I'm not sure there's much more I can say about my love for the derelict aesthetic. Better writers could weave together an essay about the intersection of utilitarian simplicity and wabi-sabi, but it's a whole lot easier and more entertaining to let a base-model, well-preserved, mid-century pick-up truck convince you. A friend of mine, Brent Logue, rescued this 1965 Ford F100, put a little elbow grease into cleaning it up, and hit the road. It has a straight six, a manual 3-speed on the column, and not much else. It's brutally honest in a world where most things are anything but.
Lee would admit that he never really wanted a Miata. The son of blue-collar Southerner, he was raised on big trucks and muscle cars, the kind of vehicles where owners have cruise-ins instead of meets. And he's still that guy. Lee can string together a list of part names and models that sound like an outtake from Talledaga Nights. Despite that, however, the Purvis home was not altogether devoid of imports. There was a lifted Toyota truck in the driveway, and Lee himself purchased a Chevrolet LUV (a captive import by Isuzu) as one of his first cars. When he started to get interested into automotive culture, he explored the Japanese side of things, eventually landing at the Mazda Miata. While the Miata has long been known as a "hairdresser's car", its RWD layout and relatively cheap cost of entry has catapulted it as the prime gateway into Japanese sports cars. After a Facebook post joking that he reluctantly wanted one, his cousin replied that Lee could come take one that was rotting away in his yard. That was all it took, and Lee was a proud owner of tired, 25 year old bright blue roadster.
The Miata has taken a long road to get to this point. Remembering the first time I saw it, it had spray painted lime green accents, white wheels, and a "tongue" sticking out of the front grill. It was "cute", maybe. Time, however, heals all things. Lee has crafted the Miata as an opus to his own brand of wabi-sabi and Japanese touge racer function-first aesthetic. To put it bluntly, this Miata is rough. But it isn't from indifference or inattention. Although this look is certainly different than the patina of old American iron, there's a common thread. This car shows it age and wear with pride. It creaks, it crashes over cracks in the pavement, there's no power steering, no a/c, and the transplanted utilitarian Lotus Elise seats are only comfortable for someone under 5'8", 180 lbs, with enough natural cushion to offset their utilitarian design.
I think part of being able to pull off a derelict aesthetic is bolstering the project with enough style and substance to balance the wear. A stock Miata with bad paint and fading badges isn't interesting, it's just a disappointment. And therein lies the difference. Lee has paired gorgeous, period correct modifications with the car that give us as viewers a sense that there is a vision, and that he actually deeply cares about it.
Lee's recent move to these 14" Work Equip 01s has helped immensely. While the 4 spoke look certainly isn't universally popular, it works here.
Any mention of Lee's Miata has to go hand-in-hand with a discussion of the Average brand that he has helped craft. While we are usually a bit tongue-tied in explaining what the whole thing is about, this Miata, and its popularity, goes a long way to showing the value in the imperfect, forgotten, overlooked side of automotive culture.
Lee's next step for the Miata is more power, likely by the way of forced induction. While he certainly is a fan of the "drive a slow car fast" mentality, a recent change to a limited-slip rear differential and lower geared rear end has the car begging for a little more go. The Toyo R888 rubber also overpowers the stock 1.6L, preventing a lot of the fun that has made the Miata so popular recently.
I don't think that every car can pull this look off. If the paint is bad on your 2016 Scion FRS, you should fix it. And there's certainly nothing wrong with restoration. Lee himself owns a 20th Anniversary GTI that has been maintained impeccably well and looks like a car with a quarter of the mileage that shows on the odometer. But in the rare cases of cars with stories, cars that have been used according to their purpose, and cars that have the heart to pull off the resulting wear, there's something to be said for showing that off with pride.
I would imagine that everyone in the Middle GA car community has an opinion of Chris Horne. Online, he's developed quite the reputation as a bit of an antagonist. Chris is not one to keep his thoughts bottled up, and he's certainly not going to shy away from an opportunity to release his inner troll. And while that persona isn't necessarily an act, underneath that somewhat jagged exterior lies one of the most helpful, genuine, creative people I've met in Middle Georgia.
Over the past several years, Chris has become the go-to person for the Mazda Miata in town. In addition to a steady rotation of interesting cars and trucks, he and his wife Christina have had an ever-changing handful of Miatas in variable stages of construction and deconstruction, prepared for either sale or scrap. In that organized chaos, Chris has slowly put together this 1995 Merlot Mica M-editon, which I'm told is a bit of a rare breed.
In case there was any doubt, this Miata was never meant to be a show queen. I won't assume to imply that I completely understand the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic, but I think this car might at least share some aspects of the idea. This car is imperfect in all of the best ways. All of the components of the build are top-shelf parts: Nardi and KG Works interior, Garage Vary taillights, OEM hardtop, and the first MiniTec Honda V6 swap kit ever sold. All together, it all just oozes character.
Chris and his family are making the move to England with the Air Force in August, and this Miata is going with him. He's going to leave a huge hole in this community. For every sarcastic remark on Facebook. there's a story of Chris staying up all night to help install a suspension, swap a motor, or replace a busted oil pan; all without any expectation of payment or favors. Chris is the kind of guy that you ask to help with something, and when you step inside to get a forgotten tool, you come out to find that he's already finished it with his hands. He's that guy.
Speaking for all us, we'll miss you and Christina a ton. Y'all come back soon.
I'll admit that I'm largely ignorant of the "big rim" style and culture. I do know that this style, much like the stance scene, has largely been derided by traditional enthusiasts as an heretical approach to car modification. Accusations range from subjective insults regarding looks and purpose, to valid concerns about diminished braking performance from the installation of wheels that are often 10" to 15" in diameter larger than the OEM equipment. Luckily, as a photographer, I'm mostly interested in what is visually interesting, so I'm able to leave the debates to other people with far more time on their hands than me.
Spending as much time as I have in Atlanta and in Macon, these "donk style" (forgive me if my vernacular is off...) builds have always stood out in traffic, and I think that's what sparked my interest. Despite my own OEM+ (read boring) approach to car modding, I respect someone that drive a car that can break every single neck on a street. Regardless of your interest in cars, when a candy- orange Chevelle with enormous chrome rims drives by - the sounds of an unhindered Chevrolet small block bouncing off the asphalt - you take notice, and you instantly form an opinion. My late model Honda Fit on average looking wheels can't do that...ever.
Simply put, I'd like to ask the viewer to reconsider what has been deemed ridiculous by mainstream automotive culture. The roots of this community are buried in the fringes of society, cultivated by the rebels and the outcasts. Yet, for many of us, the breadth of what we can appreciate is so narrow that we dismiss anything that doesn't tick the right boxes. Admittedly, I'm not going to buy a Caprice. I'm not going to paint the Fit anything that starts with "candy". And I'll probably never buy a set of wheels larger than 18". But the next time I see a "Big Rim" style vehicle, I'm going to give it and its owner the same chance I give any car. These guys are real enthusiasts, with the same passion that many of us have. Take a look at the details of the build and the quality of the work. I guarantee that if you approach with an open mind, you'll walk away impressed.