Rufsin North Park’s anniversary party raises questions about our community’s latest toy
By Matthew Miller | GSD Reporter
Eduardo Balcazar is one of several attendees that enjoyed the third anniversary party at Rufskin North Park, a trendsetting, European men’s clothing store popular with the gay community in San Diego. Wearing a white button down shirt and fashionable shoes, Balcazar, a resident of Hillcrest, looked over the assets of the new Fiat 500 and pondered its gay factor.
Complete with stiff cocktails and an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, the party’s gay crowd mostly agreed that the Fiat 500 could be crowned the next gay car, which might explain why the red Fiat 500 Cabrio was sitting squarely in the middle of Rufskin’s retail floor.
“I don’t think it’s a gay thing,” said Douglas Coats, co-owner of Rufskin. “If I wanted a gay car I would have put the Miata in here.”
Donning a bright orange dinner jacket over an all-black ensemble, Coats said he was going more for the “wow factor.” Although his motives for placing the spry, Italian-designed 500 were for marketing purposes, for Coates, using it in his store came down to the design of the car.
This motive alone goes a long way in explaining the reasons why there is a gay car in the first place. Each year, a collection of car enthusiasts crowns the “next gay car” or the “gay car of the year,” including Tom and Ray of the popular National Public Radio show “Car Talk.” autoevolution.com, a website devoted to, well, automobiles, gave the Fiat 500 the distinction of “Gay Car of the Year” for 2010.
The question remains: As the clothes arguably make the man, does the same go for the car? A tight t-shirt and skinny jeans worn to Rich’s obviously mark a gay man, but none of these car awards seem to actually flesh out the common design denominators, or intangibles, for what makes a car gay.
More specifically, why is the Fiat 500 so gay?
Balcazar, the self-proclaimed “unofficial human resources manager” of Rufskin, weighed in with his official opinion. “It’s like the Chihuahua of cars,” he said. Like the Chihuahua, Balcazar feels the Fiat 500 will start popping up everywhere, becoming another beacon of gay style that will inevitably be a dot on gay culture’s timeline.
Like BMW’s Mini Cooper or Volkswagen’s Jetta, Beetle and Golf, the Fiat’s revamped classic style, which first sold in the ’50s, shares features with these gay car predecessors.
It is “something different,” said one Rufskin attendee, with a “neon thing going on in the dashboard.” Another called the car “clean and sporty and stylish.”
More specifically, Greg Castillo, Finance Director at the Bob Baker Carlsbad Fiat dealership, said that, in regards to sexual orientation, there is no real demographic of people buying the car. The Carlsbad location is the only dealer of Fiat 500s in the San Diego region and also authorized the loaner to Rufskin. It will be at the North Park store for the entire month.
“We have people [in] their 20s to their 50s buying the car,” Castillo said. The Carlsbad location started offering the throwback 500 in May of this year, with steady sales since. Castillo claims price and nostalgia are the biggest factors for its success.
“People can’t stop talking about their old Spider or Fiat car from the ’70s,” he said, “but the big thing [for the Fiat 500] is the price.” Starting at $16,500 for the base model and reaching over $25,000 for the top of the line Cabrio, Castillo speculates that the amenities of the car—like the Gucci package with leather stitched steering wheel, ambient lighting, racy pinstripes or color coordinated interiors—may appeal to the gay community.
“I guarantee there are more closet cases that drive [Ford] F-150s than this Fiat,” said Neil Ingham, Rufskin’s Boutique Manager. Despite the back and forth discussion, Ingham whittles down the argument to the 500’s biggest gay factors: “small” and “cute.”