Modifying Classics – resist or embrace?

32 Replies

Car modification.

It’s not a new thing. Although it had a boom in the 90s and early 00s, with 2001’s ‘The Fast and The Furious’ in particular responsible for a number of garish, neon-lit and bodykitted abominations, car enthusiasts have been tinkering with their vehicles as far back as the 50s and 60s. A new set of chrome spoked rims here; a carb tune there; some go-faster stripes here; an ECU remap there.

As with any large group of hobbyists/enthusiasts, car fans worldwide are a hugely diverse bunch united by the belief that a car is not JUST for getting from A to B, but an object from which great personal enjoyment can be had. Despite the many sub cultures and splinter groups throughout this fanbase – the Supercar owners, the boy racers, the Classic car fans, the JDM fanboys, the Dub crowd, the rallying/racing devotees, the technical engineering brains, and countless more – there has always been a vein of owners running throughout those groups who aren’t afraid to take a spanner to their vehicles and tweak things.

Whilst many believe that cars manufacturers spend millions on R&D for a reason and the end result should be left as is, there are just as many who believe that the end result less than it could be; a compromise, designed to satisfy as many consumers as possible, whilst simultaneously complying with multiple regulations, restrictions and other legal requirements. It’s their belief that improvements can be made; whether they be aesthetic, to aid performance and handling, or simply to customise the vehicle more to their personal liking.

The global tuning and modifying industry is a huge one; in 2012, it was estimated that car owners worldwide spent $90 billion modifying their vehicles, and the market has been consistently growing year on year. This expenditure comes despite many countries enforcing strict rules on what you can do to your vehicle, with some more stringent than others. As an example, in South Korea the government’s permission is required for all but the most minor modifications, with a $3000 fine and even imprisonment touted as punishment should you flout the rules. In France, engine modifications are frowned upon but they’re much more relaxed about aesthetic add-ons like bodykits. In the UK, we can modify both engine and bodywork to pretty much any degree so long as the car remains road-worthy, subject to passing it’s yearly MOT test (for cars of a certain age) and/or an engineer’s report.

Modern Classics – those still attainable, affordable (in some cases!) and driveable performance icons from the 80s onwards which are championed by many on this website – have often been the focus of the modifying world, arriving as they were in an age when the aftermarket industry was booming. Some cars lent themselves to this predilection more than others – such as the Nissan GTR range, where it’s become increasingly difficult to find one that hasn’t been altered from standard. Others have remained stubbornly OEM for the most part, for a variety of reasons – rarity, availability of aftermarket parts, engine restrictions, resale value, and more. Take the V10 E60 M5 as an example; it’s comparatively rare to find a modified one for sale.

As time marches on, the resale market for modern classics has surged skyward and seems to show no signs of slowing down. We could write a full book just debating the values of some of these cars now; Honda NSXs going for over £100k, original Escort Cosworths making £40k upwards, AE86 Corollas which were £6k in the 90s now being sold for £20k – and countless more. As always, the most sought after and valuable of these are original and unmodified – or ‘unmolested’ – examples, in the same spec as they came from the factory.

With original examples commanding such a premium and the number of such examples only ever decreasing, how does this affect your views on modifying them? Should the likes of an E30 M3 Evo 2 be considered sacred and kept in the state that BMW first released it in, or is it as ripe for improvement as any other car? What about a Porsche 993 Turbo – these cars are worth over £200k now in original and immaculate condition, but it’s relatively simple to enhance the driving experience even more by upgrading the suspension and adding some breathing modifications to the engine. Does that upset the purity of such a valuable modern classic?

I’ve often sat on the fence myself when it comes to issues like this. I’ve had no qualms in the past about modifying a BMW M3, Mitsubishi Evo or the like, but there seems to be a direct correlation between the value & rarity of a car and the incessant urge to tinker with it – as in, the harder it would be to replace, the more I notice that subconscious voice whispering “Don’t touch it”.

Yet I’m also resolutely of the belief that cars are not ornaments, and shouldn’t be parked in heated garages 24/7 without turning a wheel. I’m not opposed to the idea of one as an investment, but not at the expense of being scared to put an extra mile on the clock or a stonechip on the front bumper. They’re there to be driven, to be used, and to be enjoyed. And if that enjoyment includes modifying ……………………… then why not?

I’d be interested in hearing other opinions on it. Is it sacrilege to modify one of these icons, or should owners be free to do what they like without being chastised by puritans of the brand?


About Author

Gaz is an avid car enthusiast who has been part of the RMS admin team for over 10 years. In his spare time he enjoys writing car articles, teaching his son bad manners and fantasising about his lottery win garage.

