The Evolution of Culture in Modified Cars

Lately I have been reminiscing about the modified car scene. Way before ‪#‎JDM‬ or ‪#‎stance‬ was a thing.

The “rat rod” look is this generation’s “sex-spec”. (imo)

There was no #zeroFU@KSgiven. We gave many FU@KS!

In the early 1990’s I was just a kid in primary school. The modified 4’s scene seemed to mimic the V8 scene. The affordable cars were 70’s & 80’s 4 cylinder RWD. 1600’s, Bluebirds, Escorts, Sigmas, Corollas & Geminis. Lowering didn’t seem to be a priority. Being slammed wasn’t practical either. When your car has dragways & 225 tyres they would have scrubbed! Circuit racing & Rally were cool.

Rally & circuit racer was so hot in the 80's

Cars like the RS 500 Cosworth & Godzilla were around but 4’s were still undesirable. Or was that unreliable. Turns out running high boost doesn’t provide excellent reliability and early FWD turbo cars were getting a very bad reputation. To win Bathurst the RS 500 Cosworth ran 37 psi! There were a few Mitsubishi Cordias & Nissan Exas, but people were beginning to realise that late 80’s Japanese turbo engines and 40 degree Australian weather didn’t mix. Plus our roads were not well made, I bet anyone that has run coil-overs can attest!

RS 500 Cosworth & Godzilla. Some 80’s Japanese FWD turbo love. I hope you like overheating!

In 90’s there were certainly some cool cars being produced, but V8’s ruled. Japanese manufacturers had moved to FWD cars with twin cam and/or fuel injected engines. Twin Cam Corollas, TX3 Lasers, SSS Pulsars, Civics & Swift GTi’s. These were all quick little cars. While expensive new, these cars were beginning to come onto the 2nd hand market.

FWD efi Twin cam. Fast & fun little pocket-rockets!

In 1999 I got my P’s. I was the proud owner of a baby-poo-brown TF Gemini sedan.

So let’s get a couple of things out of the way early. I’m a hooker for cars, I love everything! That includes sex-spec & The Rat look folks. If you’re a hater, here is your chance to stop reading.

Now for my second thing; The “cool kids” drove riced-up cars. I knew it as “rice”, but for the purposes of this I think you know what I mean. The term Sex-Spec, according to a few Internet forums (so you know that shit’s reliable!), was coined by Team Ground Zero in Sydney in the early 00’s, but the term we used seemed to be rice. Happy to be wrong?

Thirdly; Sex-spec got you laid! Very few girls want date you because you can adjust the damper on your shocks! Many girls are, however, attracted to shiny things and ain’t nothin’ shinier than the sex-spec baby! Of course these days the Sex-Spec scene is all but gone, and that’s fine with me. And of course maybe girls aren’t your thing, which is totally fine too, but were way off topic and I think you get what I’m trying to say here.

Ever heard of “peacocking”? You know birds are attracted to shiny things right?

Fourth thing; back in the day- Mods were necessity! Ok, some mods were. Your car came out with 13” steelies and 165/75 tyres. Swapping out wheels & tyres was not a choice. These days swapping wheels is more of an aesthetic choice than a performance one. But back then unless you liked driving a boat you made changes. Carbies needed replacing, exhausts needed to be improved. My Gem had ~35 of it’s original 50 kw left. That’s dangerously slow!

Ok, let’s go back to reminiscing. Picture this; the year is 2001, It’s Thursday night, 18 year old me is in Penrith Plaza and it’s packed. Our mission is to pick up a fresh case for my then-girlfriend-now-wife’s Nokia 5110. Phone cases were a thing like phone covers are now.

We get a case and its still early.

Before we can leave I must re-attach the coil-pack lead under the bonnet and flick on the hidden kill-switch under the centre console. The Gemmy growls to life and I give it a rev, 3500 rpm is the best note the muffler to amplify rather than muffle as the name would suggest. The amplified carbon monoxide spews out of a three inch dump pipe. That’s a pretty standard mod on a 1600cc motor. Four inch Dump pipes are so hot right now, but they are more for cars with modified engines!

My GF re-attaches the face of my “detachable face” head unit, which I took into the shops with me so as to avoid the stereo getting stolen. She slips in a CD from the CD wallet hidden under the seat and we crank some 90’s pop/dance music. The bass is turned all the way up so my 10 inch subwoofer can make the whole car rattle!

Quick lap?


We head for High St.

