At many of the show events we cover on Speedhunters, attendees are usually in one of two camps: static or air. It’s a tribalism that can lead to some heated debate, with people throwing hefty rocks across social media platforms. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Sometimes, it’s good to search for inspiration outside of your comfort zone. With that in mind, I left the world of rough and ready track cars behind and went in search of the most stylish and detailed cars on air at Players Classic 2021.
That might sound like some esoteric hippy drivel but bear with me; there’s something in this open-minded approach. Rather than feel the anger swell up inside you, ask yourself this: what’s motivated that person to create that thing? Maybe they just wanted to incite that type of reaction…
Thanks to Air Lift Performance’s support for the event, Players Classic has become a focal point for the UK air ride community. And it’s a big community.
With the pause for pandemic, it felt like this year brought out more fresh builds than ever. Unfortunately, I missed out on a few cars that were only present on the Saturday – mostly because I was driving round in circles all day in my E30 – but more on that later. Sunday allowed for a deep-dive into the world of style.
You see, good style is good style, or at least I think so. Whether it is air or static, cars can be stylish or not. I don’t think the journey to the end point should skew your view. Personally, if it sits well I can appreciate it.
As Saj Selva and I made our way around the event, we realised how many factory-bodied cars there were, and it got us thinking. Are we starting to see a retraction from big body kits and wide arches to more subtle OEM-style cars?
When you see how effective stock body lines can be, it’s hard to think why you’d want to pervert them with chunks of fibreglass. This route usually sees some hard-to-obtain parts sprinkled through the car too, which is always a big buzz when you spot them.
Side note: I’m fairly up on my E30 parts, but I’ve never seen this type of heckblende before. Does anyone know any more about it?
You could put this down to my love of ’80s cars creating a bit of bias in my head, but there were plenty of other examples around the show too.
Take this E34 for example. It was absolutely pristine with a really well integrated Air Lift Performance controller inside. You’d be hard pressed to realise it’s not some sort of BMW special edition at ride height.
Along with that, many of the more subtle-looking cars are built over a longer timeline. They have more history and are less ‘reactive’ to current trends. You can’t amass every rare part made for your model in an instant, even with infinite budget. These cars build themselves out of opportunity.
Take this MK2 Jetta for example. The owner was sat behind it on a deck chair and I was intrigued to know more. We launched into full VW nerdery and were so engrossed in pointing out the rare parts on display that I forgot to catch his name. Wherever you are out there MK2 Jetta dude, Saj and I absolutely loved your car.
The car is almost a moving museum to a lifetime of Mk2 parts collecting; you could almost play Votex bingo with it. The coolest parts have to be the working Digifiz dash, and the repurposed Nintendo controller which now controls the Air Lift Performance Slam Series struts via Bluetooth. Insane! It’s this type of ingenuity that really gets me going within the stance community.
I’ve said it before, but you cannot underestimate the level of engineering detail in some of these cars – it’s staggering.
In the interest of balance, this feels like a good point to inject some wide-arched madness into this story, also on the Golf Mk2 platform. I do think that there is a place for this sort of automotive sculpture art, and it’s getting more sophisticated as time goes on.
Unfortunately, Jean Pierre could not attend the show, but thanks to some clever and preemptive logistical planning by the Players team, his rear-engined Golf did.
This car has more engineering in it than your average track car too, and the level of finish is impressive for something that is only really intended for show purposes. It’s reminiscent of the early Dubmeister days, with VR6 engines popping up in strange places. Can you imagine how mad this thing would be to drive on the street? I’d definitely like a go.
For many, JP’s Mk2 is up there with the most extreme interpretations of automotive expressionism. It’s literally a render come to life, jumping straight out of the digital realm into ours.
This sort of stance is just not possible without air. It adds a level of drivability to what is otherwise an absolutely bat-shit-mental statement on wheels.
Walking away from JP’s MK2 is when it struck me: These stance cars are much more than just cars. They’re a way for their owners to show up and say something about themselves. It’s an extension of fashion; a way to make a mark in the world and be noticed.
With that in mind, perhaps air ride is an important part of that individualism. It has never been easier to actualise the idea in your head.
Maybe I’m thinking about all of this way too deeply and people just want to look cool. But in what world is a bagged Volvo 850R on BBS Motorsport wheels normal behaviour? This car journeyed to the south coast all the way from Scotland to park up and make a statement. If that’s not commitment I don’t know what is. It’s brilliant.
