To Buy or Modify?

As A.I.’s Resident Car Nerd, I spend more time than I care to admit watching videos and reading articles about cars–both at home… and at work.  I’m an avid subscriber to Jalopnik. They’ve actually written about us before!

I came across an article last week which addresses a few subjects I’ve covered in previous posts, and one I haven’t.  Which is surprising, seeing as it’s maybe the subject I’m most familiar with: modifying cars.

This article hit even closer to home, as it talks about my all time favorite car, the Mazda Miata.  I actually own a 2005 MazdaSpeed (the only turbocharged model they ever made). I’ve also owned several iconic Japanese tuner cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s.  One of which–my 1996 Nissan 240sx–I owned for nearly a decade and spent the better part of twenty grand on in the pursuit of performance–and sold it for $6…

This was my actual car

Back in the ‘90’s and even into the late ’00s, yea, I was a firm believer in buying something cheap and customizing it to look and driver better than any new car on the market.  I was also in my early twenties and didn’t believe exhaust pipes could ever be too large… so, there’s that.

But many years have passed and cars have gotten infinitely more complex.  They’ve also gotten better. I think we all should take a moment to thank Top Gear for expanding car culture to an audience beyond dorks like myself who enjoyed loitering in parking lots late at night just to show off in front in front of other car dorks.  Because they did something more special. They put the pressure on manufacturers to make better and better cars by calling them out when they’d release a crappy model.

To be fair, manufacturers weren’t the only ones to step up their game.  A plethora of respectable tuning companies have emerged with some fun ways to make cars faster.  But, really that’s all they can improve upon. Speed. And it comes at a greater cost than just money.  Trying to improve the performance of $40-$60+ vehicle built by one of the largest companies in the world is not an easy task.  And it shouldn’t be.

When you buy a BMW or Jaguar, you are buying a vehicle designed from the ground up to deliver excitement, refinement, AND reliability.  I can’t begin to count the amount of vehicles I’ve seen that have been “modified,” and are so much worse than their stock counterparts.

Modern vehicles are complex.  Steering systems are adjustable, suspension systems are adjustable, pretty much everything is adjustable and designed to work in conjunction with one another.

When fuel injection and anti-lock brakes were the most complex systems on a vehicle, yea, you could sacrifice a little ride comfort (and the ability to drive over speed bumps) for more aggressive performance.  But it’s no longer nearly that simple. And that’s a good thing! Out of the box, nearly all sports coupes and sedans are far more capable than what the average enthusiast can ever appreciate.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying, yes, you can modify your car, but with the exceptions of small things like better sounding exhaust systems and maybe a light tune, it’s really not worth it.  That money would be better spent on racing lessons in a reliable car that can probably impress you far more than you realize. That said, it’s still super fun to have something unique and a little in-your-face for those times you want to appease your inner 16-year old.