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Dr. Stancelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Scrape

Updated: Jul 28, 2021


“Is that legal?”

“Do you get stuck on speed bumps?”

“Is something broken?”

“What happened to your wheels?”

These are all familiar questions to the owner of a stanced car from people who are unfamiliar with the modification style. In order, the answers are generally “yes; sometimes; no; my tires are too small”.

For those who haven’t seen a stanced car, the general definition is broad but generally accepted to mean any modified car very close to the ground, tucking tires under the fenders (or very close to doing so.) More modern stance builds also tend to have significant amounts of negative camber added in via modified control arms and strut mount add-on modifications known as camber plates. This allows wider wheels with deeper dish to be run without impacting the tops of the fenders.

Another common technique to help allow the car to ride even lower with wide wheels is stretching the tires, where a dramatically under-width tire is used to stretch the sidewalls out. I use this technique personally on my lowered Accord Aerodeck. My car is a relatively tame stance build, with fairly soft suspension for a car lowered so dramatically. It still scrapes on potholes, driveways, speedbumps, and generally bad pavement. I bounce around like an agate in a rock tumbler at 70 mph on rural Texas highways. It’s tricky to get in and out of, and every truck on the road has their headlights either at or above my eye level while driving.

Other cars go even radically lower than mine, tucking entire wheels while parked, scraping on pavement seams on otherwise normal roads, and requiring eight-point turns just to pull a u-turn in a cambered section of street.

Stanced cars are slower and handle worse than their stock suspension counterparts, almost without exception. They are vastly less comfortable than a stock car, worse even than some track-prepared examples. They also tend to attract undue attention, not all of it positive. And it’s certainly not a cheap endeavor, with suspension setups (whether air ride or static coilover sets) and low offset wheels sometimes costing more than the cars they sit on.

So why bother?

It is, at least on some level, understandable why someone would deal with the discomfort of daily driving a car purpose-built for a racetrack. Bucket seats, gutted interiors, stiff suspension, soft tires, squealing semi-race brake pads, and roll bars make sense from a competition standpoint, even if they make for a horribly uncomfortable commute, because it still has a clear purpose as a functional vehicle.

Photo: Mercedes-Benz

The world of concept cars might help illuminate some of the answer to the why. Concept cars, especially dedicated styling exercises to help establish brand identity or future design cues, eschew everything about cars that make them drivable or useful for the sake of aesthetics. Mirrors are DOT-noncompliant stubs, and massive wheels with hardly any sidewall fill up enormously exaggerated arches. They sit at ride heights that would require bone-shattering suspension.

Some of the most iconic concept designs of all time, such as the Lancia Stratos Zero or the Ferrari 512 S Modulo are barely drivable, with laughable visibility and in the case of the Modulo, an inability to turn the front wheels without removing pieces of the bodywork. They are indisputably cool, but nearly useless for anything more than pulling onto a turntable at Geneva.

Photo: Alex “Patchy” Sharif

Something I have discovered recently in a seemingly unrelated aspect of my life: fashion, as it conveys an actual sense of style, is almost entirely fake. The reason that fashion shows fall so flat for so many of us is that models walk, emotionlessly, down a featureless runway as nothing more than canvases for the clothes they wear.

Meanwhile, Grace Jones could single-handedly redefine beauty and fashion with an album cover, because she is the walking definition of confidence and as a result whatever unique stylistic choices she made would be carried with a power that is inimitable. The key to pulling off whatever style you choose is having the confidence to go all the way with it. Wear it like you don’t care whether it’s stylish or not, whether that’s an 80s crop top for Radwood or a Victorian goth coord.

It was only recently I realized these two phenomena almost fully reconcile what makes a stance car so cool. It eschews not just some elements of functionality that we come to expect from a car build, but virtually all of them. It is precisely because it commits so hard that it works.

Stance cars stand out as an example of form over function, where all is sacrificed to form. It is one of the closest ways to drive on the streets with concept-car esque fitment and style on the street. Because manufacturers would never release a car with tucked tires or bottom-out-on-a-pop-tart ride heights, stanced cars have been created to give us that look. Even if it’s not quite your style, some of the most influential car tuning subcultures have centered around intricately modified, deeply customized cars that are useless on a racetrack - bosozoku builds come to mind, the insanely wide, loud, and stylized cars of Japan that are built to resemble cartoonish versions of 80s Group 5 FIA race cars. Stance cars can be understood through the same lens of exaggerated and attention-loving aesthetics, and I believe the passage of time will prove that love them or not, they’ll be here to stay.

Photo: Raven Kalb

So… might as well embrace it, weird looks and all.

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