In tune with Ireland's needs
Car modifying isn't restricted to boy racers in Japanese imports; Shane O'Donoghuelooks at the more exalted side of aftermarket tuning
BRADY'S MERCEDES showroom in Castleknock is crammed with shiny new cars, but one stands out from the others with the three-pointed star on their bonnets. From a distance it's clear that the car in question is based on the swooping lines of Merc's CLS model, a four-door "coupé" based on the mechanicals of the E-Class. This version is obviously a little bit special though, and even the AMG models look restrained next to its eye-catching body kit.
Approach the CLS and you'll spot that the badges bear the name Lorinser. This isn't a brand that most car buyers will be familiar with, despite the German company modifying Mercedes models since 1976. In spite of its relative obscurity in the eyes of the average buyer, Lorinser is part of a multi-million euro industry here in Ireland, one that caters for the needs of the customer with a little more cash to spend to ensure that his car stands out from the crowd.
This particular CLS retails at €115,000, which represents an increase of €15,000 over the standard CLS 320 CDI it is based on. The car has been fitted with a complete body kit, which includes new bumpers, side sills, a boot spoiler and modest roof spoiler, quad exhausts and 19-inch alloy wheels, along with highly distinctive front wings incorporating black vents.
Although Brady's commissioned this car to gauge interest in the Lorinser brand, the fitting work was carried out by JJ's Autosport & Design in Enniskillen. It's the first car the dealership has ordered, and dealer principal Enda Conefrey told The Irish Times that he plans to sell between five and 10 full cars per year.
It's expected that most will go down the exterior styling route, though interior customisation and power upgrades are also offered by Lorinser, the latter covered by a 150,000km warranty.
Lorinser is but one of the many firms that provides bespoke Mercedes conversions, with Brabus another prominent name in Germany. Although a few Brabus-equipped cars can be found in Ireland, there's no official outlet for the brand, so numbers sold are low. The same can be said for Alpina and Hartge BMWs. These companies go way beyond the normal aftermarket tuning process though, essentially creating their own versions of the manufacturers' original cars.
BMW realised long ago that a large proportion of its customers prefer a car with a more aggressive appearance; hence it has had huge success with its M Sport specification, which may explain the lack of a prominent BMW tuner in this country.
Des Cullen Cars in Dublin lists Brabus as one of the brands it deals in, but it's not an official distribution partnership, as such. However, the firm has found success in the recent boom years in being the Irish distributor for tuning newcomer Project Kahn (see sidebar). The most exciting car likely to be sold in Ireland is the Aston Martin DB9S, which features a body kit that gives the DB9 similar looks to the DBS model used in recent James Bond movies, plus an engine and chassis upgrade. This car retails at €290,000.
That's also the price of the Project Kahn Bentley Continental GT, which features a similarly extensive makeover. Des Cullen Cars has sold no fewer than five of these in the past 12 months, out of a staggering total of 40 Continental GTs.
When asked whether he noticed any slowdown in the market due to the current financial environment, Des Cullen's Trevor Musgrave indicated that yes, there was certainly less demand for the most extravagant models, but he also pointed out that customising a current car was a cost-effective way for owners to upgrade.
Kahn offers wheels and modifications for everything from the latest Ferrari to new Rolls-Royces, but it's clear that Irish buyers favour the SUV-based conversions.
Massive overhauls are offered for the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models and Musgrave quoted sales figures of 15-20 Range Rover Vogues per annum at €169,950, with 10-15 modified Range Rover Sports at a little less.
Confirming its status in the tuning world, Kahn's name will grace a new Cosworth-badged Range Rover Sport being launched in Ireland on September 1st, with far more aggressive styling and a chassis tuned for the road. Despite our so-called credit crunch, Des Cullen Cars already has five orders for this car.
Overfinch is another well-established producer of modified Range Rovers, and Irish buyers don't need to travel to the company's Surrey base in England either, as Richford Motor Company acts as the Irish distributor. It isn't only the lofty Land Rovers that attract the attentions of the tuners.