You see, you don’t accidentally build a car like this. It takes vision, determination and some thick skin to fend off the naysayers. For those reasons alone I can fully get on board with the stance community’s outlook on life. If you want it, you build it.
Take Reece Parr’s BMW 700 for example.
I don’t think Reece would be offended in me saying that without his love and attention this little car probably would never have seen the road again. The rusted-out front wings should give anyone an indication as to the condition of the floorpan before it was chopped it out. Reece’s sympathetic restoration leaves enough of the original wear, but allows the car to be safe and roadworthy.
You can’t even notice the replacement rear quarter panel he has welded in; somehow the patina’d paint was matched perfectly.
It now sits on a VW Beetle pan, equipped with a custom Air Lift Performance setup. This means the flat floor and rear engine are tucked up as high as possible under the car and it can roll at an incredibly low height.
See what I mean about the engineering effort?
At the other end of the scale and only three paces away sat this Ferrari 355. A car famed for having astronomical servicing prices, the 355 is probably not your everyday base for a stance build. But then again, Players Classic showed me that literally anything goes, and often does.
This Mercedes-Benz 190E was probably one of my personal favourites on display. Thanks to me living under an E30-shaped rock for the last three or four weeks while trying to get my own car ready for the event, this was the first I’d seen of Mica’s W201.
Mica is a tattooist by trade and she has managed to absolutely cram the build full of crossover touches. Looking like it’s come straight from a ’90s rap album cover, the Benz is super-detailed and built with a refreshing outlook on how 190Es should be.
I won’t ruin the surprise, but if you get a chance to check out the car in person, take a look at the inscription on the lower right rear window metalwork.
Every inch of window chrome is hand engraved with incredible detail, and when coupled with the period white kit it had huge impact against the grey tarmac.
For Saj and I, this 190E bridged the gap between UK stance cars and LA lowrider culture. Perfectly executed by Mica, this had us talking about it for ages after seeing it. Maybe that’s why dipping in and out of the world of stance can be so rewarding, or indeed any car ‘genre’. If you keep hopping around and being open to different things, maybe you pick up a thing or two without realising it…
Something that’s held dear on both sides of the stance/motorsport fence is the obsession with BBS wheels. I missed this E12 at Retro Rides, so was glad it to see it on display at Players Classic.
Maybe I’m getting old or maybe my taste is changing, but seeing an clean original car tastefully dropped on a hard-to-get set of wheels really appeals to me. I think it’s the struggle that makes it so good. It is really hard to keep these cars on the road, and even harder to find the wheels in good condition. The square root of struggle.
I think that is why air is so popular in these circles. It allows you to create the style without punishing the underside of the car every time you want to enjoy driving it. After all, if you care for something why wouldn’t you want to preserve it for as long as possible?
There’s a lot of talk about how modifying classic cars ‘ruins’ them. But in actual fact, these owners seem to be prolonging their cars’ lives. The level of care and attention to detail is easily on par with what I have seen at concours and restoration-type events. Besides, a lot of the wheel and air installations are totally reversible.
Let’s not get bogged down in my own taste though. There’s more to life than BBS (maybe) and more and more often we’re seeing 1990s/2000s wheel sets being resurrected and rebuilt for modern fitment. As far as class goes, I don’t think you can beat this 840i on Racing Dynamics RS2s. What a tough looking car and what a perfect set of wheels.
Racing Dynamics slide slightly under the radar, but were right on the pulse for the big dish look around the E30/E34 and even into the E39 era of BMW tuning. Even single-piece versions fetch a pretty penny now, and it’s so good to see them refinished and in use rather than collecting dust in a collector’s loft like so many of them are.
The same can be said for the 840i itself. A car in this spec and condition is a highly sought-after commodity. There’s some brilliant resilience on display here for this owner not to buckle under the rising values and cash out. It’s kinda punk.
That brings me nicely to the best part of all of these shows and events: the people. Without the people there would be no cars. They are a reflection of the person who built them and are a periscope into their world.
I enjoyed so many fantastic and enthusiastic conversations with people absolutely buzzing to talk about their build. It’s so inspiring. If one good thing has come out of Covid maybe it’s this; we seem more willing to throttle back and listen to each other than ever. We can’t make it through things alone and we’re recognising that.
Stance guys and girls I salute you. Keep driving your culture forward, it’s more inspirational than you know.
Additional Photos by Saj Selva
This story was brought to you in association with Air Lift Performance, an official Speedhunters Supplier