THE MODIFIED CAR SCENE. Is there a phrase more likely to make the blood of an enthusiast run cold? It conjures up images of 1.1-litre engines spitting into four-inch diameter exhaust systems, rock-hard suspension and three-spoke alloys. And worst of all... the smell of Magic Tree and weed intermingling to create a stench so foul that you’d gladly stick your head into a bin overflowing with McDonald’s wrappers just to make it go away.
Of course, the ‘glory days’ of the modding scene are long gone. Auto Salon is dead, new drivers face ever-growing insurance costs and cars, we’re told, aren’t that cool. I don’t buy it. Kids still get a kick out of seeing fast, noisy, exciting cars. If only they could afford one. Even a slow, quiet, boring one would do.
You know what? I wouldn’t even mind if they ended up fitting neons, subs and so on. Today’s modder is tomorrow’s enthusiast.
The question I’m interested in is whether modding is acceptable when you’re a little older and finally have that car you’ve wanted for years, be it a Suzuki Swift GTi, a BMW M3 or a Skyline. Instinct says ‘no’ very loudly, but maybe that old advert cliche, ‘tasteful mods only’, can be true? What do you think?
Me? It depends on the car. And weirdly, the appropriate level of mods today is in inverse proportion to the chances of the car being heavily modded way back when. For example... that Swift GTi. When they got really cheap every man and his dog was doing the crap suspension/ heinous wheels/ridiculous ICE combo. Now? If you can find one, keep it clean and original. Don’t change a thing. Same goes for a Nissan S15 Silvia – a PCOTY winner, mind – or the big-bummed Renault Megane RS.
The opposite is true of something 911-shaped. New Porsches, even nearly new ones, rarely see any mods at all. Owners buy them for the perfection that they represent so why mess with the formula? But there’s nothing cooler than an old 911 with a bit of patina, trick suspension, maybe some Fuchs-style wheels, a ducktail spoiler, even a whaletail or GT2 double-decker. This is modding for a purpose – it’s for performance.
You could say the same of the E36 M3. Okay, for a while there these were modded in quite terrible ways... but now if you see one with a cage and some big AP Racing brakes you can only nod with respect and smile in the knowledge the owner is enjoying his car beyond the scope of its original design. It’s brilliant to see.
I guess my own 996-generation 911 is a ‘modified car’. It has different suspension, exhaust, seats and wheels and it’s a million miles away from the car that left the factory back in 1998. But it has a story that’s grown with every step in its evolution. I think maybe it’s time to reclaim the ‘modified car scene’ and be proud of enhancing our cars through the high-quality aftermarket. Modding is okay. Modding is good. Modding can be great.
It calls to mind something that Loris Bicocchi – the test driver for cars like the Bugatti EB110 and Pagani Zonda – once said to me. “You’ve got to listen to each and every car and go where it takes you. They are all different, but they will lead you in the right direction, somehow.” He was, of course, talking about how he could work on so many incredible supercars and yet give each its own distinct personality.
I like to think the message holds true for improving your own car, too. Listen to what it’s telling you and you’ll find the right path. Just listen really closely, okay? Here’s a little hint: no car wants a monster sub nailed to its boot floor. Or three-spoke alloys.