On the way out of the car park my -and let me be clear here- absolutely bog stock 1.6l Gemini motor sets off 3 car alarms on the way out.

As we roll up High St we see Hyundai excels with bodykits, Honda CRX’s with neon’s & lots of GTi swifts. We pass a Nissan Exa turbo with a headlight-to-headlight intercooler more at home on, well, nothing, but more often featured on VL Turbos. There is also plenty RWD Japanese goodness. Datsun 1600’s, KE Corollas, Geminis, Sigmas and Bluebirds throw in an RX7 or a Cappella for good measure too. We can’t forget the rotor fans!

BIG front-mounts, neons, custom plates LOUD exhausts.

I remember a beautiful red pulsar Q on 17’s with the plates TUR.80Q. Again, a front-mount intercooler more at home on, well, nothing.
Custom number plates are everywhere! They were much cheaper. After a one-off payment there is no ongoing fee so there is lots of





And of course my GEM.1_ _

It ain’t all 4’s and rotaries! We see lots of old school V8’s and plenty of V6 commodores, but they don’t acknowledge our existence. To them the four cylinder scene is for pimply-faced kids who can’t afford a “real car”. That’s how it feels to me anyway, and that’s fine because to us the V8 scene is for fat old blokes. (tongue firmly planted in my cheek here, settle down keyboard warrior!) VL turbos generally hang out with the 4’s and rotors. Not by choice. They hang around because the V8 drivers don’t like turbos… YET! V8 drivers like superchargers. Cars like Eddy Tassone’s twin turbo VH commodore would change that.

VL Turbo with obligatory MASSIVE Front mount & Eddy Tassone’s twin turbo VH. 1190 hp in 2003 was BIG.

Readership of fast fours & hot 4’s magazines is strong, Internet forums are beginning to become a thing. Obviously I’m on ozgemini &, car shows like Auto salon are PACKED!

Time moves on and by 2004 everything was changing. The more popular modifying cars became, the more modified car owners became the government’s enemy #1. The lawmakers told police to come down hard on every modified car. I don’t think it helped that most cops were V8 guys!

RTA checkpoints became more common, and defects came thick and fast. Some people persevered but by 2006 Maccas car parks were dead for fear of defects & harassment from the fun police. High St laps were no more.

I stayed interested in cars and I would still see cars around but only ever at organised meets & cruises. These events are always segregated by style or vehicle type; which has lead to the fragmentation of the car scene, but more on that another time. Back to the evolution of car mods.

They say a picture tells a thousand words, so here goes.

Early 90’s

A Honda Civic Breeze Manual brand new was $16.990. That’s a lot of cash in 1992!! You could buy a house in Western Sydney for $120,000 FFS. Civics were lucky if they got upgraded wheels for a few years.

70’s & 80’s RWD compact cars weren’t classic cars (yet!), they were just old cars.

Civic, 1600/ 510 with TRX wheels (so common!!), Gemini & RX3.

Late 90’s

High kms 2nd hand civics start to show up and get modified. I think this pic is a photoshop, but still represents the mid-late 90’s well (imo).

RWD 4’s are getting rarer (slowly!), low profile tyres is becoming the done thing. Brighter paint, more turbocharging. The modified 4 cylinder car scene is peaking.

Civic, 1600/510, Gemini, Capella/RX2

Early 00’s

Welcome to rice! Aka sex-spec.

Yes, RWD 4’s copped it too. MASSIVE intercoolers on display. And yes, we all loved it!! Well most of us anyway!

Civicghini, 1600 / 510, Gemini, RX3 all getting the sex-spec (rice) treatment. I love it!

Late 00’s

As a direct affront to the bright paint and useless mods of the autosalon comes carbon fibre bonnets & lightweight race wheels. Still slammed but

Fat tyres are back!!

Civic, 1600 / 510, Gemini, 1200 ute. Not many rotors doing the JDM look, mostly “resto-mod” but I decided to stay away from this phenomenon. Maybe next time.


Someone will have better exact time for this stuff #datcamber & #fitment is the order of the day. I love it, but it’s just as un-functional as the ricer cars of the 00’s… just sayin’.

Everything old is new again. A true survivor car is RARE! Stripping the paint back deliberately for #patina is so hot right now.

Rat rod love (?). I love it anyway!

Timeless cars.

Some cars have no date. They are timeless.

Sensibly lowered, light era-correct wheels. Useable power, hidden intercooler.

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