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Elo is motoring’s Mr Blue Sky Thinking

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April 17, 2014
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To many, turning a 25-year-old Ferrari into a pick-up truck would be nothing short of sacrilege.

But to motoring style guru Elo, pretty much every car ever made is merely a factory-produced template just waiting to be customised, personalised and, yes, improved upon.

The Ferrari in question is a 1989 412 – probably the least loved vehicle to have come out of Maranello – so the purists needn’t shed too many tears as Elo sets about creating the world’s only Prancing Horse pick-up in the first of a new motoring series on History tonight at 9pm.

Over eight hour-long episodes, Ultimate Wheels brings together creative petrolheads Elo and Will to breathe new and exotic life into tired old vehicles.

Here at Flux, we love a modified motor, so we caught up with Elo ahead of the new series to chat about his passion for motoring metamorphoses.

Elo (right) and Will

Elo (right) and Will

A former model and fashion designer who now owns the thriving London Motor Museum and a customisation business, Elo is the go-to man for the rich and famous looking to put their own unique stamp on their car.

Footballers Djibril Cisse, Emmanuel Adebayor and Alex Song are among a galaxy of stars who have entrusted Elo to turn already luxury motors into something a little out of the ordinary.

His TKO London workshop sits alongside the museum which, among more than 200 exhibits, houses two working Batmobiles, the Dukes of Hazzard’s General Lee, Starsky and Hutch’s Gran Torino, Mr Bean’s Mini, a DMC Delorean, and a Lotus Esprit from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

As a British-born teenager growing up in California, Elo inherited his passion for cars from his stock-car crazy father.

But the then 17-year-old, clutching his first driving licence, already had his eye firmly on road-going motors – and how he could turn them into something completely different.

“As a European, I wanted a European car, so I bought a mark one VW Golf – as soon as I passed my test I went to a wheel shop and added some 80 spoke wheels and lowered the suspension,” he said.

“I’ve literally always been customising cars – I was in California and wanted to be different, I never wanted to conform and grew up watching TV shows like Knight Rider.

“I was one of the first low riders in LA, and I’m proud of that.”

Fast forward a few years, and Elo’s modelling and fashion career took him all over the world before a return to England saw him open up to the public a small collection of just seven cars.

By 2005 his truly unique collection of customised and classic cars had grown to 30, and now the museum at Hayes holds more than 200.

And it was a chance visit to the museum and adjacent workshop by a TV production director that sowed the seeds for Ultimate Wheels.

“He was amazed by the cars in our workshop,” said Elo, 42. “He said there were networks looking for people who build custom cars.

“I agreed to the show – provided I got complete creative control, provided I could build what I wanted to build and show the world all these dreams.”

But Elo is well aware that not everyone shares his dreams – why take what highly-skilled motoring designers and engineers have spent months perfecting, and change it into something else? And isn’t it sacrilegious to mess with some of these classic cars?

“I had a very good conversation about this with one of my patrons who came from Holland to the museum,” he said.

“He said it was sacrilege and just why do it? When I look at vehicles, I look and think “wow, BUT” – I always look for the but. And that but is the bit I like to change, from a Ferrari down to a Fiesta. He didn’t seem to understand that.

“We had a very good debate for about half an hour. He had a BMW 3.0 CSi and I asked if he’d changed anything. When he said he’s changed it from a four speed to a five I asked him why. He said ‘because it was too slow’. I said ‘so you did change something – you’ve turned that car into *your* car’. It was only then that he said he understood what I’m doing here.”

Still, changing the gearbox to make a car more efficient and a little quicker is a world away from turning a Ferrari into a pick-up truck…

“It’s about changing a vehicle to the best possible variation in my eyes – it doesn’t mean it pleases everyone else,” explained Elo.

“Do you still listen to a gramophone or do you listen on an iPad? The world has changed.

“The museum is a reflection of me in my own eyes. I do believe it’s a reflection of your own self. The world is becoming customised…do it your own way.”

Elo with one of his creations.

Elo with one of his creations.

He sees a parallel between his life in fashion and his move into customising cars.

“In the past there were five different colours of your outfit. Go into a store now in the West End and you are given more choice. Everyone is making things their own,” he said.

“You just need to look at people these days to understand them – today people are liberated. And it’s the same with cars.

“When I drive one of my classics with customised wheels or chrome extras people look at it and can see it’s a classic, keeping the shape…but it’s a reflection of me in the same way my clothes are.”

And that’s why footballers and musicians, in particular, famous for creating their own distinct “look”, are so keen to employ Elo’s creative eye to conjure up bespoke wheels.

“I don’t do just whatever they want. I sit down with them and try to understand them – they come to me for guidance,” he explains.

“For example, Djibril Cisse said he wanted the coolest pick up truck in the world. We built him this Dodge with a lots of modifications – 2000 watt speakers etc. After a year or so he came back and asked what else could I do? So we put a water cannon on the back so he could water his farm. We build in their personality.”

So is there a car that’s already perfect, and what’s the most outrageous car he’s ever created?

“It may surprise you, but with the Vauxhall Calibra I can’t find a but. When I look at a Calibra, I look at the lines and the way it sits on the ground – credit to the Vauxhall engineers for that roofline.

The perfect car?

The perfect car?

“The most outrageous cars I’ve done are for the TV show because for once I only had to listen to myself – very, very dangerous!”

And, of course, he’s currently halfway through customising…a Calibra.

Ultimate Wheels starts on Thursday 17 April at 9pm, on HISTORY (Sky 530/ Virgin 234).

Adrian Flux is the UK’s largest specialist insurance broker, providing cover for almost anything on four wheels, including heavily modified and customised vehicles, classics, American motors and supercars.

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