The Emperor Has No Clothes
An allegory for RWB ownership and automotive narcissism.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is a Hans Christian Anderson story from the mid-19th century. It’s the tale of how two textile makers created a wardrobe for an emperor. As a very wealthy man, the emperor spent an inordinate amount of money on clothing purely to impress others. He instructs his tailors to make him an amazing suit. They are explicit that the new wardrobe is invisible to those unfit for their positions, "hopelessly stupid", or incompetent.
There are, of course, no clothes. His aides and advisors don’t see the clothes. Society doesn’t see the clothes. The emperor is naked, and no one has the courage to stand up to the situation before them lest they be cast out as idiots, or buffoons. Eventually, a child screams out, and points at the emperor screaming: "But he isn't wearing anything at all!". Predictably, the emperor stands taller, and continues the broken charade, with his aides holding up the train of the wardrobe, that wasn’t even there in the first place.
The moral of the story is that anyone seeking fame and notoriety, especially in today’s social media-fueled world, will do almost anything to attain it. The entire car culture today is filled with emperors. They parade naked on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and now Drivetribe. Likes pour in as if shot out of a meme cannon. (And yes, there’s now a meme for that too.)
The most obvious and blatant example of this idiom is RWB. (We’ll save Liberty Walk for another article.) I remember when I saw the Stella car pop up on my newsfeed years ago. I sat upright in my chair, elbows on the armrests, and leaned close to the monitor. I had no idea what I was looking at. It was clearly some sort of race car. There were no numbers though, and it was painted flat black. It struck me with its absolute insistence through the glow of my monitor. I loved it. It was fresh, raw, and appeared purposeful. I didn't see much after that until it showed up on a popular automotive blog. The formula had been created. (Slam + Camber + Rivet Fenders) * Rare Car + Cool + Haters^10 = Edgy.
It all started then, for the rest of the world, almost a decade ago with those articles about a relatively unknown man. Akira Nakai-san, they called him. He built cars in Kashiwa, Japan. Notably, he did it in a dingy corrugated steel garage with a cracked green concrete floor. The man didn’t speak much English in the videos about his builds. He smoked incredulously. He didn’t care about what anyone else thought about what he was doing. It encapsulated precisely what most real enthusiasts wanted to be—building for himself and a few others, with no one looking over his shoulder. He was a fucking hero. He freehanded fiberglass body kits on the last couple of generations of the air cooled 911 chassis. He and his buddies would take the cars out to Motegi at the idlers event and race them.
Or used to. As far as I know, the cars were never meant to be masterpieces. They were never meant to be worshipped. They were meant to be moving functioning representations of what Nakai envisioned. The car culture latched on to something very real. Nakai, is in fact, about as real as it gets. The man has 50-weight oil flowing through his veins more completely than most other Porsche enthusiasts. The “built because I felt like it and hell it looks good.” theme flows through all of his early builds. We all sat back, looked at what Nakai was doing with a sudden clarity of how uncool we were. It’s what many of us wanted to be deep down but we when we look at our hands, they aren’t anywhere near dirty enough. We all long to be a builder, doing something unique, and special. To do it, and inspire people on one of the most legendary marques ever to roll off the assembly line is something special.
But we can’t be that. And we’re not. We’ll never be. None of us. Nakai-san is a once in a generation guy. What he builds, doesn't translate to cool when it’s owned by anyone else. People are driving around in them like they are the emperor in their new clothes. They stand there in a $450,000 private garage with coated floors, and nothing on the walls but an overpriced clock and some vintage posters they saw on eBay watching this man, this legend, cut up a stock high mile leaky 911 with a pneumatic saw. It’s lauded to be a masterpiece. It’s not. It’s nothing like what it looks like, and rarely does anyone follow through to make it so. There are exceptions, but, its rare. There’s too much spray paint, glue, panel bond, body screws, and lack of measurement. The $40,000+ free handed body kit sits on a 993 that has no door cards, wiring hanging out from under the dash, and seats that are falling apart. To me, many of the owners are just a naked guy dressed up in an RWB 911 that everyone is afraid to call out. Well, here I am. I’m calling you out. You did it to get a taste of the Nakai-san enigma. You’re not him. You’re not one of his hometown buddies. You’re not hitting up Motegi for the idler 12 hour race. You’re rubbing your way out of parking lots in which your relatively stock 911 just left a puddle of oil in. You’re running 14 or 15 second quarter miles in a car with what you think is enough visual downforce to depress other people's egos just by driving by. These cars, and many like them are the torn and faded jeans of the 911 world. The only way that look is cool, is if you wore them out yourself.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to RWB, 911s, or even cars. Our society today is drowning in blatant narcissism. A glance at any of the social media platforms proves we’re turning into a society looking ever outward for approval and clicks. You did it for the fame. You did it for the attention. There are exceptions to everything, and I’m sure not all the owners are this way, but it’s time for everyone to realize that many of the owners of these RWB cars are as naked as the day they were born. But as bad as this phenomenon is, who’s fault is it?
