‘Respect a man’s car, the man respects you.’ This is a maxim automobile-obsessed men live by, and it is very true.
These words, uttered by souped-up-car movie superhero Jason Statham in Transporter 2, rightly acknowledge how close a man’s car is to his heart. To men who like cars, these shiny beasts are something like a trophy wife... or a celebrity best friend. Gone are the days when cars were just a means to take you from point A to point B. They are a reflection of your taste and your lifestyle... and they need to be coddled and pampered too.
Pakistani mechanics, always expert at making magic with spare parts and suspiciously-sourced materials, began receiving a lot more clients who wanted to majorly modify their cars after a series of high-profile car flicks hit the big screen... most notably The Fast and The Furious. After this movie debuted in Pakistan, you would see youth gather on deserted streets past midnight, showing off their souped up cars and racing into the darkness. The only thing missing from the scene were the chicks in miniskirts. The game “Need For Speed” also helped accelerate the trend, as did a series of other car-themed movies like The Transporter series.
So how do these car fanatics keep up with the Joneses? From visual modifications like body kits, to side skirts and extended bumpers, the trend has evolved, and with it, a car is transformed from being an ordinary member of the family to a high-performance, flashy accessory.
“A car is very personal,” says Mansoor Halim, a regular participant at the Autocross Race in Karachi, where both the driver and his vehicle are put to the test. “I modified mine to specifically meet the needs of Autocross. The car needed to be stable had to be able to take sharp turns... so it was designed that way.”
Halim’s requirements had more to do with suspension and stability and not speed per se. A car’s suspension, if it’s working well, maximises the friction between the vehicle’s tyres and the road’s surface, ensuring that the car steers well, absorbs shocks and bumps, and handles smoothly. A good suspension, an air intake, and a full exhaust system are some of the key things Halim needed for his Civic. And while the modifications robbed him of well over Rs100,000 Halim had no problem boasting about the expense, saying that he treated his car like a spoilt child.
“When it comes to passion,” says Halim, “you don’t think about money. You want to watch movies in your car? You can choose between a plasma, LED or LCD screen. It’s all about one’s tastes and preferences.”
And he is right. A car is a luxury that is customised to suit one’s taste. While Halim’s car is more about getting traction, there are others who want to do a 0-100kmph run in just a few seconds.
For them, the engine is what they lay their eyes on, what they dig into their bank accounts for. Air intakes, the suspension, headers, and full exhaust systems are some of the things they need when they set out to modify their wheels — parts that allow the car to breathe better increase engine performance and speed. Yes, it is treated like a particularly picky human being.
Taha Ali Zaidi, owner of Carborn, caters to these needs. A car fanatic, who channelled his enthusiasm in setting up a business when he was 16, he makes aficionados’ dreams come true. And while he has become a thorough professional by spending seven years in the field, there are some independent artists who help themselves. They spend hours browsing through parts and accessories that can make their ride look and feel better.
After all, every one of the car aficionados is a self-proclaimed mechanic, an expert in the field with an informal diploma in car modifications.
“Everyone who comes to us has his own set of requirements,” says Hammad Poori, who owns a car workshop called Optimum Motorsports. Poori, himself a car fanatic, knows pretty much everything there is to know about cars. Yet, he does not tell customers what to buy.
“There used to be a time when we would guide the customers. Now they know everything! The exposure they have had has helped them learn and now they tell us what they need,” says Poori, who sounds more like a middleman arranging parts.
As Poori speaks, customers flit in and out of his shop and call in requesting specific parts from Thailand, China, Italy and the US. They know everything and it is an impressive display of knowledge, to the point of being scary for Poori. It’s never good if the clients know too much.
But Poori remains cool and shrugs off any potential concern. “See, there are three types of customers,” he says. “The first are wannabe car fanatics. Theirs is a family car that cannot be modified to the extreme so they just get the basic stuff. For them, it’s an attempt to look cool... and modifications are a superficial fix.”
“Then there is another kind that is at the middle level,” continues Poori. “They have a limited budget and start off with low-level engine modifications. Spark plugs, plug wires, and maybe they’ll get an intake six months later.”
There is an obvious change in tone and excitement when Poori mentions the third kind of customers. These are the car worshippers. A breed who devote their lives to their car and treat it better than they would their spouse. For them, even a sports car needs modification and, since money is not a concern, jazzing up their wheels can cost more than the car itself.
These are the kind of people who want to re-invent their cars. Their cars are custom-made and everything that is under the hood gets replaced by parts that are worth a fortune.
And while the parts may be worth enough for a carjacker to retire with, this trend has witnessed a decline. “There was a time when I used to sell a lot more. Now it’s gone down because people have become cautious... with their money and their cars,” adds Poori.
Don’t be surprised if these people anthropomorphise their cars, lovingly referring to them as ‘baby’... because with the amount of money they spend on their cars, it’s a little hard to think of that four-wheeled beauty as an inanimate object.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 29th, 2011.
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