“I think about my car all the time,” says 19-year-old XaKo, whose Instagram is dedicated to his porcelain-white Nissan 350Z HR. “His name is Frosty and, in a way, the car is a part of me. I’m always actively thinking about it and making sure it’s taken care of.”
XaKo, who lives in Atlanta, set up his 1.9K-strong account last April, after buying his car on a whim the previous month. He also runs a YouTube channel dedicated to it, which has nearly 8,000 subscribers. “I started the accounts because I enjoy creating content of my car,” he explains, “and because in the future, I’ll be able to scroll back to my first post and see all the memories and how far the car has come.”
XaKo, like millions of dudes across the world, is a “car guy.” These men would die for their cars — their Instagram avatars are of their cars, they spend their weekends at car meet-ups, they drop thousands of dollars on modifications for their cars; basically, they live and breathe cars. And although Instagram’s algorithms prevent many of us from bearing witness to car guys, make no mistake — this car-loving community, dubbed “Carstagram” by its members, is huge. Some of its biggest influencers have millions of followers, and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars through brand partnerships, new car reviews and sponsored ads. In spite of stereotypes, women can also be car guys, as can queer men. Most of Carstagram’s contributors, however, are cishet dudes with regular jobs, many of whom have just one car to which they dedicate all their time and money. Others split their time between two vehicles or more.
The Nissan isn’t XaKo’s only car (he also has a 1994 Honda, which was his first car), but it’s the first one he’s bought himself, making it particularly special. Although his participation in Carstagram is relatively new, XaKo has been obsessed with cars ever since he was five years old, when he was gifted an orange C6 Z06 Corvette Hot Wheels (which is still his dream car). “I love the look, sound and adrenaline that cars give you,” he tells me. “To me, driving my car is an escape from everything that might be going on around me. When I’m driving, I forget about everything else.”
Cars have historically been regarded as a man’s thing — a definitive display of masculinity. This could, in part, stem from men and women’s working roles. In the early 20th century, it was believed that “aggressiveness and turmoil of the world of work — man’s world — should not be permitted to intrude into the peace and tranquility of the home — woman’s sphere.” Cars were used to keep these spaces separate, with men driving off to work, while women remained at home. When women did drive, they typically used electric cars, which didn’t permit them to travel as far afield as men could in their gas-powered vehicles.
But it’s not just about autonomy. In a 2011 article for Men’s Health, journalist Dan Neil cites men’s romanticization of power and fearlessness as a reason for their particular fondness of cars, as well as a car’s supposed ability to sexually arouse women (the assumption being that if a man has an expensive and powerful car, he’s probably strong and has his shit together, so is therefore a good choice for a mate — ha ha to that). Neil also references the fact that men are “more likely to have difficulty identifying and verbalizing emotions,” so where better to put all of their affections than into a big hunk of metal that requires no emotional intelligence? (This might also explain why men name their cars.)
Twenty-three-year-old Josh from Chichester, England, whose Instagram has nearly 5,000 followers, is also a fledgling Carstagram guy. He launched the account for his cherry red Audi TT S Line near the end of last year, just, he says, “for something to do.” It’s mostly just his car in front of nice-looking scenery — in one photo, it’s parked atop a rooftop in a downtown area, gleaming like the skyscrapers behind it. In another, it’s posed in front of a particularly vivid, neon sunset.
“Cars are a big part of my life,” he explains. “Some people go out to pubs, but I don’t really do any of that, so cars for me are like the pub is to most people.” Like XaKo, the Audi isn’t Josh’s first car. In fact, he says he had “a fair few” in his first years of driving, but has put the most work into the Audi — he’s lowered it (a common modification among car guys, which allegedly improves handling and acceleration, but is mainly done for aesthetics), as well as changed its wheels and suspension breaks.
