We Tag Along with Photographer Larry Chen in a Custom 1970 Chevrolet Blazer
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Larry Chen can’t stop talking about the paint. I think he’d lick it if there wasn’t a whole bunch of us watching. I can’t blame him. The color is a dark oaky green with a fine gold pearl that pops along the body lines of the 1970 Blazer and makes it glow in the setting sun. It looks delicious. With its open cockpit of soft wheat-colored leather, and a backdrop of emerald and amber Malibu mountains, it’s a photographer’s dream, and Chen, crouched in a deep squat and leaning back to balance the weight of two large Canon cameras, is taking full advantage. “That paint,” he says again, as the camera shutter clicks so fast it becomes a whir.
Chen is well-known in the automotive world. His photos of Formula D cars caught mid-drift give such a sense of motion you wonder why anyone bothers with video. At the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, he’s always at the corner where the action is. He’s shot for Jay Leno, Ken Block, Toyota, Ford, and has more magazine covers than either of us can count. When he isn’t shooting lowrider donuts and brand-new Supras, Chen teaches photography classes for Canon U.S.A. He’s also built several custom cars, which might be why he’s so impressed with the details on the Blazer. He knows where to look and what it takes to be worth looking at.
If Chen isn’t just any old photographer, the Blazer we’re admiring isn’t any old K5, either. It’s the latest from the Wisconsin-based custom shop, Ringbrothers, and if you could pick just one car to drive all summer long, this would be a solid choice.
It’s got everything you need for summer fun—hot looks, hot performance, and a cool breeze. Convertibles get all the glory, but when it comes to open-air summer driving, bust out the bimini. Or bikini. Whatever you want to call it, a half top offering shade over the driver and the whoosh of open air all around you is the ultimate in beachside or campsite transportation.
Jim and Mike Ring grew up in Wisconsin and have been building vehicles together since they were kids. Lawnmower engines and garage-painted Volkswagens eventually led to a body-shop business. When they weren’t fixing up cars for customers, the brothers built imaginative customs that soon got them noticed in the hot-rod world. These days, seeing what wild creations the Ringbrothers will bring to the yearly Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show is one of the highlights of the event. They’ve gone from building one-off cars to manufacturing high-end muscle-car components and taking on high-dollar commissions.
After an earlier K5 build sold on Bring A Trailer (for an impressive $300,000), the Ring Brothers had requests for more. First, rapper and producer Future ordered his own Blazer, and that led to reps from Omaze, a company that runs sweepstakes for various charities, commissioning a similar K5 to auction. So, if you like this breezy beauty, you can get on the waiting list for your own, at an average build price of $350,000, or you can enter to win this one. No purchase necessary.
While you’re waiting for the call that says you’re the lucky winner, allow me to tell you about some of the details that had Chen fogging up his viewfinder. Because the Ringbrothers started out in paint and body, all their builds feature jaw-dropping finish work over straightedge-ready sheetmetal. It’s especially noticeable on the Blazer, whose big flat sides would highlight any mismatch in its vertical body creases. Chevrolet never hung a door so straight in the factory. They feel solid, too. The door handles—a Ringbrothers design—offer a satisfying click, and the doors swing as if they’re weightless, then close with a vaultlike finish. Forget driving the thing; just opening and shutting the doors and working the various switches and knobs is enough of a physical delight. The Ringbrothers could launch an ASMR YouTube channel for people who relax to perfect fitment and satisfying repetitive sounds. Click, click, ka-chunk. Ahhh.
Blazer owners will recognize several changes to the RB build from a stocker. There’s a roll bar and the previously mentioned soft-top conversion, the billet hood inserts, custom machined gas cap, and larger wheel openings to house bronze two-piece HRE 18×12 wheels in front of six-piston Baer brakes, finished off with 33/12.5-18 General Tire Grabber X3 tires. Under the hood, which opens as nicely as the doors on machined hood hinges—like the other billet pieces, a Ringbrothers specialty—there’s a GM crate LS3. The 6.2-liter makes 430 horsepower and sits back four inches against a reshaped firewall in the engine bay. Piped through a Flowmaster stainless exhaust system, the LS sounds fantastic, loud enough to be heard in the open cockpit but not so obtrusive that you can’t have a conversation about where to go for fish tacos or which radio station plays the most Blazer-appropriate soundtrack. What do you think? Yacht rock? Nineties hip-hop? Is there a wrong choice? “I kinda just like listening to the engine by itself,” Chen said, as we scouted for photo locations with perhaps a little more throttle than was called for. Electric vehicles may be grabbing all the headlines, but there’s still something about a V-8 grumble under load and crackle under braking that makes up for gas prices in aural enjoyment.
When we finally and reluctantly did pull over and park, Chen continued cooing over the the animated brake-light pattern and the machined gauge pod that houses lit-up Dakota Digital gauges. He was so enthusiastic you would have thought it was his first time near a cool car. I asked him if he was this excited about every car he shoots, and he looked up with genuine shock. “If I’m not this excited, I shouldn’t be here,” he said. “Every car has something new about it, even if it’s just how all the small pieces come together. I’m lucky to get to see them.”
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