Striding through the Goodwood paddocks at lunchtime today, a purposeful-looking Alfa Romeo 75 caught my eye. Tastefully kitted out for track day use, the Alfa 75 spawned an aggressive but tasteful flared wheel arch body styling kit, mimicking the style of the competition-derived Alfa 75 Turbo Evoluzion offered by the revered Milanese marque in the late 1990s.
The Alfa got me thinking about body styling kits, which were all the rage in the 1980s and 90s, yet rarely enhanced the appearance of the car they were attached (sometimes nailed) to. Extremes such as the garish GRP body kits glued onto Ferraris and Mercedes-Benz SLs by long-since dead tuning firms like Koenig Specials and SGS are thankfully a thing of the past.
Tasteful styling kits that actually improved the look of a car were few and far between, although in my view there are a handful that blended harmoniously with the car to which they were attached.
Kamei of Germany were arguably the originators of bold-on body parts, offering a dished front spoiler for the VW Beetle from the early 1950s onwards. By the mid-1960s, the fad for adding ‘performance’ tuning parts had spread to popular mass market models such as the Mini, Ford Anglia and Triumph Herald, as anyone familiar with old copies of Hot Car magazine will be able to testify, with a gallery of comical modifications, ranging from Carlos Fandango alloys to tiger tail whiplash aerials.
By the 1970s British specialists such as Richard Grant Accessories could provide virtually any stick on goodie for your Escort, Cortina or Allegro, and mercifully, by the peak of the bolt-on body styling kit boom in the 1980s, these plastic appendages had become more integrated and functional, with higher quality.
The mid-1980s Tickford Ford Capri is a good example of this, with its distinctive sills and spoilers helping to enhancing the look of the popular Dagenham coupe, disguising the model’s old age and slightly tacky image. The Frazer-Tickford Metro arguably did an even better job, making Austin’s humble little shopping hatch appear quite aggressive and stylish, long before Leyland launched its on sporty MG Metro derivatives, with extra spoilers and striping.
Sticking with British Leyland product, the 1980s KAT body kit for a standard Mini added a whole new air of style and sophistication to this masterpiece of minimalism. Styled by Simon Saunders of pioneering Aerial Atom fame, the KAT Mini kit lead to the most expensive Mini derivative ever sold, the BAC M30, of which 30 were planned for production for the Mini’s 30th anniversary in 1989, at a then whopping price of £30,000. Saunders also offered an appealing range of KAT kits for other best sellers of the period too, ranging from the Ford Escort MK III, through to the Rover SD1.
Another British automotive designer of note – the late William Towns of Aston Martin Lagonda fame – made Peugeot’s rip-roaring 205 GTi more sporting still with his short-lived Pzazz, whilst Giannini responded with its brutal Torino body kit, designed to considerably pep-up a three-door Fiat Uno.
German firm Zender spiced-up a number of 1908s models, from Golfs and BMW 6-Series coupes, with bizarrely its most convincing body kit restyle being a handsome rework of the unremarkable Renault 11 Turbo, sold through official Renault dealers in Germany and France. Irmscher had a similar arrangement with Opel dealers in some European markets, offering fully kitted Kadett, Ascona and Manta models, enhanced with stylish wide-body modifications.
At the more premium end of the market, respected tuners such as Lorinser, Rinspeed, Gutmann, Treser and Arden successfully transformed Mercedes, Audi, Porsche and Jaguar models, whilst the likes of AMG, Alpina, Gemballa and Tech Art have now established themselves after decades of trading as reputable – and in some cases officially sanctioned – vehicle modifiers.