Fitted UK – Manchester 2017

I’d wager a bet that Stance is a dirty word for the majority of Any Given Reason readers. We typically worship at the temple of kissing the rev limiter in third gear, of long early morning drives through twisting roads, of sticky rubber flinging small stones into guard liners and that beautiful feeling of holding onto a car when it’s teetering right on the edge of slip. If you can build something that is aesthetically pleasing but still delivers those thrills, that’s even better. But the idea of decking a car to the ground and then parking it up all day seems kind of… alien.

More important than anything is an open mind, so when I heard about the Fitted UK show I knew I had to go for a look. The scene over here in the UK is massive, and this show would feature over 1000 individually picked display cars spread over four indoor exhibition halls. There’s a lot of great things about this scene but what really attracted me was the chance to see in person some of the extraordinarily detailed European builds that have become so famous, and to perhaps learn a thing to take home as inspiration.

Like it or not, but the amount of creativity, skill and dedication that goes into building an engine bay this clean is massive. Anyone that’s attempted to tidy up the engine bay of their own car or tuck some wires will know just how big of a rabbit hole this can become, and the patience to see it through to this level is spectacular.

And it wasn’t just the handful of headliners (or chequebook builds, depending on who you ask) that were built to this level. Even on the lower end of the scale, the paint was flawless and the wheels perfectly polished on every single vehicle on show. The level across the board was surprisingly high.

Plus, I was pretty keen to check out the show itself. The four halls were arranged in a rough U shape, with a hundred or so judged cars laid out on the inside of the U with careful attention paid to having enough free space to properly view them. Some were raised on stands, others sat at ground level.

The outer edges were filled with hundreds of show & shine cars, all carefully parked with millimetre precision.

The scale was off the charts, and at one point I became almost confused with which direction to head in next. I was standing in the middle of the central hall, and in each direction there was something grabbing my attention. I didn’t know which way to walk; I’d take a step in one direction… then decide I need to turn around…. then head left.

Take a deep breath… one car at a time. After four hours, I was reasonably confident that I’d at least set eyes on everything.

The central space was crowned by a large stage, complete with DJ creating a super chilled vibe by spinning tunes all day.

And lowriders were hopping in the middle of it all. There really was something to represent different styles from all over the globe.

One of the first Pandem kits for the Porsche Cayman by Kei Miura made its UK debut. It looked amazing in person but the only thing letting it down was the PDK gearbox and probably stock mechanicals hiding underneath. And I wonder if there is any support below the boot lid transferring the downforce to the rear axle? Should sufficient speed be capable, any meaningful downforce would quickly dent and crease the boot. This kit fitted to a proper circuit weapon would be beyond cool, though.

As expected, it was the more performance focussed builds that proved the highlight for me. As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, there’s a sweet spot where function meets form and that was realised in this pretty serious S2000. Aesthetics have obviously been carefully considered but they have not taken precedence. The full Spoon kit even included the endurance racing lights in the front bumper, and the lightweight Advan Racing wheels hid proper Spoon 6 piston brakes. I’ve no idea what is under the bonnet, but I am sure it would be equally at home at a track day as it was at a stance show. The perfect all-rounder?

Rules are made to be broken, but you need to know the rules to know when you can break them. A primary rule of mine is that Martini stripes should be judiciously applied, and should never be applied to a car that didn’t race in them in period. The Hillman Imp never wore in Martini in period, but I think that it works exceedingly well here and somehow avoids tackiness. Maybe its the blister flares, the period Compomotive wheels and that duckbill spoiler? It’s a very fine line to walk.

This Escort Cosworth addressed the form/function debate with perfect diplomacy. Anything with big AP’s and floating rotors front and rear has gotta be cool.

Another blue Cosworth that proved to be one of the only stock standard cars, for want of a better term, was Jackie Stewart’s 1970 March-Ford 701. Stock, in the sense that this is exactly how it rolled out of the Tyrell workshop.

A full cage, air jacks, pumped M3 flares, Alpina wheels and a chin splitter – that’s how to do an E30.

In a similar track biased vein that doesn’t ignore the aesthetics, this 944 Club Sport was definitely rocking some GT3 RS vibes with its subtle updates and body coloured half cage.

This Datsun 240Z was a star of the show based on its aesthetics alone, but a rare glimpse under the bonnet proved the biggest shock of the day.

BMW power! It’s an unexpected swap, but it makes perfect sense and pays a true homage to the spirit of the Z. The BMW inline six is smoother, more advanced and more powerful than the Nissan L24, and I am convinced that the Nissan engineers would have fitted this engine if it were at their disposal in 1970. What a machine!

Yes, this is a full drag spec Supra, it makes 1700bhp, runs the quarter mile in 7.5sec, reportedly does 0-100km/h in 1 second and it is road registered. A road registered 7.5sec car! I spoke to one of crew and he confirmed it… “we don’t drive it on the streets all the time, but we do take it down to McDonald’s every so often just to prove it can be done”.

This incredibly clean EP3 Civic Type R was another to perfectly walk the street/track/show tightrope. Not only are there 8 piston K-Sport brakes hiding behind the Advan Racing wheels…

… but a Rotrex supercharger has been fitted to the K20 motor, and the engine bay has had a complete wire tuck and smooth. Very nice.

I’m beginning to paint an incorrect picture because out of 1000-odd cars, I’ve only really shown the small handful of track and performance inspired builds. The rest were pure stance – ground scraping diesel Volkswagens with highly polished BBS wheels were ubiquitous, and for the majority it was clearly a case of function follows form.

