Life & Culture

This Film Provides a Glimpse into Britain’s Modified Car Culture

LAW Magazine presents ‘a love letter to UK modified car culture’ – watch it here

  • TextAnother Man

The UK has always been a hotbed of subcultures. Some, though, are more visible than others. One of the less documented examples is Britain’s modified car culture, whose members soup up their vehicles to outrageous proportions, and meet together to show them off – a phenomenon that is spotlighted in a new film from London-based independent mag LAW, premiered here.

Titled Midnight Express and filmed by documentary filmmaker and LAW collaborator Joe Wilson, the film is “a love letter to UK modified car culture and everyone who has ever dreamed of owning a blazing chariot of their own.” That’s according to LAW founder John Holt who, speaking here to Another Man, reveals more about this intriguing subculture and the film they’ve created.

Another Man: How would you describe modified car culture to the uninitiated?

John Holt: It’s late hours fiddling with ratchets and rags in the garage getting ready for the upcoming show season, where shammy leathers buff up the buffest of bodywork in the sunshine and a family of like-minded, petrol-headed individuals constantly chase perfection. You can fine tune every last detail of a car to make it unquestionably yours, through new sets of wheels, coats of pearlised paint and bone-shaking soundsystems. It’s a lot of work if you want to keep up and stand out in the modified car world. As Jay, our friend and BMW E30 enthusiast from Hitchin, says in the film, ‘cars first everything else afterwards.’

“It’s a lot of work if you want to keep up and stand out in the modified car world. As Jay, our friend and BMW E30 enthusiast from Hitchin, says in the film, ‘cars first everything else afterwards’”

AM: What interests you about this culture and how does it relate to the world of LAW?

JH: LAW’s mission is to make timeless, thought-provoking work that pays homage to the beautiful subcultures of Britain. Especially when it comes to style, sometimes I think Britain doesn’t even know how good it is – and that’s probably what makes it so good, but it does make photographing people who aren’t used to it sometimes difficult. The best thing about modified car culture is that everyone is only too pleased to show off and appreciates the appreciation.

I’m no expert, I could talk to a car enthusiast for ten minutes and barely understand a word they say, but that’s the beauty of it all; when you listen to someone talk with such pride about something so obscure. I grew up when supercharged hot hatches were affordable to young tradesman who lived at home, I went to the local cruises and stood with my mouth wide open as iconic names like RS Cosworth, SR Nova and Fiesta XR2 were ingrained in my brain. We are here to navigate nuances in British style and work with similarly devoted contributors to somehow get to the essence of it.

“Today every detail can be modified. There’s a line in the film where Nas, who owns a specialist modified car garage in Leytonstone, says, ‘everything can be modified, if you can’t find it we’ll make it’”

AM: How has this culture evolved over the years, and what is it like today?

JH: Today every detail can be modified. There’s a line in the film where Nas, who owns a specialist modified car garage in Leytonstone, says, ‘everything can be modified, if you can’t find it we’ll make it’. New processes allow people to change components more regularly – one of the most recent phenomenons in car modification is the ability to wrap a car in whatever colour you like, meaning you can peel the wrapping off without damaging the bodywork when you get bored and choose something else; reptile print, chrome, matt black, camouflage, dodge stripes are a thing of the past.

AM: What have aspects of it have you tried to capture in this film?

JH: We spent a day with Jay and a group of fellow BMW E30 enthusiasts in Hitchin, before convoying to ‘The Takeover Cruise’ in Harlow, a raucous midnight mass for devotees of BPM and BHP on London’s liminal outskirts. Back-seat riders emulate the intimate passages of time spent static in carparks and lay-bys, while school-age arcade racers learn to negotiate corners long before their L-plates. Chrome exhausts are elevated into gleaming Gran Turismo car parts and Seat Ibiza badges allude to the euphoria of a distant paradise.

“I hope [this film] shows that modified car culture is well and truly alive – you just need to look outside the confines of the M25 where cars are a necessity”

AM: What do you hope people take away from this film?

JH: I hope it reignites memories and encourages imagination. I hope it shows that modified car culture is well and truly alive – you just need to look outside the confines of the M25 where cars are a necessity. Next time someone drives past you in a nice car, let them know – it’s most likely their pride and joy, and it’s good to make people feel good!

law-mag.com