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Balancing between restoration and modification

The term restomod is a combination of the words 'restoration' and 'modification'. The result was traditionally a classic car in which modern techniques were applied in the most unobtrusive way possible. This trend is rapidly increasing in popularity. MASTERS finds out why and speaks to some important players in this industry.

Text Natan Tazelaar

The automotive industry is undergoing a radical transformation as politicians are thoughtlessly and even irresponsibly forcing a blanket electrification that will profoundly and irreversibly affect the automotive industry. Then there is the phenomenon of autonomous driving that is increasingly being implemented by ambitious tech entrepreneurs. As a lover of old-fashioned driving and traditional combustion engines, you therefore get the strong feeling that the car industry is past its peak. As if the best years are now behind us. Modern cars increasingly resemble emotionless mobility solutions that owners have as much bond with as with a smartphone or tablet. Convenient to use, but as soon as a new and improved one presents itself, you immediately forget the old one. This is very different with classic cars and that is also the reason for the success of a flourishing classic market with rising prices. People cherish old cars and are willing to pay a lot of money to restore and keep them in their original condition. It is not surprising that some classics lag behind (sometimes literally) in modern traffic, because technical developments continue to rage. Before you know it, even an impressive sports car from yesteryear is no longer able to stay ahead of even an average lease driver during a traffic light sprint. But also, for example, connecting or even charging a mobile phone is often a problem, or the old air conditioning can barely keep the interior bearable in the summer. Especially when you use a classic for more than a few fun rides in nice weather, that old technology can be a bummer and in addition, reliability is certainly not a given.

Restored, reimagined, reborn

In the US it has been common for decades for specialists not only to restore cars, but also to equip them with modern technology, i.e. modify or modernize them if you like. Consider, for example, a modern and especially more powerful engine, a new transmission, different springs, dampers and suspension with modern wheels and tires, making the handling better and safer, and all this while the car still looks like a classic. Who in the US has ever had one? coffee & cars you are probably familiar with the Mustangs, Chevelles and Corvettes that roll up with large, often chrome-plated wheels and ultra-flat tires, with a deep rumble from the exhausts that shows major engine adjustments. However, it was the Singer company that adopted the motto in California in 2009 restored, reimagined, reborn Porsche's 911 from the nineties (964) started to be restored and especially modified. The company was founded by British musician Rob Dickinson and the name Singer is not only a reference to his former singing career, but also a tribute to the famous Porsche engineer Norbert Singer. Singer's creations look like 911 variants from the XNUMXs, with interiors completely customized to customer wishes in which the highest quality materials have been processed with the utmost care. The cars have also been extensively modified and improved in terms of engine and chassis. A Singer has now become an accepted concept among the normally very unacquainted and traditional Porsche enthusiasts.

Vigilante: a classic Jeep with an in-house developed chassis


While the term restomod mainly involves modification as an important ingredient, there are several other terms such as replica, recreation, remastered and continuation that occur frequently. An important difference, however, is that recreation and continuation are not modernized classics, but newly built copies of models that are decades old. Bentley and Aston Martin, for example, supply new copies of models such as the 1929 Bentley Team Blower and the DB4 GT Zagato respectively. However, these are exact copies with often unused old chassis numbers and they therefore cannot be registered because they no longer meet the current homologation requirements in the field of emissions and safety. We can be brief about the term replica, because these are cars that are supposed to look like something other than what they really are, such as a Pontiac Fiero that looks like a Lamborghini Countach or a Ferrari 250 GTE that is used as the basis for a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder. So fake. A recreation or continuation has the advantage that the original manufacturer builds it with exactly the same specifications as the original, but a replica is really a step too far and is also at the very bottom of the list in this ranking.


