The romance of Kustom Kar Kulture can be summed up by the image of the scorching California
sun hitting 10 layers of sparkling brittle clear-coated enamel. It is the story of how we fell in love
with the surface of technology, ironically at a time when it was still possible for the consumer to get
under the hood of the actual machine. Kustomising enabled consumers to transform an
affordable, standardised and efficient Ford into a unique artwork. The body of the car was
streamlined: chopped, raked back, channeled, spliced, shaved and trimmed to make the machine
look longer, smoother, enhanced. The car became a native in the flat, hot, desert landscape. The
dry, sprawling openness of California worked in partnership with the organic and aerodynamic
energy of the Kandy machine. Of course the artist (or mechanic) was not simply producing an effect
upon the surface of the car, they were boosting its organs, beefing it up, hotrodding it so it could really
vex the road. Suped up cars have existed since the 1920s, but after the Second World War,
soldiers returned with a basic knowledge of mechanics, massively increasing the numbers of young
men with the technical knowhow to fiddle with their ride. In addition, small military airports all over
the United States were abandoned after the War, leaving vast strips of tarmac ideal for drag racing
and hanging out.

The impulse to customise has seen production and mechanisation go full circle from the unique
artisanal crafted product, to efficient standardised Fords back to the time-consuming customised
product of Kustom Kulture. One can see the Kustom as grass-roots Post-Fordism; the transformation
of the utilitarian into the flexible product, tailored to the consumer's taste. However, today
Post-Fordist product is simultaneously 'open' to morph according to the consumer's identity and a
sealed automaton black box. Today we can tinker with the surface but as consumers this is as far as
we can hope to creatively supe up. The black box at the centre of the automaton means that the
essential characteristics are impervious to tinkering because neither the consumer nor the artist has
access to the mechanics of information processing. The concept of the black box emerged in the early
1940s following the invention of network synthesis filters: electronic signal processing to achieve a
particular function. When the code necessary to process the function became the property of
the manufacturer and therefore hidden from the consumer and artist, this opacity was coined the
black box.

Fordism's transformation into Post-Fordism is a process in which design amalgamates the
characteristics of the artwork. Kustom Kulture operated through a dual process of remodelling
both the organs and the surface of the machine. Today, with the mechanics hidden from the
consumer's view, 'surface' is all we are left to play with. Perhaps this surface flexibility amounts
to a decorative, symbolic Post-Fordism not quite divorced from the origins of Kustoms. From the
beginning, the decorative surface (quite literally in terms of paintwork) was paramount to the aesthetic
of Kustom Kulture.The clear coat that protects and provides depth to the metallic paint job is a key
signifier of the Kustom look, making it more ornament than functioning machine. Miniscule
anodised aluminium chips were combined with nitrocellulose lacquer paint. On top of this one could
slather infinite layers of clear coat. A labour intensive and meditative ritual, each coat would need to dry
and be sanded back before the next was applied. The more layers the higher the exaltation of the artist,
Hot Rod Magazine praised fifty coats and it is in many cases the paint job that renders a car a
museum piece. With time the thick lacquer stratum becomes a brittle beauty, spent in the California sun.
Just starting the engine risks a crack in its surface.

In 1949, the first Muscle Car came on the market.These off the shelf high performance supped-up
engines emulated the light frame, high-speed philosophy of the Kustom Hot Rod. The Muscle
gathered popularity in the 1960s and in 1963 Ford produced 200 lightweight drag-racing specimens.
The Ford Galaxy was also released as a road-legal edition of 5,000. It claimed 0-60 in less than 6
seconds. Following this were numerous low-slung gleaming objects of youthful male American desire.
The XPAK 400 was designed and built by Barris Kustoms in 1960. The concept capsule was
without wheels, instead floating on a friction free cushion of air. Although this was intended to make
it drivable on both land and water it was exclusively a showpiece and never left its guide rails, travelling
from one exhibition centre to the next, a neutered star.The seat was covered in white pearl Naugahyde,
the carpet white plush and the body was painted with 35 coats of imported Swedish nitro cellulose
lacquer pearl made with the essence of crushed fish scales and diamond dust. In 1965, the author
and journalist Tom Wolfe visited George Harris, the foremost Kustom Kar engineer of Barris
Kustoms, which resulted in the article The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.
"Barris looks like Picasso, the body-shop is a gallery," Wolfe contends, (Wolfe 1963, 81), "the
cars are sculpture... curvilinear abstract sculpture" (Wolfe, 1963, 82). Although one could blame
the neutering of the Kustom on the Muscle Car and the exhibition centre, in fact as Wolfe says,
the body-shop was already designated a gallery, the Kustom willingly sterilised itself through the
tipping of the balance towards surface.

