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AUTO-BODY EXPERIENCEPUTTING THE "CAR" BACK IN CARNAL KNOWLEDGE

Right now, there's an X-rated spectacle that's unquestionably the hottest show in town.

Not surprisingly, the show attracts the usual panting suckers. But the reason it's so steamy has more to do with a thermometer than overheated glands.

Curious? No sweat. Fork over twin sawbucks and drive into what is believed to be Phoenix's first and only topless car wash.

"I don't know why I decided to do this," says 38-year-old Steve Nordhaus, proprietor of what is undoubtedly the Valley's most bizarre foray into adult entertainment. "It just seemed like a good idea."

Well, the road to hell is paved with dirty sedans.
Any resemblance between Nordhaus' operation and a traditional car wash is strictly coincidental. For $20 a pop ($35 for a wash and wax), customers sit inside their cars while a bare-breasted woman swabs their vehicles with a dirty rag. There is no music, no sexual posturing, none of the frothy fun of a soft-core sexploitation romp like Gas Pump Girls. Instead, vehicular voyeurs pay for the privilege of simply watching a bare-breasted woman do manual labor. But for some, that appears to be enough.

Asked whether his customers think they're paying for a car wash or a skin show, Nordhaus shrugs. "Basically, we're a car wash," says the former auto-body repairman. "Still, we get all kinds of people in here. Some of them don't care how the car is washed, and others demand perfection." The former group will not go away disappointed.

Headquarters for the two-week-old car wash is a garage behind an auto-body shop at the northwest corner of South Central and the Maricopa Freeway. Between customers, Nordhaus and his sole female employee mark time in the body shop's dilapidated lobby, a room whose sagging ceiling seems in danger of imminent collapse.

"You've got to realize that we're just getting on our feet right now," says Nordhaus as he touches up a handmade sign with felt-tip marker. "We really aren't even ready to open yet."

Nevertheless, he claims that nearly sixty customers have been drawn to the lot during the past two weeks, many of them lured by a pink cardboard placard anchored to the side of the road with masking tape and a brick. The sign is simple and succinct ("TOPLESS CAR WASH"), and Nordhaus has drawn smiley faces within several of the letters--the only touch of whimsy in an otherwise apparently joyless venture.

Told that she has a customer, topless technician Lucy Rand grinds out her latest cigarette and closes her paperback spy novel. "Time to make some money," sighs the personable Rand, a physically unremarkable woman in her mid-thirties. She wears shorts, flip-flops and a pink "Classy Lady" tank top--but not for long.

Because Arizona law frowns at public displays of nudity, all washes are conducted in an enclosed garage stall that previously served as an auto-painting room.

"I know it's hot in here, but I've got to shut the door," says Nordhaus as Rand shucks her shirt. "That's the law." Another law--this one, a law of nature--comes into play once Rand turns on the hose.

The water, combined with the 100-degree heat, soon turns the garage into a steam room. Customers have to stay in their cars. But friskiness is subject to climate control, anyway.

"It's too hot in here for that," says Rand as she gamely slaves away with hose and sponge. "But at least I'm not sitting in the car. Some of those people have gotta be roasting. I feel sorry for them but I can't say anything. Instead, I just try to get them out of here as soon as possible."

Truth be told, Rand probably wouldn't mind getting out of the topless car wash herself. But even though she claims the car wash pays less than her previous job as a hotel maid in Syracuse, New York, she's not complaining. "I like to eat."

After returning to the garage bearing complimentary soft drinks for his rapidly wilting patrons, Nordhaus is asked what he looks for in an employee. "Someone like Lucy," he explains as he studiously eyeballs his prize employee. "She's very attractive and she's got a nice body. Lucy is what everyone's looking for."

Grinning sheepishly, Rand offers a more modest explanation of how she landed this prestigious gig. "I was the only one who applied," she giggles. In any event, Nordhaus wishes he could find a few more just like her. Within the next several weeks, he hopes to expand his operations to include several more washing booths, complete with swamp coolers.

"We've already got the framework over here," he explains. "After we sink 'em in the ground, all we've got to do is cover 'em with plastic tarp. And pray the wind doesn't blow 'em away."

She wears shorts, flip-flops and a pink "Classy Lady" tank top--but not for long.

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Dewey Webb