Plastic Fantastic – A Look Back At The Max Power Modified Car Era
It’s impossible to fully appreciate the impact that Max Power had on British modified car culture when it was launched upon an unsuspecting public way back in 1993. Its simple, down to earth style and willingness to stick two fingers up at authority endeared it to millions of would-be feature car owners around the country, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this publication (and in time the likes of Fast Car, Redline and Revs) shaped and defined modified car culture for almost fifteen years. Yes it’s easy to mock 1.2 Novas groaning under the weight of poorly fitted Delta kits and cheap sub woofers, but then that’s the benefit of hindsight. When done with care, skill and attention to detail some of Max Power’s creations (be they built by the mag itself or its rabid fan base) could be genuinely amazing, and many of them become part of modified car folklore.
With the above in mind, here’s our rundown of the greatest Max Power era modified cars. Some have been listed under their monikers, though those built by individuals have been included and attributed wherever possible. The nature of these cars means that concrete information has been hard to track down and verify, so if you see something that’s incorrect please do let us know.
One of the best things about Max Power was that it put its money where its mouth was, and the magazine’s own modified creations rank among the greatest modified cars of all time. One of the mag’s first forays into this word was Project Thunder, a Citrine Yellow Vauxhall Carlton with a tweaked Lotus Carlton kit, an extra spoiler, three-spoke alloys and a turbocharged 3.0 12v straight-six. The latter was good for 270bhp, an impressive figure in an era still dominated by deep-breathing CVH turbos making a smidgen over stock power. Unlike many of the projects covered here the ultimate fate of Project Thunder is well known. It was given away by the magazine in a competition, before being crashed into a shop front in spectacular (and for the car, terminal) fashion a few days later.
Dimma Kitted Peugeot 205
Max Power launched in 1993, an era still closely associated with fashions from the preceding decade, and this meant that bigger often meant better. Proof of this could be found in the car chosen to adorn the cover of the launch issue, a bright purple Peugeot 205 GTi 1.9 fitted with a massive Dimma bodykit. It bore more than a passing resemblance to the T16 rally cars that had dominated Group B rallying a handful of years previously, and, thanks to the addition of a T25 turbo conversion from Turbo Technics, had the power (well, 200bhp) to back up the looks. We’ve been unable to find out any concrete info on its spec or what became of it, can any of you shed any light on its fate?
Max’s first project was based around a BMW E30 and it set the standard for all that was to follow. Fitting the Rieger bodykit involved a huge amount of arch surgery and bodywork modification, though it did mean that the car ultimately measured in at an astounding 6ft 4in wide! The comically girthy arches were then stuffed with suitably beefy Compomotive alloys, 9×17in at the front, 11×17in at the rear, and the whole car was then treated to an appropriately obnoxious purple/red check paint job. The car’s 2.0 four was swiftly removed and replaced with a Griffin Motorsport 2.5 with uprated internals, a combination that allowed it to make a handy 190bhp. We think this one has stood the test of time – we’d happily drive it today.
As you can probably already tell, Fords featured heavily in the Max Power scene and the magazine turned its hand to more than a few examples of Dagenham’s finest, Project 2000 being a prime example. The car featured some seriously trick parts from the likes of Mountune and Gordon Spooner Engineering, the latter responsible for supplying the Escort kit car bodykit, vents and wing mirrors. A genuine Escort WRC spoiler was sourced, chopped up and re-mounted, and the whole car was then treated to a retina-searing coat of Karmin Rot Porsche paint. Cosworth brakes and suspension were used, and the Mountune fettled engine featured a smattering of genuine motorsport parts, including sliding throttle bodies and aggressive cams, a setup that helped it make 250bhp, not far off the F2 Kit Cars competing in the British Rally Championship at the time. If any car illustrated the sheer drawing power of Max Power at its peak, it was this one.
Kingdom Developments Vauxhall Nova
Vauxhall Novas were the bread and butter of the car world in the late ‘90s and early noughties, and this meant that they were often chosen for some of the wildest, and with the benefit of hindsight, most questionable of modifications. The Kingdom Developments Nova was arguably the best known and also one of the most inspirational, if the rash of similar but not quite as good lookalikes that followed is anything to go by. The Kingdom car was swiftly christened ‘Pinky’ for obvious reasons, and though the extreme body styling (and the shopping list down the side) date it, it’s also true that this particular car was one of the better screwed together examples. You might not like the overall look, but it’s hard to deny that this over the top, bright pink monster packed a visual punch!
Project RS Kicker
One of the very few Max Power project cars to have survived into the new millennium, RS Kicker was based around a Mk4 Escort, had a ‘whale tail’ spoiler and ran on flat-faced TSW Evo alloys. In other words it looked about as ‘90s as it was possible for a car to be, and that’s no bad thing in our book. RS Kicker evolved in line with the magazine, slowly taking shape on a month by month basis, before being given away at the end. The Power Engineering-built CVH was very much a headline grabber for the time, its claimed 250bhp output easily trumping those of comparable RS Turbos. RS Kicker differs from the majority of the cars on this list in that it actually survived into the new century, and it was sold on in pretty much the exact same specification as it was built back in 2011.
Renton’s BMW E36 Cosworth
A Redline car and one that caused more than its fair share of ripples in the UK car scene, Dan ‘Renton’ Lewis took a still relatively new and fairly expensive BMW E36 3-series, ripped out the 1.8 Munich motor and replaced with a 2.0 Cosworth YB. The resulting car was then treated to a suitably outlandish selection of arches and wings, given a livery that harked back to a ‘90s E36 race car, and released into the wild to take the car scene by storm. The car was long hampered by its choice of transmission and gearing was always on the high side, but there’s no doubting that it’s a contender for ‘poster child’ of the whole era.
