The fast and the curious
Competition and camaraderie drive car club members
Simply 2 Impress Club members (from left, Antonio Lopez, Alex Melendez, and Milton Martinez) meet Fridays outside a Dorchester Burger King. (Globe Staff Photo / David Kamerman)
Rico Garcia parks his souped-up 1990
Boys wearing baggy jeans and baseball caps pause to check out all the tricked-out cars, peering at their detailed engines, expensive sound systems, flashing strobe lights, and Lamborghini-style doors that swing up toward the sky. All of this was happening in the Burger King parking lot at Columbia Road and Washington Street in Dorchester, which on Friday nights becomes the backdrop for an informal car show.
''We talk about competition," says Garcia, who lives in Dorchester and serves as vice president of Simply 2 Impress, ''and it pushes me to do different things to my car. It's like a rush."
Garcia is a softspoken guy with a warm smile. He says the club's oldest member, Pipe, suggested the intimidating name for his Honda. (El abusador means ''The abuser" in Spanish. Pipe's car is nicknamed ''El Grampa.")
For the Simply 2 Impress club members, last week's gathering was a dry run for a huge car event to be held today at the Bayside Expo Center. Called Hot Import Nights, it's considered the ''Super Bowl of car shows" for imports, says Enrique ''Quique" Navarro, president and founder of Simply 2 Impress.
Hot Import Nights bills itself as the ''nation's largest lifestyle custom car show." Sponsored by
But today's event isn't just a trade show for automotive accessories. It will feature DJs, break dancing groups, and dance contests. Models from FHM and Maxim magazines will sashay down a runway wearing fashions by local designers. Celtics players are expected to show off their rides. For local car enthusiasts, the biggest attraction will be the custom car competition, in which contestants vie for bragging rights in dozens of categories, from ''Hottest Undercarriage" to ''Hottest Old School," and categories for particular makes of vehicles.
Sport compact car culture has been picking up speed in Boston over the past decade. There are at least nine clubs in Greater Boston, including the Boston Low Riders, UniqueXpressionZ Auto Club, Eternal Rollerz, and Team Modern Illusionz. These clubs offer a team-like atmosphere to what is often a solo hobby. Members hold meetings, attend car shows, and enter competitions together. Most clubs have websites where members post photos of their rides.
Simply 2 Impress is one of the newest on the scene. The club is headed by Navarro, a 34-year-old South Boston resident who works as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service and owns two customized cars. After spending 14 years with the Boston Low Riders, Navarro decided to form a club of his own. He established Simply 2 Impress in January 2005.
His club has 27 members, most of whom live in Boston. The youngest member is 13; the oldest is in his late 40s. The membership roster includes men and women of Dominican, El Salvadoran, Haitian, Italian, Jamaican, and Puerto Rican descent. ''It's like the YMCA," Navarro says. ''We got everyone in here."
The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge is prominently featured on the Simply 2 Impress logo. Members put Simply 2 Impress decals on their cars and the club's logo is emblazoned on T-shirts and sweat shirts.
''A lot of people see a car club and they see a gang," says Navarro. ''That's not what it's about." The Simply 2 Impress website (www.gots2i.com) states: ''The goal of this club is to bring together different cultures as well as different nationalities. . . . Our dream is to give to society, starting with keeping our youth away from negative activities and provide them with a positive direction."
Navarro says Simply 2 Impress members never race their vehicles. He says club members don't drink or smoke when they get together; they just talk about cars and show off their rides. Last July they drove in the city's Puerto Rican festival parade.
Between car shows and parades, they meet Friday nights at the parking lot of the Burger King in the Grove Hall section of Dorchester.
Navarro usually drives his burgundy 1997 Ford Expedition nicknamed ''Big Pimp'n" to these Friday gatherings; it has 20-inch chrome rims and a custom grille with flames. But his pride and joy is his show car: a mint green 1983
As a young boy growing up in Puerto Rico, he knew of a guy from his neighborhood who drove an impressive vehicle. Everyone called him ''El Pimpioso." Navarro decided that would be his own car's name. ''For me, it's not just a car. It's a part of me," he says. The name, he says, ''brings the car to life."
To Navarro, airbrushed graphics are like tattoos. A Puerto Rican flag is airbrushed on the Toyota's brake pump. The inside of the gas lid even has airbrushed graphics and the saying, ''Pimpin' Ain't Easy." The interior is green and white, with leather and suede seats, custom floor mats and carpeting. There are TV monitors built into the passenger and driver's side visors.
Underneath the hood, a mural is dedicated to three friends who have passed away; two drowned, and the third died from cancer. They all used to ride together with the Boston Low Riders. Navarro's mural shows their beloved cars driving under halos, with the epitaph ''I tip my 40 oz to your memories." The outside of the hood features a portrait of a ''pimp ghost" in the clouds, hovering over a car parked in a cemetery. ''El Pimpioso" has won more than 100 trophies over the years, according to Navarro.
''The best part about it is the respect," Navarro says. ''Sometimes people don't even know me, but they know my car. When people remember your car, I tell the guys, that's an accomplishment."
Jonathan Carrasquillo, 13, the youngest member of Simply 2 Impress, customized a scaled-down version of a Ninja motorcycle. It sports a red, white, and blue Puerto Rican flag, custom racing exhaust, and strobe lights. His father, Angel ''Papo" Carrasquillo, outfitted their 2000 Honda Odyssey minivan with shiny rims, leather interior, and body kit. ''I wanted to do something different, like a minivan, which is not typically custom-made," he says.
Simply 2 Impress is sending 10 of its best-looking cars to tonight's show to compete for bragging rights. The plan was to drive them last night to the Expo Center together -- with Navarro's ''Big Pimp'n" leading the pack -- and clean and polish them for the judging.
''We'll be dressin' them up, makin' them look pretty," says Navarro. ''We've got some eye-catching cars."
Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.