By on October 30, 2018

The SEMA show kicks off today in Vegas, not that any of the general public will be allowed to wander inside the convention center halls. Bizarrely, given the amount of money spent in the aftermarket every year by real people, SEMA is a trade event and only those toiling in the automotive aftermarket industry are deemed worthy of a badge.

I digress. There’s a very good chance that most of us, especially in our younger years, spend our hard earned cash on very suspect and — in retrospect — totally embarrassing aftermarket gear for our rides.

Your author is not immune. Far from it, in fact. My first set of wheels was an ill-kept and rather poorly-running Ford Escort. Nevertheless, it represented the freedom to drive that your car-addled narrator so dearly craved. Canadian Tire in Gander hoovered up far too many of my meagre dollars, with many terrible items such as NASCAR windshield banners and aftermarket fog lights festooning the poor little hatchback.

Once that car quit, it was replaced with … another Ford Escort. No, I never learn. At least it was the Mazda-based iteration. That machine saw all manner of ill-advised items tossed at it, from big-buck audio systems worth several times the car’s value to body parts gleaned from an Escort GT. The engine, unsurprisingly, remained untouched. There wasn’t much call for aftermarket support on that asthmatic 1.9-liter.

I wised up after this brace of Escorts, shovelling money into a late-model Lincoln Mark VII like a stevedore stacks cargo onto a ship. At least these mods were of the speed variety, ranging from engine internals to stout rear-end gears.

What modification or accessory from one of your past cars falls squarely into the “I definitely shouldn’t have done that” category? It could be a well intentioned go-fast mod that didn’t work out, or maybe it’s something that doesn’t exactly pass the Cool Test thirty years later.

I’m not sure most of my stuff passed the Cool Test at all.

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50 Comments on “QOTD: Totally Embarrassing Mods?...”

  • avatar

    late 20-something me: I once installed a CAI on a ’97 Altima. Drove around the block and hated the sound so much that I put the stock factory air box back in.

  • avatar

    …i splurged for a set of those ridiculous double-blade wipers replete with aero-deflector fins on my ’81 capri; i think they were marketed as euro-blades and looked like something scribbled on the back of a rally fan’s trapper keeper…fortunately, they were stolen off my car from the sears parking lot within just a week or two, saving me from my brief flirtation with terribly sophomoric taste in automotive accessories…

    • 0 avatar

      Hey my first car was an ’81 Capri, red four cylinder, four speed. The muffler rusted off and my friends told me there was a blue flame shooting out of the exhaust pipe where the muffler should have been (pointing at the gas tank). Got rid of it quickly!

    • 0 avatar

      Ha. I bought a set of those (or were they 3 bladed?) wipers for my ’83 F250. The first time I put them on the highest speed, one of them flew off, leaving the bracket attached to the arm.

  • avatar

    As a teen in the mid 80’s, my first car was a beat up 1978 El Camino. It needed wheels as all the original wheel covers were long gone. All I could afford was 2, so I had two aftermarket wheels on the back and two steel wheels on the front. The fog lights from Wal-Mart added to the look. Oh, I almost forgot about the double wiper blades….

    • 0 avatar

      no silly you put the cool looking wheels on the passenger side to impress your dates- trust me I did it

    • 0 avatar

      This. Is. Awesome.

      As a driver’s license recipient in the year Marty went back (1985) I tip my mullet to you. My first F-body with the reversed white-walls, chrome mudflaps, and single glasspack screams Scorpions music in your honor through it’s Walmart Jensen 6×9’s. If it would start, I’d give you a thumbs up from the next lane.

  • avatar

    Le Bra on my 1992 Saturn. I’ll leave it at that.

  • avatar

    Well, I guess the coat hanger that I used as a battery clamp on my ‘67 Mercury Cougar in high school sort of qualifies—since the battery shifted, and caught fire—pretty embarrassing, as far as modifications go. (But not embarrassing enough to keep me from asking K-mart to refund me for the battery. “I want my money back, It doesn’t work.” “The warranty is for it not starting the car. This is all burned up.” “Yeah, it won’t start the car.” )

  • avatar

    On my 1992 Accord Coupe:

    “Viper armed.”

