I had a chance encounter with what is affectionately called a S.L.A.B., with a full set of five Swanger wheels, and thought I might share it with the good readers of Curbside Classic and flesh out the trend a bit for the uninitiated. CC has from time to time featured modified cars that challenge many of our sensibilities. Here’s a good quality example of a breed of custom you may not be very familiar with .
“If riding swangas is wrong, I don’t wanna be right
and if bein’ wrong means bein’ without you,
I’d rather ride swangas all night…” The Bloc Boys
Have you ever felt that you like what you like, and to H*#$ with anyone who tries to tell you you’re weird for liking it? I think that is the attitude it takes to drive a car like this.
I live in Houston, Texas, which as I understand it is ground zero for this style of vehicle. The owner of this Cadillac works down the street at the car audio shop and I’ve seen it parked there occasionally, along with a couple others from time to time. He stopped by our fire station one day, giving us a chance up close to check out this S.L.A.B. (Slow, Loud and Bangin’, not usually abbreviated with periods but I will here just for clarity).
This is a well done customization job, from what I could tell. The paint looks high quality (and not as fluorescent as some). The vinyl top was removed. I believe the interior color was changed, though I didn’t get a chance to ask him about that. The front seats were replaced with nice non-Cadillac buckets and the rear seats reupholstered to match. There is also a custom stereo…
The stereo is second only to the wheels as the centerpiece of a properly done S.L.A.B. I didn’t get the power stats, but lets just say it is ample. Six 15 inch subwoofers should be enough for the most bass-hungry hip hopper. The trunk lid is power operated. As it rises up, the Continental spare tilts back.
Here is a very short video of the subwoofers in action. Note the characteristic rattle as everything on the car that is not 100% tight shakes like a jackhammer. I got to sit in the driver seat for a minute with the stereo cranked up and it was like sitting in a massaging chair. And not a gentle massage. Probably more like the electric chair without the voltage and death.
The style dates back to the 80’s, when extra depth wire wheels became popular in Houston. If you didn’t know, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country. It’s majority minority, with very large communities of immigrants from all over the world. I suppose that’s really more a point of interest than relevant to the story, because prior to the immigrant waves of the last 50 years, the city had and still has a large African-American population. It has been one of the epicenters for Rap and HipHop music culture from the beginning, with that scene cultivating a taste for bright candy painted, chromed-up cruisers with ever more extreme wire wheels that “poke” out.
The requisite oversized wire wheels are called Pokes, Elbows, and most commonly Swangers (or Swangas).
The Eldorado above is one of the original style cars. Maybe I’m desensitized, but the wheels don’t look too deep to my eyes and look pretty natural on this car, especially since Cadillacs like the subject car were available from the factory with real wire wheels in the 80s and early 90s.
As a little-b brougham fan and all around lover of big American cars, I rather like this black Brougham with OE wire wheels. The style of the S.L.A.B.’s is really kind of similar, just exaggerated.
Speaking of exaggerated, Hip Hop culture is not known for it’s sense of moderation. What started as a natural extension of traditional American luxury car style, has evolved into something a bit more… extreme. This topic was touched on at least once before here on CC, with the Buick Park Avenue above sporting the much coveted sixth wheel.
Like a naughty Pinocchio, the wheels keep growing. Just when you think they can’t get any bigger, someone comes out with even longer ones.
Yes, this is a real car I shot on the feeder of the 610 South Loop. I’ve been trying to get photos of these cars for years without a lot of success because they are an elusive prey. They are not used as daily drivers, being not very practical for obvious reasons. While not as expensive as they used to be, a set of Swanger wheels and vogue style tires will set you back $3-10k. There is also the fact that S.L.A.B. culture has a dark side, which you can read about here if you’re interested in the details. In short, while not as bad as in the past, crime has been known to follow these cars with wheel and stereo theft and sometimes, unfortunately, shootings. Few owners will leave their cars unattended in public for very long and they are careful driving the cars into other parts of town. There is also the matter of legality. If the wheels make the car over 8 feet wide overall, they may not be street legal.
So, it’s not uncommon to spot one of these beasts driving around, but it’s tough to find one parked. The best place to see them is probably street cruising events or car shows, which I have not attended. While I can accept them for what they are and can (mostly) reserve judgement, they are certainly not my thing. I’ll stick with the stock wire wheeled Brougham. I don’t want to ride swangas all night, I’d rather be right!
For further reading, here is a good newspaper article. If you’re not afraid to dive into the culture for some guilty pleasure, you could watch some representative videos: here-typical H-town style rap/hip hop; here-song quoted from above; here-same song with local news profile story embedded; here-car parade with no music soundtrack; here-crude car show video has extensive footage of turquiose Caddy megaslab seen above; here-equal opportunity music video; here-bull dogs and swangers?!? it’s funny. I braved YouTube’s offerings and sorted through them so you don’t have to. There is nothing too profane but heed this Warning: videos contain hip hop music and some may NOT be family or boss friendly.