I was talking to Colin Goodwin recently about the rise and rise of the personalised car. So many cars from a Rolls-Royce Phantom to the Mini, Vauxhall Adam and even the recently announced Dodge Viper and its supposed 25 million paint options invest a large part of their appeal in customisation. Plenty that don’t widely advertise their potential for customisation still offer non-standard paint. For example, you can spend more than £2000 putting official Audi ‘exclusive customised’ paint on an A3, if you really want to.
During our conversation we also touched on modified motorbikes. I’m pretty ignorant about bikes but it seems that modified ones are remarkably popular and have avoided the unflattering image that – along with rising insurance premiums and a general shift in culture – killed the modified car scene. In the same sort of vein, my other half yearns for a modified, old-school American pick-up. He knows exactly the sort of thing he wants, down to the type of paintwork. Of course, the finish and overall look would all be bespoke. Matt Prior always has some project on the go, whether it’s designing and panel-beating a new body for an old Austin, creating his own café racer bike from a stock bike, or doing something bonkers with a Beetle. All of it involves his own design ideas. Granted, like Goodwin, he’s probably more talented with a spanner and fonder of shed-time than the average person, but he's clearly not alone in wanting to build stuff that’s unique.
Ultimately, I think most of us want bespoke transport. I could do you a dissertation on the stuff that I’d like, from a bike-engined grass-racing buggy through to subtle alterations of some of my mass-produced favourites.
So where could the desire to have your own, unique transport lead the mass-production car industry? Is it something that’s only the preserve of enthusiasts and that’s where it ends, or does the success of broadly customisable everyday cars suggest there’s bigger potential?
What if, one day, you could go online and build your car from the ground-up, from a jigsaw of globally available parts? Pick your platform, and away you go. Your priority is small and comfortable? Chassis X is rated as 8 out of 10 by other users in these areas. You want high riding, four-wheel drive and sporty? Pick platform Y, which is by manufacturer Z and is rated 9 out of 10 for handling. Then go to the next step to pick your body - three or five-door, hatchback or coupé, SUV or roadster, whatever you want - and watch your monthly payment forecast change as you adjust your car’s specifications.
Maybe that’s an extreme vision – and not one that I’m wholly convinced I like the idea of - but it doesn’t seem like much of a leap of imagination, especially given the endemic parts sharing in the industry. In a world where you can buy a house on eBay, building and ordering a car from scratch through a website is hardly unthinkable.
While the modified car scene that I spent my teenage years enjoying may be long gone, bespoke and/or modified transport clearly isn’t. Maybe the old contrast roof and bonnet stripes are just the beginning.