2006 Ford Fusion SELEnlarge Photo
The New York-based radio star’s influence is spreading beyond the music scene. He parlayed his fixation with muscle cars into a show on SpikeTV, “Ride with Funkmaster Flex.” He reprised that show’s success with a new series on ESPN, showing him at work customizing his garage full of collector cars.
Now the Funkmaster has signed on with Ford Motor Co. Last autumn, he took the stage in
“I’ve learned to live with my addiction,” he said with a deep laugh rising up out of his massive frame. “I always had a love of cars, and started putting them together myself,” he added, during an interview at the New York Auto Show.
Musicians like rapper Ludacris took notice and began hiring the Funkmaster to do their own custom jobs. The DJ’s wife started videotaping the projects, and that kicked off the idea of a TV show.
Asked how many cars he owns, Flex pauses to do some mental arithmetic. “Thirty,” he says, pausing for a quick recount, “Yeah, 30 up-and-running, and probably ten project (cars)” still in the works.
2005 Ford Fusion
His list includes a number of Fords, including a new Mustang, as well as a 1969. There are a couple of ’70s-era Torinos and a ’67 Galaxie. He also has a trio of vintage Chevrolet Chevelles, and a classic 442 convertible.
“I’m an American car guy,” he stressed, and a muscle-car maven. “I can’t believe the muscle-car era is back,” he added, pointing to the revival of cars like the Charger and GTO. The Big Three have finally “realized the kids want performance, and good styling, too.”
It was the latest incarnation of the Mustang, Flex said, that caught his eye and got him interested in working with Ford. And desperate to reconnect with import-oriented urban buyers, the automaker jumped at the opportunity to sign him on.
His name and oversized presence “get the attention,” explained spokesman Mitch Johnson. “He’s a huge tastemaker and has a lot of power.”
Of course, Ford isn’t the only automaker to discover hip-hop. Cadillac scored big when its Escalade SUV connected with the bling-bling crowd. And Chrysler hired rapper Snoop Dogg for a commercial, where he was part of an unlikely pairing with former chairman Lee Iacocca.
The customized Fusion and F-150 will go on tour over the summer as part of the traveling 2006 Funkmaster Flex Custom Car & Bike Show. But Ford hopes to use Funkmaster Flex for more than just star appeal at hip-hop events. The DJ-cum-customizer will help the automaker develop a series of project cars. And company officials hint he may have an even bigger role in future product designs, perhaps even some limited-edition vehicle series.
It’s a daunting challenge for the surprisingly soft-spoken Flex. “Working with a big carmaker, like Ford,” he said, “is like going from playing street ball direct to the NBA.”
The challenge, he explained, is to lead, rather than follow the trends, and Flex sees some changes coming. Oversized wheels, he suggested, are starting to become passé. They may look good, but they’re not fun to drive on, so the wheels chosen for “everyday (driving) are starting to get a little smaller.”
Look for street tuners to put more attention on suspension and body kits, especially custom hoods, Flex predicted.
At 38, the Funkmaster could become the most powerful urban name in the automotive business. But he hesitates at the idea. He’s seen too many egos go out of control in the urban music scene, he cautioned, and he’s not looking to burn out his own flame fast. “I’m 38,” he said with sudden seriousness. “I’m in no rush. I’ve got plenty of time.”
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