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Is It Really Okay to Customise Classic Cars?

Posted on September 15, 2016

Is It Really Okay to Customise Classic Cars?

Part of what makes a car a classic is its history, so when a classic car is in a poor state and needs to be restored, the question that comes to mind is whether it should be done to look like it would have if it were straight out of the production line, whether it is the right opportunity to bring it to modern standards or whether to transform it completely. Will customising a classic car increase its value greatly or completely ruin what makes it special?

The world of the collectors is divided between both teams, so let’s have a look at the growing phenomenon of ‘resto-modding’, as it is called, and examples of when it works, and when it doesn’t.

How Jaguar design director Ian Callum restored the Jaguar MK2 certainly presents a good argument. While the car remains faithful to its spirit, the improvements brought to it have, without a doubt, made it even more exciting, both in performance and appearance. Integrated bumpers and louvres were added, while on the mechanical side, a 4.3L XK engine was fitted, as well as revised suspension and steering, and modern front brakes. And to completely bring it into modern lifestyle, a sophisticated entertainment system was installed which, some may say, looks a bit at odds with the car. Nevertheless, this re-invention of a classic car is widely acknowledged as a resounding success.

Likewise, Redux’s proposition of the BMW E30 M3 is ingenuous. According to the car designer, their aim was to retain the elements that make the car iconic, such as the box-flared silhouette, but capture how the design would have evolved if BMW had continued to produce it. Conceived as a blank canvas, they can be customised to a client’s specification, while remaining faithful to the original model.

On the other hand, some ‘experiments’ are nothing short of a criminal act, like transforming a Ferrari 412 into a pick-up! Will Trickett, its owner, merrily chopped some of the roof off with an angle grinder, added a teak rear deck inspired by luxury yacht for its paint pots and ladders and improved suspension for heavy loads. And, as a considerate neighbour, he fitted an exhaust-valve system which takes the roar out of the engine.

Between those 2 poles, there is a fine balance to make a modification work, from simply changing the mechanical components to subtle aesthetic improvements.

For example, Pure Vision’s design for the ‘Martini Mustang’ is a testament to how attention to detail can give birth to a restored car that is perhaps even better than the original.

Created for the 2013 SEMA show, a specialist automotive products trade event, the 1966 Fastback featured genuine fibre glass panels, but there was nothing authentic under the bonnet, with lightweight components like a 28kg transmission, a modern braking system, up-to-date suspension and an unusual engine, a Ford-Lotus Indy. This is all forgiven, though, as soon as you set eyes on its exquisite aesthetics. From the rally-style racy interior to the Indy wheels, map-reading lamps and dashboard timers, it just works together.

If you are not feeling confident enough to change cosmetic details, you could always do what Mechatronic did: hiding a modern AMG V8 engine in classic Mercedesmodels, leaving the bodywork untouched – with the advantage of being able to reverse the change once the novelty has worn off.

Now, here is the case of a customisation that sounded promising but failed at the last hurdle: the De Tomaso Pantera. The 70es muscle icon was bought by two professionals, the Ring brothers, from the widow of a man who died of cancer, and who entrusted the car to them to create something unique.

They removed chrome accessories and the wing mirrors, repainted the vehicle a loud yellow and added a roof scoop that many collectors found tasteless. Although it was already powerful, a Wenger Motorsports LS3 engine providing 600HP was fitted, which certainly made the car tempting. All in all, although the exterior was very controversial, what really let the Pantera down was its interior. People at Nike came with the idea of a ‘split’ theme: the driver’s side representing performance and luxury was clothed in black; the passenger’s side embodying understated comfort …. in another loud yellow.

Although, to many connoisseurs, it was blasphemy, the car still sold at auction for NZ $1.2 million, proof that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder!

Another avenue is to reinvent an old classic starting with a clean slate. A perfect example is the Equus Bass 770. It definitely looks like a 60es Fastback Mustang, yet it’s not. With xenon headlights, it is built with an aluminum chassis and has some of the quirky design features of the ‘Stang, but is firmly a 21st-century vehicle with a 6.2L Chevrolet V8 engine, magnetic dampers and ultra-efficient carbon-ceramic braking discs.

In a similar vein, the Willys AW380 Berlineta is a beautifully executed interpretation of the Brazilian version of the Alpine A108 which had an impressive racing career in the 60es. With sleek curves, this car also packs a punch with a 3.8L 6-cylinder biturbo engine capable of delivering 610HP taking you from 0 to 100km/h in 2.5 seconds. A racing car at heart, it will nevertheless look just as stunning outside a track.

We saw above the strange transformation of a Ferrari 412 into a pickup truck, and it isn’t the only vehicle to be repurposed. A Rolls-Royce Phantom was converted into a hearse; a Jaguar E-type had a stretched wheelbase and a trailer added, and another Rolls-Royce, the Silver Shadow was metamorphosed into a champagne bar, complete with DJ booth for unforgettable entertainment!

Whichever vehicle you fell on love with and are thinking about importing into New Zealand or any other country, you can come and talk to McCullough, we won’t judge you! All that matters to us is that your car is transported promptly and safely, so contact us today, get a quote online or give us a ring on +64 9 303 0075.


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