Journal: How Have You Modified Your Car and To What Extent?

How Have You Modified Your Car and To What Extent?

By Benjamin Shahrabani
April 2, 2014

Photography by Josh Clason for Petrolicious

I can’t explain it—it just happens. And I bet it happens to a lot of you. I would say it’s almost a gift, but it happens to cost real money. I am speaking about the “slippery slope,” a fallacious argument that hypothesizes that a tiny first step leads to a chain of related events culminating into something much bigger. That is what happens when I buy a car, but instead of bigger, I start down the slippery slope of making it better.

Now, of course making a car better is a completely subjective idea. It could mean making the car perform better by performing modifications that will help it accelerate, turn, or brake better, because we’re not trying to make them slower and worse to drive, are we? It could be cosmetic, altering the appearance of the car mildly or wildly—aesthetically modded to your pleasure. It may involve converting the car into a home theater on wheels by adding amps, speakers, and screens, although why one would do this to the type of vehicles we love here at Petrolicious where the real pleasure is derived from driving, is beyond me. The point is that I, and many others, cannot drive a car without personalizing it in some way by modifying it.

It usually begins as that tiny first step I was talking about—something innocuous such as a shift knob, perhaps one that fits better in the hand, or weighted for nice positive-feeling shifts. That won’t cost terribly too much,would it? It makes the car feel like it’s mine…but then it snowballs (although some might say “progresses”) from there. If I’ve gone to the trouble of changing the shift knob, I should probably change the shift mechanism, so I could upgrade to a solid short shift kit with superior bushings for more positive shifting. And since that now feels so nice, I may as well do a few other things “while I’m in there,” and before you know it the car has an upgraded suspension, exhaust, and engine management system. Wait, didn’t I just want to change the shift knob originally?

Regardless of where it starts and how much it costs, the slippery slope of modifying cars is a passion for many that can be both rewarding and frustrating at the same time. I do it because I enjoy a project, of creating and improving things, and because I want my car to behave exactly as I want it to. It is a need to personalize, make it my own. How many of you have modified your car and once completed enjoy the personal satisfaction? That’s why we modify cars.

But where does the slippery slope end?

Click here to watch our video of Steve Strope’s Martini Mustang.

Click here to watch our video of Dave Scholz’s beautiful Datsun.

Join the Conversation
0 0 votes
Article Rating
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tim Williams
Tim Williams(@tim-williams)
4 years ago

All my cars have been modified. There’s always something to upgrade, or to improve (in terms of the handling and performance). I tend to stay away from the cosmetic mods as they only attract the wromng kind of attention: all show and no go. The actual improvements always seem to start with tyres and wheels. Or wheels and tyres. And bigger brakes. Then chassis and suspension. And of course power.

You’ve obviously gone too far when it’s undrivable. But if you have to give a friend a 5 minute lecture on ‘things to watch out for’ before you give them the keys, then you should probably ask yourself, ‘have I gone too far with this car?’

Chris Dyer
Chris Dyer(@dyerhaus)
7 years ago

I bought a 1997 Porsche Boxster four years ago. It is the utmost bare bones, un-optioned Boxster I’ve ever seen. Over the years I’ve mainly made cosmetic modifications—although most modifications were stock Porsche parts. For example, new door panels were needed due to the hack job the previous owner did of installing speakers in the doors, cutting through the weather seals, causing massive leaking in the rain. I also took great pleasure in removing the speakers and all the other stereo components he had put in the car, ripping all the cheap Radio Shack wiring out of the car, only to discover an after market alarm was installed that no longer worked either. It felt so good removing all that cancer from the car.

I’ve also replaced the stock 16-inch “twist” wheels with lightweight 17-inch Porsche Carrera Classic wheels. All the lights—headlights, side markers, and tail lights—replaced with later model lights to rid the car of amber. The 4-post Buick looking steering wheel replaced with a Porsche 3-post steering wheel. The exhaust replaced with a Porsche Sport exhaust from a later model Boxster S. Those are the things I’ve replaced.

I’ve also added a few things, such as a the storage box behind the seats, under the top, which was an available Porsche option. This car has no glove box, so it needed some sort of storage! I removed the factory cassette stereo and put a cubby shelf in it’s place. The cubby shelf came from the center console that I removed to make more leg room—what an improvement! I also added in a 4-post steering column so I would have access to the OBC, which worked flawlessly.

I still have many things to do, I need to replace the top, and I want to put in a short-shift kit. The car can use a new paint job as well. Oh, I replaced the shift boot and knob… with the factory shift boot and knob. 😉

I love working on the Boxster. It’s an incredibly fun car to drive, and it’s equally as fun to work on as well. It’s so rewarding to drive a car you’ve put a lot of work into.

