Less is More - When Subtle Mods are Just Enough
When it comes to making our cars - our own - it is easy to get carried away with what modifications we want to do. Just scroll through Instagram of various car builds out there, and there is no denying every build is decorated in an assortment of aftermarket parts. Sometimes with a dazzling exterior wrap or livery, or with a custom exhaust system that makes it sound far more aggressive than its stock setup.
Car customisation is truly a personal statement: we all want to make our cars stand out from the rest. We all love to talk about what massive changes we want to do when we get ahold of a new car, how we’re going to make it faster or more of a headturner out on the road; making our customisation dreams from Need for Speed a reality. Big wings, turbocharger kits, fat exhausts, you name it.
But social media attention aside, you really have to ask: what is the point of making your car all extravagant like that? Is it worth it, for example, to have your car as low to the ground, scraping your exhaust along the road, but at the cost of making entering parking garages a chore? That enormous body kit looked great, but considering the cost for shipping, downtime for installation, paint-matching if needed, and the slightest dent due to a mishap while parking or a rock chip will require a costly replacement. That’s something we never considered building our dream cars in video games.
Realistically, it’s probably better to go back to the basics when it comes to modifying our cars for the real world.
There is a saying here in Hong Kong that best describes this approach(originally an advertising slogan for a local beauty product): ‘Less is More’. In some ways, the ‘less’ stuff you change or modify about your car, can be for the better. Especially when it comes to what impact the modifications you do, will affect the overall drivability.
Think about it: especially for a platform that is already setup from the factory to be the best it can be when driven hard, why attempt to change it at all? Why go with all the bother to possibly make an already-decently setup car worse or unbalanced?
What if all you really need to do, to make your car that little bit better yet leave your personal mark on it, is the basic drivability modifications: some good wheels, a subtle drop in ride height, and a high quality exhaust to improve the internal acoustics. Some small exterior changes here and there, a chrome delete along some of the trim, and you could call it a day there.
The car scenes in Asia, from my home city of Hong Kong to the Philippines, and to an extent, Japan as well, are good examples of this minimalist approach to car customization. I thought enthusiasts of Hong Kong were the only ones out there who tend to practice this, but as I found out through one of the many Facebook car groups I am a member of, its an approach that is all too common for enthusiasts in regions where parts are harder to come by, or the roads are not suitable for the average full-on modified setup those in the States love to aspire to.
For some, their build is also their day-to-day car. So many need to strike a balance between preserving the original drivability qualities, with modifications that will improve the appearance to the owner’s desire. Considering if you need to rely on your car to get you to work, take the kids to school, and do the weekly grocery run, you wouldn’t want to modify your mode of transport to the point it makes fulfilling these tasks difficult, let alone impossible to handle. Furthermore, with cars a luxury item for most, as much as they would like to put more money into the cars they have a passion for, their finances can only stretch so far. So in some ways, the subtle approach towards making their cars their own, is the best they can do within their budgets. Simple body styling mods like a different grille or lights, can make a big difference as much as slapping on a big wing.
There’s also the fact some authorities don't see eye to eye towards any form of modifications towards cars. Especially in SIngapore, where a governing body regulates what types of modifications owners can or cannot install to maintain a strict environmental and noise standard by the government. The same goes for Hong Kong (as I brought up previously), where even the most minor of engine bay enhancements, will have your car impounded and be adjusted to be ‘roadworthy’ again. Would you stick to just changing the look of your wheels and getting to enjoy your car relatively freely, versus getting pulled over at every opportunity due to a traffic officer concerned your blow-off valve is too 'antisocial'?
We’ve done this subtle approach many times with the various cars that have passed through our family. Of course, mainly due to the fact my father does not like to invest too much money into our cars (after all, performance/aesthetic modifications don’t necessarily add value to a car, no matter what some may believe). But largely, we’ve applied this minimalist approach to all of our family cars as a way to slightly improve, on an already decent package.
A good case in point is one of my favorite cars that passed through our garage: a 2014 Mini Cooper S (F56) 3 Door. The MINI out of the box, is already a well-tuned package. With its nimble go-kart style handling & steering setup, along with a peppy yet fuel-efficient two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (that can pop and crackle, even with a stock exhaust). All we ever did to this already fun car, was swap out the stock alloy wheels for some decent OZ Racing wheels, wider tires to improve the fitment of the wheels and overall cornering ability, and a few de-chromed trim pieces to match the Black and White exterior color. Those simple changes made the Mini better to drive and look the part.
As much as I wanted to do more to it, like a Duell AG front splitter and an Eventuri Performance intake, going beyond the basics was honestly, not worth the trouble. Why go to the trouble to unbalance an already perfect package, when it is already so good to drive?
Don’t get me wrong: I still dream about going all out on my car - a car I intend to be a full-on project once finances allow it. I still keep up-to-date with the latest car parts available out there, I follow various aftermarket wheel companies on Instagram, and I support my fellow enthusiasts who do go all out with their cars, to make their cars as they want them to be (more features to come soon, watch this space by the way).
But for now, until I eventually get a SXE10 as a project to devote time and money towards to build it as my own, I am content with changing up the wheels and exterior of my daily driver without worrying about if I have made it worse, thanks to that one non-OEM enhancement just for ‘social media clout’.
And frankly, for some of the modern classics, or cars that will become more valuable as they become more sought after in well-preserved condition, its better for them to remain subtly modified now. When compared to extreme project builds for the track or show some have taken, for some people, the simple additions of the optional body kit and aftermarket wheels, is more pleasing to the eye.
There are many great platforms to go all out on, with plenty of aftermarket parts available to make it faster, louder, and aesthetically more pleasing. But from an realistic point of view, if your car will not likely see a racetrack to set the fastest lap time, or if it will be driven hard occasionally but spend most of its time in stop-start traffic, being content with just a few changes might be enough to make your car your own.
For most, it's not worth making their car more attractive to Instagram followers or attempting to cash in on whatever might be trending among the modified scene globally. It’s all about making sure you can enjoy your hobby, with as relatively few inconveniences.
Less, can truly be more.