversy? Go to places for auto enthusiasts like the VWVortex Car Lounge and the “bling culture” is regarded as a black eye on this country’s automotive culture. How can these great symbols of our American society be tainted by oversized wheels, less ground clearance then a Corvette, and audio/visual systems that put most people’s home theatre systems to shame?

Perhaps it’s the culture shock. A trend that was started by African American rappers from very undesirable areas of the country is now being accepted in white middle/upper class society and beyond. If this was started by rappers from the ghetto, then the trend itself must be ghetto and anyone not fitting the description of the originators is deemed a person trying to be someone he is not.

Maybe it’s because the trend relies heavily on personal wealth. If one wanted to purchase a nice set of 24” chrome spinners, the price tag would be well over $10K. Wild paintjobs, insane A/V setups, and other custom work is extremely expensive. Therefore, when you look at a finished product it screams out “I spent a boatload of money on this SUV!”

Or could it be the simple fact that the trend relies solely on style. All of this money is spent on something that can only be used to cruise down the road, meaning no high speed driving through twisty roads, no long high-speed burns down highways – just basic everyday driving.

Unless the bottom completely falls out on the SUV craze and we have a major oil crisis, this trend is going to be here to stay. Maybe instead of resisting we should be embracing it. People are putting in considerable amounts of time, effort, money, and soul into this latest movement. Why can’t this be appreciated and applauded rather than admonished and discarded?

Just because this trend started from where it did doesn’t mean people are trying to obtain an image. It’s a new way of car modifying. A solid base was established and now it has grown to the large scale market we see today. There’s nothing wrong with a guy in his mid 20s from the suburbs wanting a sweet system in his Suburban and some nice new 22” chrome wheels to go with his new paintjob. He’s customizing his vehicle like a person would swap a VR6 into his 1988 Volkswagen Golf. It’s just different strokes for different folks.

Even if someone is showing off his wealth with his blinged-out Escalade, who cares? You should be proud of the success you obtain in life and money is all relative. Why is the person with the $60K SUV with $30K worth of custom work put into it blatantly showing off his wealth, yet a guy who spends $30K more than that on a $120K 911 Turbo is God’s gift to humanity?

It is just another of the many facets you can appreciate from automotive culture. Some of us desire an M5, others lust for an Italian or German sportscar, there are those that dream of the perfect off-roading machine and many who long for that perfect piece of automotive history. It all boils down to one thing – our love and passion for all things automobile. If you consider yourself a car person allow your mind to open up and appreciate all the varieties it can offer you. While you may never want to drive a ‘56 Chevy, a jacked up Bronco that could tackle the Amazon, a worked Honda, or a German sports car, appreciating why many others feel the way they do about it is key to any respectful relationship with the automobile.

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