Best cars to modify - our top options for DIY car mods
If you have the itch for aftermarket parts and making your ride unique, these are the best cars to go for
Car manufacturers spend millions on research and development of a new vehicle, and any car has gone through hundreds of hours of tweaking and fine-tuning before it goes on sale.
But there will always be customers who would like to add their own personal touch, or give the car performance upgrades to suit their wants and needs. Perhaps it’s to liberate more power from the engine, improve the handling, rectify a common fault with stronger parts, or simply to make the car stand out with cosmetic upgrades. If that’s you, you’ll be interested in our run-down of the best cars to modify.
Numerous companies have sprung up to cater for this demand and, if you look hard enough, you’ll find aftermarket parts to fit each and every car on the road. You’ll also find communities of like-minded people who’ve modified their cars and, in most cases, will be more than happy to point you in the right direction on your car modding journey
The best project cars are far easier to modify than others. Not every car can handle a big power boost, while certain bits of hardware and software can make it difficult to make wholesale changes to particular models. For example, it can be hard to make a naturally aspirated car much faster than it is as standard without resorting to expensive kits.
Meanwhile, some cars can be tuned to double or triple their original power output fairly easily, or you could go to a number of companies for new panels, styling parts and body kits. Here are some of the best cars to modify and tune that you can buy today:
The best cars to modify
- Toyota Supra
- Ford Fiesta ST
- Mazda MX-5
- Ford Mustang
- Volkswagen Golf
- Toyota GT86/ Subaru BRZ
- Jeep Wrangler
- Volkswagen Beetle
Nearly five and a half million classic Minis were built between 1959 and 2000, and there’s a huge community of enthusiasts around the world. Even from the factory, you could choose a wide range of optional extras to make your Mini stand out, while a plethora of other companies would offer everything from tuning kits to cupholders and leather bonnet straps.
As the Mini is such an icon, lots of companies have been set up specifically to offer spares and opportunities to customise the car. And no avenue has been left unexplored. Minis have been lowered, chopped, lengthened and redecorated, while engine swaps aren’t out of the question either. Honda VTEC engine kits are readily available and are said to fit straight into the tiny engine bay while, for something more drastic, there have been modified Minis with V8 engines and suchlike.
Toyota Supra Mk4
Finding a standard Mk4 Toyota Supra is quite unusual as so many have been modified. The Supra is essentially a blank canvas, because the sleek styling can be enhanced or changed to suit your exact tastes - whether you like outlandish modifications or just subtle tweaks. Companies like Rocket Bunny, Veilside and TRD make whole body kits or individual parts for the car, while most body panels have been recreated in carbon fibre. Given the history of the model line, it’s not surprising that even the new fifth generation Supra is gaining a strong following in the modified car community. At the first SEMA modified car show to take place after the BMW-based Mk5 Supra was revealed, almost a dozen different tuners unveiled their visions for the car, some more tasteful than others.
Turbocharged Supras are the most sought after Mk4s, as these are the ones that can fairly easily be tuned to four-figure power outputs. Even in standard form, the Supra could beat some of the supercars of its day, and the options for extra performance are almost endless. The car’s popularity partly stems from its appearance in the Fast & Furious movie franchise, which has been modified with a striking orange paint job and a bottle of NOS nitrous oxide, among other things.
Japanese cars are often seen as an excellent base for modification, as they tend to be relatively affordable, reliable and easy to tune, so other cars to modify may include the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Nissan Silvia and Nissan Skyline.
Ford Fiesta ST
Few cars come with a factory-approved power boost, but the Ford Fiesta ST can be handed over to Mountune for a tuning kit that doesn’t even invalidate the warranty. An extra 40bhp and around 80Nm of torque can be added in one fell swoop, completely transforming the ST’s driving experience for not an awful lot of money.
In fact, the Ford Fiesta ST is one of the best cheap cars to modify in the UK, as many accessories cost less than £100 and, in some cases, you can pay for bigger items on finance. We’ve seen a Milltek exhaust system and a remap package both available for under £15 a month over three years.
Another cheap tuner car is the Mazda MX-5, as older examples can cost very little money. At the lower end of the market a car may need some TLC and some rust treatment, but there are plenty of parts available for anyone wanting a modified MX-5. These range from body kits to V8 engines, superchargers and upgraded brake and suspension systems. May MX-5s are also modified for track use with roll cages and other safety aids added plus measures to reduce weight.
The MX-5 is a popular starting point because it’s rear-wheel drive, has good weight balance and handles well to begin with, but doesn’t have a lot of power and it’s relatively cheap. If you need inspiration, take a look at the V6-powered Mazda MX-5 built by our sister site, Car Throttle.
