The HayezSquad

The mid-afternoon shoppers in Hayes stare as a dazzling blue car glides down the high street.

The slow-cruising vehicle sports two large calibre exhaust pipes, shaded windows, shining alloy wheels and a surfeit of sharply moulded bumpers almost scraping the asphalt all around. It coasts to a sleek halt next to the bandstand. The driver’s door opens, vertically, and a slim young man climbs out dressed entirely in black, beanie hat pulled low, mirror shades on. He strolls smoothly across the road, waits politely for an elderly couple to shuffle out of the grocers, and then nips in to do some shopping for his Mum. Errand almost complete, he returns to his extraordinary chariot and heads home, back to his parents’ place, taking care to keep calmly within the speed limit. Gawping pedestrians form in a wake behind him.

nazcivic3The young man’s name is Ali. He’s a 24 year-old sports shop manager. His car was a £3,000 Honda Civic, but has been transformed beyond recognition by £18,000 worth of modifications. Ali is a member of the HayezSquad, a group of friends who spend every spare minute doing up otherwise ordinary cars. As well as being obsessed with driving unique and attention-catching vehicles, they all dress to the cutting edge of urban youth fashion, have respectable jobs, drive sensibly and safely, and do what they can to help their Mums.

The HayezSquad are a band of twenty-something Asian lads who grew up in Hayes, Middlesex, on the western rim of London’s urban sprawl. There are ten in the central group (eleven including the Squad dog Yoshi Mitsu) plus several peripheral friends and hangers-on. Despite there being no official leader, it is clear that PJ, a 25 year-old electrical engineer, is boss. According to Squad member Asif, a sales manager: “PJ is the guy that organises everything and makes sure we stick together the whole time.”

The Squad met at school and were already a firm group of friends when Asif’s parents gave him a car for his 17th birthday – a Nissan Bluebird. He decided that to portray the image he was after his car “had to be a one off”. There were no off-the-peg modification kits available for such an everyday car, so he “started doing silly things to it.” Alloy wheels came first. Next he “slammed it to the floor with sport springs” i.e. he lowered the chassis. Then he “colour-coded the entire car”. It had been blue with black bumpers. When he’d finished, it was blue with matching blue bumpers, blue back lights and blue side indicators. The bodywork cost him £2,000. He spent a further £1,000 on the stereo.

Asif had created a truly unique vehicle: a Nissan Bluebird that fitted the image of a hip young Asian lad cruising the suburban badlands. His friends saw what he had done and were very impressed.

Eight years later, the Squad are all keen aficionados of something that car-modifying enthusiasts call Jap Styling. There are three different styles in which you can do up a car: American, European and Jap. American Style’s main facets are hydraulics, which lift a car up and down at traffic lights, and decorations such as neon lights and painted flames on the vehicle’s chassis. The cars in the film ‘Fast and Furious’ are good examples of American Style modified. European Style involves more subtle alterations, such as modest 15” alloy wheels or a noticeably bold but undecorated paint-job. If you see a car that looks normal, apart from having shiny hub-caps and being lime green, then it’s European Styled. Jap Styling is all about massive air intakes, great big spoilers and huge alloy wheels, starting at 17”, but usually bigger. It is the most futuristic, wacky and playful of the three Styles.

The aim of modification is not to make the car look more expensive. The point is to display the individuality and respect-commanding attributes of the driver. Sam, the 20 year-old student, explains: “What you see on the cars, it’s what we are.” For the £21,000 spent on his Civic, Ali could have afforded his dream car, a Honda S 2000. But that’s not the point. If he’d bought the S 2000, he would have had no money left to modify it. That would have been unbearable.

Asif, now 25, says the Honda Civic is the perfect car for modification. He has one himself, but gallantly admits that the “best looking car is Ali’s Civic. Everything on it is a one-off”. Ali’s vertically-opening doors were a first on the Jap Styling scene, something of which the Squad are very proud.

So it’s what’s on the outside that counts. The cars’ speed and handling is of secondary importance. Although the cars look it, they are not particularly fast. In the tens of thousands of pounds spent, the engines have hardly been touched. Asif says that his mushy-pea green Civic garnished with a silver spoiler is perfectly nippy enough with the 1.8 engine it came with. The disco lights from PJ’s BMW’s huge boot-installed stereo may dazzle drivers behind him, but the Beemer is no quicker than when he bought it. Despite the űber-boy-racer look, the Squad have no interest in burning rubber and screeching round corners. If they zoomed by too quickly, nobody would get a long enough look at their jaw-dropping motors. “Not just Hayes – it’s everywhere we go – mouths to the floor” says PJ.

Unfortunately, the Squad’s masterworks don’t get seen on the streets as much as they’d like. They all work hard, so weekdays are out. The Squad often go clubbing together, but they can’t take the cars because if they left them alone for a moment they’d be vandalized. A couple of years ago the Squad were sitting in the window of a restaurant, with all their cars parked outside, when some kids walked up and began to spit on Ali’s Civic. They were just getting ready to gouge the paintwork with keys when the entire Squad poured volubly onto the street. The kids ran away and the Squad learned a lesson.

