The term custom is used to describe vehicles that are modified, sometimes to extreme extents, to achieve personalisations that fully accommodate the tastes of the vehicle's owner.
If we begin a discussion about custom cars, it involves talking about cars for which genuine costumes are tailor-made to modify their exterior appearance as well as the mechanics of the car itself.
Indeed, the terms custom car mean a car wearing a costume.
A car that is customised is a car that can be considered as a custom-built, non-standard car. They are hand crafted, like all hot rods. These cars have been modified significantly and the starting base is often a dated or historic car (such as a vintage car).
They start off as rather cheap cars which were made lighter by removing certain parts such as bumpers, roof and windows, parts which were considered as not indispensable. The engine was swapped with a more performing version, the tyres with larger sized ones and the body paintwork was modified (it had to be flashy).
Custom cars date back to a restriction in regulations set by the South California Timing Association, which prohibited hot rod cars from taking part in organised racing events. This was because, according to the regulations, custom cars had to be built with a body made by a car manufacturing factory after 1948. This led to a breach between the two worlds: those who preferred to follow the Rousetta Timing association, and those who on the other hand preferred to apply the modification techniques to the car's outline.
In order to use relatively recent cars with a more aggressive look on a daily basis, street rodders decided to lower the chassis, cut the roof and narrow the front sections. Once the exterior modifications to the body had been completed and a rather standard paintwork applied, the interior trim level was next, followed by the bonnet and the boot, after reviewing the underbody too.
In short, preparing a custom car means revisiting through 360° a car that is still in production, using latest-generation components.
The styling standards applied are entirely personal: chromed parts can either be added or removed, details can be applied, along with complex paintwork, and the passenger compartment can even been entirely reconstructed.
To achieve the desired chromatic and optical effects, the customisation work is very extensive: if you consider the paintwork alone, the entire process starting with preparing the body, applying the paint and finishing it all off could take more than thirty or forty coats of paint.
The overhaul of the passenger compartment is also a rather lengthy process: the interior is stripped entirely of every single component and then rebuilt with latest-generation materials and components. What's great is in fact the contrast between modern components on cars which are around fifty years old.
To guarantee travelling comfort, self-built air conditioning systems are installed, and all the instrumentation on the dashboard is entirely customised according to the owner's taste, including the audio system, which can be either ultra-sophisticated and high-performance or vintage.
As a rule, the boot is restored in keeping with the rest of the interiors of the passenger compartment and it is outfitted with a series of indispensable accessories: all sorts of tools, tanks to store water, petrol and oil.
As regards the power train, the original engine is usually kept. The focus lies on fine-tuning the efficiency and look of the car. Indeed, plenty of chroming is used in the engine compartment, with the use of multiple chrome-plated details.
There is an abundance of chroming on the underbody too. You need to remember that these gems are often exhibited in various shows, so an underbody that enhances the appeal of the car during the exhibition is a must.
Towards the end of the 1960s, classifications were set up in the United States which allowed the allocation of prizes which were up for grabs during the Shows. These categories, ranked Mild, Moderate, Semi, Full, Radical custom, were allocated to define the progressive development of the car which permitted to various extents the recognition of the initial car make and model. The work could be minimal, to emphasise a particular detail of the model, or it could involve a proper transformation. The total transformation of the cars, starting with a one-of-a-kind model built from scratch, in other words from a sketch, led to new specimens which had nothing to do with the original model, but also with no other car ever produced. This led to some extreme situations, such as the reproduction of a locomotive or of a swimming pool with all the possible beach commodities built on four wheels.
These excesses contributed to the end of the golden era of exhibitions, allowing the birth of street-machines: vehicles with highly modified mechanics and chassis, yet suitable for normal use on the road.
These days, custom cars are back in fashion, as vehicles which can be used every day, but also as collectors' items for enthusiasts attempting to bring vintage models back to life. Today too, there is no shortage of exaggerations, and some true concept cars are built to order, costing in the region of one million Dollars.
Today, the customisation world is multifarious, with various businesses specialising in one particular segment of this cutting-edge market, so some focus on the styling and fitting while others intervene on the mechanics of the car instead.
The Geneva International Motor Show has been one of the most significant car shows in Europe since the early 1900s. On this occasion, the main car manufacturers present their latest new models which are scheduled to be brought out on the market, along with prototypes and concept cars of models still being studied, on which future models are based.
Renault, Opel, Fiat, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Toyota, Subaru, SsangYong, Dacia, Volvo, Suzuki, Dacia, Jeep are just some of the brands who attend the Geneva Motor Show with their novelties.
Building tailor-made trim levels for cars in order to create cars that reflect the tastes and the personality of their owner as if they were bespoke suits sewn by a tailor is the objective of Garage Italia Custom, run by Lapo Elkann, a great car enthusiast and a major follower of styles and trendsetter. Garage Italia Custom made its début at the Geneva International Motor Show with its first creation: the Fiat 500 X Black Tie. They focused on the designer look of the body and interiors, presenting a pinstripe look on the body, achieved using an innovative wrap-paint technology which makes it possible to combine paint with chromed film. The interior look of the passenger compartment was restyled with fine materials, such as solid wood, Alcantara, denim and cashmere.
