The vehicle styling market has come a long way from the extreme kits of the 2000s.
It was approximately two decades ago when highly stylized sport compact vehicles splashed onto the customizing scene. Powered by The Fast and the Furious movies and fueled by a younger generation that wanted something different than their parents, the trend was marked by brightly colored imports boasting extreme body kits and high-flying wings and spoilers.
Over the next 20 years tastes moved more toward the middle, but the power of the body kit had been revealed. Proper designs executed in high-quality materials allowed restylers to enhance the look of OEM vehicles, bringing a new level of modification to even the most mundane sedans and coupes.
These days, the use of body styling components has expanded to even include trucks and SUVs. Painted to match or as a contrasting two-tone, they help bring attention to vehicles everywhere from car shows to dealership lots.
Project vehicle builders Billy Longfellow and Carlos Molina were in on the body styling market from the beginning, helping set the trends that won awards at the SEMA Show and drove the market. Both fondly recall the early days of body styling, and are pleased with where the market is today.
CARLOS MOLINA | Business Development | Projekt Cars
Over the last two decades, the body kit has been the most defining feature of a modified vehicle. And these days, vehicle means trucks as often as it means cars.
The components come in all forms, from fiberglass, polyurethane (PE), PE composites and carbon fiber, which is Carlos Molina’s preferred material.
Molina’s Projekt Cars in El Paso, Texas, has sent more than 250 cars to the SEMA Show over the years. Making cars and trucks look better, he says, has always been important to him.
“Modifying vehicles has been a part of my life since the first episodes of Happy Days that I watched as a toddler,” he states. “Although my past career in the military and my current career in engineering did not cross paths with the automotive industry, I have made every effort to be involved with the aftermarket scene. The cars I have completed were on my dime, marketed on my own time, and ensured an impressive return on investment to my sponsors. I exhibit a relentless passion for my builds on a daily basis and strive to always present the best possible final product.”
Defining body kits as all-inclusive with side skirts, bumpers, fenders, wings and hoods, Molina watched the magazines as the simple hood scoops and flat rear wings of the early 1980s evolved into the full-blown extreme body kits of the ’90s.
“During my (military) deployment in Italy, I eagerly awaited SuperStreet magazine at the base PX,” he recalls. “It would be filled with an Easter egg palette of Japanese domestic modified (JDM) vehicles, with a majority defining their overall stance with the help of a body kit.”
In 2000 he started installing body kits on vehicles.
“Some needed minor trimming, others major fabrication, and a lot should have been left at the docks,” he remembers. “With eBay in its infancy, and a lack of import shops in Texas, one rolled the dice on trying to modify a vehicle in the Southwest.”
That same gamble existed every time he opened a product box.
“It was extremely apparent that there was a lack of quality control in the fiberglass mold process many overseas companies followed,” he says. “You either paid thousands of dollars to a known company like VeilSide, Hamann or Bomex, or you gambled on an Internet company selling a similar product. The latter were horrendous, and on any given Friday night, you could see certain streets littered with broken bumpers or side skirts.”
He even recalls prominent show cars at SEMA held together with Bondo filler underneath.
“At the time, I only stuck to Hamann and AC Schnitzer, since I focused on BMW builds,” says Molina. “Both companies had impeccable products, and the fitment was on-point. I really felt bad for those (installers) who relied on fiberglass companies for their builds.”
In 2004, he started working as a production manager for DaimlerChrysler, while still keeping up with SEMA builds. He naturally gravitated toward Dodge vehicles for his own projects.
“The plan was to build four different SRT-4s, a Magnum and two Chargers. Even by today’s standards, that was quite a full plate for someone who didn’t own a shop.”
Still skeptical of the overseas quality of body kits, he turned to Wings West, which he had heard good things about at Hot Import Nights.
“The components we received for our SEMA builds that year from WW far exceeded any expectation we had,” he says. “They not only arrived in impressive packaging, but the product felt totally different from the fiberglass kits. There was no need to trim, no frustration on installation, and painting the WW product was a snap. All the components looked as if they were OE.”
The extreme kits of the time were definitely designed to make a big impression.
“Many components really didn’t have any function, except distinguishing the vehicle from a stock model,” he says. “Some of the components actually made the vehicle perform worse (three-tier rear wings, big-mouth front bumpers, etc.). It seemed that functionality of the vehicle took a backseat to the overall look.”
Some good did come out of the extreme trend, he believes—widebodies.
“The concept of wide fenders or bolt-on flares is supposed to allow the vehicle to clear wider wheels, thus providing more traction,” he explains. “This impressive modification was initially seen on the DTM tracks in the early 1970s, and quickly ventured to the U.S. in 1974 at the Detroit Auto Show. Both Mercedes and BMW had their own versions of widebody DTM racers, while the U.S. had the Chevrolet Corvette Greenwood Widebody.”
Molina is a fan of today’s total widebody projects—except for those that forego wider tires and enhanced horsepower.
“It’s as if the vehicles skipped leg day,” he says. “Some choose to offset the look with spacers instead of obtaining proper multipiece wheels, while others totally disregard the horsepower needed for the added weight. Either route is a mistake, and ignores the intended purpose of the concept.”
Finally, no discussion of body styling components would be complete without mentioning carbon fiber. Popularized in the early The Fast and the Furious movies around 2000, its origins in racing dated back two decades earlier.
“In 1980, the McLaren Racing Team introduced the first carbon fiber-bodied race car in the Formula1 racing circuit; it was then that carbon fiber began to be used in the automotive industry,” Molina notes. “Many parts for racing vehicles were manufactured using carbon fiber, because it is considerably stronger and lighter when compared to SMC or fiberglass. In addition, it maintained the same structural integrity of steel, with 1/10th the weight.”
Initially, carbon fiber was extremely difficult to acquire by the general population. Slowly, some tuners managed to swap their OEM hoods for a carbon fiber version, and a select few had a CF rear trunk as well.
These days, however, enthusiasts can now acquire everything from carbon fiber wheel barrels to interior pieces.
“As with all components, CF products also range in quality and price,” he notes. “If done properly, the carbon fiber will not only save some pounds on a modified vehicle, (but) it can also be used to enhance the aesthetics of the vehicle.”
Which has been the aim of body kits all along.
Vehicle body styling made a splash around the year 2000, helping set vehicles apart and reflecting the tastes of their owners.
The best body styling kits enhance a stock vehicle’s factory lines, making it a better version of itself.
The market has evolved over the years, with fitment and materials improving to match the precision of today’s high-tech vehicles.
Trucks and SUVs are now fair game for body styling enhancements as well as traditional sedans and coupes.