Now the modified motors get most of their outings on cruises and at shows. The cruises, organized by word of mouth, involve up to fifty Jap Styled vehicles driving slowly through towns in convoy, being admired by other car modders and locals alike. For the Squad the cruises are mainly nearby, but sometimes they go as far a field as Southend in Essex, where the seafront is seemingly designed purely for the display of impressive vehicles with booming stereos.

The HayezSquad like the shows best though. Up to 50,000 people come to see 100s of innovatively altered vehicles. The Squad make sure they get as much attention as possible on arrival. Ali’s Civic leads the Hayes parade, with its wing doors open, looking like a giant blue beetle. Next comes PJ’s BMW because PJ is top dog. The rest follow on, looking forward to a day of displaying their cars and talking Jap Style to other modders.

The shows are not just about displaying the cars though. The car modding magazines, major sponsors at the shows, like to mix their photos of bizarre vehicles with soft-core pornography, usually in the same shot. So although there are hardly any women at these shows, the few that do come are very high profile. They’re page 3 girls and glamour models, wearing hardly anything, who drape themselves over bonnets and bumpers all day.

Reactions to the girls are mixed. Omar, at 19 the youngest squad member, thinks they are “wicked”. Ali finds it all very embarrassing. The last picture of him and his Civic in a magazine “had a naked lady by the side of the car”. So he couldn’t show it to anyone. He has to hide all his car modding magazines from his Mum.

None of the Squad are married, but some of them have got girlfriends. “Where there’s girls, there’s usually trouble.” PJ laments. Females, he says, try to stop them from spending all their time modifying cars and driving around slowly. Some women can be won round. Ali’s Mum, who initially thought he was wasting his money, now cleans his car for him and shoos children away from it when he leaves it outside her house. His last girlfriend hated the whole modifying business, but his new one tolerates it. Generally though, Ali agrees that having a girl in the Squad “would be too much hassle”.

If women are an outside force that threaten the Squad, other outside forces may have lead to this group of friends being what Omar calls “more than mates”.

“Hayes town was extremely racist when we were growing up,” says PJ, “I think that may be one of the things that has brought us closer.”

All of the gang suffered from racist bullying when they were young. Ali points out that there is still racism around, “but people know who we are now. We don’t get any trouble.”

“If you’re on the street you need power – and we got that in our cars” argues Asif. To achieve power, the HayezSquad have become the embodiment of their own motto: “Money, Power, Respect.” It’s always in that order, the theory being that having money, or at least the appearance of having money, gives them power and, more importantly, the respect denied them by their Caucasian peers when they were growing up.

What of the white boys who bullied them? “They can’t do nothing now.” PJ explains. “We’ve all got extremely good jobs, driving fancy cars. Half of them are in jail, drinking, doing drugs. That speaks for itself – I don’t need to say nothing. Those guys who were racist were looking down on us. Now they have to look the opposite way.”

Could a white guy join the HayezSquad? “If he wanted to.” Says PJ resignedly. “We’re not racist or anything. Obviously he’d have to have the same interests – enthusiasm for the cars. We don’t go out on a drinking spree at the weekend – and I don’t know whether a white person would want to be in that kind of environment.”

Culturally, PJ is not sure exactly where the gang stand. They are all religious, but none particularly so. “Too be honest with you I’m not too sure how Asian we are. We grew up in this country born and raised. We know our tradition and that, but we’re living a Western lifestyle.”

The Squad certainly don’t see themselves linked to Islamic extremists and are surprised at the suggestion that they might be affected by the 9 /11 aftermath. They’ve heard stories about friends and relatives who’ve had trouble, and eggs have been thrown at the nearby mosque, but they’re noticed no change themselves. “It’s not like we’ve got the long beards or nothing,” says PJ. On the other hand, he’s dismayed by the current rise of Islamophobia. “I don’t understand where people are coming up with this stuff. It’s all misunderstood – the religion is about peace and harmony and cleanliness.”

The other force that’s resulted in the Squad the tight bunch they are is PJ’s parents. To PJ, as to all the HayezSquad, family are of paramount importance, ahead of Jap Style car-modding and money. “Kids need the right angle in life and parents have to show them that. I could have been a murderer, a drug dealer, or whatever. Now I stop people doing that because my Mum and Dad have hammered into my head what’s right and what’s wrong.” PJ says during a ten minute eulogy on his parents. The younger Squad members “really want to do what all the youngsters do nowadays, take drugs et cetera.” But PJ stops them. None of them do drugs, none drink to excess, only a couple smoke and none of them swear.

Neither is crime an option. Each is appalled when asked if they would ever steal a part for their car. “There’s no reason to steal,” says Asif, “We Muslims all believe that if you steal it will come back to you at some point in your life.”

The future looks bright for these young west London gentlemen. “Working your way up is very important. Without work you can’t get anywhere.” Ali says, and the rest of the Squad share his views. Ali wants to open up his own garage. PJ and Asif have plans for a restaurant in Richmond with a nightclub attached. With their ethics, and the massive levels of support they give each other, there’s no reason these clean-living car enthusiasts shouldn’t achieve their goals. One thing’s for certain though – they’re never going to give up Jap Styling. PJ’s horrified at the idea: “Even when I’m a pensioner, I don’t think I’d be able to live with someone else having the same car as me.”