It is, by its owner’s description, a “zombie killer” dream machine – a 2021 Mercedes-Benz SUV G-Wagon/Brabus, Frankenstein-built using organs from a sacrificial donor auto, custom portal axles, 16-inch lifts that elevate the roofline to Manute Bol height, tires so pneumatic that custom bumpers and fenders were machined to give them clearance, a roof rack resembling the launchpad for a drone fleet and two-toned honeybee-colored interiors as detailed as a Dutch still life.
The base sticker price on this particular vehicle runs around $135,000. But that would be before the fashion designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, the creative director of his own successful New York label, Pyer Moss, and of Reebok, began to collaborate on customizing it with the help of the Abushi brothers, four Palestinian American siblings who, in an industrial section of Queens, operate a luxury and exotic automotive facility that may well be to the average auto-body shop what the Hospital for Special Surgery is to a walk-in clinic.
Tucked between an enormous UPS depot and opposite some desolate rail tracks in Maspeth is the state-of-the-art 15,000-squarefoot Abushi facility. On any given day, one would likely encounter there some of the world’s rarest, most costly and covetable rolling stock waiting its turn in the beautician’s chair. Take the recent torrid Thursday when a $770,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Mansory SUV belonging to the Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. stood parked in the showroom, as a technician peeled away a poorly installed body wrap to replace it with another in Beckham’s signature traffic-cone orange. Nearby was a gussied up 2021Aston Martin UBX, a surprise gift from OBJ for his influencer girlfriend, Lauren Wood.
There at the curbside was a bug like $280,000 gold McLaren 720S Spider sports car owned by a supermarket magnate, a member of what the writer Michael Thomas once called “the new tycoonery.” Decorated in an allover honeycomb grid, the car was also ornamented with crime tape reading “Crime Pays.” A capering figure silhouetted on the door depicted Rich Uncle Pennybags, the Monopoly Man.
There, too, in the showroom’s arctic cool stood a passel of tricked out G-Wagons; a Lamborghini SVJ 63 roadster, of which only 63 were ever manufactured; and a Ferrari 375GTB NART Spider, which is a convertible and has a market value of roughly $25 million. And there, in a service bay with floors clean enough for an “A” restaurant inspection rating, was Mr. Jean-Raymond’s G-Wagon, a piano-black hulk out of Marvel Comics, further steroided with its massive wide-body superstructure.
The quiet in the shop was palpable as a mechanic in spotless coveralls unpacked a set of retractable automatic steps to attach to a vehicle with door handles that sit at roughly shoulder level.
“I didn’t want it to look like I lived in Calabasas,” Mr. Jean Raymond said of his new ride, referring to that gilded suburb in the Santa Monica mountains northwest of Los Angeles, where Will Smith, Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian inhabit residential complexes with as much square footage as a suburban Macy’s.
Ms.Kardashian,of course, has her own G-Wagons, among them a custom neon-yellow model given to her as a “surprise” by her husband. Occasionally she posts a “snapshot” of herself posed alongside it and a neon-orange G-Wagon owned by her zillionaire half-sister Kylie Jenner.
Oftentimes, if you scratch a gearhead’s chrome-plated obsession, what you uncover is something tenderer than a Proustian remembrance. In this, Mr. Jean-Raymond, 34, is true to expectation.
“When I was a kid, my dad installed Benzi boxes,” the designer said last week by phone of the removable theft-proof car radio boxes once common to the Flatbush of his Brooklyn boyhood. “I used to sit in the car with him, and that was really the only conversation he was interested in.”
Mr. Jean-Raymond’s father, Jean-Claude Jean-Raymond, who raised his son single-handedly after his wife died, supported himself in part by patching together a variety of vehicular odd jobs. “He always had a bunch of cars he’d be fixing, and my job was to move them from side to side,” on city streets on alternate-side parking days, the designer said, adding that this began long before he’d acquired a learner’s permit, possibly as early as 13.
His own first automotive purchase, Mr.Jean-Raymond said, was a Mercedes-Benz 190 E purchased secondhand at auction for $500. “I was always into super-cars but never able to afford them.” Eventually, when success came, income rose to meet expectations, and he now possesses a garage full of Ferraris, McLarens and other exotic sports cars – soon to be joined by the G-Wagon whose ultimate value, he estimated, should surpass $800,000.