    “Protected by Viper. Stand back.”

    Enough said!

    • 0 avatar

      Hahahaha..I had that too Mr. Grieves. On my 1993 Honda Del Sol Si. It worked well with the convertible top off. If someone stuck their hand inside, it would go crazy.

  • avatar

    Is that white Jeep really anymore embarrassing than being seen in a Camry?

  • avatar

    had an 83′ Chevette. $250. Wood blocks used as spacers in the rear springs–worked well! When purchased, car had been painted with latex paint and a brush. We wrapped the entire car in duct tape for the matte grey tradesman look. Car lasted all through college with no maintenance. Leaked all fluids so never had to change, just keep adding. One time it leaked all antifreeze & overheated so I urinated in the radiator to keep something in there. I consider that a mod also.

  • avatar

    Ebay cold air intake on my 2001 Focus ZX3. Between that and the resonator exhaust tip (not a “fart cannon”, but nothing quality either) the little car was loud. Enough to get my little brother followed once by the cops. Put it back to stock.

    Did the “bra” on my black 04 Lancer Sportback. Not a full bra, just the lip of the hood (before the laminate stuff came around). Still don’t know why I did it or why anyone did (does?). Sure, the nose is pristine, but the paint fades unevenly and the rest of the car is still subjected to everything thrown at it.

    Cheap HID-like bulbs that were anything but in my 95 Cougar.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of a letter to the technical assistance section of a hot rod magazine where the reader asked for info about making a low-rider out of a Wrangler 4×4.

    The input he was given?

    “Back up and start with a different vehicle.”

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I didn’t have more than a casual interest in cars until my mid-20s (didn’t have any money before then), so I kept it classy with suspension mods, I/H/E, alternate factory wheels and such.

  • avatar

    I got this 8-track tape for my first car a pos 59 Ford. It was funny for awhile.

  • avatar

    In the early 80’s (high school years), I installed an aftermarket sunroof in my ’75 Mercury Bobcat – basically an upscale Pinto. Nothing will get your attention more at that age than taking a jigsaw to the roof of your car.

    Picture this: factory orange paint, white vinyl top, black-framed sunroof in the middle.

    The perfect Halloween ride.

    • 0 avatar

      I briefly considered a new Neon as one of my early vehicles. In an attempt to increase sales, Chrysler decided that a sunroof would make their vehicles more attractive.

      So, you buy the vehicle and an aftermarket sunroof is installed free of charge!

      Not sure why anyone would want someone taking a jigsaw to a brand new vehicle.

  • avatar

    I acquired two dash panel pieces for my lowly Focus from a pik-a-part (40% off holiday weekend sale!) Covered them in 3m woodgrain vinyl (“Burma teak”), and affixed a chrome “Brougham” emblem acquired from eBay, perhaps off an old Mopar product. It brought me smiles and giggles for a few weeks, and nobody ever rides in my car, but I decided people in my circle these days wouldn’t get the joke so I returned the original OEM trim.

    • 0 avatar

      lol I’ve given serious thought to aftermarket wood dash kits to liven up some of our modern dreary interiors.

      My father-in-law’s 2018 Terrain SLE has fake wood on the door panels and one small section of the dash and I loved it over the piano black and satin nickel/aluminum that run rampant in modern vehicles.

      My wife hated it – but she considers herself a 90s Kid and I consider myself an 80s Kid.

      • 0 avatar

        Conceptually it was not a bad idea, but the interior design and trim on the 08-11 Focus consists of large blocky shapes. Wood grain would work better in smaller doses and if not so visually dominant. I was rather proud of my “wrap” job however. The “brougham” emblem was just a bit over the top.

      • 0 avatar

        Ok, confession. My wife’s 08 CRV has the Stick-On plastic woodgrain interior bits. I know…but still. The car had the $300 each upgraded chrome factory wheels (which I have never seen on another one) as well as the factory side steps, slush mats, leather, basically every single option, and for whatever weird reason the original and only owner had purchased the ebay wood kit. It’s grown on me (and I’m too lazy to Goo-Gone the entire dash anyway).