It is with this in mind that the company aims at offering multiple stylistic and aesthetic solutions which make it possible better to satisfy customers, providing solutions that are increasingly in keeping with the idea that the owners have of their car.
Indeed, it is based on these principles that the Geneva International Motor Show has seen customisation proposals also from other brands dedicated to supercar owners, and also less showy models, made available directly by the car manufacturers themselves. Such as, for instance, Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
Mopar had another idea. The FCA brand from America has included within its price list in the range of 25,000 accessories for group car tuning customisations.
RUF, a German company that has been in the business for almost one hundred years, works as a genuine builder. This company deals with modifying and revolutionising solely Porsche cars with parts it produces itself.
The desire for a custom car is an increasingly widespread one. Customisation is just the difference between luxury and exclusiveness. Indeed, these very principles are the basis for the all-Italian alliance between the Lapo Elkann's creative hub and Pirelli, for the exclusive touch of outfitting the cars with tyres with coloured shoulder.
Proof of this successful partnership lies in the customisation of the tyres of Lapo Elkann's two Ferraris: a green shoulder to match the Army green coloured Ferrari, the 458 Italia, and a blue shoulder for the ultra stylish midnight blue California.
This style from Turin is also making its mark overseas with extreme customisations, such as the Star Wars 500e which wowed Los Angeles or the Alfa Romeo 4C “La Furiosa” which filled up the Dubai motor show with its bright gradient red paint.
Customising cars is an Italian heritage. The most famous brand, despite the fact that its founder was born in Vienna, is without a doubt Abarth, which has made the customisation of its vehicles possible for years, thanks to dedicated kits made available to the purchaser.
However, it should be said that customisation in Italy has always been significantly hindered. The old Italian highway code prohibited any modifications to the car unless it was authorised by the car manufacturer itself. Article 78 of the highway code violates the principle of free competition, letting car manufacturers have the last say in any minimal customisation of the vehicle, even the mere change in diameter of the wheel rim, even if the rolling of the tyre remains unchanged.
The new European code, which has been implemented by the Italian government, acknowledges the possibility of customising one's car without having to ask the manufacturer's permission, which has made a multitude of car enthusiasts hoping to make their car unique very happy, since they had so far never done anything about it for fear of incurring administrative penalties.
The Paris International Motor Show is to take place this autumn. This international event is held every other year. On this occasion, visitors and journalists from over a hundred different countries meet up in the French capital to take part in this major event, to admire both latest-generation vehicles as well as period cars in the historic exhibition set up especially.
The Paris Motor Show brings together brands and vehicles from all over the world, from the most famous well-known ones, to new lesser-known ones. On this occasion, visitors can see all kinds of vehicles, from the most expensive high-end cars to super sports cars, and even electric vehicles. All the leading players in the world-wide automotive industry take part in this event... who knows what wonderful surprises are in store this year for the world of customisation!
This customisation trend is also spreading to the motorcycling world, which is distinguished mostly by the rider's tendency to want to ride something unique and that is his or hers alone.
Custom motorbikes are often distinguished by very low seats, a long wheelbase and advanced platforms, a very wide rear tyre and details and accessories of various types. All these modifications make it possible to achieve a unique, customised model.
These vehicles are defined as being timeless, because their silhouette has remained unchanged as the years go by. These vehicles are suitable for all sorts of travel, from short trips to long journeys, and they are very comfortable motorbikes for both driver and passenger.
Custom motorbikes usually stand out for the multiple chroming and the very particular flashy paintwork, not to mention the optionals, such as the highly capacious side bags which are very easy to customise.
The most famous bike manufacturer in the world is Harley-Davidson from Milwaukee in the United States, although Suzuki and Honda have produced very similar models to the US ones in terms of design and performance levels. Subsequently, other manufacturers embarked upon projects in this sector, including Kawasaki, Yamaha and Moto Guzzi.
There are a host of fitters for Custom motorbikes who supply styling parts or who produce them directly from scratch to customise them entirely.
In Italy too, Customisers are beginning to crop up, contributing to retaining the high standards of this purely hand-crafted art. These craftsmen not only source various parts from catalogues, but they also design and build chassis, platforms, tanks and headlights from scratch.
Custom bikes can be split into multiple categories. Among these, the most well-known are Choppers, Bobbers, Old Styles, but new names to identify these bikes are created continuously, and they can be defined genuine art sculptures.
Choppers came to life thanks to the major customisations of this type of motorcycle. They stand out for the lengthened forks and they were very popular in the USA and in Sweden especially in the 1960s. The most famous Chopper manufacturer is Orange Country Choppers, situated in Orange Country, and it became famous thanks to the programme American Chopper.