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Custom cars: Popular modifications through the decades

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December 21, 2020
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The custom car scene is big business. People have been tinkering with their rides, modifying them to inject their own personalities and style, almost as long as cars have existed.

But custom cars really took off in the 1960s and since then, each decade has seen popular modifications come and go in and out of fashion. Here the experts at Adrian Flux look at the most popular modifications through the decades.


Custom cars: Popular mods from the 60s

The swinging 60s was the decade of the Mini, a car adored by custom car fans. It’s size and even more its simplicity was the key to the Mini’s success and popularity. It meant even the inexperienced driver could become part of the modding scene, dismantling their cars, upgrading parts and putting them back together to create a unique and personalised machine with enhanced performance.

Racing and hot rodding were also growing in popularity in the 60s so motorists were keen for their custom cars to replicate the look and the power of the racers they watched on the track. People modded their car styling with engine re-tunes, competition carbs, flared arches, smart alloys and chunky tyres, and bespoke paint jobs, everything from the famous Union Jack roof to go faster stripes and full psychedelic decal.

It wasn’t just the Mini that was being souped up. A British audience was getting used to seeing American cars in films and on the TV and they were soon being imported.

Parts were hard to come by so no wonder American models became custom cars as mechanics adapted British parts or fabricated their own to keep the imports running, or to enhance their look and performance.


Custom cars: Popular mods from the 70s

Manufacturers began meeting motorists demands by producing more powerful cars in the 1970s. Drivers could now get a high degree of motoring muscle straight from the showroom.

Motorists found that even modest cars had plenty of pep under the bonnet so custom car projects in the 70s aimed to improve a vehicle’s aesthetics, rather than its performance. Think personalised gear shifts, custom steering wheels, replacement pedals, colour coordinated seat covers and dice chrome dustcaps.

For dedicated followers of modding fashion, a jacked up rear with underglow lighting was just the job along with a chromed tailpipe to sparkle day or night.

And don’t forget the music. Most cars came with a radio but no self-respecting custom car job was complete without a replacement cassette player or 8-track music system. There would probably still only be one speaker though!

To make up for that, a super-long bendy aerial was fitted. They did nothing for the reception, but they looked pretty cool.

Whatever you do, don’t mention the “Dave and Sharon” front window sticker or the furry dice.

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Custom cars: Popular mods from the 80s

The 1980s was the era of the hot hatch and it was the decade of the full body kit with spoilers, skirts and bumper extensions turning heads on the street. Plastic rear window louvres were also big, on anything with a fastback.

In the 80s custom vans really came into their own too. Showy alloys, sidepipes, interior refits and sleeper conversions took the country by storm. The van ceased being the work horse and turned into a play thing.

A custom car or van also needed decent paintwork. And whatever colour, the bumpers had to match, as did the upholstery and all other adornments such as wiper arms, wing mirrors and steering wheel. The brighter the shade, the better.

The odd neon sticker seemed to go down pretty well too as did contrast tiger stripes.

You would have completed the picture with the very latest radio cassette player and a couple of huge stereo speakers on the rear parcel shelf.

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Custom cars: Popular mods from the 90s

Wide body kit modifications and racing stripes were the norm for custom cars in the 90s and we still loved those sparkling alloys and low profile tyres.

Wide look exhaust tailpipes were popular, though they did nothing for performance, as were yellow headlights which were thought to give your car a touch of French elegance.

There was a lot of airbrushing going on too. Think nudes cavorting with serpents, surfer dudes riding giant waves, raging bulls and stampeding stallions.

Engine tuning was still big in the 90s, but the era was more about aesthetics than energy, so expect to see some highly polished bull bars on the Chelsea tractors.

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Custom cars: Popular mods from the 00s

Action films like Fast & Furious and TV series such as Pimp My Ride re-awoke our waning passion for custom cars in the naughties.

They showed people that with a little investment and know-how they could turn just about any old banger into a high performance custom car.

Front ends were lowered, rear ends jacked up, engines and gearboxes upgraded and carbs fine-tuned to create the meanest of machines with the coolest paint jobs, smartest alloys and state of the art in-car entertainment systems.

All this combined to make their custom cars fast, fun and stunning to look at.

Custom cars: Popular mods of the last decade

Nowadays manufacturers will pretty much customise your car to your own personal spec. But if you are buying second hand you will still have to put your personal thumbprint of style on it.

And the options are an eclectic mix of that which has been popular in the custom car world for the past 60 years or so.

Top options are alloy wheels, non-standard paint jobs, decal wraps,  personalised number plates, exhaust enhancements, uprated, lowered or stiffened suspension springs, window tints, upgraded air filters, body kits and uprated brakes.

And proving those in the modding scene have an environmental conscience, there’s also a growing trend for turning petrol and diesel cars into LPG, electric and hydrogen conversions.

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Customised insurance for your custom car

Some of these modifications will result in an additional premium – generally the ones that increase performance or may make the vehicle more of a target for thieves or make it more likely to be vandalised.

But, irrespective of whether or not insurers will charge extra, you must declare anything that differs from the manufacturer’s standard specification or run the risk of having your policy cancelled should non-disclosure come to light.

As modified specialists, Adrian Flux, have been providing tailored insurance for custom cars for almost 50 years. If you’ve got a highly modified car, or are perhaps looking to modify your current vehicle, give us a call on 0808 588 1054 or use our callback service to get a detailed quote.




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