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Hot Wheels

For a wild ride, check out the Memphis Kustom Auto Show.

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A few weeks ago, I beheld an extraordinary sight -- a magic car that could move on three wheels. While sitting at a red light, I noticed an up-and-down motion to my right. I turned my head with slight interest, only to see that bouncing next to me was an old, shiny powder-blue custom car complete with hydraulics and big-ass rims.

The driver was bumping some rap song on what sounded like a decent system, maneuvering his lively ride to match the beat. Of course, this is Memphis, and hydraulics are nothing new. My attention quickly turned from the driver as the light turned green. But when the driver sped up, pulled a U-turn, and turned his ride up on three wheels, I was all eyes. This was the stuff of rap videos and movies, not real life.

What was it? How could it? And, most importantly, could my little Cavalier ever achieve such glory? My queries were answered by Karl Ward, the manager of Exotic Kustoms in Whitehaven, a year-old custom auto shop that's sponsoring a custom car show at The Pyramid on Saturday, May 31st.

According to Ward, those probably weren't hydraulics at all but a new trend in customizing called the air-bag system. It works like hydraulics but doesn't require as much maintenance or battery power.

"Airbags do what hydraulics do without all the batteries in the trunk," he explains. "They even have remotes so you can stand outside the car and make it dance. It's the big thing right now."

Ward says three-wheel motion is the proper name for the amazing feat I witnessed. The shocks are dropped on one side and the others are raised, leaving one front tire off the ground. He told me that my car (a smaller-sized vehicle) would be better off with a system that raises one of the back tires, resulting in something that, as he explained, "looks like a little dog doing his thing."

But fancy car tricks aside, cosmetic modifications such as custom rims are all the rage in Memphis, and they're the top seller at Exotic Kustoms. Rims range in size, but they're always shiny and can actually double as a mirror when you need to get that annoying speck of pepper out of your teeth. The popular spinner rims are designed to continue moving even while the car is stopped. In fact, the latest Three 6 Mafia hit, "Ridin Spinners," encourages drivers to stop in the middle of the highway and let them spin freely.

The spinning part can be added on, and Ward says they can also be custom-made with whatever shape you'd like. After demonstrating the motion of a spinner with one of the many gleaming styles on display in the Exotic Kustoms showroom, he told me of a recent customer who requested his spinners be shaped like dollar signs.

And these days, the rims keep getting larger and larger. At one time, 20-inch rims, also known as "dubz" or "twankies," were top-of-the-line equipment, sported only by rappers and pro-sports stars. But in the age of bling-bling, 20s are considered the norm, and those wishing to stand out have to shell out big bucks (around $7,000) for the large 26-inch rims.

"There's nothing extravagant about a 20, unless you put it on a small car. They're an old fad. Rims for these large SUVs like Avalanches and Suburbans are popular," says Ward. "The biggest thing out there right now is a 26, but they're supposed to be coming out with a 27."

Exotic Kustoms can do pretty much anything you can imagine to a car. Wish you had a sunroof? They can install one. Want to feel the wind in your hair as you cruise down the freeway? They can turn your hardtop into a convertible. They can also turn your square ride into the phattest in your 'hood by dropping it down to a lowrider so low "that you can't get paper underneath."

Ward says they install woodgrain, which they design in-house (apparently a rarity in the custom auto shop world); turn analog dash dials into digital ones; personalize grills with names or symbols; install vanity mirrors in the ceiling the possibilities are endless. One customer even had a mini-chandelier installed in his Mustang.

"There are some things we'd just rather not do because it'd be too dangerous, like putting huge rims on little cars. When they get too wild and radical, we kind of step away, but we can do most things without a problem. We bring ideas to life," says Ward.

Exotic Kustoms is expecting around 500 custom cars to be on display at The Pyramid for their second annual show, and 150 prizes will be given away. There's even a prize for the best drivable, run-down old hoopty. Cars from all over the South will get their chance to shine, and who knows? Maybe that guy with the old, powder-blue car will be on hand to demonstrate his magical three-wheel motion.

Memphis Kustom Auto Show, Saturday, May 31st, at The Pyramid. For more information, check out Exotic-Kustoms.com.

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