We love our cars, but if the plethora of reality shows about customized vehicles is any indication, we also love to pimp our rides — to paraphrase the title of one early such series. And now comes the latest: Velocity’s “Unique Rides,” premiering Tuesday night at 9, spotlighting the Smithtown custom-car company Will Castro Designs.
It’s the second recent reality show built around a Long Island car customizer, following History’s “Leepu & Pitbull,” and a second for Castro, following “Unique Whips” on the defunct Speed Channel from 2005 to 2008. (He also had “Unique Autosports: Miami” on Spike in 2010.) His shows have all been celebrity-driven, and guests on the new one include singers Jason Derulo and Austin Mahone, rapper Busta Rhymes, actor John Leguizamo and athletes Carmelo Anthony, Odell Beckham Jr. and Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin.
“We have a high-profile Rolodex,” says Castro, 50, who also lists 50 Cent, Pamela Anderson, Sean Combs, LeBron James, Jeff Gordon, CC Sabathia and Donald Trump among his clientele. But on the show, he insists, “The car is the star. My celebrity friends, even they look at the car as the star.”
To that end, the show steers clear of Castro’s home life. “Velocity,” he says, “wants it to be about the process” of tricking out 1 percenters’ rides.
Indeed, it was a budding celebrity’s car that put Castro on the map. “My younger brother Bobby went to high school in Brentwood with [rapper] Erick Sermon. One day, he said, ‘Will, Erick just signed a record deal and wants to get his Mercedes-Benz done.’ Erick came in and told me, ‘All the rappers have a Mercedes-Benz 190E — I have a 300E. I want you to crush it, I want you to put a ragtop, make it a convertible, I want you to put wheels and tires nobody else has, and a stereo system.” And he wanted Castro to drop it off to him at an Apollo Theater concert in August 1989 where many other hip-hop stars were performing or attending. “He told me, ‘Every rapper will be there, Will, and will see this car.’ ”
They were, and they did. Castro’s career took off from there.
It had started in the early 1980s, when lifelong car-lover Castro apprenticed at John’s Auto Body in Islip. Castro — who was born and raised on the Lower East Side, before his parents separated and he moved to Brentwood, where he graduated high school — later opened his own car-detailing shop, Willie’s Shape & Shine in Islip. He expanded to a larger space in Patchogue, and his business evolved as Unique Conversions in Brentwood; Unique Autosports in Uniondale and later Holbrook; and, since 2012, Will Castro Designs.
So what does the king of customizing drive himself? “A 2013 Dodge Dart,” he says. Um . . . why? “I just like it,” Castro says with a laugh. “It’s four-cylinder, great on gas, very reliable, has a front-wheel drive that gets me out of snow. I put a little more tint on it, but that’s all.”
Of course, he adds, “If I need a fancy car, I promise you I can always borrow one from one of my friends!”