Kahn exhibited a modified Ssangyong Rexton at the recent London motorshow for instance, and Isuzu offers Prodrive-tweaked versions of its Rodeo pick-up, while mainstream tuners such as Janspeed and Superchips offer services for pretty much any car.
There's no doubt that the market for high-cost and quality car modifications has increased in recent years in Ireland, and though the global economy isn't in great shape, there will always be buyers that would like to stand out from the crowd, with money to spend on doing just that.
THE LORINSER story began in 1930, when Erwin Lorinser set up his independent workshop in Waiblingen, Germany, which soon became an official Mercedes-Benz outlet.
Erwin's son, Manfred, took over the reins in 1974 and two years later established Lorinser Sport Service as a subsidiary, with its core business tuning Mercedes-Benz cars.
Today, Marcus Lorinser is the second generation to manage the company, which can lay claim to distributors in 42 countries, including Ireland.
John Scallon heads up JJ's Autosport & Design with an office in Enniskillen, though he works closely with Irish Mercedes-Benz dealers, as well as directly with customers.
Most of Lorinser's Irish customers have bought components to modify high-end Mercedes-Benz models, though the company has tuning parts for every single model in the range, including the van-based Viano mini-bus.
Although Lorinser traditionally deals with the three-pointed star, its website also indicates that cars such as the Smart Fortwo and Audi's new TT may be customised with Lorinser parts.
The company happily boasts Bernie Ecclestone, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Paul Tracy, Shaquille O'Neal, Denzel Washington, Sharon Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as customers.
Find out more: lorinser.com; Irish sales: John Scallon, JJ's Autosport & Design, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. Tel: 048-6634 1988.
PROFILE PROJECT KAHN
PROJECT KAHN is a real newcomer to the tuning world, with its founder Afzal Kahn creating the brand in 2003.
Kahn is already making a big name for himself and his assembled team, in part due to the high-profile nature of its project vehicles; they have attracted the chequebooks of David Beckham, Daryl Hannah, Axel Rose and Steven Gerrard, to name but a few.
That Kahn recently bought the personalised number plate "F1" in the UK for a record half a million pounds doesn't hurt, and the company uses this registration to publicise its vehicles.
Of course, like the cars, it's for sale, alongside other distinctive plates such as 4K and 4HRH. Emphasising Kahn's design background, the company also makes a range of high-end watches and the associated Kahn Landmark company deals in property.
However, the car side of the business is gaining momentum, with a tie-up with Cosworth already announced and very special versions of already exotic cars on offer. Project Kahn isn't just about styling, as the company's modifications extend to every single component, including the engine, brakes and suspension.
The Kahn name has already made its mark in the alloy wheel market, with 40,000 rims sold last year.
Find out more: kahndesign.com/descullencars.ie;
Irish sales: Trevor Musgrave, Des Cullen Cars, Sandyford Business Park, Dublin 18. Tel: 01-293 8840.
OVERFINCH HAS only ever been involved with the modification of Land Rover models, with the vast majority of its projects based on the Range Rover and newer Range Rover Sport.
The Overfinch name itself only appeared in 1985, when the German Schuler company handed over control of its Range Rover division to the UK MD.
Schuler actually began modifying Range Rovers 10 years earlier. Unlike most tuning companies, Overfinch has worked closely with Land Rover, including providing bespoke models for sale through Land Rover's dealers in the past and more recently winning Ford's Special Recognition for Outstanding Achievement in Design award at the 2005 SEMA show in Las Vegas.
In between, Overfinch specialised in complete engine transplants, fitting small clock Chevrolet V8s under the bonnets for Range Rover customers wanting a lot more performance from their vehicle.
Since 2003, Overfinch has worked with the existing engines instead and upgrades both the V6 and V8 turbodiesels, as well as the Jaguarsourced supercharged V8.
However, Overfinch now offers a comprehensive customising service, where all aspects of the car can be changed, from interior and exterior styling to alloy wheels, brakes and exhaust.
Find out more: overfinch. com/richford.ie; Irish sales: Garrett Molloy, Richford Motor Company. Tel: 01-875 0120.