March 18, 2004 -- THE hottest new show on cable, "Pimp My Ride," wants to turn your junkie old car into a sweet set of wheels.
The provocatively named MTV series is a top-10 show in just two weeks on the air.
Last week, among viewers age 18 to 34 - the sweet spot for many advertisers - the show was ranked No. 4 - bigger than cable stalwarts like "American Chopper" and "Chappelle's Show." Bigger even than MTV's mega-hit, Jessica Simpson's "Newlyweds."
A repeat of the show ranked No. 7 - phenomenal ratings for a series with almost no promotion or pre-debut publicity. In a day of TV hype, "Pimp My Ride" is a hit solely by word of mouth.
Overall, about 2.8 million viewers watched a recent episode, says MTV. Those are eye-popping ratings for a basic cable show.
"Pimp My Ride" - the title means sprucing up someone's car - is hosted by hip-hop star Xzibit, a third-generation car aficionado who surprises lucky viewers by letting a team of extreme automotive artists turn their lemons into tricked-out, life-sized Hot Wheels.
"Pimp" plays on every kid's fantasy - taking your first piece of junk car and turning it into a vehicle worth more than your dad's.
In one sense, the show is similar to the popular Discovery Channel's hit "American Chopper," which chronicles the trials of a family of talented motorcycle builders in Upstate New York.
"We get to bring in our audience and give them something that's going to boost their self-esteem and make their lives fun," Xzibit told The Post. "Everybody deserves a break here and there, and this feels good, it feels right."
On "Pimp," Xzibit takes viewer's cars to West Coast Customs (sorry, only those who live near L.A. can apply), a high-end auto shop in Los Angeles where the usual clientele includes $1-million Ferraris and pricey SUVs that are souped up for Hip Hop artists like 50 Cent and Ludacris.
On a recent episode of "Pimp My Ride," West Coast Customs turned a rusted, 1988 Daihatsu HiJet - a "microvan" held together with duct-tape - into a high-stepping auto for its owner, Wyatt. When the makeover is done, the van sports a multi-screen multi-media DVD system, external cameras, booming sound-system and a glossy paint job that can be seen miles away.
In another, a young woman's broken down Honda Civic is converted into an eye-popping hot-rod. "She really deserved it, and it made me feel good to see somebody really appreciate it that much," says Xzibit. "This girl is a little kid taking care of her 82-year-old grandmother and trying to do schoolwork at the same time and that's a struggle.
"To me that's somebody who can use something and we said, here's a little help, a little push."
That little push is a whole lot sweeter coming from an L.A. guy originally from Detroit, the Mecca of U.S. auto building.
"My grandfather worked at the Ford manufacturing plant and just recently retired," Xzibit says.
"The car culture is part of living in Detroit. Most of the jobs available are definitely coming from the auto industry. Everybody I knew was always fantasizing about cars and pointing out [hot] cars when we'd see one driving down the street, we'd say 'ooh that's my car,' " he says.
"It's always been about cars, as far back as I can remember."