Why Restomod?
STANDING START - Lord Seno (The Freeman) - October 5, 2020 - 12:00am

I’ve struggled in my mind for years on why the notion that to be a true, worthwhile classic car, one must be as factory original as possible. Experts say the value, not to mention the nostalgia, is gone once a classic owner starts swapping engines or upgrading brakes. 

But since the advent of the internet, I have a new found love for restomodding old cars, not because I want it fast but mainly because of convenience.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen and been involved with the production of many restomodded cars. I’ve had the good fortune to experience the finite differences of how each individual modification can enhance (or compromise) a car and that, to me is what makes a good car great.

 For the sake of having a subject, let’s choose an example car. Say a 1973 Mitsubishi Lancer A70 or popularly known as the “L-Type.” I had the chance to work on one, for a friend who wanted to own one again after decades.

Like many Classic enthusiasts, I would have wanted a standard A70 with every detail on it since its exit out of the showroom. This I would never restomod. But this is not as easy as Gran Turismo. We are talking about 40-50 year old cars and you’d have to look high and low for a fresh unit.

In factory trim, the Lancer had a small 1.3 engine that barely could carry airconditioning and power steering. Suspension was okay for its time but not great, and the brakes were inadequate - if not dangerous to do spirited drives. As standard, the car was just a grocery getter.

Visually the standard car looks too tall for its size that it looks odd, especially the 4 door model. Sure; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as some might say - but we must remember the racing history of this car in Africa too and how cool these looked on rally trim.

The A70 we acquired to restore was really out of shape, its decades of service have eaten out what was left of its mechanical soul. This called for some meticulous bodywork and a restomod.

We replaced the engine with a modern one from the 1990 Mitsubishi Galant GTI and mated it with the 5-speed geabox out of a box type L300 van. The rear differential came from a 1988 Lancer Box Type, complete with rear disc brake assemblies. The cooling system (radiator) also came out of the GTI. One thing we couldn’t fit was the power steering system so we just converted the steering system of the car to a more responsive rack and pinion instead of the outdated steering gearbox. Then we installed an electronic power steering unit using a steering column with electric motor coming from the more recent cars. The interior and exterior were made as close to standard (stock) as possible, except for classic Watanabe rims and a bit wider tires.

See, what makes or breaks the quality of these builds is the choice of parts to mix and match. If the car was prepared by the most knowledgeable and respected restorers, then their experience would generally shine through in what had become a great car.

Some might argue that we destroyed the very essence of what a real old school car should be. That we destroyed the “L-type.”  But we only need briefly to consider other more popular brands such as what Singer and Ruf is to the 911’s or the Alfaholics is to the original GTV, or perhaps the electric VW Kombi. Remember, these are all restomods.

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