Big Wheels

How 'bout one of these Over-the-Top vehicles under the tree?

OTT (Over the Top) is not about price; it's about concept. Any fool can buy a massive, powerful, expensive car. But that's only the first step toward true OTT-ness. It's what the fool does next that counts. OTT demands not just an outrageous vehicle, but an existential commitment that will draw cries of condemnation from automotive, style, and political purists alike. The nub of this commitment: Take the essence of that vehicle, and make it more so. The following are three ways to compete for the OTT automotive crown this holiday season:

*Flame a Ferrari: First, buy a 456 for $229,950. Ignore Ferrari red and that bilious yellow. Insist on black. Then call Rod Powell at 831-422-7109 and enter a world where "slammed" means lowered, to "french" a car is to recess the headlights, "custom" gets spelled with a "k," and to "flame" a car is not to torch it, but to paint stylized, undulating flames over its nose and hood and sides. Powell is the flaming master. He's the guru of what makes a hot rod truly hot. So I ask him if anyone has ever flamed a Ferrari.

"Eric Clapton wanted to flame a Rolls Royce back in the '60s, but it never happened. And someone once flamed a gullwing Mercedes, which enraged all the classic car nuts. It was repainted later. But I don't know of any flamed Ferraris out there."

"What would you do to a 456?"

"That depends on how complex you want to go. For instance, you can go gross flames in basic yellow, orange, and red, or you can do double wraparound in a full range of colors."

"Double wraparound," I say, "the full job. What would that entail?"

"I'd remove all the trim, sand it down, put the flames on, clear-coat it, reassemble it. But I couldn't say exactly how the flamework would go until you brought the car in for me to study. The flames have to flow right. You have to work with the car."

"And how much would it cost?"

I can practically hear him shrug over the phone. "I'd guess somewhere around $20,000," he says finally.

"Isn't that inexpensive for such a big job?"

"I don't do it for the money any more. And I don't do just any car. Nowadays it has to be something pretty special before I'll mess with it."

"Special like what?"

And deadpan comes the answer: "Like a Ferrari."

*Stretch a Bentley: Forget Rolls Royces. They're so obvious. True OTT aspirers go instead for Bentleys—just as demonstratively handcrafted, and finished in leathers and woods so exotic you have to look them up in the encyclopedia. Back in the l920s, Bentleys were sexy. Nobody ever dreamed they'd be stuck in the same luxo-barge stable as Rolls. They dominated Le Mans, winning in five of the race's first eight years, thanks to playboy owner-drivers who were still boys and still knew how to play. These boys downed champagne by the magnum, seduced anyone with a title and a fortune ("racing cars takes money," one of the famed "Bentley boys" once explained), then nonchalantly drove to victory before getting back to the serious business of more booze and more sex.

So what's a modern Bentley boy to do? Pick up a 350-horsepower Arnage sedan for $203,800. Then call 714-957-1774 and speak to Ted Carlson, vice president of Classic Limousine, who'll stretch your two-and-a-half-ton baby into a champagne- and seduction-ready limo. No chop-shop job, this. As the only factory-authorized Rolls and Bentley limo-makers outside England, Carlson's people literally take a scalpel to the car. Masked, gloved craftsmen separate and shrink-wrap individual wires like surgeons tying veins and arteries. Welders work with lasers. Upholstery is sewn with haute couture care. Multiple layers of paint and polish are applied with the close-up squint of an obsessive beautician.

This takes time, naturally: four months. And just as naturally, money: $85,000.

"I could do a Cadillac or a Lincoln far quicker and far cheaper, for $25,000 or $30,000," Carlson assures me when I produce an audible gasp over the line. "But a Bentley"—his voice goes dreamy—"that's the ultimate."

And for a mere 40 percent over the sticker price, you'll have the only stretch Arnage in America.

*Armor an Excursion: Ford's new sport-ute behemoth costs a pedestrian $40,000 with a modest complement of bells and whistles. But half of Texas is buying them. So call 800-697-0307, speak to Dan Heimbrock, marketing manager of presidential armorers O'Gara-Hess and Eisenhart, and arrange to part with $110,000 more to turn your pseudo-tank into something more like a real tank.

No claims to exclusivity here. O'Gara is turning out armored utes as fast as it can, offering "the safest way to travel through today's dangerous world" to royalty, heads of state, numerous rock and movie stars, CEOs, and, I suspect (Heimbrock's not saying), software billionaires.

You have your choice of six levels of armoring, but the wimpy Level One merely fends off a smash-and-grab attempt. Ballistic protection only begins with Level Two, meaning handguns and anything up to an Uzi. True OTT connoisseurs will gravitate to Level Six—the presidential level—until they realize that along with three-inch-thick windows and protection against World War III, they'd need to spend six hours a day in the gym just to wrestle the door open. Level Four is the one to go for. It tells friends and associates that you're important enough to face serious threat, but you're not running for president. Yet. You can insulate yourself from this harsh world behind inch-and-three-quarter-thick bombproof windows and what Heimbrock describes as "multiple layers of composites and classified ceramics that withstand military assault weapons and a variety of high explosives." Show off your remote bomb scan, which checks for explosives wired into your ignition system. And test your reinforced "ram bumpers" by ramming through roadblocks and rush-hour traffic. If you want the really Bond-ish extras like gun ports and tear-gas dispensers, however, you'll have to seek foreign shores. "The Feds tend to frown on such things, which is to say, they're not legal here," says Heimbrock apologetically. I guess you'll just have to move to Idaho and make do with an old-fashioned gun rack.

Lesley Hazleton is the author of Driving to Detroit: An Automotive Odyssey and Confessions of a Fast Woman. She lives in Seattle.

 
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