Before he turns on the ignition of his 2014 Chevrolet Camaro, he gives a warning: “It’s gonna get loud, sorry.” The young man’s car is parked in the Grocery Outlet parking lot in Seaside. His car rumbles loudly enough that it wouldn’t be tolerable in the middle of the day. But it’s 9pm on a Friday night, after stores have closed, and drivers are pulling into the empty lot. It isn’t just a place to park the family minivan anymore. It’s become a church for modified cars, and the choir is purring engines.
If you drive around long enough in Monterey County, you might see gatherings of cars that look like they should be on the set of the 13th iteration of The Fast and the Furious. There are several reasons for that.
“Actually, when the first Fast and Furious movie came out, that’s when modding your car became popular,” says 26-year-old Quentin, who, along with other members, spoke to theWeekly are using their first names only, in order to prevent their cars from being singled out by law enforcement.
Ordinary working-class people like him began adding to their cars: spraying them down in non-standard colors, mounting spoilers, beefing up bumpers, installing rims and more.
Then, like any garage hobbyist, they found other hobbyists and formed car clubs for modified street vehicles. Quentin is part of Central Coast HeadTurners, which is just one chapter of dozens of others across the nation and even abroad. “It’s really about appreciating the work that people put in their cars,” he says. The only requirement: it needs to “grab attention,” hence the club’s title.
For Quentin, that translates into an all-black paint job, a carbon fiber hood or his RGB LED headlights that change color in a mesmerizing pattern. “Just to let you know, I don’t use those when I drive,” he says.
For 17-year-old HeadTurners member Pablo, it means a black-and-white motif with bright red detailing and carbon black rims on his 2016 Camaro. “My Camaro is like [Quentin’s] car, but better,” he jokes. The teenager explains that modding cars is a way of telling the world he’s standing out, and that he’s making it.
“I didn’t have a lot when I was growing up,” Pablo says. “I saved for this car and made it my own.”
That mentality is typical of HeadTurners. The group’s members are young, from teens to people in their mid-30s. Many of them are also working hourly jobs, raising families and, like Pablo, still in school. A common thread is that many of them grew up in families that didn’t have a lot of money.
“I wouldn’t say we were really poor,” Quentin says of his upbringing, “but it wasn’t easy.” Pablo nods his head in agreement. They’d seen movies like Transformers and The Fast and The Furious, which show off cars like Honda Civics and Dodge Challengers – cars that came with power and speed, but are also affordable in real life.
Quentin explains that some aspects of Car Week culture are a glass ceiling: You’ve only made it once you have a $100,000 Lamborghini, or a restored classic. But the prevalence of street cars in popular culture, plus the introduction of muscle cars and other high-horsepower cars at lower prices (around $25,000-$45,000) into the mainstream made hobbyist car-owning a reasonable goal for him. In total, he’s spent around $7,000 in modifications.
“Building your car is like the American Dream,” he says, adding he enjoys attending a lot of Car Week events. “I just have more respect for a person who took the time to build up their Honda Civic than someone just driving a brand-new $200,000 Ferrari. At that point, you’re flexing your money just to flex it.”
As they’re talking next to the parking lot, across the way, another vehicle at another car meetup attempts a burnout – creating a “stickier” tire by producing friction between the rubber and asphalt. It screeches for three agonizing seconds.
“Weird flex, but OK,” Quentin comments. “The Salinas meetups are more ratchet. It gives a lot of car clubs a bad name, unfortunately.” Quentin, who lives in Salinas, says HeadTurners is tamer and more community-oriented. They don’t condone unsanctioned street racing, and they’ve done things like toy drives and food and water delivery to people affected by the Soberanes Fire.
Still, the police are never too far behind them. “Nothing we do just parked out here is illegal,” Quentin notes. “The Seaside Police have been really good about us being here. They’re just here to keep the peace. If we’re loud, we’ll turn it down. One time this police officer rolled up to us and we thought we were in trouble. But he turned on his lights and started blasting ‘Bad Boys,’ and we all laughed.”