Other popular modifications include adding turbo or superchargers (which create more power by forcing air into the engine), installing sound systems, fitting spoilers and upgrading to a bigger exhaust. Cosmetic mods include paintwork, window tints, seat upgrades, LED lighting and wheel accessories — a car guy ex-boyfriend of mine used to attach a little dice to each of his dust caps (the color of the die would change depending on what color he’d painted his wing mirrors and front grill badge that month). The reason for these incessant modifications appears to be multifaceted. Some see alterations as just another hobby under the Carstagram umbrella, some do them to keep up with the latest trends in the car guy community, while others turn it into a dick-swinging contest, making mods only for notoriety.
It is, after all, one of the few places where it’s socially acceptable for men to nerd out over design and style. “Cars are projects where it’s societally okay for a man to go hog wild over aesthetics and minute details in a way that’s looked down upon to do so with things like interior design, clothes or other traditionally ‘female’ pursuits,” says Stef Schrader, social media editor at The Drive. “Which is dumb! Do what you like and brag about it, whether it’s a Carstagram or a Housestagram.”
Fred, a 42-year-old car guy from Lyon, France, seems to know this well. He’s changed everything about his Renault 5 Turbo, which he bought five years ago when it was undriveable. He’s spent the last half-decade fixing it up and modding it out — he says it’s “the fantasy of a young teenager who had posters of the Ferrari F40 and Lamborghini Countach in his room.” Fred created his Instagram account, which has over 450 followers, at the end of 2021, when he picked his finished car up from the garage. “It has nothing to do with the original car,” Fred tells me of the modifications he’s made. “The engine, the brakes, everything has been done like a Renault Sport-era car.”
Although XaKo and Josh have both modified their cars, Fred’s is very much a car show kind of car, with its bright red and blue paint job covered with brand names and logos — in fact, he’s designed it to look exactly like former rally driver Jean Ragnotti’s 1982 Tour de Corse-winning car, also a Renault 5 Turbo. “He had a very generous and spectacular ride,” says Fred, “and he scored a lot of world [championships] with this car.”
Fred’s car obsession also started in childhood, thanks to his father’s job as a car salesman. “Everyday, from a very young age, he came home with a different car,” he explains. “It made me like all brands and kinds of cars. The goal with my Instagram is simply to share photos and videos of my car for those who like this kind of car. It remains quite rare, and very few people drive with it or share photos of it because it’s fairly old.” As well as thinking about his car everyday (because he’s “addicted”), Fred always keeps “her” close by. “Every morning I go to the garage just to take a lot and check that everything is fine,” he says. “My office is also in my garage — I fitted it out so I could spend as much time as possible there.”
Alongside his Renault 5 Turbo, which he says would be “difficult to cross France with,” Fred has another “everyday” car. To make sure the Renault 5 Turbo can go everywhere with him — despite its impracticality — he often uses the other car to tow it. He describes the Turbo as his “pleasure car, for sunny days only,” and says he lovingly cleans it by hand after any outing.
Similarly, XaKo also works from home, so doesn’t drive his car very often — though says he would drive it to work if he needed to. “Some days I’ll take it out to get some food, or just to go on a drive,” he says. “Before driving my car, I always give it a few minutes to fully warm up to eliminate any risk of damaging it by driving it cold. While driving, I’m not too crazy or reckless — I’m a fairly calm and safe driver. Believe it or not, my highest score with the car has been 103 MPH — for now.”
Because it doesn’t go out much, XaKo says he only needs to clean it by hand once a week before photo shoots. To find the perfect shoot location, XaKo uses Apple Maps’ 3D feature. “I’ll select a day that has the desired weather I’m looking for; then on the day, I’ll wash it, drive it to the location and take pictures using my iPhone 12 Pro.” As for the photos, they make Frosty look pretty good — here he is all sleek at night, here he is in front of a mural.
Josh sometimes pays professional photographers to shoot his car, in an attempt to get the “best content.” But, for him, Instagram is something he does when he “gets five minutes” from his job — cleaning and selling cars. The actual car, and not the celebrity possibilities of Carstagram, is Josh’s ride or die. “Ask most people with cars and they’ll say the same: If you enjoy them, they aren’t just a metal box to you. It’s more than that.”
So much more that only Carstagram can really understand.