So much has moved on in the world, in culture, over the past 20 years. We’ve witnessed change at a pace that makes cars seem out of touch – the proliferation of EVs and autonomous drive notwithstanding. Today, culture is seemingly all about social media, resulting in the hyper-acceleration of trends as they emerge, are digested and then abandoned. In the space of eight years, the world of fashion, for example, has exhumed, worn out and tossed aside influences from most of the latter half of the 20th century.
Where cars and culture do still to collide, however, is modification. The way we modify our cars says a lot about us as people. And people historically enjoy saying a lot about themselves.
It’s an expression of personal vision. The owner curates his or her own mood board – a four-wheeled fibreglass-clad (Max Power era) air-bagged (modern stance era) or track-prepared motoring mural. For all the changes society has gone through, a modified car remains a statement of self, whether you’re in a £500k Brabus G-Class or a Corsa with retro-fit LED bulbs and a pop-and-bang exhaust.
Social media has supercharged car culture
If anything, social media has simply provided a bigger platform to sell yourself and your vision on wheels. All kinds of subcultures have emerged in car modification as the true potential of a connected hive mind is realised. Some so-called influencers even make full-blown careers out of the image they’ve crafted for themselves.
Driving enthusiasts band together via the internet to get the best they can out of their cars. The pool of knowledge at our disposal has resulted in a volume and quality of upgraded performance machines never seen before. Yes, style over substance still dominates, and ‘stanced’ Volkswagens and videos of 90s Japanese sedans going ludicrously sideways still clog our timelines, but we’re better than ever at making our own cars go fast and drive well.
Cars themselves are also more digital, of course, and more easily tuned than ever. Gone are the hardware-only days – you can get mega power from a fast Audi with little more than an engine remap. The expense hasn’t changed, mind.
Online communities dedicated to specific marques, individual models and styles of modification have blossomed – for better or worse. A detailed guide on preparing a Renaultsport Clio for track days plays how to get the most ‘lows’ and extreme camber (resulting in cracked leaking sumps and rust) on a classic Mercedes-Benz estate. The phrase ‘each to their own’ is never used more than in the comments section on a car forum these days. That’s a good thing.
Modded from factory
It’s got to the point where buying a new car has become an exercise in modification all its own. It doesn’t matter whether you’re speccing up your new Fiat 500 or Ferrari 812 Superfast. The options lists of both offer customisation you simply wouldn’t have seen 20 years ago. Whether that means stick-on stripes for the 500, or carbon trimmings on the Ferrari worth more than the Fiat itself. The more expensive the car, generally, the more extensive the customisation on offer.
Companies that began by modifying certain types of car have entered the mainstream. AMG was originally a separate entity to Mercedes-Benz but is now a fully integrated sub-brand. Alpina supplied engine hardware for BMWs, now its cars are warrantied. The same applies to Ford and Mountune; previously the preserve of ST owners with a hunger for more poke. Now you can drive out of a Ford dealer with that distinctive yellow badge and a few more warrantied ponies for your money.
Never mind societal change. Never mind our new-found obsession with ‘likes’ and compulsion to post pictures of our lunches. Car culture and modding has flourished in the social media age. Worry about whether our kids will have to plug in their first cars all you want; they’ll still wonder if they can fit a bigger electric motor, better speakers, maybe drop the suspension. Cars will continue to define us, and our culture.