Cars are not just for transit – they have changed society. Since the birth of the automobile, subcultures have sprung up around the world that are based around vehicle ownership, customization or use. Here are five auto cultures that have blossomed around the world.
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Boy Racers – Britain
Depending on who you talk to, boy racers are either a dangerous nuisance or an essential part of British underground culture. Often inhabiting the ‘terrains vague’ – forgotten or undeveloped zones, boy racers come together to drag race, listen to music and carve out a social life in places that are often overlooked. Run-down seaside towns, outer suburbs and semi-rural areas often rumble with the sound of turbo laden hatchbacks on a Saturday night.
Car culture in the UK has always been about more than vehicle customization. Groups of boy racers use their time on the road to escape the drudgery of lives in a stratified society. The creation of customs and traditions that exist outside of the norm helps people to have control over the areas they live in through the self-definition of space. Of course, many people would argue that boy racers can restrict freedom by terrifying pedestrians trying to transit at night. Ultimately, boy racers choose to shock and scare not out of a desire to inflict fear, but from a desire to exert control over an uncontrollable and inaccessible world.
Sidewall Ski Culture – Saudi Arabia
Sidewall Skiing is not for the faint-hearted. Young Saudi men have developed a culture of driving on two wheels down the long desert roads of the kingdom. The drivers ‘ski’ on the sidewalls of their tires. It is death-defying stuff and develops an incredible – if reckless- camaraderie among participants.
Muscle Car Culture – USA
Power feels good, doesn’t it? The USA has many motor cultures thanks to its huge size and the fact that culture often develops alongside a need for long journeys in the land of the free. No auto culture is more distinctly American than that which has developed around the muscle car. A muscle car is an American auto equipped with an oversized engine. They are dazzlingly fast, but also brutish and aerodynamically simple.
Muscle car culture first kicked off in the 1960s. Teenagers found that they could access cars with performances equal to those purchased by the wealthy only a generation earlier. Detroit motor companies were releasing vehicles that, while simple, had huge engines and could clock wild speeds. Better still, they could be tweaked with very little experience to become terrifying noise machines.
Something about muscle car culture speaks to the American psyche of the 20th Century. Freedom to really put your foot down and tear through the countryside coincided with the birth of teenage counter culture and a certain disdain for authorities.
Historically, muscle cars crashed – a lot. Their vast engines were not really appropriate for their structures, and they cornered poorly. If you are a muscle car owner, you might find yourself visiting a body shop like SanDiegosAutoBody.com to sort out some damage more than a few times.
Modern muscle cars have much-improved safety, and corner much better than their 1960s ancestors. Nothing, however, beats the roar of a 1960s Plymouth Barracuda.
Extreme Truck Decoration – India
Driving in India can be terrifying and disorientating, but it can also be like entering a moving art gallery. Among truck drivers in India, a culture of extreme adornment has developed.
Indian trucks are often decorated by their drivers beyond recognition. They sport beautiful and vibrant colours, garlands and structural additions. Decoration also has a more serious side to it. Religious Indian truck drivers often attach charms against the evil eye and blessed materials to their vehicles. Driving a truck for a living can be dangerous, and people use their mode of transport to evoke spiritual protection.
The results are often absolutely stunning – densely decorated art installations jangling down the road.
The culture of truck decoration in India is truly fascinating. Check out Dan Eckstein’s recent photography on the subject.
Oni Kyan – Japan
Translated from Japanese into English, ‘Oni Kyan’ means ‘Daemon Camber’. Oni Kyan practitioners customize their axles and wheels so that they give an extreme outward ‘camber’. Wheels are often angled absurdly so that the car gives off a cartoonish and unreal appearance.
To understand the reasoning behind the rise of Oni Kyan in Japan, you have to understand the motivation behind custom culture in the land of the rising sun. Whereas customization in the West is often centred around performance, in Japan it is more of a culture of extreme aesthetic playfulness.
Cambered wheels do not offer any kind of performance benefit. Instead, they showcase the driver’s dedication to absurdity, fun and technical prowess. The drifters of Tokyo drive in a poetic and aesthetic way, and they customize their cars appropriately.
Car culture is often said to be about the assertion of power in space. With Oni Kyan, Japan’s car fanatics establish that they can diverge from the rigid sensibilities of Japanese culture and maintain spatial power.