With the introduction of efficient manufacturing Ford cars came off the assembly line faster and faster.
Paint was the point past which production bottlenecked. 'Japan Black',the fastest drying colour
available, was the only colour used from 1914 until 1926 when the Duco fast-drying lacquer was
developed. Critically it was during the period of Japan Black totalitarianism that Kustom Kulture
developed. Essentially the surface initiated the impulse to adapt. Overall the gains in productivity
achieved through the assembly production line were passed onto factory workers. Their pay
increased three fold over three years of service and Ford reduced the overall hourly working week.
The development of Teenage culture is partly associated with a rise in affluence, thanks to the
supposed trickle-down effect of Ford achieving higher profits. Before the economic growth of the
mid-fifties there was no such thing as youth-culture. Working class youth were expected to start
earning a wage from the age of fifteen and learn to become adults whilst handing most of their wages
over to their mother each week. Middle class youths were protected from temptation by a series
of academic hurdles. A restricted amount of money and time were made available to them,
preventing opportunity for leisure.

The emergence of teenage culture, which went hand-in-hand with Kustom Kulture, appears as
Libertarian Romanticism: a desire to banish controls, for an unfettered freedom to express the Self.
Hysteria becomes an important experiential phenomenon; mobs of young girls at concerts winding
each other up into a shrill frenzy of worship. Pushing experience to limits as a function of release
was also performed through drugs, mysticism, and a fetishisation of Eastern philosophy rooted in
Coleridge's brand of Romanticism. The hippy movement followed the birth of teenage culture and
its key signifier of free hanging long hair is a symbol of emancipation. 'The Proverbs of Hell' by
William Blake (1789) taken out of context of his whole work provided popular rebellious slogans:
"Damn braces: Bless relaxes", "The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction", "Sooner
murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires". However the analogy of Romanticism
and teen culture goes deeper than a rebellious temperament, the Neo-classicists playing the role
of the proverbial parents. Both are flamboyant, spontaneous and existential, both somehow provide
asegue into the platitudinal figure of the bohemian artist. The artist, like the art object is by definition
different. Just as Post-Fordism took the art object as the quintessential product, the unique quality
of the artist is of course the blueprint for the individual Post-Fordist worker. Railing against 'the system',
the artist assists the progress of history and in the process shirks any benefit that the system might
provide, such as contractual stability. Artists, and increasingly Post-Fordist operatives work for
themselves; they have no responsibility to anyone but their own existential spirit.

The seductive pastoral vistas and textures of nineteenth century Romanticism once transported the
reader to a place kinder to the senses than the pandemonium of industrialisation. Today we are
romanced and pleasured by the impenetrable machined surface. The first mechanised assembly line
of 1797, which produced Eli Whitney's cotton gin, coincided with the year that Coleridge wrote
Kubla Khan. While the assembly line would result in the sleek ideal of Kustom, the Romance of the
object inseparable from the California landscape equivalents the English response to Industrialisation
tied to the landscape, our "green & pleasant Land" (Blake, 1808/ Parry 1916). The Romantic period
is characterised by an emotional, subjective contemplation of nature. The power of vision and
imagination spurred by the spirit of the subject sought to counter-act the objective values of
the Enlightenment which preceded mass Industrialisation. Imagination was a means of escape from
the abject horror of urban squalor. Our idealised vision of the English countryside is based on a sense
of loss of place that the peasant émigrés of the Industrial Revolution experienced. In the British
context, Post-Fordism was born in the 1960s during the age of the permissive society; the coming
together of Humanism and late Romanticism. Christianity became less confident in its moral assertiveness,
Humanism became a leading force in promoting widely supported reforms which represented a shift in
the moral code of the country; capital punishment was abolished in 1965; laws relating to abortion,
family planning, homosexuality and divorce were all liberalised. The class of consumers we are dealing
with today are cultured, liberated and well educated; the demographic audience for an inspiring coffee
table book.

William Blake (1789).The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

William Blake (1808).And did those feet in ancient time/ Hubert Parry (1916). Jerusalem.

Opus Media Group (2013). Making of an Opus. Available: Last accessed 16/05/13.

Tom Wolfe (1963).The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. London:Vintage.

Helen Kaplinsky