Custom car craze grows

ARLINGTON – Rock music blares from the speakers in an echo-prone garage amid farms and cow pastures near Arlington.

Inside, Rod Pickett fiddles with some wiring under the dash of his 1966 Chevy Nova.

Resting on a lift about four feet above the ground, the car – complete with shiny black paint and flame designs – glimmers like new, even though it’s been completely overhauled several times.

That’s the life of a car in the hands of a man who’s always seeking to distinguish his ride.

“It’s all about being different, I guess,” Pickett said. “So you’re not the same as everybody else. You try to stay off the norm.”

Custom cars – with massive chrome wheels, decorative paint, slick upholstery and other adjustments – are no longer only for those with lavish or eccentric tastes.

Lowered cars with hydraulics and gold rims were once thought to be associated exclusively with criminals: gangsters, pimps and drug dealers.

Whether or not that was ever true, these designs are now hitting the mainstream, even prompting magazines and reality TV shows including “Monster Garage” and “Pimp My Ride.”

“You see tons of older people driving them around now,” Pickett said. “From soccer moms to 16-year-old kids.”

Adam Carlson, owner of Custom Auto Specialties on Evergreen Way in Everett, said it’s still mostly young men who come in clamoring for new wheels and hydraulics. But now he’s seeing a more diverse group of people trying to give their cars a unique look.

All in the family

Customizing is nothing new to Pickett, 34, who has run Pickett Custom Trucks near Arlington for eight years.

In fact, he says he got the bug from his dad.

“We’ve never driven anything stock,” Pickett said, whose mother drives a Chevrolet Tahoe that has 20-inch wheels (opposed to stock 16-inch wheels), is lowered and has “tricked-out paint.”

“We can never leave anything alone.”

The day after Christmas, it wasn’t unusual for Pickett’s father to take brand new toy trucks and bikes apart and rebuild them or paint them.

Dad, by the way, drives a Chevy S-10 Extreme pickup that’s lowered and has 18-inch wheels on it.

“I think it had about 500 miles on it when he did all that,” Pickett said.

Pickett’s love for customizing stretches well beyond cars and trucks. He’s done motorcycles and is even working on raising a golf cart and putting 30-inch tires on it.

But his prized possession is a 1977 black-flamed Peterbilt tractor-trailer with virtually every metal part done up in stainless steel or chrome.

The original modifications took about six months, and various additions and updates take several weeks at a time.

It’s won several awards at custom auto shows, including best in show for limited mileage trucks at Hot August Nights in Reno, Nev., in the summer.

So, why customize a huge tractor-trailer?

“Why not?” Pickett replied. “It was just the next step.”

Is it safe?

Larry Mark, manager of the Goodyear tire store near the Everett Mall, said the trend of ever-growing tires and wheels, in particular, is good for business but could be bad for safety.

“We’ve displayed 20-inch wheels, and some are coming in even bigger, around 24 inches,” he said. “It’s a numbers game. You see quite a bit of it because it’s one relatively inexpensive thing you can do to make your vehicle different than any other vehicle out there.”

But some safety factors need to be taken into consideration, Mark said.

Even simply changing out wheels can adversely effect a car’s traction control, center of gravity and ability to avoid a collision, Mark said. Also, increasing the size of the tire can do damage to anti-lock brake systems.

“As a businessman, I like to explain these things so customers know what they’re getting into,” Mark said. “If it’s done in moderation, though, it’s not terrible.”

Mark said he’s seen such crazes before, particularly with custom wheels, in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

“It is a style trend,” he said. “To put your own brand on it, so it’s not lost in the crowd.”

Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or vbalta@heraldnet.com.

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