        • 0 avatar

          My 2010 Highlander is a base (but with almost every option an SE model would have had). The base designation means that the interior is really a sea of grey and black plastic with very small chrome touches here and there. I gave serious thought to putting a wood kit in it during the first few years of ownership just to break up the monotony.

          Now it is about to be replaced and I no longer care, I kind of wish sometimes I had.

    • 0 avatar

      I would have cracked the -f*ck- up if I’d seen that. That’s not shame-worthy; that’s funny!

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    In my early 20’s I had a Dodge Dakota R/T (w/ the 5.9L V8). I did the typical aftermarket stereo and subs behind the seats, but after that I got creative. I went and bought a couple of those cheap neon lights that you can get at auto parts stores that plug into your cigarette lighter. I cut the lighter plug-ins off, and wired them into the door lights of the truck, and bolted them just under each side of the dash. So when you opened either door, a cheap, sickly, purple neon light greeted you. Even better, these things were designed to light up in response to vibration. So when heavy bass hit from the subs, they would light up on and off as I was going down the road. I thought I was the coolest dude ever 18 years ago, LOL!

  • avatar

    Guilty as charged on the double wipers.

  • avatar

    I had a 1993 Nissan Sentra sedan in about 1997 (how time flies). I was in a local thrift store one day and found a keychain with a fob on it (are you ready for this) which was a photo of Roseanne on one side and her TV family on the other.

    Not exactly a car mod but…..

  • avatar

    My pathetic soup-up of a beat-to-heck 1983 Plymouth Gran Fury police car: air shocks, removed as much emissions equipment as possible, including punching out the catalytic converter.

    It looked absurd with the back end jacked up.

    Plus, I’ve probably got some nasty stuff in my lungs from that CC job, just waiting to kill me in a few years.

  • avatar

    I installed 6″ or 8″ high white letters saying “Scirocco” on the side of my ’75 Scirocco when I was in college. You could get them from Volkswagen too, but the factory lettering was very thin, and the ones I bought were pretty blocky. I was not embarrassed by it at the time, but is not something that I would do now.

    When I had the car repainted when it was seven years old, they removed the lettering without asking me, which was actually a good thing.

  • avatar

    In 1985, I put on Jackson Racing clear headlight covers and a Honda-accessory rear reflector on my 1984 CRX. The results actually looked pretty good. It’s the only time I visually modded a car.

  • avatar

    A cheap HKS Hi Power knockoff catback exhaust on my RX-8. Sounded great but it was unimaginably loud. The drone on the highway could not be drowned out even with my aftermarket stereo. I drove through a tunnel with my wife in the car and the windows down and made her cry. It was insane.

    • 0 avatar

      It was embarrassing because it would startle or frighten passersby. And it looked stupid with one fart can coming out of one hole in the rear and the other hole empty.

    • 0 avatar

      “If she’s not crying, you’re not doing it right!”

      …said a wise man, only to be taken seriously by those who were too gullible to recognize over-your-head humor.

      Crummy mufflers really do make the owner of the car look like an idiot, for what it’s worth.

  • avatar

    79 camaro berlinetta: first I added mud flaps. Then since I was obsessed with RWL tires, I bought this special chalk to use on the letters of the tire.


    I was so proud I had to show my sisters boyfriend who was a mechanic. He said not bad but it looks kinda funny with the whitewalls.

  • avatar

    Adjustable suspension components. When it came time to replace the dampers on my GT500 I went with the FRPP suspension kit with its craptacular Tokico sourced struts and shocks plus caster camber plates and adjustable upper and lower rear control arms and adjustable panhard rod as well as adjustable front sway bar.

    Ended up s-canning all the adjustable stuff except for the panhard rod, caster/camber plates and front swaybar.

