Combining retro looks with modern performance, Restomods are hugely popular in today’s modifying world. Here are some of the best examples we’ve seen.
If there’s one trend in car modifications that defines the modern age, it’s the premium restomod. The term itself is a bit of a moving target, and it’s one that’s come to particular prominence in recent years, with the advent of high-end premium modernizations of classics by boutique specialists.
A lot of people like the idea of retro looks with modern performance; indeed, you’ll have undoubtedly spotted a growing fondness for high-end cars that have been reimagined this way. The fusion of the old and the new has never before been manifested with such sumptuous attention to detail. You see, these aren’t just engine swaps.
It is, within reason, arguably possible to fit any engine into any car and make it work, and the cult of the engine-swap is no longer a cult. Everyone’s at it – 2JZs into BMWs, modern HEMI V8s into older muscle cars, Honda VTECs into Minis, Vauxhall XEs into Escorts, you name it. But it’s not always just a question of an engine swap. Sometimes, it’s more of a lifestyle swap.
Singers and Eagles and their ilk, they’re not selling for eye-watering prices because they’ve just had new powerplants grafted in. They represent a brand-new, 21st-century version of a classic car. Old-school looks with modern power, fuel economy, brakes, acceleration, suspension, seats, electrics, comfort and reliability. The best of both worlds, in sumptuous style. Here are some of the best restomods ever created.
Singer DLS Turbo
Singer Vehicle Design has been around since 2009, infusing a bit of rock ‘n’ roll into the traditional notion of classic car restoration. This makes sense, as the company’s founder, Rob Dickinson, is the cousin of Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson. Singer has become a bit of a byword for Porsche 911 restomods, and the fresh-for-2023 model that’s perhaps the most exciting of the lot is the DLS Turbo. ‘DLS’ stands for ‘Design & Lightweighting Study’, and the essence of this car is to take the spirit of the old 930 Turbo, pump that aggression into a 964 donor car, and amp it up with the aesthetics of the 934/5 race car.
The result is a beautifully detailed featherweight 911 with a 700bhp twin-turbo 3.8-litre flat-six in the tail. It’s sensationally beautiful, every single element has been refined and improved, and – while it’s pretty enough to live on a plinth in a museum – it’s been built to be a proper driver’s car. And a real sweaty-palms one at that.
Alfaholics GTA-R 300 Carbon
Alfaholics are to 105-series Alfa Romeos what Singer are to Porsche 911s, and they’ve been around long enough to build up a very respected name for themselves in the restomod market. As well as running a comprehensive parts service, they’ve built some frankly astonishing Alfa restomods, with our current favorite being the GTA-R 300 Carbon.
The name gives you a bit of a clue as to what it’s all about; peak power from the forged Twin Spark engine is 240bhp, which adds up to 300bhp/tonne. How? By extreme lightweighting – the suspension is titanium, as are the axle tubes, and the gearbox has a magnesium tail casing, while the super-light window glass is 4mm thin. But this isn’t some spartan stripped-out racer… the interior is sumptuously trimmed in soft leather and Alcantara, with Wilton carpets and Dynamat throughout. It’s a very civilised (yet completely manic) road-racer.
MST Mk1 Escort
There are many ways to skin the Mk1 Escort cat, and enthusiasts have been modding them in interesting ways for over half a century. But until now, nobody’s done what the brainboxes at MST in North Wales are doing. They’ve been supplying parts to the motorsport industry since 2008, with family ties in the motoring industry going back a whole century, and in 2020 they started selling completely built and brand new Mk1 and Mk2 Escorts.
Taking the spirit of these iconic models, they start with a new shell and kit it out with modern mechanicals, state-of-the-art electrics, power steering and all sorts. Our pick of the range would be the Fast Road & Touring Mk1 – a naughty little weapon that you could use every day. It comes with a 200bhp+ 2.5-litre Duratec on ATR throttle bodies, 6-speed close-ratio manual ’box, adjustable Bilsteins, and a beautifully hand-stitched leather interior… and because each one is custom built, every single parameter inside and out comes tailored to your specs. The ultimate Ford restomod?
The Lancia 037 is a proper legend in rally circles. A dedicated motorsport project based (very) loosely on the Beta Montecarlo, it was a lightweight fiberglass rocketship with a supercharged mid-mounted Lampredi engine.
What Kimera Automobili have done is to take that legendary but rough-around-the-edges rally machine, and refine it to premium 2020s standards. So the Kimera EVO37 retains the gorgeous and dramatic shape of the original, but eradicates the silly shutlines and makes all the panels fit properly, while also upgrading details such as the lights and vents and mirrors with superior modern versions. It’s designed to be a devastating performer – the 2.1-litre 4-cylinder engine is twin-charged (that is, turbocharged and supercharged), the double wishbone suspension was developed by Öhlins, it’s got Brembo carbon-ceramics, and the 6-speed sequential ’box is by Graziano. But whereas the original 037 was a machine of pure function, the EVO37 fuses function with delectable form, beautifully trimmed and fabulously appointed.
