You don’t need to be a billionaire rapper to garage yourself a pimping ride, writes The Wheel Deal. Just introduce an old banger to a few graffiti artists and you’ll cash in more car compliments than 50 Cent
Not too long ago this beige 1971 Mercedes-Benz was rotting away in the bottom of somebody’s garden. Once a grand saloon that transported people around town in style and comfort, it sat in a state of indignity and disrepair. Eventually, obviously tired of seeing its guano-stained form looming large from behind the compost heap, its owner decided to the put the old girl out of her misery by sending her to that place where all cars go to die – the scrap heap. But then in a bizarre twist of fate the man employed to tow this hapless wreck to the automotive graveyard, a Mercedes guru named Colin Kean, took pity on the clunker and decided to resurrect it inside the workshop of his Greenside dealership.
“The guy said it wouldn’t move because it’s engine was shot,” Kean explained when I dropped by to take a look. “But it just turned out to be a collapsed suspension system.” No stranger to the inner workings of vintage Mercs, he soon got the biscuit-coloured Benz back on its feet with a little elbow grease and a proper valet both inside and out. Now clean, serviced and capable of starting with one simple twist of the key, you’d expect Kean to sell this salvage job on and make an easy profit but it turns out the man has other plans.” I’ve decided to turn it into a courtesy car with a difference, something nobody has ever seen before. You’ll see – it’s going to become the talk of the town.”
At first I’m skeptical but once I’m told about the group of guys he’s wrangled up to do the deed, something tells me that this makeover is going to result in something truly epic. They call themselves Shake Well Industries and they’ve just arrived in an old Toyota Conquest to transform the Benz’s steely skin with their unique style of graffiti. Of course while most automotive spray jobs would take place behind closed doors in a special dust-free room, the trio immediately decides to relocate the Mercedes-Benz to a nearby park where they can work freely and without distraction.
So, now parked under a haphazard clump of blue gum trees, they set about preparing the 39-year-old paint for their aerosol assault. While the big dude with that metal-rocker beard removes the boot and bonnet, the other two guys get busy with strips of water paper – sanding and rubbing and blowing. “We do this to help give the surface a little more purchase,” says the one with a cigarette dangling from his lips. “That means whatever we spray on is more likely to stay there.” Finishing the process off by covering excess chrome with newspaper and masking tape, they’re soon good to go. This is Pimp my Ride Africa-style and I’ve got a front row seat.
And unlike conventional artists who use brushes and a palette to express themselves, the tools of the Shake Well trade consist of crates filled with spray paint and a freezer bag home to lots of different sized nozzles that allow them to adjust the width of their strokes. “This is the best paint you can get when it comes to graffiti,” says the dude in the baggy skate shorts who calls himself Mars. “It’s imported from Germany but we get it from this shop in Braamfontein. It’s R45 a can but it’s worth it – it sprays on smooth and easy.”
Mars, who’s in charge of painting the right side of the Mercedes, is using all sorts of slanted diagonal lines in his design to help make the Benz look like it’s going fast even when it isn’t. I ask him if he thought about what he was going to do before he got here and if he has a blueprint inside his head. “No man, I’m just kicking it on the fly,” he says crouching in front of a wheel arch. “I’m more or less making it all up as I go along.” Nick, or whatever his name might be (graffiti artists are very enigmatic), is following a similar strategy over on the left flank but his style is a lot more organic with all sorts of squiggly lines intersecting at random points. To be honest it looks like a drunk, paint-spattered spider waltzed across the Merc’s side but as the minutes roll by it slowly starts taking shape.
I try making conversation as they work, find out more about their art, but pretty soon the iPods come out and each member is filling their head with music. From here on in they all work tirelessly, losing themselves in a trance of introspection that manifests itself in the swathes of dirty blues, pinks and grays being layered before me.
Eventually, with the sinking Highveld sun making exotic canned colours like Cocktail, Mt. Fuji, Banana Joe and Mr. Crab pop like a fireworks display, the hiss of compressed air stops as the crew momentarily stands back to admire their work. And after much chin stroking, a few cigarettes and one or two touch up sprays, they pluck the earbuds from their ears and give the thumbs up. With that the bonnet and boot is screwed back in place and the stained newsprint is peeled away to once again reveal all that blingtastic chrome that old Mercs are known for. “Man that’s awesome,” exclaims Mars cracking a smile. “Old school luxury meets the gritty street art of the city – the ultimate contradiction.”
That it may be but this project also proves you don’t need tons of cash to roll around in a one-of-a-kind ride. “This job cost me R4000,” Kean tells me a week later. “R3000 for the paint the labour plus another grand for the clear coat we’ve put on to protect it from the elements. You take that money to any car customiser and they’ll laugh in your face!”
Now perched on the pavement outside his dealership, it’s a genuine head turner with that urban livery attracting masses of attention from curious pedestrians and motorists alike. “Not bad for a jalopy that was about to be scrapped,” says Kean gazing at it proudly. “No,” I agree, “Not bad at all. In fact I won’t be surprised if it catches on.”