Most automotive journalists are convinced that their opinion carries weight, and they’re right—but only if they influence the thoughts of their readers effectively. That’s why when it comes to the polarizing counter-cultural scene known as stance, I’m actively seeking the naysayers, conscientious objectors and haters so that we can chat about why you’re so very, very wrong.
You are wrong about stance. And I was wrong about it too. I finally figured out why, and for me it goes back to how I fell in love with cars as a kid.
The Sunbird That Meant Everything
As most car-loving millenials, I grew up with the cheap cars of the ‘80s and ‘90s because they were the only thing my lower-middle class family could afford while assimilating into America, the Land Of Opportunity™. That, and cars from the 2000s were impossible to find because that decade didn’t actually exist yet.
My family’s first new car after emigrating into the United States was a 1992 Pontiac Sunbird. That designed-by-committee hunk of junk served as the litmus test of how to distinguish high-fallootin’ silver from no-falootin’ gray because this particular exercise in planned obsolescence was the four cylinder cringe-inducing base model.
But that didn’t matter.
It was the first car that piqued my interested because as a five-year-old kid, I had an all-access pass to it and nothing else. Using something I no longer possess thanks to the public school system called imagination, I made the shitty Pontiac a muse from which I designed pretend cars for a company I named Sunbird. Not the best name if I’m honest, but at five years old, I was lucky that waking up to a wet bed wasn’t still a major part of my week.
After the Pontiac’s head gasket unceremoniously blew at 40,000 miles and it was repossessed because my family felt it more prudent to feed my eight year old frame instead of paying for a car that no longer worked, we got the car that supercharged my love of automobiles—an almost impossibly cheap and reliable used 1987 Honda Civic sedan. It also marked the first time I’d been exposed to the word burgundy.
While I didn’t give the car a name because it already had one, I did imagine a family hierarchy for the car, with the Accord being the stern and reliable patriarch, the Odyssey being the matriarch with its wide child-bearing hips, the Prelude being the weird uncle that overstays his welcome, and my dear 1987 Civic as the eager-yet-naive child of the family. Over its reliable years of service, I became such a fanboy that I carved my last name into the front bumper of the car with a box cutter because dammit, it paid its dues and deserved a spot at the proverbial table.
My years of interaction with both the reliable Civic and less-than-reliable Sunbird triggered something inside my developing brain and formed important emotional attachments, leading to strong opinions of what a car should and shouldn’t be–opinions that stayed unchallenged my entire life until about a week ago when I experienced what doctors call “having your shit flipped.”
Stance Is Alright With Me
For those of you who attend local car shows and read my articles, you might have noticed that car shows and my presence don’t mix very well. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown tired of the forced socialization aspect of having your car parked and trying to spot the person that doesn’t know a goddamn thing (No, Mark, there’s no such thing as a waternator, no matter what AutoZone says.) Maybe it’s because I don’t wish to fan the flames of something incendiary I may or may not have started under the relative security and anonymity of the Internet.
Or perhaps, and I hope I share this sentiment with many of my readers, I just didn’t like the cars showing up. Particularly the new fad (more like epidemic, amirite?) known as stance culture.
If you’re unfamiliar with stance culture, first, I’d like you to congratulate you on waking up from your coma. Unfortunately, no one knows who Duran Duran is anymore, so I’ll give you a few moments to come to terms with that.
Stance culture, in a nutshell, is an exercise in excess. If lowering a car one inch makes it look better proportioned and more aggressive, slamming the frame rails to the ground and ensuring that it never graces the mall parking lot’s impossible-to-avoid speed bumps is better. If some cars have half a degree of negative camber on the drive wheels to aid in cornering grip, then tilting your wheel like it’s doing an impression of Doc Brown’s flying Delorean is better. Slapping a huge turbocharger isn’t just done for power purposes, but to create the most insane driving experience ever - and because the aspects of the culture are so on-the-nose and bombastic, it’s easily dismissed as the rambling and incoherent message of kids that either can’t afford, or don’t know any better.
