Shaquille O’Neal of the L.A. Lakers introduces the eventual "King of Bling" winner, the 2003 Hummer H2 of teammate Bryon Russell, at GM’s All-Car
Celebrities are accustomed to sharing the red carpet—with each other. Typically they don’t share the spotlight with 5,000-plus-pound "stars" made of sheet metal, glass and rubber. Unless, of course, the glittering vehicles are their own rides—customized to the hilt—and the event is General Motors Corporation’s first All-Car Showdown.
The event, which was part of the buzz at this year’s NBA All-Star game, took place at a studio lot in Hollywood and was hosted by Shaquille O’Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers. Stars such as rapper Snoop Dogg, actors Beverley Mitchell and Frankie Muniz, as well as pro athletes including Bryon Russell of the Lakers and Az-Zahir Hakim of the NFL’s Detroit Lions opened their private garages and brought their custom rides to vie for the first "King of Bling" award. Showdown.
What a competition it was.
Among the 24 vehicles that paraded down the red carpet in front of judges, host Shaq and masters of ceremonies Fuzzy Fantabulous and Joe Grande of Power 106 radio in Los Angeles were late-model Hummers and Cadillacs, and a few classic cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s that took automotive accessorizing to new heights.
All had flashy, expensive wheels—the bigger the better on the Hummers. "Oooh," Shaq said, as the 2003 H2 owned by Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody drove up. Shaq, no stranger to big wheels, couldn’t take his eyes off the 28-inch, chrome wheels and Kumho tires that were on Brody’s Hummer. The vehicle’s standard 17-inch wheels were nowhere to be seen. A nice added touch: a spinner spare wheel at the back of Brody’s H2.
It turns out the 28-inch wheels—the biggest available—were just starting to arrive on the market. Combined with low-profile tires, the package could retail for as much as an entire car, or approximately $26,000 for a set of four, according to Myles Kovacz, publisher of DUB magazine of Los Angeles which showcases stars and their custom cars.
"I think a lot of athletes and prominent people in the urban culture have been doing this for years," Kovacz said. "But 10 years ago, you were either a thug or a drug dealer (if you accessorized your vehicles like this.) Today, it’s socially acceptable to drive these vehicles. We’re the modern day coachbuilder or hot rodder. And we’re doing it with a new twist. It’s now part of youth culture. It’s one of those things that has become cool."
Fancy wheels aren’t the only expensive, custom touches on the stars’ cars.
Entertainment screens were everywhere and often could be found embedded in head restraints as well as on the ceilings and in the middle of the dashboards. A 2002 Cadillac Escalade owned by Frankie Muniz, star of television’s Malcolm in the Middle, includes a 10-inch display screen among the five screens inside, said Ron Canyon, president of Canyon Motors in Los Angeles, which sells and customizes cars for stars. Canyon was previously affiliated with 310 Motoring, the company that customized Muniz’s vehicle.
Muniz’s entertainment options in this special Escalade, whose previous owner was Penny Hardaway of the New York Knicks, is a Sony PlayStation. Newer models now get Microsoft’s Xbox, Canyon added. Muniz’s light blue ‘Slade went on to win best interior at the GM event, and a beaming Muniz said it was totally unexpected and "awesome."
Sound and entertainment systems can start "from about $8,000 and go up from there," said Kenny Fong, president of the Chatsworth, Calif.-based Darkside Motoring that customized Brody’s H2 and a couple other competing vehicles. "It really depends on how extravagant you want to be," he said.
Indeed, some stereo systems in the stars’ vehicles included huge clusters of built-in speakers. O’Neal’s 2002 Cadillac Escalade, for example, literally has a wall of speakers behind the second-row seats and a system capable of 5,000 watts of sound.
Then there are the new materials being used for seats and door trim on these custom vehicles. In many of the stars’ vehicles, factory-installed fabric headliners—the material that covers the ceilings inside vehicles—were replaced by thick suede, and seats had custom coverings and detail. Shaq’s Escalade, for example, had the Superman logo stitched onto the seats.
"It’s definitely fashion," Kovacz said. "There’s Vuitton and Gucci interiors now. These are the things that are transcending fashion to the cars."
Perhaps the most ostentatious touch was the real mink trimming the leather seats inside rapper Snoop Dogg’s Cadillac sedan which he had christened the "Snoop DeVille."
Kovacz noted that custom work inside a vehicle isn’t as readily visible to others as are the wheels and custom paint jobs.
Indeed, GM’s winner for best exterior was a brilliant blue H2 owned by Chris Claiborne of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings that had chrome accents everywhere, from the running boards to brush guard. Even the skid plates under the truck are chrome-covered, according to Canyon, who added the work was done by 310 Motoring.
Canyon, whose customer list is about 30 pages long and includes actors Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Denzel Washington and singers Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, said Claiborne’s Hummer wore a "Mercedes blue" paint color. Celebrities "like the Mercedes and Bentley colors," Canyon added.
King of Bling
It’s not just the flashy stuff that’s important to this high-brow clientele. The top "King of Bling" vehicle of GM’s evening—a darker blue H2 owned by the Lakers’ Russell—had real craftsmanship, said Jeff Kuhlman, director of communications at Cadillac and one of the judges. "Most of these cars had style to draw in the eye," he said. "So (the differentiator) had to be in the detail."
Peter MacGillivray, vice president of marketing and communications at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association of Diamond Bar, Calif., believes celebrities are helping popularize the already-burgeoning, multibillion-dollar auto accessory market.
"They are media celebrities, and they make it cool," MacGillivray said. "They influence popular culture. They influence art. They influence fashion and music. They sing about their cars . . . and they motivate a whole lot of people."