“People in the US no longer blindly believe that electrification is the comprehensive solution to all environmental problems”



A typical example of restomods in the classic sense of the word are the creations of Vigilante 4×4, a specialist from the Hill Country near the Texas capital Austin. The company is run by Daniel van Doveren, a former tech entrepreneur from Belgium of Swedish-Dutch descent. “After I sold my digital security company in Belgium, I wanted to do something completely different and especially something that I really enjoy,” says Van Doveren in fluent Dutch with a light French accent, alternating with English with a Flemish-Texan accent. . “Earning good money is of course nice, but I think you should also be motivated when you go to work. That is only possible if you enjoy what you do,” he smiles. Vigilante developed a chassis in-house for the classic Jeep Grand Wagoneer and derivatives, with new suspension and the ability to fit modern Mopar engines without having to make any modifications to the bodywork. “We use the Hellcat crate-engine, but there are also customers who prefer a naturally aspirated 392. It produces 485 hp from 6,4 liter as standard and the Hellcat produces 717 hp from 6,2 liter with a compressor. These are projects that make me very happy. You take a beautiful classic Jeep that I have always liked, but you not only restore it, you also improve everything about it. I used to do this kind of work with my father and friends, but that was for my own pleasure and use and that is how I built up a nice collection. I always received very positive reactions to my restorations and that made me want to take this to another level. By establishing the company in America in 2017, I was also able to fulfill a second wish, because I love America.” For those who are even more demanding, Van Doveren delivers a monstrous V10. This so-called Prefix is ​​basically the engine from a Dodge Viper, but with a capacity of 9 liters and almost all new internal parts, resulting in 870 hp.

Environmental problems

Curious about the rise of electric cars and some specialists who, for example, convert classic Porsches 911 and Rolls-Royce Phantoms with electric drivetrains, we asked Van Doveren for his opinion in this area. “I certainly looked at it seriously because there is a market for it, but there are different buyers. Restomod enthusiasts are traditional car enthusiasts and with an electric powertrain the soul has disappeared from a car. A relatively simple one drop in with standard electric motors and batteries instead of and in place of the fuel engine and petrol tank can easily cost 50.000 dollars. However, the quality is substandard and I'm not even talking about the way in which the lifespan of the batteries decreases. The range is also pitiful with a maximum of 400 kilometers. That may work in the Netherlands, but here in the US and certainly in Texas it is of no use to people. You can also opt for a better solution in which the electric motors are built into the wheel hubs, but then you are talking about a conversion of about 100.000 dollars. A V10 costs about sixty grand and a V8 even less, so customers don't have to think about it for long.” Van Doveren also has an interesting view on the future of electric driving, because he is not in favor of it. As a wholesaler of extremely powerful V8 and V10 engines, he seems to be preaching to his own parish, but recent developments confirm his statement. “You can already see the declining interest here in the US, people no longer blindly believe that electrification is the all-encompassing solution to all environmental problems. In the Netherlands, the government will continue to push for a while and it may take longer before people realize this, especially because the distances in your country are much smaller and the range is therefore a less important factor.” Earlier this year, the American edition of The Week also wondered out loud whether the electric car market had lost its 'excitement' and the Reuters headline read 'Rental giant Hertz dumps electric cars, including Teslas, for petrol cars'. Another problem with all-electric restomods is the rapidly aging technology. With a waiting list of several years, because Van Doveren currently has 22 cars under construction, the battery technology is outdated when he delivers the cars to customers. Naturally, people don't expect to take delivery of an outdated product when they paid several hundred thousand dollars for their car. Van Doveren is extremely strict about the quality of its products and does not want to make compromises under any circumstances. His choice for traditional and high-quality combustion engines is therefore certain.

Daniel van Doveren | Image: CapturingTheMachine


“Internally we see restomod as two different levers in one process”


