Standard? No thanks. Why every petrolhead should be modifying their cars
Will cut his teeth as a designer on Evo magazine, before slinging a U-ey and writing for them instead. So if it has four wheels and an engine then there's a chance he's drifted it in front of a camera, driven it incredibly hard and then written about it. When he's not writing he's can be found fettling his 1971 BMW 2002 and trying to stop Wagtails defecating on his old Range Rover.
Thousands of hours, a huge amount of testing and vast reserves of knowledge go into the development of a car.
Precise measurements are made by spanner-wielding engineers that are plugged directly into all sorts of electronic equipment to ascertain exactly when a sparkplug should fire and long calculations are made so that camber and toe remain optimal as the suspension compresses and bushes deform.
All incredibly clever stuff – and you’re just going to get your car remapped and undo their hard work? Or maybe slap on a set of coilovers and some polybushes and ruin all of that?
Yes, you are. Of course you are.
I don’t think for a minute all the effort exerted those very experienced engineers is a total waste, just some of it. That’s because even some of the most hardcore, standard production cars not only have to put a smile on Walter Röhrl’s face when he’s attacking Quiddelbacher-Höhe, but also allow the most distracted of valley girls to drive from shop to shop while she and her tiny little dog are high off the intense fumes of her Yves Saint Laurent perfume.
Add in all sorts of foreign legislation that’s not relevant to your country, as well as budget constraints – there will be a degree of penny-pinching with any production car – and the final product won’t be the car the engineers exactly wanted either. So, there’s room in just about any car to tailor it to your needs.
And that’s where the market comes in. There is a commonly held belief that you ruin cars by modifying them, which isn’t entirely true.
Yeah, if you simply bolt on some cheap coilovers, some bigger wheels fitted with the budget tyres (just on the back, naturally) and a pathetic air filter, all proffered from the depths of a certain internet auction site, you will wreck a car.
I know, I’ve been there, I’ve done it – that poor E36 323i Touring didn’t know what it had coming. And it’s fun… for about 20 minutes then, when the road isn’t perfectly smooth, flat, clean, well-sighted or dry, then it’s terrifying.
Be a bit more sophisticated than I was when modifying that innocent BMW – not difficult – and you can tweak and tease a car into exactly what you want it to be. Identify what you want to change and exactly why, and start doing some research.
Choosing new dampers, wheels, springs, remaps, limited-slip differentials, seats… whatever you can think of, isn’t easy though; there are a plethora of custom parts for just about every car that’s even remotely enjoyable to drive in standard form.
But where aftermarket companies differ from your average car manufacturer is how easy it is to access the information that will help you decide what to buy. Start asking questions, phone the companies up, send them an email, collar them at a show, and it won’t be long before you're getting answers from the guys who put the hours and expertise into developing the parts or the tunes. The same sort of engineers that work on production cars; white coats, laptops, spanners and VBOXes and all. Except they’re usually full of illuminating and helpful information about what their products and will happily tell you what their modifications do and achieve.
So, unless by sheer luck you’ve found your automotive soul mate, the vehicle that’s the Monica to your Chandler, your car won’t be completely perfect for you.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a Saxo or a 911 GT3 RS, there will be something that doesn’t quite suit your driving style, your shape, your needs.
And you should change it, just change it wisely.