They’re the other, and we, the automotive journalists and puritan enthusiasts are righteous because we don’t, and would never buy into it, as we wait for it to die the death we know it truly deserves.
Except we’re wrong, and we all owe the people promoting stance culture a heartfelt and sincere apology.
I showed up at my first car show in nearly a decade, discounting the OEM-heavy corporate circle-jerks that I usually attend for the purposes of Ye Olde Journalisme. This was a local meet, set up on Facebook by a good friend of mine on behalf of his company, High Intake Performance as a celebration to end the year for Nissan enthusiasts across the tri-state area.
I was asked to “help set up”, which meant that I would walk around the expansive college parking lot, putting little pink and green stickers on cars that hadn’t yet been tagged as paying the show’s five dollar entry fee and sneaking free bottles of water whenever no one was looking.
At 9 a.m. on a day after a major hurricane watch in the area, and two full hours before the official start of the meet, there were already a few dozen cars setting up shop to have engaged onlookers drool over things that were shiny, things that weren’t, and things that simply didn’t belong on an automobile in a conventional setting.
A few hours in, attendance increased to the point where there were DJs, empanada food trucks with lines 200 feet long, and the parking lot so packed that I was given the job of enforcing a one car, one parking space rule. It was no longer a judgment-free parking zone. After a few half-hearted “C’mon, guys,” I took the chance to mingle with owners and when that happened, there was a point where I realized that these weren’t simply people that adopted a “to each their own” attitude.
They were in all metaphorical respects, the embodiment of an eight-year-old me.
They held the same regard and imaginative allegiance to the automobile as anyone foolish and lucky enough to look into an engine bay and feel something.
Making Something Yours
They were the tinkerers and transformers of cars that otherwise didn’t warrant a second thought, much less look. They used self-tapping screws, cans of paint and Plastidip, stencils, self-adhering vinyl and their brains to turn hum-drum family haulers into polarizing works of rolling art.
They used elements of all the counter-culture fads such as rat rods, import tuners, pro touring and the murdered-out scene to shout to the cars-as-appliances public that no car should ever be the same as any other.
There’s no set starter kit for stance, just as there’s no paint by numbers approach to individuality, a trait that is valued above all else in this community. You can have a thousand cruise ship comics regurgitating jokes about married couples, but there can be only one Mitch Hedberg.
I experienced the same sense of proud and attached ownership that I had with my family’s Honda Civic when talking to the owners of said rolling masterpieces. Even if I thought that colors clashed or parts didn’t quite line up on the cars at the show, eight-year-old me carving my name into a car’s front bumper wasn’t exactly doing it any favors in terms of resale value either.
It was something that transcended race, religion, gender, social class, and even something as polarizing as choice of car. Although this was primarily a Nissan meet-up, anyone with 93 octane running through their veins and a fiver in their pocket could show up and hang out with like-minded nuts and talk shop on a brisk Sunday afternoon.
When I flagged down a passing Infiniti M35 and asked the owner about his crazy cambered rear wheels and how on God’s green Earth he could drive with such a severely modified track, it dawned on me that the mere fact of him being there meant he successfully made the trek through the pockmarked and cratered New Jersey roads, and maybe the ride wasn’t as impossible as I thought.
I’m a far ways away from signing off on it, but that’s sort of the point with modifications like this- it’s not about approval, it’s about challenging the status quo with anything and everything you have at your disposal.
It’s making something yours, even if it’s showing up with a stock car with one single fabricated part that you made yourself over many weekends. It’s about bringing together the collective imaginations of hundreds of people that are willing to risk the tail end of a category five storm just to engage in a new automotive experience.
While seeing the RocketBunny kits, bolted on fenders and Bosozoku-themed cars of SEMA had made me jaded to the point where I was asking “where have all the real car people gone?” it took a first-hand experience like this to give my faulty reasoning a much-needed reboot.
The truth is, the real car people haven’t left. They all have a slightly tweaked but nonetheless valid version of my Civic and Sunbird Damascus Road experience, and the phenomenon responsible only makes it easier for car lovers to express themselves in ways I never thought possible.
Stance culture, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes and makes videos about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapestMercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.