Certainly, times have changed and today's cars are decidedly less friendly to shade tree mechanics. Seasonal adjustments of the timing and the carburetor idle screw have gone the way of the knee-action suspension. Something else vanished with working on cars at home; the idea of tinkering, improving, or even building something completely from scratch.
But leave it to a company out of St. Louis, Missouri, to figure out how to kindle a modern kid's interest in cars. The company is called RIDEMAKERZ, and they've just opened two new stores in the Detroit. This brings their national total to nine (the complete list is below). The RIDEMAKERZ experience offers everyone the chance to create a one-of-a-kind car or truck.
If you've ever been to Build-A-Bear, you'll understand the RIDEMAKERZ concept. The stores are set up like mini factories, and the car building experience begins when you choose the car you'd like to build from dozens of body styles and colors. While the company reports that most customers are boys (75 to 90 percent, depending on the city), I attended a pre-opening assembly session at one Detroit store (Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi) with my 12-year old daughter and her friend. They each picked a body and then customized their cars by picking out cool wheels, tires, working under-car lighting systems, stripes, and more. RIDEMAKERZ figured out that there are 649 million possible combinations.
Their masterpieces are 12 inches long (about 1/18 scale). While a rolling chassis (a pusher) can be built, my girls chose to go with battery-powered remote-controlled chassis. Their choice was way more fun as it encouraged racing through the living room as soon as we returned home.
I spoke to RIDEMAKERZ's cheerful CEO Larry Andreini. He clearly recognizes that Detroit is the world’s automotive capital and birthplace of the auto assembly line. Andreini believes, “If Henry Ford were alive today, I think he’d love seeing families having fun making cars in the Motor City on our small-scale assembly line. I feel like we’re revving up the next generation of Detroit's automakers and car customizers by extending the car building experience to kids.” The pitch line is kinda canned, but the enthusiasm is real, and so is the experience. My daughter loves the flat black Viper she built and is still talking about the experience days later.
Simple cars can be purchased for as little as $25, while more extravagant motorized kits ring out for as much as $90. If you happen to be in the Detroit area, and a UAW member, until May 31, Detroit autoworkers who show their company badge receive a 20 percent discount. Even if you're not eligible for the discount, it's still worth some quality "driveway" time to hit RIDEMAKERZ and build something fun with somebody you like.
If you don't live near one of the stores, visit ridemakerz.com, where you can build a car on line and then have the parts and tools shipped to your home so you can build it yourself.--Rex Roy
Broadway at the Beach – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Mall of America – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Spotsylvania Towne Center – Spotsylvania, Virginia
Castleton Square Mall – Castleton, Indiana
The Avenue at White Marsh – White Marsh, Maryland
The Shoppes at Hagerstown – Hagerstown, Maryland
Woodfield Mall – Shaumburg, Illinois
Great Lakes Crossing and Twelve Oaks Mall – Detroit, Michigan
Shops to come in 2008:
May 31 – Branson Landing – Branson, Missouri
June 14 – Fox River Run – Appleton, Wisconsin
June 28 – Baybrook Mall – Friendswood, Texas
Chip Foose was on hand at the RIDEMAKERZ grand opening at Twelve Oaks Mall (Novi, Michigan) and is shown here custom striping my Dodge Challenger.