I got into car clubs, and tuning around 20 years ago. At the time there wasn’t really social media to speak of. You had a local forum, and a national forum. That was it. Still, the writing was on the wall. I remember making random posts on forums about my car, or cars or articles I had shot and written for magazines. I kept a build thread documenting my progress with projects and updated it regularly. In a way, it was the inception of the car culture we see on the internet now. The instant feedback and response to posting when compared to Instagram, twitter, and Facebook is slower but still similar. Now we live in a society where everything you do can be sent out like instant postcards. Instead of: “Hello from Adenau! Hitting the Nurburgring tomorrow! Wish you were here! Love -Your best friend” being delivered on a postcard a week after you’ve already returned home, we’re inundated with low key drivel daily. While the desire to keep up with the Joneses has always existed, it has now taken every possible Methamphetamine derivative you can think of. The “check out how awesome my life is” family letter we used to get once a year, is now in our face every single minute of every day. In the car culture it's every RWB or Liberty Walk car you’ve ever seen. What happens to these cars after the likes start to fall off when everyone gets tired of seeing them? The quantity of videos and media surrounding these builds is a testament to how much these individuals, and their fans care about showing everyone what they are doing. If I close my eyes, I feel like I’m being held down, eating rivets and panel bond for breakfast against my will.
The modified car scene is being completely ruined by a bunch of assholes running personal PR firms from their instagram and facebook accounts. Real public relation firms work for an individual or corporation that offers society a product or service. The personally infatuated posting selfies of themselves and their cars offer us as the consumer of their facade absolutely nothing. They are all just trying to convince everyone they are some conceptualized version of themselves. So what exactly is it that these people are trying to do? To keep the ruse going, they have to feed into other people’s feeds. In order for the idealized version of one’s self to come to fruition, you must also participate in the aggrandizement of others. I wonder if this is sustainable. Are we destined to see figures in the car scene we all look up to burn out when they oversaturate their audience? Must we all attempt to be as popular as possible? Is the constant boot licking actual enthusiasm for the motoring industry, or is it something else?
All of this bitching and complaining is fruitless I know, and I’m asking a lot of questions I don’t know the answer to. The entire concept is a runaway train. When I delete my facebook it feels like I completely disappear from the world. Aside from a few close friends, it ’s like you cease to exist. This is good for awhile, but it definitely feels too disconnected for me. With this profession, it’s just a poor idea. I need to stay in touch with owners, publications, editors, and the community. But for the average joe car guy, maybe It wouldn’t be such a bad thing? Lean back in your chair and really consider this: Would people really be building all of these RWB cars without 174 film crews and photographers there to fawn over the process? How many times do we need to see the same thing repeated over and over again? Would anyone care without being added to an exclusive group? How many of the people shoving air ride and wheels on their cars and posting about them would still do it without the circle jerk that comes with it? We should all go back to building cars for ourselves and going on a drive just to get out there and do it. Rather than making sure we snap the latest flyby of our sweet new exhaust, how about taking the time to listen to it ourselves. There’s nothing like the engine noise rapping back off trees and concrete as you charge through the countryside, or down an onramp. Next time, do it for yourself and leave the rest of the world out of it because really unless you “follow back” nobody cares anyway. We should all take some inspiration from Nakai, and get back to our dingy garages and start building with our friends where no one can see us but ourselves.
I wrote this article about 2 years ago. At the beginning of the RWB “happening”, I was kind of in to it. It was neat. As time went on I started to freak out a little bit. I started calling people out. I had a lot of “fuck yous” thrown at me. To each their own they said, let it go they said. As time has gone on, and more and more cars have been ruined, people are starting to raise their eyebrows. People are crossing the line to my side, and starting to see what's happening. Some RWB’s have gone up for sale with little activity. It seemed for a moment that things may be slowing down, yet, I’ve seen almost a resurgence. Social media is being hit with yet another new film. People are planting themselves in front of their phones to watch yet another dumpster fire filled with ego, fiberglass, spray paint, and panel bond. It’s beyond RWB at this point, but its a convenient scapegoat.
I realize this article makes me a hater, and I want to touch on that word before you continue. People love being hated. They think that means they are doing something right. It’s some sort of merit badge. Being counter culture is not an honorable thing in itself. Being hated does not immediately correlate to making something of yourself. When someone comments on what you’re doing, you don't get to push the hater button and miraculously be vindicated in what you’re doing. Shutting down discourse with the H word is nothing more than the easy way out. You’re shutting down debate. Only thoseincapable of proper discussion will call criticism hate. The common claim is that there is jealousy or envy. It isn’t. We dont want to be you. Trust me. The ability to cause uproar by doing something negative is easy. The person cutting up a 911 and laughing at the critics and hitting the haterade button is the same guy who at 16 had a blow up dolls sticking out of his sunroof at h20. I would be remiss to not mention that horrifying Miura that just popped up as well. Are 911’s just not as cool to cut up anymore? Too mundane? Not getting the negative reactions we want? The envelope is being pushed off the planet at this point, and “getting it” is harder and harder to do. It’s all boiled down to pushing the envelope just for its own ends. It’s become a self fulfilling prophecy of how best piss off other enthusiasts. The liberty walk Mclaren F1 they’re making ought to be fantastic...
With all this said, contrast is important. Without differing styles and opinions it would be a boring carscape. I’m glad RWB exists. It brings breadth to the industry. It’s a sign, in a way, that things are still healthy...but that doesn't mean we cant critique the culture, and car society from time to time. Whichever side you’re on, there’s breadth of content, contrast, and debate. This is good. So, to celebrate, I present a throwback, and rewrite/update to my original RWB rant article. Go beyond the hater button and have a read. I’m not a hater, I’m an observer, a commentator, and you can choose to take all this for whatever its worth to you. I encourage you all to take this beyond the rant. Take it as a call to get back to your garage, and be inspired without influence, and without trying to influence others. Share and enjoy.