DTM champion

A company that is also driven by quality, but that operates at the other end of the restomod spectrum is HWA from southern Germany, run by one of the founders of the well-known Mercedes-Benz Turing company AMG. The now 86-year-old Hans-Werner Aufrecht is the A in AMG, the company he founded in 1967 together with Erhard Melchter, the M in the name, in the southern German village of Großaspach, from which the G is derived. After Aufrecht sold a majority stake in AMG to the then DaimlerChrysler in 1998, he took over the racing activities and exceptional developments for Mercedes-Benz road cars with the new company to which he simply gave his initials HWA. The company announced the HWA Evo at the end of 2023 and this is a fully modernized variant of the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-15 Evo II, which won the prestigious DTM championship in 1992. HWA's Chief Technical Officer Gordian von Schöning was active in the same championship for many years and is therefore an experienced engineer. When asked why HWA chose a restomod based on the 190 Evo II, he responds: “We wanted to create a car with which we can clearly demonstrate the qualities of HWA. This way, customers see our motorsport DNA, but also what we are technically capable of. We have not opted for a completely new road car or, for example, a racing car that can only go on the track, nor for an older, historic model as a starting point. First of all, to develop a brand new car, you need to have enormous brand awareness. Making a completely new car is also something that requires a lot of effort, especially in the field of technology and development. However, I'm not sure if we should call the HWA Evo a restomod, because we modify almost everything and do very little real restoration,” says Von Schöning.

HWA Evo: a modernized interpretation of the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-15 Evo ll


“We know the word restomod, but no one explains exactly what that means,” continues Von Schöning. “We see it internally as two different levers in one process. One lever controls the restoration, the other lever controls the modification, but if you do a lot of restoration, you can't modify much because both factors are linked. If you modify a lot you cannot restore much and that is what we have chosen. The starting point for the HWA Evo is an old 190 chassis (W201). It doesn't necessarily have to be a 2.3 or 2.5-16, it can even be a diesel with a lot of miles, but not a rusty or damaged one. We are going to remove all coatings and paint from the chassis. So we have the bare metal chassis and then we do all the adjustments to make it stiffer and make room for the bigger wheels and the completely redesigned suspension. It is completely independent and therefore completely different from the original. This is where our racing experience clearly comes to the fore. We will also develop a very specific ABS and ESP system. Because the weight distribution is completely different and in combination with the completely new chassis, this is important. This also gives the car the quality and confidence of a modern car, which is something we attach great importance to.” The engine that HWA has chosen is an existing V6 from Mercedes-Benz with a capacity of three liters, two turbos and a power of 450 hp. For better weight distribution, the also new 6-speed manual transmission will be located at the back of the car, which will also require adjustments to the chassis. This makes it clear what Von Schöning means when he is not sure whether this is still a restomod. In fact, HWA is building a completely new car that pays tribute to the old 190 Evo II and only uses part of the existing chassis. The latter is important, because this way the car already has a license plate and therefore no new type approval is required. An interesting detail is that HWA will build no fewer than one hundred copies of the Evo, at a price of 714.000 euros excluding taxes and with a thirty percent down payment. The first units will be delivered at the end of 2025 and HWA expects interest mainly from the US, but also from Europe, Asia and the Arab world.

It is clear that opinions are divided about what exactly a restomod is, because every specialist has his own way of thinking and working. Where Vigilante opts for the traditional way with barely visible adjustments to the outside, HWA opts for a radically different approach where hardly anything remains of the original, except the appearance. However, one thing is certain, it is a lucrative and exploding niche market and it produces creations that even the most exotic car manufacturers cannot compete with.

Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Gordian von Schöning

MASTERS Magazine

This article is from MASTERS Magazine. How passion, craftsmanship and enthusiasm can excite the senses. That is the common thread of the spring edition of MASTERS, which takes you through many catering entrepreneurs: from the big winner of the recent Michelin ceremony, Jurgen van der Zalm van Vinkeles, to 'Horecatering Entrepreneur of the Year' Herman Hell. Speaking of Michelin: what is actually the impact of the green star, which saw the light of day in 2021? MASTERS posed that question to six prominent chefs. During a business lunch in Bridges restaurant, Dennis Albada Jelgersma explains how he farms as a winegrower and celebrates life: “Not with a block of cheese and a lukewarm pipe.” The appetizing creations in Culinaire Couture prove that a good outfit is like a feast for the eyes. David Yarrow's fascinating photography is also a feast for the eyes. We get into the Lucid Air Touring to experience whether the electric car can have the same effect on the senses as the combustion engine. And we enter heaven for audiophiles: Bang & Olufsen Brussee. In short: plenty of stimuli for the reading buds. A song to enjoy!

Order MASTERS Magazine #57 here