Fast and fabulous

Local enthusiasts gear up their customized cars
Monday, November 17, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:03 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 26, 2008

Waymon Jones’ 2000 Mazda Protege is the ultimate tricked-out car.

The deep-blue exterior features tinted windows, 18-inch aluminum wheels and purple neon undercarriage lights. A nitrous oxide injection system, considered illegal for street racing, gives his car an extra boost.

In a space the size of a compact sedan, Jones, 31, has fit extra gauges, a television, a Sony Playstation 2, and a complete Alpine stereo system with satellite radio. He has also changed the cloth seats to leather and put the Mazda emblem in the headrests.

After all the time and money spent on the Protegé, you would think Jones would be satisfied, but he’s not.

“During the winter, I’m going to put ground effects and turbo on it,” Jones said. “I want it to be something completely different that you don’t see at car shows.”

Jones estimates he has spent more than $15,000 on the Protegé and $900 on the stereo system alone. The stereo was also the most time-consuming piece to install.

“You want to get it just right,” Jones said. “It took me close to nine hours, a whole Saturday.”

Welcome to the world of customized cars, a world that is more than a hobby to all who are involved. Customizing a car entails making the exterior aesthetically pleasing and fast-looking, while adding extras to the interior to give it a personal touch. Enthusiasts often spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to get a car exactly the way they want.

The hobby gained popularity with movies such as “The Fast and the Furious” in 2001 and “Gone In 60 Seconds” in 2000, which featured top-speed car chases in expensive sports cars.

Car enthusiast and Hickman High School senior Troy Strawn, 18, always had a passion for cars, but it was “The Fast and the Furious” that reeled him in.

“I like the adrenaline of racing and doing 90 (mph) on Business Loop (70),” Strawn said.

Columbia is home to two car clubs. Krystal Dimension started in early 2002, after two different clubs splintered, leaving members searching for custom-car unity. The 20-member club has attended 25 to 30 car shows around Missouri in the summers, seeking participation trophies, along with individual trophies for the members’ cars.

A manager technician at Legend Automotive, Eddie Niles knows cars inside and out. He’s been a mechanic for 25 years and is president of Krystal Dimension.

“When I came to the club, they were trying to start up their own car show,” Niles said. “They were having problems with members arguing. They couldn’t seem to get it going.”

With ages ranging from 17 to 55, the club serves as a support network, holding holiday parties and weekend get-togethers, while helping out the young adult members.

“A lot of the parents entrust us to take care of the younger kids,” Niles said. “We’ve toned a bunch of them down with their language. They wanted to fight all the time with the rival club. Now we sit around and let them talk.”

Another Dimension Car Club started in September, and it’s already up to 10 members. The Columbia chapter is part of a larger network of clubs, with other chapters in Miami, Sacramento, Kentucky and Honduras. Chapter president Mike Ghazaleh, 17, a junior at Hickman, introduced the club in Columbia when he moved here from Tampa, Fla.

“I moved back to Columbia and knew friends who would want to join, and the same day I got back, I started making phone calls,” Ghazaleh said. “I would like to have a club where we are almost like family and take nothing too seriously.”

Ghazaleh drives a 1991 Honda CRX DX that he bought for $1,500. When he’s done fixing it up, he estimates it’ll be worth $15,000. It took him 14 hours to put in new seats, and he is looking to boost his “weak” engine.

Members of Another Dimension may not have the nicest cars or the most time to work on them because some of them hold part-time jobs while attending high school.

The club does have something unusual: a female vice-president. Amber Luehrs, a 17-year-old Hickman senior, became interested in tricking-out cars three years ago.

“I don’t know many girls who do this,” Luehrs said. “I like Camaros and Hondas more for the looks than the speed.”

She bought a 1982 Camaro with her own money. Although Luehrs hasn’t done much work to the car, it still looks fast, with a white body and a blue racing stripe stretching from the hood to the trunk. She plans to work on the windshield, get new tires and rims, and install a stereo. Despite having her dream car, Luehrs can’t drive it. She doesn’t have her license yet.

Tommy Gibson, 38, has stood in the high school students’ shoes. He’s been working on cars since his high school days, when he put a V-8 motor into a 1972 Chevrolet Vega station wagon.

He has since moved on from the wagon. He has been working on a purple, two-door 1997 Pontiac Grand Am for three years. Gibson has kept the original look while adding extras.

“It has some fancy wheels, a special flame window tint, purple neon light kit, and a chandelier where the dome light would be,” Gibson said. “I’ve just found a body kit, which will put it into the modified class instead of the original class.”

Tricking-out the Grand Am hasn’t been cheap. Gibson estimates he’s poured over $3,000 into the car, and the body kit will cost him another $700. He would also like to install a swivel seat in the back, along with a table bar and a fish tank. Gibson pays for his improvements by working and running a gift merchandise side business.

Both Gibson and Jones said tricking-out cars doesn’t get in the way of their family lives. Gibson’s 17-year-old son is going to join Krystal Dimension soon and already attends car shows with his father.

“We get to meet new people,” Gibson said. “It’s like a whole family now. They’re always wanting to do something.”

Jones lives a full life outside of his Protegé. He is an auto technician at Legend Automotive, a member of the Missouri National Guard, and a father of four young children. He works on his car in his garage in the later part of the evenings, waiting until his kids go to bed.

Jones brings his kids to the car shows as well, immersing them in the custom car culture, right down to their Krystal Dimension T-shirts. His 7-year-old daughter can even name the types of cars she sees at shows, which would make any car-crazy father proud.

“They get to go to different places,” Jones said. “I make sure they’re around, so they’re not left out of what I like to do.”

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