Fortune's Wheels

Aritia Wiggins gives a rim a test spin at Big Boys Toys, where owner Hamid Ahmadi says he has 400 models in stock and sells 60 to 80 sets a week.
Aritia Wiggins gives a rim a test spin at Big Boys Toys, where owner Hamid Ahmadi says he has 400 models in stock and sells 60 to 80 sets a week. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 2, 2005

We write today in honor of chrome. We write of the lowly car tire elevated to art form. Of P. Diddy and designer wheels, of Shaq and the $40,000, 24-inch Superman set of spokes on which his la fabulousness glides.

We write today of rims.

We write of the formerly unremarkable steel or aluminum cylinders which, when bolted onto a grimy axle, support your tires. A hundred years, they make cars in Detroit and everywhere else and most people didn't think too much about rims, which usually were plain old utilitarian wheels -- so ugly that you hid them with hubcaps.

What idiots.

Today rims are a $3.1 billion industry that stands at the revolving heart of two American obsessions: automobiles and finding ever more expensive ways to buy things you already have and don't need. Turning a 50-cent cup of coffee into a $4.25 triple latte: That's what makes this country great, and don't you forget it, sister.

Hamid Ahmadi understands this and he wasn't even born in this country. Ahmadi, 42, fled his home town of Kabul to escape the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Today he runs Big Boys Toys in Oxon Hill, a flat-out fabulous red, yellow and black testament to the terminally automotive hip. Every week somebody comes in and drops $4,475 for a set of 24-inch Omega spinners.

And people say this country is going to hell in a handbasket.

"We have 400 different models in stock," Ahmadi is saying in the back storeroom, where tires and rims are stacked in long, profit-rich rows. "I want my customers to be able to feel, touch, smell the product before they buy it. We don't make you wait, either. You buy it, we mount them on the car in an hour, hour and a half if we're busy."

Bling. Instant gratification. Chrome on your car for no damn reason. This place is more American than Hooters.

The rims explosion is not, we stress, anything like your gearhead Uncle Kevin working on the GTO out back. Nor is it your Springsteen '69 Chevy with a 396, Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor. Gearheads are into performance, speed and technology.

People who drop money for rims -- let's say Patrick Williams, right here in Big Boys, picking up a $2,000 set of Vision 20-inchers on his new Yukon -- are not gearheads. They do not get their fingernails dirty. They watch the big, flat-screen up front and take calls while Abdul Basir and the fellas in the back put on the rims, polish them and the tires and pull it back out front for you to admire, sitting there on the leather couch.

"We're a full-service shop," Ahmadi says.

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