Buying a car is a very emotional process.
You start by falling in love with a certain model you saw on the roads or in a magazine. Then you research the hell out of it and if you’re lucky, are able to afford it. But with big pockets come a bigger desire for individuality. Just like how you wouldn’t want to be seen at a dinner party wearing the exact same tuxedo as the guy next to you, you don’t want to spend all that money on a car your neighbour also gets a week after.
Car customisation has become such a booming business that mainstream car companies have started taking notes; Bentley has the Mulliner and Aston Martin has the Q collection. But if you’re looking for something with a little more oomph — think completely reworked body kits, flawless paint jobs, and souped-up engines — here’s where to go.
Singer Vehicle Design
Driven by the passion of witty former songwriter Rob Dickinson, who has been enamoured with 911s since he first lay eyes on one in the ‘70s, Singer Vehicle Design has been in the business of customising Porsches from the ground up. As you can imagine, this would be a very pricey endeavour, but Singer‘s attention to detail is unrivalled in the industry.
Each creation revolves around the customer’s specific requirements for the car, so this ranges from a luxury-oriented everyday driver to a track-ready car. The journey begins with an owner-sourced 1989-94 Porsche 911, before it’s completely disemboweled and restored with a new engine courtesy of manufacturers such as Cosworth, Ed Pink Racing Engines, or Williams to produce significantly more power.
Custom interiors include a Singer Orange tachometer, while on the surface, the relocated fuel filler and oil filler caps are a nod to historic Porsche race cars. Prices of the 911s rolling out of its surprisingly small shop in Sun Valley, California can range from over US$475,000 (S$647,000) to US$1.8 million (S$2.45 million), and are often known to fetch over a million dollars at auctions.
Established out of frustration when existing customisers couldn’t quite meet his requirements, Bodo Buschman started Brabus in 1977 with his friend Klaus Brackmann. Known throughout the industry for his penchant for speed and power, the German firm has gone on to become one of the top Mercedes-Benz tuners.
While existing Brabus cars are available, customers can also send in their own cars to be upgraded with AMG-modified powertrains and custom upholstery. Low profile spoilers, more aggressive bodykits, and carbon fiber splitters, are also available — for a pretty penny.
Since its founding in 1995 by Jack Roush, Roush Performance has been responsible for hot-rodding some of the meanest-looking Ford cars the roads have seen. The company has, after all spent the last quarter century amassing more than 1,500 performance parts for popular badges such as the Mustang, Focus, and F-Series pickups.
At the pinnacle sits the Stage 3 package, which gives lucky Mustangs a boost with 710hp, 820Nm of torque, and all the right chassis tweaks for it to take on the big boys. All factory badging is also replaced with Roush signage, alongside a hunkered-down stance, massive 20-inch wheels, and a very racy body kit as part of the head-turning package.
Vintage Defenders, while undoubtedly charming, are also notoriously hard to upkeep, and often come riddled with “quirks” that even the most adoring of fans have found hard to deal with sometimes. Himalaya, a custom build shop on the border of Charleston, South Carolina hopes to exalt these fantastic old beasts to a higher standard.
Instead of focusing on restoring, Himalaya builds everything with new parts from the frame up, even using chassis only shipped from the UK. From here your journey can go one of two ways. A “Defender by Himalaya” is a near-identical replication of the ones from the ‘80s and ‘90s, only with modern touches such as stereo upgrades and disc brakes. That, or you could just go full-on and order yourself a unique project, which can cost up to US$250,000. For that price you’ll get the input of experts such as ex-military contract staff who used to work on Humvees, or a guitar builder who now makes center consoles and cabinets with specific resonant frequencies.
Chelsea Truck Company
The Chelsea Truck Company knows its icons, so much so that it’s only interested in the finest of the off-roading lot: the Land Rover’s Defender, The Jeep Wrangler, and Mercedes-Benz’s G-Wagon. Founded by Afzal Kahn (who also owns car customisation firm Kahn Design), the company — which sits proudly on London’s glitzy King’s Road — is focused on making these bumbling SUVs as sophisticated and luxurious as possible.
Save for the engines (for warranty purposes), the Chelsea Truck Company strips everything else apart and rebuilds the interiors and bodywork to its customer’s specification. Wheelbases can be extended for a bigger presence on the road, while crash structures are enhanced for improved safety. The cars here might not be potent road machines — unless you opt for optional V8s — but they’ll still do their job of making people gawk.