No roof, no problem: Scion FR-S speedster recalls the glory days of customization

Scion FR-S Speedster side viewIn a sea of sameness, how do you stand out? Car companies try to sell individuality as a standard feature on their vehicles, but the sad truth is that even those “unique” machines are mass produced. Even if you drive something as funky as a Mini Cooper or Hyundai Veloster, you’re still driving the same car as someone else. For people with enough time and money, the solution to that quandary is customization. Just look at this topless Scion FR-S: you will never see another one like it.

The FR-S Speedster, a creation of Cartel Customs, will debut this weekend at the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix. It’s not the most functional car, but the Speedster’s chopped windshield and side glass recalls classic race cars, and that’s pretty cool. Unlike most cars with the name, this really is a roadster; it has no roof at all.

In addition to the obvious roof hack, the FR-S received a rear wing and wheels that would make Brian O’Conner proud. The interior got a red-and-white makeover courtesy of Elegance Auto Industries, with some carbon fiber trim thrown in for good measure.

The FR-S Speedster retains the stock coupe’s boxer engine, which makes about 200 horsepower, and six-speed manual transmission. It does get a new clutch, exhaust system, shock absorbers, and brakes. Hopefully this wild custom car will make good use of those parts, instead of just sitting on a show stand.

There was a time when a car like the FR-S Speedster would not have been unusual. The 1950s were the golden years of “kustom,” when cutting up a car to make it unique was the norm. ‘50s hot rodders were so obsessed with personalization that they even customized their spelling. “Lead Sleds,” usually based on 1954 Chevys or 1949 Mercurys, had their roofs chopped and their bodies sectioned to give them a lower, sleeker look. These cars got their name from the lead body filler used to smooth out their flanks.

Kustomizing a new car is much harder. Since most new cars are unibodies, cutting up the body can seriously affect the vehicle’s structural integrity. New cars also have a lot of electronics to deal with; they can have up to a mile of wiring and many persnickety sensors, all of which are needed for the engine to start. Things were much simpler when cars had a separate chassis, and engines had carburetors.

The alternative is to be less ambitious; we live in the age of the body kit. You can do a lot by changing bumpers, and lowering the car. Many companies, including Scion, offer dealer-installed “custom” parts. That is a bit ridiculous, though. How can a corporation sell individuality on a mass scale?

It’s cool to see a shop going all the way and actually cutting metal. Everyone wants to stand out from the crowd, so why should everyone’s car look the same?