The man you’ve heard but not heard about

I was waiting in the parking lot on a cold and damp winter day.  The roads were filled with slush.  And then, like thunder and lighting, I heard him and a few seconds later, I saw him.  Steven Collins (and his car) had arrived, and things got loud.

He pulled his purple car into the lot, blaring emo pop music.  He stepped out wearing a red flannel shirt, grey jeans and a black beanie with his dirty blonde hair sticking out.  He showed me the exterior of his car and how he could change the colour of his headlights with an app on his phone. 

Steven in his Ford Focus (racing seat belt and all)

We both sat in the car.  Steven asked if my hearing was okay.  After I said yes, he showed me how loud his stereo could go.  It was loud but it was distorted by the sound of the engine revving as we left.  Steven was about to take me for a drive and tell me all about his passions – customizing cars, driving fast, and driving loud.

Steven bought his first car, a Ford Focus, when he was 16 (four years ago) with only a G1 license.  Since then, he has gone through five cars.  When he talks about the different cars, he talks about them like they are ex-lovers that have come and gone through his life. 

Steven’s old Subaru, which he loved dearly.

Steven still owns his first car.  It’s his pride and joy.  He’s spent $23,000 on it alone.  And of the five cars he’s owned over the years, he’s spent well over $40,000 customizing them.  Right now, Steven only owns two cars.  It’s popular in the car scene to buy a car, work on it and then sell it.  When I ask if he’s made money or lost money in the end, he laughs and says he’s definite lost money.  But he doesn’t mind.

“I enjoy it.  Imagine a much more expensive version of every other hobby.  Except with a lot of seized bolts,” he says.

A few of the costs of Steven’s Ford Focus (Photo by Steven Collins)

After spending a while in Steven’s car, there’s no denying it’s loud.  Very loud.  It pops and grunts when he downshifts, and gurgles and rumbles when he accelerates.  And although it didn’t bother me much, many people in the suburbs are vocal about how much it frustrates them.

When I asked if people have complained about Steven’s cars, he just laughs.  He knows people hate it.  He’s had people yell at him on the street or insult him about the noise.  He brushes it off and doesn’t take it personally.  He mentions that it’s usually older generations complaining.

The sound of Steven’s new (second) Ford Focus

“Every little kid loves a loud car though.  Especially when they see the colourful wheels.  Every kid loves it, it’s amazing,” he says.

It’s not all about being loud for Steven though.  It’s about the community of “car guys.”

It’s popular for several car guys to go for a ride together or have meetups where they just hangout and look at each others’ cars.  That is Steven’s favourite part of the whole scene.

“It forms community.  Every car guy has at least made one friend from modifying cars,” he says.

Another reason Steven loves working on his cars and customizing them is having a sense of pride.  He does all the work himself, and things don’t always go according to plan.  He’s broken his fair share of parts and had several engine mishaps over the years.  But they never deterred him from continuing. 

“It’s fun.  It gives me something to do.  When you pull up with a fully finished car that you built by hand and someone asks, ‘what’s this?’ it’s nice to say, ‘I f***ing did that’,” he says.

One of the many ways Steven’s Ford Focus has looked of the years (Photo by Steven Collins)

Steven has no intention on giving up his passion working with cars.  He’s got plans on what to do with his current cars and is excited for the summer months to see them through.

Steven drives me back to my house.  As I shut the door behind me, he drives away.  And although I can’t see him past a certain point, I can hear him for several minutes after.  I smile knowing he’s enjoying it, and someone else nearby is probably cursing him out for it.  But the bottom line is – Steven doesn’t care.  It’s what he loves.