Car Culture in America Car Culture in America

When they first made their bumpy arrival on the American street scene in the early 1900s, automobiles were considered fussy toys for the rich and famous. Their cost and impracticality made them inaccessible for the average American. Henry Ford was the first to understand that while most Americans couldn't afford a car, virtually all of them wanted one. His Model T brought the automobile to middle class citizens and was the beginning of America's love affair with its cars.

In the 1950s, the post-war boom produced a generation of teenagers with enough income to buy their own cars. These cars became so much more than just modes of transportation. They were reflections of a lifestyle. The ability to tune and soup-up muscle cars gave average Joes the opportunity to show off their power, their speed and their style in a way that personified the car as character.

From the Streets to Songs

Cars began to pervade American culture, not only on the streets and in local drive-ins, but in entertainment as well. In movies, the stars were often a combination of character and car. James Dean and his anti-establishment motorbike epitomized the "Rebel Without a Cause." The blonde in her white T-Bird -- Suzanne Somers' character in "American Graffiti" -- wasn't even given a name, just credited "Blonde in T-Bird." Even the hit songs of the 60s captured a generation and lifestyle focused on cars and girls. From the little Deuce Coupe to the '34 wagon, "Woody" to the little GTO, cars began to take center stage.

Ever since, car culture has been a major niche lifestyle in America. In 2001, Universal Pictures' "The Fast and the Furious" opened #1 at the box office, outperforming movies with bigger budgets, mega-stars and expensive special events. The hot music, hip clothes and flashy cars gave the film a uniquely broad appeal. Plus, you didn't have to be a car enthusiast to "get it." Everyone could appreciate the high-performance machines and what they could do.

The Evolution Continues - Cars Fast and Furiously Become Hot Properties Once Again

"The Fast and the Furious," released in 2001, brought import car tuning to the forefront of teen culture and sparked a whole new generation of auto enthusiasts anxious to put their tuning skills to the test.

NOPI (Number One Parts Inc.) sponsors The Fast and Furious Drag Racing series, which provides a fun, safe and lucrative opportunity for import tuner enthusiasts to test their mettle. The 2001 NOPI Nationals drew almost 85,000 people and the craze continues to grow.

Craig Lieberman, an import tuner enthusiast who served as technical director on both the original "The Fast and the Furious" and this summer's sequel "2 Fast 2 Furious," believes auto tuning has become a phenomenon because it allows creativity and the thrill of "building your dream."

"We build these cars as a reflection of our personalities. They are blank canvasses and we can layer on our own perceptions of speed, beauty and power. And thanks to the growth of this industry over the past 3 years, we can now take our masterpieces to any number of auto shows or sanctioned races throughout the year." Today, 87 percent of the import tuner enthusiasts are involved in car shows.

Car Collecting: Bridging Generations

Collecting cars -- both real and scale model replicas -- has been growing right alongside America's growing passion for automobiles. The demand for highly-detailed scale model replicas of cars throughout history is evidenced by the wide availability and solid sales manufacturers such as Racing Champions and Ertl have experienced over the course of the past few decades.

"Through our Ertl and Racing Champions brands, we have brought car collectibles to a much wider audience by replicating cars that have meaning in our culture," says Peter Henseler, president of RC2 Corporation. "From classic entertainment properties such as 'The Fast and The Furious,' 'American Graffiti,' 'Batman' and more to exciting NASCAR replicas to special anniversary edition models, we offer collectors a way to capture a memory, share an experience or aspire to a lifestyle that is particularly appealing to them. Collectible cars are an economical way to do this."

Sharing car collections can also be a great way to bridge generations. Dads and grandfathers can share important facets of their lives with children and grandchildren through scale model replica collecting.

"Car collectibles can truly be a way to bring different generations closer together," says Henseler. "A mutual appreciation of automobiles can transcend the differences in time."

Racing Champions' die-cast collectible cars from "The Fast and the Furious" collection capture every detail of the cars that appeared in the first movie as well as those that are tearing up the streets in "2 Fast 2 Furious" this summer. Lieberman, who consulted with Racing Champions to ensure that the die-cast models looked authentic, believes this is the key to the appeal of the cars.

"Racing Champions has captured the cars from the films down to the most minute detail. For example, the orange Toyota Supra from "The Fast and the Furious" was originally painted yellow, but the exterior was repainted orange prior to filming. The interior roll bar was never painted on the original car in the film, and it remains yellow on the Racing Champions die-cast replicas. It's this type of attention to detail that captivates car collectors and makes these top quality replicas must-haves for tuner fans."

Racing Champions and Ertl die-cast collectible cars, including the new cars from "2 Fast 2 Furious," are available at Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target, as well as through many model and hobby stores nationwide. For more information, visit www.rc2corp.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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