I love cars and I love working on cars, but I am very careful about my choices when it comes to making modifications to the cars I own. My reasoning behind this decision is pretty straightforward: I know that one day the car I am modifying will belong to someone else who more than likely will have a different standard of taste than I. Any vehicle I have owned has had modifications done to it by me which can also be reversed when I decide to sell it later on - likewise, the vehicles I buy are either stock or not far from that form.
Body kits and ground effects are the bane of my existence when it comes to modifications. Sometimes they can look good and serve a style function well if the car in question is only taken out once a week and spends most of its days under a cover. If your car is a daily driver, though? Staying away from body kits is my advice. They rub on parking barriers, stick out in weird places, scrub on speed bumps, and generally don't hold paint as well as the factory panels.
"But they're just stuck on with tape and hidden screws. You can take them off before you sell the car."
Oh, really? I thought the same thing...and then decided to take the body kit off of my car.
Enter: A 1997 Ford Thunderbird LX, 4.6L
This car was an inheritance from my grandfather who passed away in 2008. He bought the car in 2002 and babied it to the point of it being his only obsession. The man who owned the car before him ordered it from the factory and had the Xenon body kit installed at the dealership the same day he took delivery. My grandfather was a great man, but wasn't a great driver and I spent many a day helping him touch up the rub marks and cracked paint on that ugly body kit which he managed to rub against anything within spitting distance of that car. After he died, the Thunderbird stayed in my garage for a few years and it wasn't until I lost my job and sold off all of my other daily driver options that this became my "go to" ride about three years ago.
The thing I always hated about the Thunderbird was the body kit. I picked daily driving a 1979 MGB year-round, in both the snow and 100+ degree weather for over a year so I wouldn't have to deal with it feeling like that front bumper or side skirt was about to fall off. Finally, this past winter, when that nasty ice storm hit Atlanta, the car ended up in a ditch, mangled a side skirt, pulled a fastener out of the back bumper cover, and I said "screw it", making the decision to remove all four pieces.
"It's just a few hidden screws, and some double-sided tape, right?"
Two screws in each wheel well, and a few light pulls removed the front valance.
The rear and side skirts were held on in the same manner, of course.
Seventeen years of shit, grime, dirt, gravel, and mildew were under every single piece of the body kit. Also, the people who installed it didn't just use double-sided foam tape, they used commercial-grade panel adhesive as well. I have used it in homes often enough to know what it becomes when dried, and that is exactly what was used to hold the valances on. Do you see the big blobs lining the factory front bumper? That's the stuff. About 1/4" thick and the size of a U.S. half-dollar.
Don't worry, they were also on the back:
After the car wash, I responded to a text, which aided in my frustrations:
I also saw a nice, first generation Camaro on the way home:
My solution to remove the panel goop was to slowly raise the temperature with my heat gun and use a plastic scraper to gently remove each glob from the paint:
Now, that LOOKS promising, but also avert your vision three globs over from the glob I am "unglobbing" from the bumper. It ripped the paint right off. Every single one of those took at least the clear coat with it, but most took the paint as well.
Globs for days! They were all over my driveway by the time I had finished that stage.
At this point, my idea of removing the body kit without damaging the factory parts underneath was long obliterated, and there was no way in hell I was going to re-fit those ugly, 1990's era monstrosities of style, so I drove the hideous beast to buy some paint and sandpaper.
Every low spot you see was a blob of adhesive. The foam tape between the blobs wasn't as big of a pain in the ass, but that stuff holds a chapter in my book of evil thoughts as well.
If you didn't know, my day job is carpentry. I build things out of wood and do custom finishes on furniture and cabinets. There isn't much as far as differences between prepping wood to finish it and prepping a car are concerned, but when I'm in the shop I have an oscillating sander, a gravity-feed HVLP gun running on an air dryer system I designed and built myself, a proper paint room, etc. The shop is about half an hour from my house and I am there five to six days each week and didn't want to go back to do this work, so everything I did here was by hand.
I do have a siphon-feed detail gun, though.
I didn't rattle-can anything other than the primer, which usually doesn't matter if you actually finish sand it before putting down your base coat. The paint was standard, single-stage gloss black. Nothing fancy. I didn't take pictures applying the paint because I tried that when I was painting in the shop one day and nearly ruined an iPhone in the process, while leaving streaks in my finish. Sorry. I did all of this alone because I live alone and nobody I know is desperate enough for human contact to have this sort of project consume their weekend with me.
Anyway, this is the body kit off the car. In all of its hairline crack-laden, scuffed, scrubbed, and faded glory:
And this is the final product:
Yes, those are Volvo wheels. Yes, I love the way they look on the car now without all of that cladding.
Before on the top - After on the bottom.
I guess the moral to this tale is that I still stand by my feelings about not modifying a car to a nearly irreversible point if you ever intend to sell it on to someone else. This little project took me a little over eight and a half hours to complete, but the car I once hated has now become a car I actually like to look at. The old girl only has a hair over 90,000miles on her at this point, and I think the removal of the body kit made her look much younger and far more clean.
Body kits, for me are sort of like the people on Instagram who take a picture and then put a filter on top of it. The object looked good and in its natural state when you took the picture, but you put a shitty filter over it so the sharp edges look blurry and the balance is thrown completely off. You're not being artistic or deep. The majority of the time you just look like a moron who thinks they are a real photographer.
Think before you modify your car if you ever want to get a decent sale price back out of it, because people (like me) may have bought it from you if it didn't have cheap headlight housings, or Krylon-painted dash trim. As far as this article is concerned, ponder even harder about whether or not you are careful enough of a driver to have a body kit on something you commute with on a daily basis. After this experience, I'll never buy anything with aftermarket body bits.
Grace and Peace,
J. Drew Silvers