The eighties were a magical time of budding technology, bright colors, and endless streams of money influencing everything from toasters to the cars we drove. The latter became a huge focal point of the decade as turbocharging made its way into more accessible vehicles, and the mid-engined supercar with wild wings and flares became the accepted norm. Thanks to the money supply and the automotive styling of the day, many European cars received outrageous aftermarket body kits to match contemporary “high-performance” styling with less-than-stellar results. In the eighties, money bought a lot, but not taste.
Koenig Specials Mercedes W126 SEC Version I
Of all the decades Mercedes has sold cars, none might have been better than the eighties. Sales were booming as those flush with cash turned to the luxury automaker for a comfortable, beautifully crafted, and reliable vehicle with a presence that let everyone know your wealth. At the same time, AMG was similarly successful, boosting performance and the looks of Mercedes vehicles worldwide. Their exclusivity brought about competition, though, as other tuners looked to snatch up customers with their own flair.
Willi König, an avid German-born racer, began his Koenig Specials automotive tuning exploits in the mid-seventies before growing to international success in the eighties. Although König came from a racing background and specialized in performance tuning, the company gained most of its fame from its “racing-inspired” body kit design. Wild flares featuring bulbous shapes, wings, vents, and ducts were slapped onto every European performance model of the eighties with wildly varying results.
Contrasting that outrageous König styling was the W126-based Mercedes SEC, arguably the most iconic Mercedes of the decade. Its long, straight lines and relative boxy are a masterclass in understated design, but not everybody who bought one saw that. Instead, many brought their Mercedes to Koenig to be fitted with new wheels, lowered suspension, and a body kit so quintessentially eighties that it almost definitely came with a linen suit and a pair of Capezios. Koenig’s Version I body kit featured widened fenders and quarters using a dizzying blend of curves and sharp edges that turn the W126 into an awkward and garish mess.
It isn’t all bad; the W126 has an almost sinister stance from head-on or directly behind. But make your way around the side; thoughts can go from beautiful to laughable. Halfway down the flared front fender, a slightly exaggerated bodyline protrudes off the door and travels back until it aligns with the door handle. From there, it travels diagonally upward and outward into a sharp but rounded rear flare. Fake side strakes are molded into the quarter panel flare ahead of the front wheels. Above the rear wheels, a low and flat spoiler rises out of the flares and caries around the back of the car.
Admittedly the flared front fenders are great, but the rear treatment shrinks the rear wheel, making the period correct sizes look closer to shopping cart casters instead of the custom three-piece BBSs they regularly were. Eventually, Koening came to their styling sense, either on their own or after seeing AMG’s body treatment, and offered the Version II kit that ditched the odd flares for a more traditional boxy shape similar to an exaggerated E30 M3. It did the W126 many more favors and is undoubtedly a good-looking aftermarket kit that still gives off the ‘80s excess vibes.
Rinspeed R39 Porsche 911
In 1977, Rinspeed began its now-45-year existence creating cars absolutely no one asked for. Ever. Six years later, they debuted their second Porsche 911-based model, the “R39,” at the Geneva Motor Show. Modifying the 911 was nothing new, as every single aftermarket body kit maker in the era modified the 911, but Rinspeed was different. Rather than take a motorsports-like approach, Rinspeed decided to mash together Porsche’s top models, the 911 and 928.
Starting with a 911 Turbo convertible, Rinspeed ditched the engine, fenders, quarters, bumpers, and lights for new pieces. At the front, the tuner replaced the bumper and lower valance with a modified replica of the 1974 911 3.0RSR’s bumper. The round brake ducts and rectangular oil cooler opening were left original, but the significantly larger foglight/turn signal assembly from the 928 was stuck onto the bumper’s leading edge. Fitted above the bumper were the new fenders, incorporating the 935 “slant-nose” look but modified for the 928’s pop-up headlights. Of all the mismatched bits slapped onto the 911 chassis, the fenders are the best-looking feature, and one Porsche created for the 964 Turbo S X85 “flachbau” models.