RMS Forum Comments

Colin replied at 22:25, Tue 18 Apr, 2017
For all the talk of keeping classics original unless its a zero millage example it will barely have original parts never mind original looks. IMO period mods to a car will always suit it (look at american muscle cars and how the mods have lasted and became styles over the decades) but lambo doors will always age lol.
Cooper replied at 22:41, Tue 18 Apr, 2017
I find it nigh on impossible to leave things well alone. My rationale being, it will make it drive better, it will be safer, faster, more reliable, I could live with it easier- I'd enjoy it more. Just plain better. Then simply add man maths and it happens. In certain situations I'd reign in certain areas. I'd love a 20v Audi Quattro with 600bhp, but most of the mods would be under the radar go faster bits that wouldn't ruin the original aesthetic. Compare that to your point on the GTRs or Evos where carefully placed aero parts really do help them. I also believe it's something you can get addicted to this modifying/tuning lark. It's no good for the bank balance!
chris_b replied at 23:21, Tue 18 Apr, 2017
DO IT ! Or better yet, by two
Steviegsi replied at 23:50, Tue 18 Apr, 2017
Modify the balls out of them to you're own taste. There'll always be a beard to stow away a more original, cleaner, less miley example than yours anyway. Just because that 200 mile's from new gem made £120k at an auction, doesn't mean your 172k mile example with no service history, Triggers Broom of a car, is going to let you retire early.
Coog replied at 06:12, Wed 19 Apr, 2017
Often it's the original unmolested cars that stand out to me. It's relatively easy to modify a car with aftermarket bits... once it gets to a certain age it's gets more and more difficult to keep it the way it was originally (metric tyres anyone?!) For sure there is a place & time for upgrades, but the inner beard in me does like to hear about Joe Bloggs going out of his way to figure out the proper OEM wheel colour on his Series 2 Land Rover because a set of alloys from a shop is too easy, not the way it's supposed to be & simply won't do.
m00k replied at 06:15, Wed 19 Apr, 2017
I've always modded each car in some way be it suspension, brakes, engine or audio etc Cav was modded when I bought it and has mods since then Bought the Calibra with mods sitting at home to go straight on, however found myself enjoying its 'purity' and ended up leaving it as it was... in fact ended up re fitting an original stereo and factory mats
amg306 replied at 06:44, Wed 19 Apr, 2017
All depends on the car if you ask me. This is not so much of a "classic" in this shape this is a slightly different story, and never really dates This variation on the same theme is totally different, and really dated looking:
cauld1 replied at 06:52, Wed 19 Apr, 2017
| (metric tyres anyone?!)
The majority of metrics are ancient and bought second hand. They have a nasty habit of being utterly crap when in anything but new condition too. I think theres absolutely nothing wrong with modifying classic, pretty much every car that I have owned or my dad owns/has owned when I was growing up has been modified to some extent. As I am finding out at the minute there arent a lot of off the shelf mods for an e34 BMW (not quite a classic but close). Nothing wrong with keeping a classic standard but there are a lot done like that that are quite frankly appallingly done, only have to go to a 'vintage' show and look down the side of some of them to see just how ripply they can be! Saying that if it's a motorsport replica without proper bits then its shit imo. Nothing like winding purists up all the same! Edited to add. If you are a car enthusiast you will do whatever makes you happy with your car, if you are a money enthusiast you will keep it standard, unused, mothballed to make sure the resale isnt affected, in spite of enjoying it.
Coog replied at 07:37, Wed 19 Apr, 2017
| The majority of metrics are ancient and bought second hand. They have a nasty habit of being utterly crap when in anything but new condition too.
They're just tyres but sized differently. No worse or better when new or used compared to a set of imperial sized, quality branded tyres. Dunlop still make (some) new ones. They're hugely expensive and not many people (me included) bother replacing them and instead end up going for a set of aftermarket wheels under the guise of "modifying". There's nothing wrong with it but some appreciation must go to the chap that resists the urge to stick on a set of 15 inch wheels in favour of spending time/effort/money on something that very very few people will notice or appreciate (except himself and a handful of beards). The problem with modifying, as you pointed out above is that a certain visual modifications look great for the 3/4/5 year window in which they were carried out. After that, assuming it's not a replica of a factory car already, something purposeful or subtle mods, it can look a bit... well naff if I'm honest. 143283 143284
Bryan replied at 07:39, Wed 19 Apr, 2017
My Cortina is totally original. I had toyed with the idea of putting a 5 speed gearbox in it but my father in law talked me out of it saying that I should leave it original 4 speed. I've also toyed with the idea of putting a Rover V8 in it but again then it wouldn't be original. I hate Morris Minors but this is one cool looking example: