Pimp My Ride – Five Classics Made for Modification

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By Chris Pollitt

Modifying cars, and by that I mean any car, is always going to be a divisive subject. Some argue that bolting on a load of seemingly random bits and bobs to an otherwise perfectly decent car is nothing more than an expensive way to ruin it. Others, like myself for what its worth, would argue that when done right, modification can be a wonderful means self expression and passion. I like a modified car, but only if it’s a considered, well thought out one. Like you, I care not for licky-sticky tat that was shipped in by Wish dot com. You know, tribal graphics, needlessly noisy exhausts, neon lights. Ugh, the horror. 

The thing is, a lot of modified cars end up looking like they were covered in glue and driven through Halfords because, in reality, modifying a car is hard. Anyone can stick anything to any car. |But getting it right is hard work. It’s a balance, it’s an art in fact. For some cars, the act of modifying is even harder due to a small following. I (for reasons I still can’t fathom) have a modified Rover. It’s been a slog, because everything has to be made to fit. There are no ‘off the shelf’ modifications for a Vitesse. None. 

With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to cherry pick five cars that are celebrated in modified circles. Cars that, even decades after the last one rolled off the assembly line, are no more than a could of online clocks away from being modified. These five cars are the perfect wheeled foundations on which to build your modified dreams. There are upgraded parts aplenty out there for each one. If you want to build a car that is truly yours, that is an expression of your personality, that is like no other, one of these five would be a great place to start. 

1) Volkswagen Golf Mk2

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The Mk2 Volkswagen Golf is, make no mistake, the respected and longstanding elder of the modified car world. Now a bona fide classic, this hasn’t stopped creative types from changing the work of Wolfsburg in a bid to create something unique. And it couldn’t be easier. Over the course of the last thirty years, all manner of companies have created a seemingly endless range of bolt-on stuff that can transform the Golf. Suspension, brakes, body additions, lighting, chassis upgrades, exhausts, you name it. It’s all available, and you can fit it yourself with nothing more than a decent socket set. Even if you want to go further, say by putting in the famed 1.8 20V turbo engine, you can buy off the shelf kits to allow you to do so. It’s a modifier’s dream. 

2) Mini

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The world is very much your oyster when it comes to modification of a Mini. However, while modifications can be made to the way they look, I would say the Mini is more for those of you wanting to gain performance. That’s where the Mini excels. Strip it out, fit some bucket seats and a roll cage, upgrade the engine and the brakes and then have fun. You can buy everything you need to turn a Mini into a race car off the shelf, and you can fit it all at home. It is not a complicated car to work on. Plus, with companies like Mini Sport on hand to both sell and advise, there is nothing stopping you. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a Mini with a bit of bite? 

3) Mazda MX5

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If you want your modification experience to be truly visceral, there are few finer choices than the original MX-5. If you can get your hands on one that hasn’t rusted into oblivion, you will open yourself up to a seemingly unending world of modifications that are off the shelf and that can be fitted at home. From visual teaks like ‘lazy eye’ kits, wheels, suspension and body upgrades like wings, spoilers and arches through to more serious performance upgrades like off the shelf turbo kits, induction kits, upgraded differentials and bigger brakes – it’s all there for the taking. If you want more power than Mazda ever imagined, you can even buy off the shelf conversion kits that facilitate the fitting of a V6. A V6 MX-5? Yes please. 

4) BMW E36

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BMWs have always been synonymous with those of us who can’t leave nice things alone. As such, there is a vast and varied aftermarket in place that will sell you everything you need to make your E36 3 Series truly unique. You can easily go down the route of building a slick daily driver – nice wheels, lower suspension, some tasteful body mods. Or, you can go full race car with Pandem style wide arch body kits, huge wheels, race suspension, roll caged and more. You could even go all out and buy a conversion kit to drop in a LS V8, you know, if you were completely mad. Bottom line is that the world of modifying an E36 is limited only by your imagination. If you can think of it, the chances are you can buy it and fit it. All off the shelf, and all doable at home with a decent set of tools. And the E36 is a car the responds well to even the smallest modification, so if you’re looking for a good starting point, this is it. 

5) Ford Escort Mk1/2

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Finally, there is no school like the old school and the Mk1 and Mk2 Escorts are the Headmasters. I cut my journalistic teeth on Retro Ford magazine and can tell you first hand that there is no car out there better suited to modification than the early Ford Escort. And despite it being a car that was last in production during the ’70s, the aftermarket to support it is still massive. You can buy an Escort and then buy all manner of stuff to modify it. Suspension, brakes, engine conversions, roll cages, bucket seats, standalone engine management, cams, carbs, differentials, wheels, tyres… there is no limit. The Mk1 and Mk2 Escort are still incredibly popular, and I would happily argue that the modified examples are more often than not more popular than the stock ones. This is a car that is begging for modification, and you can do it all yourself. No specialist fabrication, no adapting things to fit. It’s all out there, on the shelf, just waiting for you and your spanners. 

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