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Faster and funkier

July 13, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

To some vehicle owners, good is never good enough.

They spend hundreds - even thousands - of dollars replacing factory parts to make their cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles faster and more furious. They add high-performance engine air intakes and exhaust systems. They power up their engines with nitrous oxide gas, lower their chassis with custom coilover shock absorbers or lowering springs, and install wicked sound systems.

They trick out their rides with body graphics, ground effects, custom paint jobs, expensive wheel sets, window tints, spoilers, mesh wire grills, neon antennas, battery operated wheel lights, snazzy taillights, colored windshield washer lights, plush seat covers, suicide trunks and neon light tubes that cast a ghostly glow from the vehicle's underbody.

And they transform their cars, trucks and SUVs into rolling entertainment systems with DVD players and computer games.

"You can make it whatever you want it to be," says Brad Kefauver, 20, president of Custom Fantasies car club in Boonsboro. "It's never done. Once you think you've finished, you go to a (car) show and see something else you want."

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Kefauver's 1998 Honda Civic is the custom car artist's four-wheeled canvas. He's invested about $4,000 in aftermarket parts - and an incalculable amount of time - to turn his fuel-efficient compact car into an eye-catching ride.

Kefauver installed a nitrous oxide system to boost his car's horsepower by about 50 percent. He added a motorsports exhaust, Street Metal touring wing, 17-inch alloy wheels, coilovers to lower his car up to four inches, and a cold-air intake system that increases airflow to the engine to improve the Civic's horsepower and torque.

Kefauver installed Z3-style fiberglass fender inserts and ground effects - sporty-looking body panel attachments that are meant to improve traction and handling - on his car's front end. He replaced his car's factory taillights with green-tinted Alteeza lights, and the standard trunk with a backward-hinged suicide trunk.

Kefauver bought a PlayStation 2 game that plugs into his car's cigarette lighter, and a digital power capacitor "to put more power to my amp and make the sound more clear," he says.

With the help of his father, Mike, Kefauver also repainted his Honda custom black with rainbow flecks. He dedicates all his vehicle upgrades to his best friend, Danny Landsman, who died in January.

Customizing your car "lets you express your personality," says Bernard Michaels, 21, of Hagers-town.

For this Custom Fantasies member, that meant turning his too-dull 1997 Hyundai Accent into "something a little more sportier looking." Michaels repainted the once-purple car orange, and tinted the windows. He added 16-inch polished rims, coilovers, a cat-back exhaust system, a short-throw shifter and custom trunk enclosure system to accommodate the 800-watt stereo that had a nasty habit of draining the four-cylinder Hyundai's battery.

But instead of downgrading his sound system, Michaels bought a digital power capacitor to route juice to his amp without taxing the car's electrical system.

Like fashionistas with clothes, car customizers scramble to keep up with the latest trends.

"I've been through two different sets of rims, three paint jobs, two intakes and just about 20 different stereos," Michaels laughs.

He had to deliver a lot of pizzas to pay for the estimated $3,000 in upgrades to a car that cost him about $4,000 to begin with. But it was worth it, Michaels says.

"I like the look of it. I like how it adds more horsepower. And I like how the cops don't like it," he says.

Custom Fantasies co-founder Jason Gagliardi says the hobby keeps he and his friends out of trouble because they spend a healthy chunk of their time and money fixing up their vehicles and going to car shows. His 2000 Volkswagen Jetta features 17-inch silver rims, dark tinted windows, a custom exhaust system, lowering springs, a high-performance air intake, crankin' stereo and blue velvet interior.

"It's a lot of fun," says Gagliardi, 20, of Hagerstown.

And it's not just a male hobby.

Custom Fantasies members Steve Sgaggero and his girlfriend, Heather Martin, spend a lot of their time together fixing up their cars. Sgaggero drives a 1997 Hyundai Elantra and Martin drives a 1998 Ford Mustang.

"She's good," Sgaggero says of Martin's automotive prowess. "She helps me with a lot of the stuff I do."

That includes about $2,000 worth of custom work, including the addition of flashy black body graphics to the sides of his red car, aftermarket temperature and oil gauges, 17-inch wheels, tinted windows, lowering springs, a cat-back exhaust system, hood scoop, CD player and plush red and black cloth seat covers.

"I just love to do it," says Sgaggero, 21, of Boonsboro. "I'm not good at many sports, but I found one thing I like to do, and I'm good at it."

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