Story Willie G. /// Photography Jeffery Salter
With a wildly successful tattoo shop, runaway TV hit and countless developing business ventures, you might expect to find the skin artist Ami James whippin’ through the trendy streets of Miami in something exotic. But this 35-year-old doesn’t feel the need to roll like the rest of the South Beach crowd in their Ferraris and Lambos. Echoing the personal nature of his profession, James prefers his cars like his artwork—original, and full of character.
Best known for the red ’Cuda seen in Miami Ink’s credits, Ami’s personal fleet of vehicles includes a throwback Pontiac Catalina, a classic Jeep Wrangler hopped up for Everglade shenanigans and a Mercedes ML “grocery getter.” Rounding out the largely old-school cast of characters is his daily driver and personal favorite, a ’53 Chevrolet pickup truck. It’s no creampuff in terms of its condition, but James’ bagged white-on-white classic racks up double-takes on streets where Phantoms go unnoticed. And with a Corvette engine stuffed under its old, rounded nose, it’s nothing timid on the driver’s neck, either.
Ami, you know there are people who could re-chrome that peeling front bumper for you?
Everyone says that: “Why don’t you get that shit dipped?” Fuck that! I like the rust!
That ain’t something you hear too often. So what makes an old, less-than-perfect pickup your favorite when everything around here is dealer-fresh?
I love new cars as well, but I’d just rather have an older car—they have so much more to give. The look, the style…they might not ride like the new ones but they sure don’t build stuff like they used to. Yeah, in this one I feel every bump in the road. But it’s like you’re running instead of sitting on a couch—I like that.
You don’t miss any of the speed or power from your other rides when in the truck?
Nah, there’s a Corvette motor under there. I like for people to think it’s a piece of shit and then just blow their doors off. This thing’s got balls, almost as much as my ’Cuda, to tell you the truth. I actually just sold that car on eBay. I just couldn’t drive it, couldn’t park it anywhere; it was too much. I’d rather have it out every day—drive it, beat on it, have fun with it.
Very true, but how reliable can a 50-plus-year-old car really be? Has it ever left you hanging?
Well, I gotta stay up on the gas. There’s no fuel gauge, and it only gets about 10 miles to a gallon. So each time I fill up, I have to zero out the trip clock and watch it. Other than that, just little shit. If you leave it sitting, the lifters and carburetor get all gunked up, and it can give out on you. Then you gotta reassemble it, lining up these two little pins by pulling strings and shit—it can be a pain in the ass.
Yeah, modern-day engine problems would probably have your car in the shop for a week.
Exactly. This thing here’s like Legos. Take it all apart and it goes right back together. Try doing that with something they make today.
That’s a sign of the times. What exactly does this car say about you?
Rinky-dink! [Laughs] It says I’m getting old and rusty. Nah, you know for cars everybody’s got their own thing. I’ve never really been the guy to like brand-new, expensive cars. Really, my love has always been the old stuff, right from the beginning. When I was 15, my first car was an Opel GT. It was a 4-cylinder, and they called it the poor man’s Corvette. It was the slowest thing I’ve ever had in my whole life, but it looked like it hauled ass. Then I had a ’62 Austin Morris—that car was beautiful. It didn’t go fast either, but it just had such a style to it. It was when I saw that old movie Phantasm, which had a badass ’Cuda in it, that I wanted one. But once I got one, I realized how much effort they take to maintain.
Unlike Ol’ Faithful here, huh?
Well, you said you like the rust, but do you plan on changing anything? Yeah, it needs a bench. Some douchebag who owned it before put these stupid bucket seats in it. You don’t do bucket seats in a truck like this. I’m also getting A/C soon. It’s getting too brutal here to go without it. Everybody keeps telling me I should put 22s or 24s on it. No way! Look at them wheels. They ain’t what came on it, but that’s what belongs! Those were the “22s” of their day! I hate that.
So maybe we shouldn’t even bring up Miami’s famous hi-risers?
Nah, I’m not putting any style down. I’m just saying I hate when somebody’s all about something like their rims and doesn’t even know their car, you know? Get to know your car first—what it’s about, where it came from. Then do it right. I think the most important thing is that if you want a car with a soul, you gotta get an old car. New cars don’t have one.
So nothing “new” in your future at all then?
I’m actually going to get a Bentley coupe soon. Not the convertible—if you ask me, convertibles are for girls. I just want to see what it’s like to roll around in a full fucking luxury car for once in my life. Besides, here, those cars are a dime a dozen. It’ll actually be better for when I want to lay low. It’s a nice ride; I’m looking forward to it. But one thing’s for sure: It sure ain’t gonna live up to this thing right here.