How 'Pimp My Ride' predicted the global financial crisis
The most '00s show of all time celebrated reckless excess over sensible pragmatism
A man is screaming. They did it. They really did it. West Coast Customs put a hot-tub inside his 1985 Ford Econoline van. They pimped his ride.
A mechanic pops into a squat, ushers the camera in real close and then finger-snaps at the seven-inch LCD televisions he’s just installed under the mud flaps of a 1987 Chevy K5 Blazer, so now you can lie in your own driveway and watch Akon’s “Smack That” play on a loop.
Xzibit bellows “Check it!” at a man as he inspects the chocolate fountain that now gently burbles in the boot of his Toyota RAV4. “Dip this marshmallow, dawg!”
An editor sits at his desk, cradling his head in his hands. He will have to reverse-fast-forward-reverse a clip where a camera pans across ‘waterproof iPod nano speakers’ at least sixty more times before he can go home. He’s not going to see his kids again this weekend.
“Whoa,” you exclaim, taking another bite of your Cadbury’s Flake Snow and sup your delicious can of Vanilla Coke in front of your standard-definition television. “This show rules.” Looking wistfully outside your window, your eyes fall on a billboard for Casino Royale. You sigh, happily. “Man, the year 2006 is great.”
They don’t make Pimp My Ride anymore. They don’t even make shows *like* Pimp My Ride anymore. Running from 2004 to 2007, MTV’s series was such a product of its age that it works as a quasi-time capsule for an unapologetically decadent era, an era when nobody batted an eyelid about wasting thousands of pounds of resources on putting a flat screen TV on the roof of a Ford Futura, an era when nobody worried about the implications of applying a noun reserved for the often violent management of sex workers to a revamped Honda Civic. It was a show that took the formula behind Changing Rooms and made it the standard bearer for Things Teen Boys Consider Cool. It rode into your living room in a cloud of neon-lit smoke, the televisual equivalent of your pal’s older brother, striding into a sleepover with Need For Speed: Underground on PS2, a rented copy of 2 Fast 2 Furious on DVD, and a bottle of Hpnotiq under his arm. It took a question few had asked – How many things you don’t need can you fit in a single car? – and made it something everyone began to think about. It’s an existential question for us all to consider; Who am I, what would I ask for, and how would I like to be ‘pimped’?
In Season 1, Episode 6 of the US series, Xzibit meets David and another Ford Econoline, this time from 1972. David is the owner a dog grooming business, so West Coast Customs turn the back of his van into “the ultimate grooming station”, fitting a bathtub to bathe the dogs (reasonable enough) and also a drying cage with a 32-inch monitor so the “dogs can watch TV while they get dried off”. They also hooked him up with a slide-out 42-inch monitor, a black and blue paint job with cage graphics because he wanted to become a cage fighter, and fitted a hot dog maker in the van’s dashboard for when he got hungry. Hot dogs. Because he grooms dogs.
The thought process behind Pimp My Ride goes: get your patsy, isolate one thing about them, and then spend $50,000 turning their car into a monument to it. If someone said they enjoyed bowling, they’d take that as an opportunity to rip out the back seats and turn the car into a mobile bowling alley. If someone said they were Italian, the garage’s paint guys – Aren, Buck, 2Shae, and Luis – would spray a mural of Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ on the roof. Because he’s Italian. It’s simple, really. Obvious.
The facet of you that the gang zero’d in on didn’t even need to be something you enjoyed doing. In one episode, a guy named Eric mentions that he’s was a baggage handler at an airport, so the garage transformed the interior of his 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse to make it look like an airport’s baggage claim area. It makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t you want to be reminded of work every single time you drove to the supermarket?
But because this was the ‘00s, the owner wouldn’t care how fucking dumb the modifications were, they’d always be happy: They’d walk in all nervous, stroking their soul patch, fidgeting with their Von Dutch, wondering what became of their Fiat Cinquecento. Then X would lead them over to a vehicle-sized object hidden by a single sheet, then he’d whip off the sheet to reveal the pimped ride, and the person would throw up double sign o’ the horns and shout “Woo! Yeah!”, or they might jump up and down in their camo cargo shorts screaming “Woo! Yeah!”, or they’d run around in circles, climbing all over the fresh paint shouting “WOO! YEAH!” Occasionally someone would get so excited their reaction would need covering by MTV’s classic profanity beep, leaving you open to infer your own X(zibit)-rated exultation at the sight of a pearlescent pink Ford Escort with a horn that plays “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” in the chord of ‘Dukes of Hazard.’
Nobody has ever been as happy as the people on these shows, but the reality of what actually happened on the show wasn’t always quite so sweet. Cars could take up to seven months to finish, with some of the actual work being extremely sloppy, but who cares? Now they had a sick body kit with a mechanical arm that plays the triangle at the push of a button (because they said they were a musician). Sure, the West Coast Customs boys – Ryan, Q, Mad Mike, Ish, Big Dan, and the painters – did nothing to the car’s broken gearbox and steering, and they left the dying engine untouched, but now the car had both a terrarium and an aquarium and PSPs attached to the seat-belts. Half the things the crew did to cars wasn’t even road legal and cars would have to be towed home, but who gives a fuck? Now you had a Nintendo Gamecube instead of a speedometer. All of these surface level improvements didn’t so much see a crack and paper over it, as see a crack and plaster it in $40,000 worth of novelty wallpaper with the word ‘Bling!’ scrawled on it, somehow making the crack significantly wider.
And then it was gone. After the global economic crash of 2008, Pimp My Ride would be unfeasible. It was a show about tackling a problem with monumentally reckless spending and needless excess, and overnight, it became in extremely bad taste to celebrate either of those things. You just can’t mount an 8-Ball pool table onto the back of a truck in good faith while people were across the country are losing their homes. When they called time on the last series in late 2007, had the producers seen the coming global recession looming on the horizon like the carbon fibre spoiler of doom? Perhaps. But the show had run its course by then, anyway. A series of international spin-offs presented by special guests of varying repute – Tim Westwood, Lil’ Jon, Mike Posner – were commissioned, but swiftly after, the franchise’s ignition was turned off for good.
If industrious producers dredged up the show’s dusty remains from the dustbin of ‘00s hedonism, it would require a serious reboot. The original iteration had occasionally dabbled in altruism – for example, fitting massage seats to make commuting to the hospital a more pleasant experience for one woman and her elderly grandmother – and maybe they should double-down on it now. The austerity-battered public could come to the show and ask for help, and the gang could change their lives, turning their Vauxhall Astra into an actual house on wheels so they can escape the rental trap, or installing a Bitcoin mine in the back of their Toyota Yaris. Pimp My Ride could be, in this crappy world, a pulsing neon light at the end of the tunnel.
Or maybe we should just leave it alone because people should not have to rely on the goodwill of a television show to better their family’s lives, and leave the time capsule well alone, and spend that money on some youth centers and healthcare. But, you know, for a while there, Pimp My Ride was one of TV’s finest cocktails of subculture and decadence. West Coast Customs took the concept of Cribs and shrunk it down into a single car. It was shallow, it was tacky, and it was wonderful. An age of innocence, where happiness was just four spinning rims away.