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Cowland on Cars

The Max Factor: It’s time to celebrate the modified car scene

by Paul Cowland
6 October 2021 4 min read
The Max Factor: It’s time to celebrate the modified car scene
Photo: Matt Howell

Remember the era of modified cars? When bodykits and bass ruled the roost and car shows were for working class lads and lasses? It’s all coming back, reckons Paul Cowland.

The moment that the car was invented, there was the briefest of pauses, and then people realised that actually, they might quite like theirs to look different from everybody else’s. Thus, modifying was born.

In the early days, it was a very refined affair; you might have telegraphed your coachbuilder to paint yours an exclusive hue, but as car ownership became more attainable by the unwashed masses we saw a wonderful cascade of modifying eras. From the advent of home-brewed ‘specials’ in the ‘20s and ‘30s, through to post-war hot rodding, the ‘70s metalflakes and murals, the joyous discovery of ‘80s bodystyling – and then finally, the zenith; the Max Power era of the early Noughties. (Yes, I can hear you scoffing from here.)

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For those of you too young to remember it, or indeed, those that were there but were too out of their heads on a heady concoction of energy drinks and hand-rolled – ahem – cigarettes, it was a mighty fine epoch in the canon of our multi-faceted scene. Put bluntly, anything went. A base model Fiesta with more wings and lips than a 747? Tick. Peugeot 205s with more speaker wattage than the average Scooter gig? (YouTube them.) Oh yes. As for the unbridled scene points obtained by shoe-horning a set of 18” rims onto your Mum’s Micra? You may as well have been rolling down the street in a Gold-plated Roller. You were winning at life, my friend.

Believe me when I say all of the above and more happened on countless suburban driveways and industrial estates on any given weekend. At the time, it seemed the whole country went Max Power mad; the eponymous magazine selling almost 300,000 copies a month, and even the largest of car companies embracing the world of modified culture. A myriad of shows and cruises shot up, with the average Multiplex car park playing host to Saturday night scenes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a British remake of ‘Fast & Furious’ – except all the cars only had 5-speed, rather than 27-speed gearboxes.

There were so many looks, too. Generally speaking, improvements centred around a plethora of fibreglass add-ons, a lowered stance and a sweet set of alloys. Vinyl was prevalent and graphics with dubious slogans were invariably popular and as for audio, you couldn’t even contemplate your underbody neons bathing McDonalds Bay 3 in their reflected glow unless you had a Pioneer ‘Dolphins’ head unit, sending earth-shattering bass to your Ripspeed boot box. It was the true democratisation of style. Anyone that could save up a few quid for a cheap car and a set of Sparco pedals was welcome to join the club and as soon as payday came around you’d be leafing through the pages of Max‘ the modifying bible looking to discover the next trend that might inspire you.

Max Power magazine

The best bit? It was an inclusive scene, one that working class lads and lasses could afford to be a part of. While you may not have cared for the style of the car next to you, you could doubtless appreciate – and respect – the work and effort that had gone into building it. And when you bear in mind just how utterly tasteless and bonkers some of the builds of the period were, that’s saying something. I have a picture of a ‘Lord of the Rings’ boot install from a car at the infamous Donny Show one year, with speakers housed within a miniature re-creation of Mordor. Words failed me, even then…

Recently however, a nice man called Mark decided to bring it all back, holding an event called ‘The Reunion’ at Towcester Racecourse. The premise was clear; a ticket to time-travel back 20 years to an era when DJ Richie Don was on the decks, Pimp My Ride’s Jamie Shaw was turning out bespoilered TVR’s and Renaults and the air was thick with sub-tones and questionable substances. It really was a portal into another time, with many of the same people and motors still very much in evidence.

To say it was a successful event would be akin to saying that TSW – the wheel company founded by racing driver Eddie Keizan, who had more luck selling alloys than he did in Formula One – sold the odd Venom in period. It was rammed, with everyone enjoying each other’s old cars, reminiscing about some of the best – and worst – of the magazine featured stars and admiring many of the latest builds. That’s right, you heard, the latest builds, as seemingly the halcyon days of Max Power are back. As we speak, several hat-tipping builds are underway, recreating the decade that taste wonderfully forgot.

Maybe it’s an avenue for your next project car? Instead of slavishly following the showroom fresh classic car resto route, just rip up the rulebook, find a Millenium-ish retro motor and start surfing Ebay for a few period mods. Start gently with an ‘On a Mission’ sticker and maybe work your way up from there? Whatever you add, I promise you, you’ll enjoy the process.

Just don’t forget to tell your insurer. Or your Mum, if she’s still got that Micra.

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