Carisma TVR Cerbera
Jamie Shaw should need little introduction to anyone with even a passing interest in the ‘90s and early noughties modified car scene, as the owner of Carisma Automotive was responsible for some of the maddest cars to ever emerge from the Max Power era. His finest work was also one of his most powerful, a heavily modified, bright gold TVR Cerbera. It was a car that had purists spitting feathers and modified car fans in fits of ecstasy, and probably summed up the apex of the entire show car scene. Yes it looked pretty bonkers and had a huge amount of custom bodywork and interior additions (including a battery of TVs and DVD players), but it was still a ridiculously powerful TVR, one built to a very high standard…possibly a better one than TVR managed themselves!
Calibre Coachworks Mk4 Astra Coupe
The downside to ‘Maxing’ was that it was inherently unsustainable. The need to constantly one-up and outdo what had come before resulted in a full blown automotive arms race, and in the battle to steal the limelight, quality and general good taste tended to suffer. This resulted in cars that were so extreme they could barely function and move under their own steam, and a good example of this was the Calibre Coachworks Mk4 Astra Coupe. A massive amount of effort clearly went into building this DTM-inspired car, yet it quite possibly marked the moment when ‘Maxing’ ‘jumped the shark.’ Still, it was massively popular, inspired plenty of similarly styled cars, and was sorely missed when it burned to the ground in mysterious circumstances in 2004.
Bodytone Renault Laguna
Another car with its roots firmly planted in the world of motorsport, the Bodytone Renault Laguna looked for all the world like one of the Williams-prepared cars competing in the BTCC at the time, yet it was powered by a 3950cc, twin-turbocharged V8 from a TVR! That setup was good for a potent 400bhp, with the power routed through a Rover SD1 gearbox and a Sierra Cosworth rear axle and differential. 18In OZ Supertourismo alloys combined with Koni suspension gave a Super Touring-style stance, while Ford Vista Orange paintwork (and Bodytone decals) ensured that it was suitably visually arresting. We’re not really sure what became of this car as it existed in a time before the internet and long before camera phones became common place. Answers on a post card please.
Reyland Escort Cosworth (Mk1)
The Max Power era coincided with the point when Cosworth Fords were at their cheapest and most plentiful, and this relative abundance and accessibility gave birth to some of the most beloved feature cars of them all. The Reyland Escort Cosworth was built by Martin Hadland and was one of the best known, partly thanks to its Repsol-aping colour scheme, partly because it became more and more powerful with each incarnation. It ultimately made a staggering 600bhp, could comfortably knock out 10 second quarter-mile times and made a recorded top speed run of 194.73mph. It famously crashed midway through the 2003 Gumball Run and was destroyed, though a replacement has since been built.
Carisma Renault 5 GT Turbo
Much like the Nova, the Renault 5 GT Turbo found itself on the front line of the UK’s modified car explosion, and more than a few ended up looking a tad worse the wear as a result! The Carisma 5 was one of the best known and most highly styled, its interior festooned with massive speaker bulges and the exterior draped in huge scoops and spoilers. It was about as subtle as chucking a brick through your ex’s bedroom window after a night on the piss, and therefore divided opinion, but, as with much on this list, the level of commitment required to actually pull it off deserves respect.
Ecosse Peugeot 306 Sedan
Ecosse was responsible for some of the wildest Peugeots of the period, though its finest effort was also one of the most subtle, the 2-door 306 sedan. PSA never bothered to build a two-door 306 sedan but that didn’t stop Matt Collins of Ecosse from building one! The result was one of the prettiest magazine creations of the period, complete with perfectly modified bodywork, Audi Paradise Green paint and the small matter of a turbocharged Mi16 good for 300bhp+. The icing on the cake? The ‘Sedan Insane’ tagline used atop its magazine feature.
Dubsport twin-engined VW Golf
There were a rash of twin-engined cars built in the period this list covers, and though all were impressive, some were better realised than others. This was down to the considerable engineering challenges involved and the often limited technology at the builder’s disposal, but one company that did manage to get to grips with it was Dubsport, and its most famous creation was the twin VR6 Golf Mk3. The difference with the Dubsport car was that it actually worked and worked well, with each engine able to push out approximately 350bhp and a solid 10 second quarter-mile time, both very boast-worthy stats ‘back in the day.’
Jonathan Shield’s Vauxhall Nova 16v
This is easily one of the most conservative and standard looking cars on this list, yet it’s also one of the most significant. If you know one thing about tuned ‘90s Vauxhalls, chances are it’s that the C20XE ‘Redtop’ can be made to fit into pretty much anything with a griffin badge on it. While the conversion is now a very well trodden route to a powerful Vauxhall it wasn’t always this way, and it took some clever thinking by Jonathan Shield, now head honcho at Courtenay Sport, to get the wheels in motion. John was the first person in the UK to cram a Redtop into the Nova, and a legend was born. It’s still alive and kicking to this day, now with a KKK turbo for added fun, yet still with its signature green paint and ‘A16VTB’ numberplate.
It’s perhaps a tad unfair to judge an entire decade and a half of modified car culture on a handful of iconic, stand-out examples. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing indeed, and for every Carisma TVR there were 30 horribly butchered XR3is with wheezing CVHs and gaffa-tape ICE installs. That said, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the modified scene was a far more varied one twenty years ago. Quite why this is the case is down to myriad reasons, including the implosion of the Max Power scene and the rise of the ‘less is more’ way of approaching car modification that now dominates, massive increases in insurance, and cars playing a far less significant role in your average 19 year old’s life, but we think the advent of the internet and social media has also played a role in homogenising the UK car scene. Call it wishful thinking brought about by over application of rose tinted specs, but we would welcome a return to mid-‘90s tuning values, though we’d probably leave the Delta kits and door-mounted shopping lists behind.