Ib Erik
Ib Erik
7 years ago

I’m right in the middle of it…!
I got a 2’gen Honda Prelude 2.0i (BA2, ALB) (NOT a 2.0 Si, that is weaker).
A lot of rust.
Need a new windsceen, the aircon system needs replacing and the bracket for the airconpump is broken. It needs neew brakerotors (good luck finding the taper roller bearing (ALB/ABS) types at the rear…), new calipers all around, fixing of the ALB-system, new dampers and springs (lowerings?), rust in the sunroof, defective hazard warning light switch and new rubber at the bootlid and right side door…
I would like to make it, somkind og trackday-like…
But it’l be to expencive for me, so I’ve got to scrap it… 🙁

Jon Eng
Jon Eng(@jjeng951)
7 years ago

My best intentions with my car were to build a street car that could be brought to the track, like most compromise projects of this nature it went too far, and its now a terrible street car. It started out as a mostly stock 1988 Porsche 944 Turbo owned by a friend. Over the last 6 years it has gone through many different phases. I can recall maybe 3 or 4 distinct stages the car went through and wish i had quit modifying it around the 2nd stage where things were still mostly stock. The car became so heavily modified by its final stage with the original 2.5L turbo engine; it was fast but very rarely ever ran right. Big turbo, MAF conversion, playing around with the tune myself…etc. After around two years trying to work out the bugs, i gave up. The body mods were easy, just a few minor details to set it apart from the pack. Mostly touches from the euro models; rear bumper, French (yellow) fogs and some other minor touches borrowed from the 968. After a year of the car sitting while i figured out what to do i decided to go one more step in the extreme direction. It took nearly two years from the time i pulled the engine until it was moving under power with a 5.7L LS1. It was a long project that i lost interest in more than a few times, but i am heavily invested in the car, both monetarily and nostalgia. Really what it came down to was the suspension was great, brakes were great, body was straight as an arrow, just it was all powered with an engine which i never fully had 100\% confidence in despite the only original part on it being the piston rings. The LS1 swap has not been without its teething issues, but it was a step in the right direction i think.

While i love modifying my cars, i learned my lesson though to not overdue it now. I openly admit that i ruined a perfectly good 944 Turbo with the extent of the modifications done. The LS1 swap was sort of a last ditch effort to do the car justice as a now streetable track car. I mostly stick with minor touches now. I recently purchased a almost completely stock E36 M3. I had planned to keep it stock, but ive already replaced the cat-back and have coilovers and a short throw shifter waiting to install after just a few months of ownership. These are actually the only modifications i plan to make and careful thought was put in just to make a more comfortable drivers car for the street only.

Jon Eng
Jon Eng(@jjeng951)
7 years ago
Reply to  Jon Eng

It should probably go without saying that i absolutely love the car and the 944 platform in general. I have owned a 944 series car for over 11 years since i got my license. I love the platform, the looks and handling. I started with the slowest of the bunch and worked my way up also. The first was an automatic ’87 924S. Slow as heck, but kept me out of trouble in my immature days. Next up was a ’87 944 that introduced me to auto-x. Next up was the 944 Turbo which allowed me to transition to drivers ed events. Many times i debated selling, but i almost felt like i owed it not only to the car, but to myself to ‘complete’ the project.

Bill Giltzow
Bill Giltzow
7 years ago

The longest I have owned an unmodified car that I did not intend to cut up for parts (or is that modifying?) is 48 hours. That was 48 years and 52 cars ago…..Mind some of those cars have stayed with me for 15 or 20 years too.

Bertram Wooster
Bertram Wooster(@fb_100002929454700)
7 years ago

“It’s not your car until you modify it.”

Isn’t that an old saying or something?

7 years ago

I bought my 240Z about 3 years ago. Had been sitting in the guys garage for about 18 years. We got it fired up and I drove it home. It had a terrible white paint job that seemed to be applied with a roller and the suspension needed help too. Figured I would throw in the new struts and springs and a cheap paint job and I’d have a car for the summer. Then I bought a set of urethane bushings for $80… Once I had the suspension out I couldn’t put it back in looking all rusty. So I sandblasted it, powder coated it, changed all the wheel bearings, converted to disk brakes in the back and wilwood BBK in the front, ran all new brake lines front to back and a new wilwood master, welded in new floors even though the old ones were perfectly repairable, added subframe connectors and increased support for front frame rails for more power in the future, new paint job after sanding down to metal and windows out with new seals and all, new carpet and sound deadening, converted all lights to leds including ones in the guages, went through the motor even though I’ll be doing a swap in a year or so etc etc. I’m sure I”ve left things out, but long story short I driven the car about 20 miles since I got it back from paint as I still have a number of things left to do. If only I hadn’t bought those bushings…

Gagan Matharu
Gagan Matharu(@z-singh)
7 years ago
Reply to  Gagan

Here’s what the suspension looked like coming out and then after I got it back from powder coat.

Sebastian Gaeta
Sebastian Gaeta(@spg356)
7 years ago

’65 356C coupe

After 22 years of driving my car “bone stock” I decided to spice it up a bit. I acquired a C cab about ten years ago and the coupe was driven less and less each year, so here is hat i did to revive the excitement:

Lowered the car, installed Skirmants camber regulator. 5.5″ steelies, GT seat, Marchal Fog/Driving lights, Hood straps and rally dash clocks.

