Pimp My Ride: DJ Tim Westwood brings US car show to our screens

With his trademark mix of English and US vernacular, DJ Tim Westwood is the ideal host of the UK version of 'Pimp My Ride'
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The Independent Online

For nearly 20 years, he has been the undisputed figurehead of UK rap, but on the morning we met, Tim "Big Dawg Pitbull" Westwood resembles not so much a fighting canine as one of Goldilocks' three bears.

With unconcealed relish, Westwood is tucking into a tub of McDonald's porridge (think congealed wallpaper paste in a big cup). "It's my secret weapon," he reveals. "Try it, man. I've got two." And with all the concern of a waiter at a Michelin-starred restaurant he proffers advice on the appropriate amount of McDonald's honey to add to this oatmeal gloop.

Tim Westwood, of course, lives and breathes hip hop. He's a single man in his late forties; his office is dominated by shelf upon shelf of 12-inch vinyl records and the windowsills are decorated with plastic models of rap icons Flava Flav and Biz Markie. He has five enormous-wheeled American vehicles. He is the nearest thing Britain has to a hip hop media mogul, presenting and producing radio shows for the BBC, hosting his own television show on cable and satellite venture Channel U, and running his website www.timwestwood.com.

But as well as living the rap game, Westwood happens to be a decent guy with boundless enthusiasm and a genuine interest in other people - and their cars. He is, therefore, the perfect presenter for the UK version of cult MTV series Pimp My Ride.

Pimp My Ride takes old cars and gives them a makeover. And we're not talking about attaching a pair of furry dice to your rear-view mirror - these transformations invariably include a wild paint job, lounge-style upholstery, an absurdly large stereo system and, most importantly, a gimmick ranging from a simple chandelier to an in-car Ping-Pong table. Watchers of the US version of the show will know that souped-up spoilers, exhausts and speakers have now become big business. But how big? Automobile parts shop Halfords has begun selling their own selection of high-bling add-ons for the car enthusiast.

The first programme of the UK series sees Westwood and a team of Colchester mechanics transform photography student Bethan Jones's humble 1961 Morris Minor into a bright pink surfwagon with DVD player, digital camera, laptop, printer and a rack for surfboards. Jones was delighted. So was Westwood: "The paint job is incredible. The interior is incredible. It's banging."

That's the show's standard format: normal people write in saying they want their normal cars turned from a useless piece of junk into a wild pimpmobile. Sometimes they get celebrities on: Madonna took a white Transit van to be pimped for her Hung Up video. A lavender leather interior, complete with glitter ball, was the garish outcome.

Pimp My Ride can be seen, of course, as the contemporary extension of years of customising automobiles by proud owners. It started over in America. Henry Ford had been making cars that told consumers yes, you can have a low cost vehicle, but, no, you cannot have variety. So by the 1920s backyard mechanics and working-class white boys seized the potential for self-expression and set to work customising standardised Fords.

And the trend continued: the first Hot Rod Exhibition was held in Los Angeles in 1948, and Robert E Petersen's Hot Rod magazine was launched in 1950. Then, in the late Sixties, people set to work on the Ford cruisers again, turning them into absurd low-riders, or "scrapes" - cars customised to travel unfeasibly close to the ground. These were fitted with lever-operated hydraulic jacks that allowed the vehicle's nose and tail to be raised and lowered at will. In traffic, a group of low-riders could get into a syncopated rhythm so their Chevrolets, Chryslers and Fords performed a stoplight Mexican Wave. Inside would be tuck'n'roll-crushed velour upholstery in vibrant technicolour. And so, Pimp My Ride, in concept at least, is nothing new.

"It has been the most proper thing I've done in TV," Tim Westwood acknowledges. "It's MTV's most successful franchise. It replaced... what was that weird family? The Osbournes?"

Westwood knows that if he is to keep pace with entrepreneurial rap stars such as Jay-Z and 50 Cent, who never let a branding opportunity pass them by, he has to work across media platforms. "You have got to be everywhere," he says. "Artists in hip hop have clothing lines, drinks lines. They are movie stars and have radio shows. Hip hop is a lifestyle brand - it's not just a music. I want the UK audience to listen to my radio show, watch Pimp My Ride, watch my Channel U show, go to westwood.com and buy my albums."

Westwood's interest in ostentatious motor vehicles was originally inspired by Dr Neil Fox of Magic radio. "As a kid someone said, 'What's your dream car?' and I said, 'A Ford Sierra'. I had no concept of what it was like to have a hot car," he admits. "Neil Fox had a Jeep. I used to jump around in that and thought, 'This is real fun'." So Westwood bought himself a Jeep. "I did it up from a bucket to something hot to death on the road."

The UK version of Pimp My Ride will not simply imitate the US format but will mix the Americana with cups of hot, sweet tea, he says. "Can you imagine the bling machines we're going to create that'll be cruising down your local high street?" says Westwood. "We're gonna be crazy!"

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