Much like the Ford Escort, the MGB is an iconic classic that’s been everyman-accessible for generations (well, until the prices went silly, at least), and pretty much everything that can be done to them has been done over the years. But marque specialists Frontline Developments have been doing particularly special things for a while, and the LE60 marks the zenith of their impressive powers. To mark the 60th anniversary of the MGB (hence the name) they’ve gone all out: the Rover V8 has been totally reimagined to become a 4.8-litre goliath with forged internals, new heads, custom cams and all sorts, kicking out a snorty 375bhp. And in a car that weighs just 1,100kg, that equates to an MGB that can do 170mph. Which is just nuts.
The body has been muscularly enhanced, a brand new shell chopped up and widened by a full ten inches at the rear, and the interior is simply glorious. All crafted in-house at Frontline, it features delectably trimmed seats and a tasteful Nardi wheel along with electric windows and Bluetooth audio. This is very much the ultimate version of what a B can be.
The retro desire spectrum is a broad church, and it’s not just sports cars and rally icons that find themselves enjoying the restomod treatment. Just check out the astonishing Ford Bronco, as reinterpreted by ICON. The wonderfully simple body design is treated to marine-grade primer and paint in “almost any color imaginable”, while the chassis is fitted with some properly hardcore rock-crawling suspension along with whacking great Brembo 6-pots. Why does an old Bronco need such massive brakes? Because under the bonnet is a full-fat Coyote V8 crate motor in eye-watering 425bhp spec.
So it’s got all of the charm and simplicity of a first-gen 1960s model, but it’s crammed with modern tech and modern build quality. ICON are keen to point out that ‘the Bronco is built by hand in California in very low volume, and production is extremely limited,’ which is of course manufacturer-speak for ‘if you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it’.
The restomod crowd were bound to come after the beloved old Mini eventually, and it was David Brown Automotive who took the ball and ran with it. The interesting twist here is that coachbuilt Minis have been a thing since they were new – creations like the Radford De Ville and the Wood & Pickett Margrave reworked the humble Mini with Rolls-Royce interiors and Mercedes headlights and so forth. David Brown’s Mini Remastered continues this tradition into the 2020s, taking fresh new Mini shells (de-seamed, strengthened and soundproofed) and offering buyers a fully bespoke service in terms of specs.
It takes a full four weeks to paint each Mini, such is the deep involvement and complexity of the process. The hand-crafted cabin is an oasis of haute couture, with leather trim, knurled aluminum switchgear and touchscreen infotainment. And under the bonnet, the 1275cc A-series has been tuned to be 30% more powerful than the original. It’s a modern remix of an age-old standard.
Manhart Integrale 400
The restomodders have chased after yet another rally-flavored Lancia here – this time it’s the Delta Integrale. That legendary Group A weapon so adored by motorsport fans across the globe. And German tuning outfit Manhart have stripped it down and turned it up to eleven. Much like the Mini Remastered, the original engine essentially remains; in this instance, Manhart have rebuilt the 2.0-litre twin-cam with forged internals and modern management, unleashing 370bhp in the process. Modern KW suspension and Brembo brakes fancy up the chassis, while inside the cabin we find a premium retrim job finessed in nappa leather and Alcantara. Old school, new rules.
Find out more about the Manhart Integrale 400 here.
Eagle Low Drag GT
You can’t talk about restomods without referencing the Eagle E-Types. This highly respected company takes the British classic to astonishing new realms; when Jeremy Clarkson tested the Eagle Speedster on Top Gear in 2011, he said: “This is, by a long way, the most beautiful car I have ever seen. It might actually be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”
So imagine that sort of sylph-like beauty infused into one of motorsport history’s most dramatic profiles: the low-drag E-Type. This race variant was originally developed in 1962 to fuse superior aero benefits with a lightweight riveted aluminum shell. Eagle decided to build their own version to evoke this, except that theirs is packing a fuel-injected and aluminum-blocked 4.7-litre straight-six along with AP Racing 4-pots, Öhlins coilovers and magnesium wheels. We’re talking 345bhp, 1,038kg, and 0-62mph in sub-5 seconds. And the interior is so deliciously trimmed it would make angels weep.
Ringbrothers are a modern phenomenon. Arguably the kings of restomodding, they build earth-shatteringly good one-offs that turn the very idea of custom cars on its head. These machines are so fabulously detailed and intricately crafted that their values are off the charts; all eyes in the custom world are on Ringbrothers, as what they do to their builds is what everyone else will be doing next year.
How do we pick which of their creations to add to this list? Well, it’s got to be ADRNLN – the 1971 De Tomaso Pantera they built back in 2011. Powered by a Wegner Motorsport LS3 V8 mated to a Bowler ZF 5-speed, it’s a proper little mover, but it’s the attention to detail throughout the car that really makes it a legend: everything you see (and pretty much everything you don’t) is bespoke, crafted for ADRNLN alone. Indeed, such is the draw of a Ringbrothers build among the cognoscenti that, when ADRNLN came up for auction at Barrett-Jackson in 2015, Richard Rawlings of Fast ‘N’ Loud/Gas Monkey Garage paid $300,000 for it. That sort of kudos speaks for itself.