By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun
11:57 AM EST, January 29, 2013
When the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001 and Ray Lewis, as MVP, got a new SUV, he didn't want just a plain, ordinary one. He wanted icing on that cake.
So Lewis took his prize to the Belair Road body shop that has become the go-to place for Baltimore notables to trick their rides. No Limit turned that burgundy GMC Denali white, embroidered the names of Lewis' children onto the head rests and made it so when the famously devout defenseman popped the hatch, a light would come on, showing off the Lord's Prayer inscribed inside.
These are luxury touches, the automotive equivalent of investment jewelry or haute couture. Custom stereos. Suede, leather and stripes. Wheels that turn heads at a stop light. For what the average No Limit customer spends — between $2,000 and $10,000 — someone could go to Tiffany and choose a diamond. The shop's serious jobs run even higher.
"It's the next thing. It's the status symbol," shop owner David Barron says of why Baltimore's biggest names — and those who'd like to be — gild their cars. "It's 'How do you like me now?'"
Ravens are particularly drawn to the place. Ray Lewis. Ray Rice. Brendon Ayanbadejo. Michael Oher. Torrey Smith. Arthur Jones. Ed Reed. Lardarius Webb. Jameel McClain. Anquan Boldin. Sam Koch. Those are just some of the players who've brought cars to No Limit.
After a Raven rookie gets his jersey and a locker, it's likely that some teammate will point him toward Barron.
"They're running with the big dogs now and though not all of them have money yet, I can make them feel like they do," Barron says.
And it's not just Ravens. There's also Branden Albert of the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Wizards coach Sam Cassell. A certain Olympian named Michael Phelps has been bringing cars to No Limit since he was in high school.
After Phelps broke gold medal records at the Beijing Olympics, one of his first calls was to No Limit. In fact, Barron says Phelps called him from the airport to arrange for a little celebratory car work.
"That felt cool," Barron says. "The guy just hit the country, and he wants to get his car done."
Michael Phelps was so thrilled with work No Limit did last year on one of his other cars, he let his million-plus followers know on Twitter.
"Do love the new ride," the Olympian wrote, typing in the shop's Twitter handle. "Thanks for always doing a sickkkkk job!!! Only place to go!!!"
MMA fighter and Shogun Fight owner John Rallo brought his Chrysler 300 SRT8 to No Limit, to boost the car, already a luxury model, into something that would impress potential investors. He wanted the chrome stripped, a spoiler added, all Chrysler logos swapped for Shogun ones and everything painted black as night. It's a little like the Batmobile now, he says.
"If I'm going to a meeting with people you want to give you thousands of dollars, you can't pull up in an old Mitsubishi," Rallo says. "Perception is reality. That car is now classy but powerful, and I like that."
He also brought his girlfriend to No Limit for a car starter. "He'll pimp your Bentley," he says, "or fix your Scion."
The son of an iron worker, Barron grew up, struggling, in Perry Hall. Everything he knows about cars he taught himself, he says. Not long after he opened the shop in 2000, he went to a car show in Las Vegas where he ran into the influential hip-hop radio personality Funkmaster Flex. The two hit it off, and the disc jockey, who's passionate about cars, ended up flying Barron to New York. After buying a set of spinning rims from Barron, Flex talked him up on the air and recorded a 30-second spot for him.
"There's people like Biggie [Smalls] talking about Flex, and here's Flex talking about me," Barron said. "Suddenly I wasn't just the rim guy. It catapulted me into legitimacy."
That got him work with the owner of a sporting goods firm, which got him more work with basketball star Allen Iverson, who hired Barron to work on his Rolls Royces. Iverson's recommendation led to a job for former Raven Daniel Wilcox, who led him to Lewis and, well, that was pretty much that.
"Once you do names like that," Barron says, "everyone in the locker room follows."
Barron is a guy more comfortable sharing the details of his underprivileged childhood then his decidedly comfortable adulthood. But the fact is, at 35, with a thriving business, nine employees, a Florida vacation home and a tricked-out Chevy Tahoe, the welfare days are well behind him.
In his baggy pants and hoodie, Barron might look like a college student, but he's all business, working six days a week and obsessively checking his phone to make sure he doesn't miss a customer. In the parlance of the athletes he caters to, Barron grinds.
The other day the shop was humming. Raven Anthony Allen's Chevy Caprice, in for a full makeover, was parked in the garage next to rookie Mike McAdoo's Jeep, which was getting a stereo upgrade. Torrey Smith had his Camaro in for new tires, and Anquan Boldin's wife's Range Rover was getting the trendy flat black paint to make it look almost like a military vehicle.
Though the shop is something of a testosterone hub, women come in, too. He's tinted windows for Debbie Phelps. And he'll never forget another woman who hired him to give her Dodge Ram altitude and attitude, with colossal pink-rimmed tires hiking the truck high over the road.
1st Mariner Arena Manager Frank Remesch went to No Limit to add some sex appeal to his BMW 750 and to have his tiny Lexus SC 300 recast inside so that he could comfortably fit his 6-foot-five, 285-pound frame into it.
He loves the "sinister" feel of the all-black BMW, which he calls "perfect."
"I get compliments on it all the time," he says. "And hey, if it's good enough for the athletes, it's good enough for me."
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