Down the side, the R39 gained its ’80s bodywork with a boxed rocker and the flares from a 911 Turbo. Of the few R39s made, a few were equipped with the vented flares from the 930S. However, the most polarizing bit is the treatment aft of the rear wheels. Rinspeed chose to ditch nearly all relation to the 911 as they grafted the rounded back-end of the 928 onto the 911 chassis, complete with the 928 taillights. We know Porsche had planned to replace the 911 with the 928, but the R39 isn’t what they had in mind. If anything, it’s far worse looking than just about anything Porsche has ever made. This particular example was offered for sale a few years ago and is a perfect example of the R39's polarizing features.
It wasn’t all negative, though. The Gotti wheels are timeless, and the custom-tailored interior with Recaro seats matched the buyer’s color scheme for a complete look. Even the highly-questionable exterior modifications added performance. Buyers chose their composition, either Kevlar or Carbon, leading to a claimed 400kg weight reduction over a standard 930. The enormous weight reduction combined with the already-potent 3.3-liter turbocharged engine made the R39 a legitimate performer. A shame, then, that it looks the way it does.
Koenig Road Runner Porsche 911
Koenig had their hands all nearly every European sports coupe in the eighties, and the 911 was no exception. Willi König was an avid racer and had quite a bit of experience behind the wheel of 911-based race cars, so it was only fitting that he worked over the street variants into one of his Specials. Given the name "Road Runner," the rebodied 930 was thoroughly modified with bits from other cars and some extreme styling, setting it apart from every other rebodied 911.
The ‘80s 911 wasn’t the most sculpted, beautiful shape in the automotive landscape, with Porsche sticking to a function-over-form approach. Many a tuner sought to take the sharp angles out for a streamlined wedge look of the era, just like König. While the headlights stayed relatively close to their natural position, the lights and the entire nose were brought forward and pushed down for a much more curvacious-sloping front end. The leading bumper was nothing like the standard 911; smooth and sloped, it was molded in as part of the fenders, coming up around the lights in an almost-240Z like surrounding. A body line and some indentations below the lights travel back past the wheel, where they meet the straked and swooping lines of the rear flares.
The bodywork extended past the door features two broad strake-like lines that work to channel air into two ducts per side, one ahead of the rear wheel and the other above it. The indent for the lower duct continues behind the rear axle, though there isn't any venting, it's just a stylistic feature. Growing up and out of the rear flares is a batmobile-looking rear wing that melds the wrap-around ducktail of the '73 Targa Florio RSR with the early 930's whale tail. Although it likely produces enough of an effect to keep the road runner stable at its 190mph top speed, it looks like it was designed without any regard for those with functioning eyes.
To finish the new bodywork, the boffins at König decided that the original 930 taillights and bumper assembly wouldn't cut it. Instead, they built a new rear end that utilized the entire rear light assembly from an Audi 200 Avant. How or why that conclusion came remains a mystery. Whatever the reasoning, the 550 hp 3.4-liter turbocharged flat-six behind those Audi taillights was likely enough for buyers to forget all about the questionable design. In its day, the Road Runner could keep up with the fastest supercars around, including Porsche's own 959.
Between the unique looks and supercar performance, König built around 20 examples, though only a few are known to exist today. The coupe in the pictures above was photographed by Top Gear in Japan, while a convertible came up for sale in the US about a decade ago. Scattered around the globe, the Road Runners are exceedingly rare, so consider yourself lucky if you do happen to see one.
Gemballa BMW E30 3-Series
It seems like at some point in the eighties, every tuner got together to agree on a shared group of styling cues. In reality, tuners tried to emulate the most famous supercars of the time and their wedge shapes, specifically the Ferrari Testarossa. However, the edge and wedge styling made way for far more curvaceous shapes by the decade's end. Gemballa took full advantage of the styling change for this specific car, but the public couldn’t find out about it until relatively recently.
