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These cars sound as good as they look

October 10, 2004

HAGERSTOWN

By GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Josh Claar's other car is a minivan.

"But I don't like to talk about that," Claar said, wrinkling his face in dismay Saturday afternoon.

Claar, 28, grew up in Hagerstown, but since has moved to Baltimore, where his full-time occupation is installing aftermarket sound equipment into all types of vehicles.

What started as a hobby and is increasingly closer to Claar's other full-time job is the little, black Honda Civic he was displaying Saturday in a parking lot at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center Antietam Creek on Dual Highway.

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Claar is among about 200 contestants in a year-end auto sound and looks showdown this weekend, sponsored by Hagerstown-based Sound Looks And Performance Association.

Claar took about 20 minutes Saturday afternoon to explain to a reporter how he got into the increasingly popular hobby, and what it is that drives him to compete.

Claar said he began working four years ago for the Baltimore shop where he is now employed. His ball cap, shirt, car and a plaque in front of the car all displayed emblems from the national car-stereo chain, as well as other auto parts and service companies.

Claar said he started reading magazines and learning how to do the work himself. He bought the Civic for about $11,000 and began tinkering.

"If you can do the work yourself, you're gonna save yourself a lot of labor," and money, Claar said.

Under the hood, some parts gleamed - the supercharger, the cylinder cover - and others just eased into the background.

Claar says one competition he entered is based on overall looks.

"You gotta keep it clean," Claar said. The black, glossy paint on the Honda is shiny enough to check your hairdo in, but that won't do it alone for competition.

Claar holds out his palm, reaches into a nook in his engine compartment and rubs along an inside wall. He pulls his hand out and displays his finger pads, which are - remarkably - clean.

Claar also entered his Honda into the overall sound quality competition, which tests the car's sound system's accuracy compared with live performance.

Inside his Honda - also decked with cockpit-style electronic gauges and two digital television screens - he rolled up his windows and played a musical selection. His 22 or so speakers hummed.

"The voices are all over the place," he said. Sound from the floor speakers seemed as if it was coming from eye level, like magic, Claar said.

"It's smoke and mirrors," Claar said, grinning.

He said it took him three hours Friday to properly balance the sound in the speakers to get the audio effects he sought.

At the point where Claar is, he said, competition is nearly a must. His sponsors offer him free upgrades - such as new wheels or sound equipment - but only in return for a guarantee that he displays the car in shows and competitions.

The goal he has in mind right now is to get his car into one of the popular trade magazines geared toward this style of enthusiast.

When does it all end?

"There's a point where you feel like you don't want to do anything to (the car) ... but a car's never done - until you sell it," Claar said.

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