American muscle cars can be tuned as easily, or perhaps more easily, than Japanese cars. Older ones are relatively simple machines, with a big V8 engine providing a solid base from which to extract more power. The Ford Mustang is probably America’s most iconic car and, like the Mini, companies have been set up specifically to modify Mustangs. Examples from Roush, Steeda and Clive Sutton Mustangs are almost completely new cars, given how extensively they can be modified.
The American horsepower war means that factory Mustangs and Dodge Challengers can now be ordered with over 700bhp, and yet there are still upgrades to make the Mustang faster on a drag strip or even around corners.
In standard form, the Volkswagen Golf is dependable and has a well-built interior, but it isn’t the most exciting vehicle on the road. The opportunities to create a modified VW Golf are endless, however, so there is scope to make the Golf unique - even with so many sold in the last four decades.
Recent Golf models have been sold with an all-turbo engine range, units which have also been fitted to a wide range of models from other Volkswagen Group brands like Skoda, SEAT, Cupra and Audi. As such, there are a number of companies offering remaps and chip tunes specifically for these engines. It’s possible to get as much as 100bhp extra out of a tune alone, while a downpipe will improve exhaust flow and noise - but you must keep the catalytic converter to pass your MOT. Starting with a hotter version like the Golf GTI is a good option if you want pace right from the start and don’t want to upgrade too many other parts.
Toyota GT86/ Subaru BRZ
The Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ are nearly identical twins, and were created as affordable sports cars with an emphasis on driver engagement rather than out-and-out speed. It’s the same ethos as the MX-5, and the GT86/BRZ twins always felt like they could handle a chunk more power.
Tuners like Litchfield can go to town, creating modified GT86 and BRZ models that can wow a crowd. The engine, suspension, brakes and cosmetics can all be upgraded, so the pair have developed an enthusiastic following. Toyota even released limited-edition GT86 models that came pre-lowered and pre-wrapped, featuring liveries inspired by classic Toyota racing cars.
Of course, car modification doesn’t just mean lowering a car or making it go faster. You might instead prefer to go off-road, in which case a large SUV or pickup like the Jeep Wrangler will be more to your liking. Lift kits are a common modification, regardless of whether the car will actually ever be taken away from the tarmac, because these not only increase the ground clearance but make the vehicle look meaner too. Bumper guards and eyelids for the headlights can also give more presence.
Those looking to cross deep water will want to put an intake snorkel on, while the Wrangler specifically can even be modified by taking body panels off or having half-height doors added. Of course, arguably the most effective way of increasing a car’s off-road performance is by investing in a new set of tyres, just be careful that your gnarly mud terrain rubber doesn’t bring too many compromises when driving on the road. In the UK, similar off-road modifications are often used on Land Rover Discoverys and various pick-ups, including the Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi L200 and Toyota Hilux.
The classic Volkswagen Beetle was never produced with a lot of power, but it seems to be very versatile. One of these could be a 4x4 dune buggy that’s fantastic off-road, a drag racer, rat rod or a number of other things, and always with plenty of character.
The car also shot to fame in the ‘Herbie’ movie series, so replicas of the film car are a common route, too. In more extreme cases of Beetle modification, the air-cooled engine is swapped for something more powerful, while the brakes are also worth upgrading to make sure you can keep the extra power in check.
How to modify a car
Start off by deciding on what you want from your car, whether that’s faster acceleration, tighter handling, better braking performance or just a visual upgrade. Putting a large boot spoiler on a front-wheel-drive hatchback is unlikely to increase performance on its own - the drag from the spoiler would likely make acceleration and fuel economy worse.
It’s important to budget carefully and plan ahead when embarking on a project, unless you have a large pot of cash to spend. Car modifications are often inexpensive on their own, but tweaks you make often have knock-on effects, prompting you to invest in additional items. Once you’ve started it can prove hard to stop, and before you know it you may have spent far more than initially intended on a car that isn’t worth the money you’re putting into it.
Before you decide which parts to get, research which are the best brands for those products. You want high quality items from reputable suppliers, so it’s always worth reading reviews from previous customers before buying or asking people who’ve made similar changes to their cars. Mechanic prices can be expensive and you might be confident in doing most aspects yourself, but some things are best left to the professionals.
Tell your insurance company
Even if it’s a tiny, seemingly insignificant modification, you need to tell your insurance company about it to stay legal. Anything that isn’t standard won’t be covered, and you run the risk of your insurance not being valid in the event of a claim. Some things, like dashcams, can actually reduce your premium. If you’re planning big changes, it will be worth checking out an insurance company that specialises in modified cars.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that any changes are likely to invalidate your car’s warranty, if it has one. Meanwhile, number plates need to be perfectly visible and have the correct spacing, and windows need to let a certain amount of light in - you could get a substantial fine if they’re too heavily tinted.
You must also notify the DVLA if you change the car’s colour, through either wrapping or painting it.
Have you modified a car? Tell us about in the comments…