By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOVELAND - John Hickman's road to the silver screen all started with a Cozy Coupe, his first set of foot-powered wheels.
"It was just too good to be true," said John Hickman of the appearance of his car, a Toyota MR2 Spyder, in "2 Fast 2 Furious."
Those boyish scoots across the drive in a Little Tikes plastic automobile led to a craze for Hot Wheels, a passion for miniature cars and, since high school, a real drive to transform stock model cars into souped-up, high-powered machines.
His shot at fame came last summer, when the 24-year-old Loveland man featured his customized 2001 Toyota MR2 Spyder in a Chicago car show and caught the eye of the 2 Fast 2 Furious technical specialist.
Hickman's pearly blue masterpiece - featuring spoilers, turbochargers, MP3 player and an Xbox game system - was transported to Miami for four months of filming and appears in the street-racing flick that opened Friday at local theaters.
The 1997 Milford High School graduate caught a sneak preview in Norwood this week. The modest fellow fought to contain his excitement when his pride and joy took up the full screen and the audience burst into applause.
Ready to go with an estimated 240 horsepower, the Toyota is part of rapper Ludacris' car club in the movie. "It was just too good to be true. Everyone gets to see it. I've waited a long time for this to come," said Hickman, who said that the car might also appear as a "2 Fast 2 Furious" die-cast toy or on a movie trading card.
Since the Chicago car show, his Toyota MR2 Spyder also has been featured in TV commercials and articles that ran in five different magazines, plus The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"I love the car," he said. "The car looks so good and it's made such an impact that I don't even have to try to get it to do anything."
Hickman is a laid-off Ford employee who now customizes cars for himself and others. His sponsor, VeilSide of Japan, supplied him with many of the parts that customized his attention-grabbing Toyota.
He purchased the car new for $26,000 and drove it around for a couple of months before he started modifying the vehicle. "I'm obsessed basically," he said. "It took about a year to get everything done."
Yet Hickman revs up the Toyota and hits the road only once a month. "It's dreadful," he said. "When I drive down the street, everyone waves at me (and) honks at me. But it's stressful because, if I wreck it, it's done. I have to start all over."
Now, he's just hoping to sell the car so that he can buy a Nissan Skyline R34, strip it down and start working on his next masterpiece.
"I just have to be around cars," he said. "If I don't have cars, I just don't feel right. (And) I just can't drive anything unless I modify it."
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