Owners pour passion into their big, roomy rides.
Many drivers purchase an SUV for the practicality and utility. For others the size, visibility from the driver’s seat, and the feeling of added safety are motivations for ownership. A smaller but enthusiastic segment of the market are buyers who think an SUV is both great-looking and a canvas for expression.
Kyle Chrisman, a 34-year-old phlebotomist living in Everett, purchased his 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT with one purpose in mind: riding in comfort while making an automotive statement.
Chrisman caught the four-wheeled-vehicle passion when he was a kid and accompanied his dad as they raced across sand dunes on various “quad” all-terrain vehicles. These small open-wheeled trail riders resemble a cross between a motorcycle and a lawn tractor. Perhaps the off-road utility of these dirt tossers caused Chrisman to become the owner of several Jeeps, culminating in his current 470-horsepower, fire-breathing beauty that displays a custom wrapped exterior and peanut butter-colored leather interior.
Wrapping is a technique of covering a surface with a vinyl coating rather than with a coat of paint. This recent trend of vehicle covering looks like paint but, in most cases, it is cheaper to apply than a traditional paint job.
During the interview, while searching for a photo location, Chrisman shared, “I wanted something that my 2-year-old Husky dog Camron and I could enjoy riding in together and, perhaps, pick up a few ‘thumbs up’ salutations along the way.”
After a suitable location was chosen, two admirers stopped by to chat with Chrisman and take photos of his customized creation. It was easy for passers-by to realize that this was not a standard-issue SUV sitting in the parking lot.
“I’ve done a lot to this Jeep to help me enjoy it and, on a few occasions, I’ve been able to bring home a trophy from a car show.”
In addition to the exterior wrap and the interior upgrading, Chrisman has added custom wheels and tires, lowered the suspension two inches, added a cold-air engine induction system and high-performance exhaust, and dressed-up various areas of the Jeep with chrome and billet accessories.
When asked for advice to anyone considering getting into the custom SUV segment of the car hobby, Chrisman responded, “Do your research and make sure that you have a good SUV to start with, or one that you realize that you are going to have to spend some money on to make it look the way you want.”
How much is it going to cost to be the proud owner of a custom vehicle that does not look like most of the other vehicles usually seen at car shows?
“You are going to be into it at least $20,000 for a used SUV that will make heads turn and thumbs rise. But don’t expect to have a shelf filled with trophies.”
Despite Chrisman’s occasionally being able to place another trophy on the fireplace mantle, he warns, “Your SUV may not be picked as a winner because there is rarely a car show with a category exclusively for SUVs.”
The custom SUV crowd is small, but there are other car buffs in the area who love the big roomy rides.
James Peek, a 29-year-old Everett resident and father of a car-loving 10-year old-son, has entered his very customized 1991 Toyota 4Runner SUV in several shows.
“I’ve been in 15 shows so far and have returned home with 13 trophies,” he says. “I guess that is not too bad for a car that is not done yet.”
Peek’s Toyota has undergone extensive customizing, including installation of a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8 that develops 400 horsepower.
“I’ve been working on cars since I was 15 years old and appreciate everything, but prefer Chevrolets and all Japanese cars,” he says.
Peek makes his living working on cars and his Forerunner displays the various talents he has with a wrench and a cutting torch.
“What you see is a body that has been severely lowered by altering the suspension and removing portions of the body and floorboards so it sits lower on the frame.”
Peek’s Toyota can actually sit completely on the ground. The Toyota’s bright green exterior, numerous body modifications and custom interior result in a cruiser low enough to trim a putting green and flashy enough to be seen from a satellite passing over. Nobody mistakes this 4Runner for a standard SUV used by a family on the way to a Little League game or heading out of town for a weekend excursion.
When asked about the relative rarity of SUVs at car shows, Peek replies, “There are not many Chevrolet- powered Japanese cars at traditional car shows. I’m doing my best to bring a modern-day hot rod into an ‘old school’ world. Some of the traditional hot rodders are reluctant to take a close look at my car. That usually changes when they see the big Chev V-8 nestled in the engine compartment.”
Both Peek and Chrisman enjoy making a favorable impression at shows, but they are not there just to get compliments or, perhaps, win a trophy.
What appeals to them is that an SUV provides a different canvas to display their expression of automotive art. But they do not deny that recognition and a thumbs-up from passing motorists makes them feel that they made the right choice in purchasing an SUV.