But you know what, who cares? The majority of these cars do look freaking cool. And I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone reading this story, even the track junkies and weekend warriors, have at times done things just because they look cool. When I first got my Fiat X1/9 back on the road I immediately wound several turns down on the ride height, even though I had to slow down for dips to stop it from chewing the tyre out on the guard. Eventually I wound it back up a little bit at the expense of some ‘low aesthetic’ so I could drive faster, but the point remains that it’s just a matter of how far along the spectrum you fit. Everyone has their place.

The advancements in both the quality and affordability of the air suspension conversion kits likely fitted to most of these cars means they can be quickly raised to drivable ride heights at the flick of a slider on an iPhone app, anyway. The best of both worlds.

And if it wasn’t for the obsessiveness of the scene, cars like this would almost certainly be rusted away or crushed. Let’s be honest, a Mk 2 Golf GT (a mechanically stock Golf that looks like a GTI) was never really the final word in drivers cars anyway.

 Nor was the Mercedes W123. Modern AirLift airbag suspension probably makes it ride and handle better than it ever did in period, too. Best to see them perfectly preserved, appreciated and used.

The grey area comes with cars that are genuinely good drivers cars as they are, like this Porsche 993. If bags made a 911 drive better, SharkWerks and RUF would be fitting them. Still, at least it’s being fastidiously maintained and enjoyed by a likely doting owner.

It’s not to say there was no e-fame seeking douche-baggery at FittedUK, but there was a lot less than I expected. The scene must be maturing.

This steering grip was probably the dumbest thing I saw. Never mind the boot mounted exhaust system (yes) and those roll cage bars that are surely fitted for looks as a serious downward force would bend them in an instant, those steering handles are simply dangerous. Do these people not realise that the only reason open wheelers and modern GT3 cars have these grips is because their steering racks are insanely fast and they have minimal lock? For a Subaru STi reputedly making 400+kw, this would be lethal to try and catch if the back properly stepped out under power.

The dumb stuff was certainly a minority, however, and most of the cars were just plain cool.

At every turn was another example of supreme effort and commitment to the cause. You’ll note that Volkswagen never made a Mk5 Jetta Coupe, yet this guy did. Starting with his regular Jetta sedan, he purchased a Golf 3 door hatch for its shorter wheelbase and somehow combined the two into a Jetta Coupe.

Another clean engine bay in this Mk1 Caddy ute, but notice how the stamped ‘Volkswagen’ piece from the rear tray fold-down door has been incorporated just below the base of the windscreen?

I love how some owners go to the extra trouble of finding period correct accessories to display with their cars, like this green-screen Nokia mobile fitted into a mid nineties W202 Mercedes-Benz. I was tempted to try and play Snake.

This Jetta had travelled from somewhere in continental Europe for the show, and wore a bizarrely complex Cuban Revolution theme…

… right down to the coil and sickle motif on the door. This one is obviously not riding on bags.

I arrived with a game of ‘scene cliche bingo’ in my head, and as I walked the halls I found it refreshingly difficult to check items off my list. I did get a couple though. Illest reference – check.

BMX on roof mounted Thule rack – check. It was the only one, though.

Rocket Bunny kit – check.

StanceWorks sticker – check (on the Beetle). I’ll forgive this one, though – I’m a regular StanceWorks reader.

The final box to tick was some kind of Ford Ka or Fiat Seicento with gullwing doors, bright vinyl trim and a lurid paint colour. As stereotypical as it is, when Australian’s think of the UK tuner scene we immediately think of MAX Power magazine and cars like Ali G’s Saxo. I was kind of hoping for more of the MAX Power style for curiosity more than anything, but it was thankfully limited to just a few examples. And those were mostly audio shop demo cars which can pump out some serious volume, by the way.

This Type 3 had an interesting Australian connection…

… the remnants of an ACT registration label. Owing to the terrible weather and salted roads during winter, not many cars of this vintage survived in England. Australian conditions are perfect for preservation, and more cars are being imported back to the UK than ever now that they’re cool.

I was pretty excited to see a Mk 4 Golf Harlequin Edition – yes, this actually left the factory painted like this. Back in the days before Volkswagen were concerned with engineering special software codes, they instead devoted their vast resources to producing some of the most obscure limited editions known. The Harlequin wasn’t exactly a roaring sales success, but they’ve become somewhat of a pop icon these days and the history of each known car is even detailed on a special Golf Harlequin registry. This one was fitted with a VR6 engine and Vento front end conversion.

The guys from a club called RATRAP had set up a full RC drift course and were holding comps throughout the day. As unexpected as it may sound, watching a train of four cars all sliding within inches of each other was intriguingly authentic.

The course even featured a Japanese style workshop/parking area…

…and a town square, where RC cars fitted with ‘hydraulic’ suspension that could be actuated from the remote control drove slowly and mimicked the lowrider’s out on the show floor.

I’m not going to lie – I geeked out massively and spent far more time than was strictly required shooting the RC drifting.

Also, Frenchie’s really don’t like RC cars. It was quite amusing.

The scene in the UK is big enough to support its own cottage industries, and there were quite a few small businesses selling handmade car care products. It was kind of like being at a farmers market, but instead of soap’s there was car polish. You know the commitment is real when the company Kombi is decked on polished Porsche cookie cutters.

I doubt AGR will be getting too heavily involved in the stance scene anytime soon, but it’s certainly one that deserves a closer look. I tend to like a little more functionality and I don’t like my cars to be so clean that I’m afraid to use them, but there’s certainly some inspiration to take away from it all.

Maybe I do need to spend some more time in the shed working on engine bay presentation. Just a little bit.

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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