Located near Stuttgart, Gemballa has messed with the 911 for nearly fifty years, but the model under scrutiny here is a BMW E30. Although there’s a short list of previously modified BMWs under Gemballa, this E30 wasn’t ever officially one of them. Questionable looks aside, this car has the kind of history that could only come from that decade of big money and mountains of cocaine. As it’s understood, this E30 was a special order by a client in Japan and was completed off the books. It has since been confirmed to be a genuine Gemballa product, and an incredibly unique one at that, being the only one in the US and potentially the world. As far as history and exclusivity go, it’s hard to get any better, though that doesn’t mean it’s any great to look at.
The basis was a European-spec E30 coupe that was then stripped and formed into whatever it is now. The exterior redesign features enormous fenders and quarter panels to give the coupe a 14-inch wider track than it received in Munich. Upfront, the bumper is similar to the original but features a large molded-in splitter that kicks up just ahead of the front wheels. Aft of the bumper is the bulbous fenders, with a similar body line to the M3; it looks like those fenders suffered an allergic reaction and ballooned up. The flare tapers back into the door, but like nearly every other kit on this list, the rear flare starts on the door and travels upward, gaining height and width before meeting a low spoiler. The rear bumper is also unique to the E30, with various cuts and cues from elsewhere on the car.
However, the two most interesting bits are a little less flashy. Firstly, the wheels are one-offs made by Panasport. They’re a traditional two-piece design with body-colored magnesium centers and polished aluminum barrels. Then there’s the kit itself; it’s all one piece. Bumpers, skirts, fenders, and quarters—connected. Why? Who knows? It was the eighties. Absurdity was the norm. Thirty years on, the Gemballa is at odds with the sleek shapes of today and instead serves as a reminder that a bit of restraint goes a long way.
König BMW E24 6-Series
Oh, what’s that? Another König-bodied car? Yeah, there are plenty of others out there to choose from, but this job is particularly heinous. Every portion of the aftermarket bodywork doesn’t fit with any of BMW’s original styling. If it included a completely redesigned front fascia, there might’ve been a better result, but instead, it leaves those pieces as BMW installed them for a confusing blend of shapes that few could ever want.
The E24 was a handsome sports coupe that found success on the showroom floors and in touring car competition. The styling was in line with other models in the early eighties, like the E21 and E28; crisp, balanced, and simple, the E24 looks just as good today as it did when new. However, that clearly didn’t stop European tuners like Kago, König, Langenberg, and Gemballa from enhancing the provided design or slapping on extra bits without regard to what was already there. Koenig chose the latter approach, resulting in an eyesore.
The kit begins at the front bumper cover, incorporating a restyled lower valance into a slightly chunkier bumper cover. As the bumper wraps around the nose, it leads into the flared fender with the accompanying lines. The fender flare is relatively wide but is kept tight around the wheel until it reaches the door. From there, the small cut line in the front bumper widens as the extended bodywork splits into distinct sections. The lower portion is gently angled upward, forming into a tight rear flare and ending up just below the taillights. The upper portion rises sharply, cutting through the flare and forming a wrap-around spoiler similar to so many of the kits from the decade.
It’s bad, and not exclusively in an overstyled way. It looks lazy—like they didn’t care. At least the kits from Gemballa or ABC Exclusive were comprehensive makeovers with a theme. The König kit looks like a series of random angles and curves tacked on without clear direction. It’s almost as if one team worked on the front and another on the rear, but neither communicated. It’s gaudy in a cartoonish fashion, yet I couldn’t imagine anyone ever using it on screen. If you need an outrageous period-correct body kit for your BMW E24, go with anything else.
While none of these should be the next addition to the Lourve, they’re all a special and unique representation of an era of excess. They’re wild and flashy to an extent that is rarely ever seen today and pulled off even less, even though they are objectively messy. So what say you? Are these all abominations that should be met with a gas can and some matches, or do they deserve far more respect? If you have the answer or think we missed out on a no-brainer for this list, let us know in the comments below. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow along on the DIY Blog for more daily content!
Owner of a flat-six swapped 1998 Impreza 2.5RS and a 1973 Porsche 914. Horizontally opposed views, only.