By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Vlad and his brother love the United States, their adopted country of 15 years. A GQ subscriber, Vlad has become the quintessential consumer, finding the latest fashions and wearing them with a zest that is frightening. Though he babbles on about ties and lapels and designers, this immigrant GenX'er knows what he's talking about. He knows what impresses the women at spots like Barfly and Mortons. "I wear Hugo Boss, Gucci, Armani," he notes. "Handmade fuckin' shoes. The doormen all know me and my guys. Think we're Czechoslovakian film producers."
But they're not.
Vlad and younger brother Rad steal cars and deliver them to chop shops - you know, those places that your car enters and never leaves. After Vlad gets hold of your car, neither you nor anyone else will ever see it again.
He spends most of his time at work behind the wheel of his own car, a 7 series BMW. You can see him often, cruising up and down Wilshire, in and out of parking garages. He's always on the lookout for the right vehicle - often a late-model Toyota, Nissan or four-wheel drive.
Vlad tells me about a recent work day, one that was a lot like many others. Younger brother Rad is driving. After spotting this Toyota in a snazzy off-gold, they glide past, then go around the block for a second look, finally deciding that there's too much foot traffic. Heading south down Centinela into Culver City, they see the same model in bright green.
Pulling in behind, Rad stays behind the wheel of the Beemer, keeping time while the stereo pumps out Sublime. Vlad walks around to his BMW's trunk and emerges with a handheld device that looks like a large walkie-talkie. This is actually a custom alarm decoder that would cost you close to five grand if you knew the guy who makes them. Needless to say, these are specialty items not available at your local hardware store. Vlad flips a switch and within minutes the Toyota's alarm chirps and the doors unlock. Vlad just loves those car alarms that also automatically unlock doors. (It's a great convenience both for the car owner and for him.) From that point it takes less than a minute to slap-hammer the ignition and get rolling.
Vlad fires up a Marlboro Light as he wends his way southeast on our lovely freeways to an industrial neighborhood. Along the way, he resets the radio for tunes more to his liking. And he obeys the speed limit like a Boy Scout.
As he pulls up before a walled-off yard defended by concertina wire, he dials a number on his cell phone, then barks: "Open up. Delivery coming in right now."
When the gate closes behind him, the roller doors to the garage are already open. They too slide shut as he drives in. As soon as the car stops, jacks are rolling under the frame so the dismantling process can begin. A crew descends on the car like a junkie on free dope. Doors, rims, tires, seats, engine, transmission, glass: Nothing goes to waste. These guys are poetry in motion; an Indy 500 pit crew couldn't touch these guys for speed and precision. In under two hours, the entire car will be parts.
The parts are immediately boxed and sent to the garage or dealer that ordered them: reputable dealers who don't ask unnecessary questions, and pros who buy parts by the truckload for resale knowing full on that this shit is smoking hot. Installed in your car and billed to you as new. Once the disassembly is complete, the only thing remaining is the frame and, in some cases, the engine block, because the block itself has ID numbers so deeply etched into it that it's more cost effective to buy a trashed block at a junkyard with clean numbers, then transfer the guts.
But for Vlad and Rad the transaction ends at the chop-shop office, where the fridge is full of beer and the walls plastered with posters of leering women holding power tools like they're sex instruments. Think a vibrator works good? Just wait till you try the Makita Saws All. Oh baby.
Ivan the Boss kicks back behind his desk. Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" booms so loud that it drowns out the impact wrenches.
As Vlad enters, Ivan sets his feet on the floor. "Got a special order in for a '97 'Vette," he tells Vlad. "Ya want it?"
The take is tempting, but a custom order demands a lot. First you have to find exactly the right car to steal, then locate a matching car that's been totaled so you can transfer all the numbered parts and make sure the paperwork is impeccable.
"Naw, give it to somebody else," says Vlad. "I can bag five, six Toyotas and Nissans in the time it takes to track down a 'Vette."
Ivan then pulls from his pocket a roll big enough to gag Linda Lovelace and counts out fifteen hundred bucks in various size bills, whereupon our man Vlad does a recount to make sure he hasn't been shortchanged. It's nothing personal, because all the guys in this ring are either related or come from the same town in the old country. Still, when it comes to cash, you always count it at least twice. Vlad pockets his fees and strolls out through the front door of the body-and-fender shop that doubles as Boris' Midnight Auto Supply. To call these guys organized would be an overstatement, but they're pretty good at what they do.