    The adjustable control arms had a habit of backing off the lock nuts and trying to wind thier way out (car felt funny driving one day and the rear upper arm had maybe 3–5 threads holding in place let alone a useless pinion angle) and I could never get the shocks and struts to my liking and they were worn out in about a year which created some spectacularly funky handling when I hit a low spot in the road at 140 mph one time.

    I had toyed with replacing the caster/camber plates but just never got around to it.

    So out of those mods the adjustable panhard rod came in useful for centering the rear axle since the FRPP kit included lowering springs and the adjustable front swaybar helped tune out some understeer othwrwise it was all just a boondoggle since I didnt have a track handy to help set up all the adjustable stuff nor the equipment to accurately verify the improvments.

    Lesson learned….

  • avatar

    Those crappy ‘blue’ headlight bulbs, that were dim as hell.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I grew up in the country. After a few close calls with deer and elk on the highway I asked my Dad for a set of ‘Driving Lights’. His being Irish AND an engineer we ( mostly he ) rewired and re-equipped my first car, a 1992 Pontiac Parisienne wagon, so as to have four High/Low beam headlights instead of two High/Low ( outside pair ) and two High-Beam ( inside pair ). All four lights were on in either low- or high-beam, which caused many people to flash their high-beams at me – especially in the city. I was 16 and loved hitting them back with four high-beams. I had the outer pair splayed a little and the inner pair dead straight ahead. I love those old, square glass bricks. I had one that was half-full of water and still worked. I drilled another hole in the glass to drain it.

    1986 was a good year.

  • avatar

    900-15’s off a Caddy onto cheap mags onto a ‘62 Belair. Looked like slicks. Then air shocks on a ‘62 VW Type 2. And vent scoops. And stiffer roll bars. WTF was I thinking.

  • avatar

    In 1992 I worked for the local Infiniti dealership, but my daily transportation was a beat up 1983 Honda Accord hatchback. The first-generation Infiniti Q45s had a ridiculously large “belt buckle” ornament on the front lip of the hood (and no grille…) Well, a customer with a damaged “belt buckle” bought a new one for their Q and the old one fell into my hands, so I mounted it on the grille of my beater Accord (I think I actually wired it to the “H” emblem). It lasted a whole day before someone stole it. Probably for the better.

  • avatar

    Bad mods?

    A RoadMaster power booster and 12″ Stillwater Mowhawk subwoofer.

    Rear air shocks that had to be pumped up every week.

    Added-on chrome trim pieces

    Rear window louvers – which did keep the car cooler, but flipped up in every stiff breeze and scratched the roof

    Flimsy Jeep brush guard that kept loosening up

    Air horns

    The ubiquitous twin-wipers

    $20 three-gauge set that never worked right

    Note: some of my cars came with these already installed, and some of these were done by friends when I was at work.

    • 0 avatar

      I had the air horns from Griot’s Garage catalog on our 08 Mazda 5 because the factory horn was awful. They worked and worked well. As far as a I know, they’re still working, even with me doing the wiring! About the only mod I ever did on a car that worked well.

  • avatar

    The site hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s still there with pages of pictures of bad mods. Just ignore the slightly controversial name.

  • avatar

    I remember putting prismatic pinstriping on my 72 Charger alongside the pinstriping that was there already. I had seen a 73 with the same treatment and it looked really cool at night. Also bought some wide prismatic stuff from JC Whitney, drew up my version of what I thought the Charger logo should be, cut out the individual letters and stuck that on the back of the trunk lid left side. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best quality stuff and quickly clouded up and became quite un-reflective. Perhaps not embarrassing, but in poor taste?

  • avatar

    Ok, I never did it because my ride had a case of the slow, but every one of my friends with a Chevelle, F-body, G-body, Mustang, etc., put trailer lights on their solid axle. They installed air shocks (or worse, shackles, eek) and wired two orange or red or green or whatever lights to the axle tubes. These could be seen at night as extra lights way under the taillights, and you knew that a possible race opponent was cruising up ahead of you, and might fall over on you sideways. What was this about?

    By the early 90’s, any V8 coupe I had remained firmly at stock height or below, so it didn’t last very long as a trend, thankfully.

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