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The Beater meets the Swan

Cars, like wobbly buttocks and pigsty apartments, deserve makeovers too. That’s the message of Pimp My Ride (MTV, Sundays at 9:30 p.m.), a series in which seriously fouled-up autos are treated to lavish renovations by West Coast Customs, a team of homeboy mechanics who look like they might be stealing cars if they weren’t fixing them. A recent episode featured Danelle, a 21-year-old Latina who mentors inner-city kids and has ambitions of entering the business world. More importantly, it featured her vehicle, a clapped-out 1981 Pontiac TransAm whose rearview mirrors were strapped to the doors with duct tape. The seats looked like they’d been mauled by a tiger, the body was five different shades of black, and the engine started to smoke before she reached the end of the block.

“In driving the TransAm I’ve come to realize there’s something called ‘the look,’” Danelle told us in an introductory segment. “I just drive by, mouths are open, but those eyes are just staring at my car, like, ‘Is she serious?’ I feel I’m a strong, intelligent, professional young woman, and I just want my hot rod to be even hotter . . . Please MTV, pimp my ride!”

And, lo, one day a hip-hop genie with tattoos and cornrows by the name of Xzibit knocked on her door and told her he was going to take her car away and turn it into another, much better car free of charge. “Ohmigod!” said Danelle. At least I think she said that, she probably said that, because she says it all the time.

Xzibit was impressed by the car’s pedigree even as he was appalled by its condition. “What is it with tape, y’all?” he asks, holding up one of the rearview mirrors. “Stop using tape!”

Now cut to the boardroom at West Coast Customs, where the team is holding a meeting. Three of the six wear backward baseball caps; one has spikes drilled through his lower lip. “All right, fellas,” says Q, the manager, “Danelle’s a classy girl getting ready to enter the real world, so we need to deliver a classy car.”

That means — ohmigod! — 20-inch chrome wheels, a brown saddle leather interior, charcoal pearl body paint, an espresso machine in the armrest, a chandelier for the overhead light, a laptop computer in the glove compartment, a wardrobe–cum–makeup station in the trunk, and a giant bird decal on the hood. The car looks good, all right — so good that Danelle had better be very careful about where she parks it.

 

A better show is Ride With Funkmaster Flex, which has just begun a second season on Spike TV (Wednesdays at 11:30 p.m.). Rather than work with unknowns, the Funkmaster, a likable black guy with a shaved head and a small mustache, goes for celebrities like Queen Latifah, Travis Barker, John Madden, Dave Navarro, Russell Simmons, Moby, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others. And if they happen to turn up in a private plane, like P. Diddy, or in a helicopter, like Mariah Carey, he’ll be happy to put aside his interest in cars and check out machines that fly. He’s also eager to discuss motorbikes with Jesse James, the host of Monster Garage (Discovery), goes to a demolition derby, and talks lowrider car murals with a guy whose name I missed but who, like a lot of people on this show, has a hell of a lot of tattoos. A 20-episode new season has just begun, and anyone with an interest in the far reaches of automotive extremism should take a look.

One of last year’s episodes featured a segment with Byron McCormick,

an executive from General Motors who, being only slightly less corporate-looking than Dick Cheney, seemed a bit out of place on a show like this. McCormick was driving what he called “the car of the future” — a hydrogen-powered vehicle with electronically controlled, computerized steering and braking, and with cameras and screens instead of rearview mirrors. The car itself looked like it had been designed for robots rather than humans, and McCormick spoke the dry, uninflected English of corporate America. “Since it has no mechanical connections, the steering wheel can be wherever we’d like it in the car,” he said. “Left-hand drive, right-hand drive. And if in the future a person would like to sit in the center of the car, they can do that as well.”

To me, what the GM executive was saying was as clear as his silver-rimmed glasses. But the Funkmaster evidently thought it wise to provide a translation for those who may be unfamiliar with this kind of speech. “Be clear! My man is tellin’ you that switchin’ drivers is as easy as sliding the steering wheel over! Now that is SERIOUS!” he explained.

Whatever you say, Funkmaster.