Poser? Sure, but not too proud to admit it! Everything bolts on and off. Even the hood straps are secured by rare earth magnets. It would take just a couple of hours to get it back to stock configuration.

7 years ago

Which one? 🙂

My DD Alfa 156 I’ve done a couple of light modifications to. Stainless exhaust and anti-roll bars from a 156 GTA Sportwagon (stiffer at the rear compared to the front than a GTA saloon). Helped a little with the noise and the handling balance. Eventually it’ll be getting a 3.0l and a couple of other mild upgrades to suspension and braking.

My (now sadly ex-) Jaguar XJ40 was undergoing a manual 5-speed swap before a tree fell on it. Now I’m looking for another to do the exact same thing to. I’d love to convert it into an estate for hauling parts, but that’s a lot of sheet-metal work that I don’t have time for at the moment. Here’s a pic of how it’d look though:

However, my most modified car will be my Triumph Spitfire 6. It’s a 1300 MkIV that I’m in the process of restoring/modifying now. It’ll have a built 2.5l Triumph I6, hopefully making 170-180bhp through a TR6 4-speed overdrive ‘box. The weight of which will be offset by a host of alloy and fibreglass parts up front, which will hopefully bring the weight down to around 750kg. The rear suspension will also be a modified rotoflex setup from a Mk2 GT6, with Canley Classics’ excellent CV conversion and alloy vertical links and wishbones. At the end of it all, I should have a car with over 220bhp/ton, that started out as a little 62bhp small sports car 🙂

After that, I’ve got a host of other project ideas that I want to work my way through. Things like an MGB GT V8 Sebring, a Stag with Dolly Sprint heads, a 3.0l Alfa GTV6, a 3.5l Alfa 6, a lightweight Jaguar XJS V12, a TR6 with a tuned Rover/Triumph 2600 engine, a 3.0l Alfa Montreal, a Rover P6 3500s with a tuned EFi engine, a Lancia Beta HPE with Integrale running gear, a Dolly Sprint engined Triumph GT6 (or a triple-carbed high-revving 2.0l I6), a supercharged Alfetta 2000 saloon, a turbo Fiat X1/9, a Rover SD1 4.0l, a Triumph 2-door Toledo Sprint, a turbocharged Alfa Spider S3 with big box-flares (I’d call it Shelob, the monster Spider), a rotary MX-5, an early Maserati Biturbo with all the goodies from a late-model (LSD rear, 2.8l TTV6, rust-proofing, functional electronics etc.) and an Alfa 159 Sportwagon with the running gear from a Maserati GranTurismo + 6-speed manual from a 3200GT.

Once I’ve finished all of those I think I’ll be done with my slippery slope 🙂

Kirk Robinson
Kirk Robinson(@81fiat)
7 years ago

Scientifically and aesthetically, I think that the Singer 911 is pretty convincing evidence that if that slippery slope ends, that end is far, far beyond what any one of us could create in our own garages.

But practically, perhaps even philosophically, I think that in modifying your car, whether with flashy mods like neon paint and massive chrome blowers, or with subtle touches like more elegant gauges or even just maintaining a clean interior, you are expressing yourself. Through your work you are demonstrating, even if to nobody but yourself, your priorities, abilities, and level of integrity. Though your modifications, your car becomes a representation – a reflection, if you like – of your personality. Naturally, the “slippery slope” of modifying ends when you are satisfied with your work. And because our work is a reflection of ourselves, we will be satisfied with our work when we are satisfied with ourselves.

7 years ago
Reply to  Kirk Robinson

This. I really like this attitude towards the whole concept.

Yoshi W
Yoshi W
7 years ago

I have a 240z with an l28, rebuilt the engine with flattop pistons, mild cams, headers, custom exhaust, su carbs, and a 5-speed swap. Then the wiring went bad so I rewired the car, new gauges, and added an upgraded alternator. Now I have a full urethane bushing kit and coilovers sitting in my living room waiting to be put in. This all started with some crappy carburetors hahah. Slippery slope indeed.

7 years ago

For a street car, it ends when too many compromises are made. The suspension can be too hard or too low. The engine can be too loud, or the power upgrades have moved the power band too far up the rpm range.

Adam Bernard
Adam Bernard(@adambravo)
7 years ago

When I first purchased my 1972 Austin Mini, I embraced the ‘personalization’ philosophy of the Mini (driven, in part, by some of the equipment already in the car which was nonstandard)…
Honda 600-sourced front seats and standard rear seat replaced by 1980 RSP black interior, along with alloy interior trim and metal mesh trim on the dashboard
998 motor replaced by 1293 rebuild motor
Sliding canvas roof (Inalfa) added
Standard 10″ wheels replaced by 12″ Minato
A few bits of exterior chrome added (e.g., boot hinges) along with more contemporary Mini badging replacing the Austin badges
See it here…