Automotive culture is rich and complex, full of subcultures and warring factions and generally a beautiful microcosm of all aspects of the human condition. As such, there’s lots of elements of the culture that are controversial, and sometimes it’s fun to weigh in on these. One of these elements is the practice of re-badging a car with a different manufacturer’s emblems. While often looked down upon, I think this is almost always fun, if not taken seriously, and maybe one of the most subtly punk things one can do with their cars.
I should clarify one thing here: the kind of re-badging I’m talking about needs to be the kind that re-badges the manufacturer’s badges, not the model. Re-badging one particular model of car to be, say, a slightly more upmarket version of the same car is, well, kinda weak. I mean, it’s not the worst thing one could do, but in many ways it’s the exact opposite of a full manufacturer badge swap, because the improve-my-model-from-a-DX-to-an-LX or whatever plays into the inane status culture of car badges, and offers no commentary or insight. It’s just posturing.
Changing the whole manufacturer badging is different.
I was thinking about this because I happened to see this tweet recently of a Nissan Altima quite thoroughly re-badged into a Maserati:
— Andrew Weaver (@andrewcweaver) July 15, 2023
What I love about this is that to a lot of non-car obsessed normies, this may very well read as a Maserati! And you can’t really blame them; I mean, sure, most of us reading this can tell the difference, but if you’re not really into cars beyond badges, how far apart are these, really?
There’s three basic categories of manufacturer badge swapping, and this is one of them: Low-to-High. Take a mainstream car and give it the badging of something much more expensive. Usually the car’s owner knows it’s not really going to fool anyone who knows anything, and the ire it has the potential to ignite in wealthier owners of the actual premium car brands is a big part of the fun.
It’s subversive in the same way obvious counterfeit designer handbags are: it’s a middle finger to the elite and expensive brands, and if anyone gets really pissed about it, it’s not a bad litmus test for who is a fussy brand-obsessed dipshit, too.
The other category is taking an expensive car and replacing the badging with cheap-car ones, i.e. High-To-Low.
This is a lot less common, but even more punk rock, if you ask me. Rebadging an exotic or extremely expensive car with a down-market brand feels like something only someone very secure would do, and someone who enjoys a good, mildly confusing chuckle. It’s sort of self-effacing, it suggests an understanding of the eye-rolling bullshit of badge snobbery, it also is a great way to piss off the worst sort of purists, and it’s just fun!
Sometimes there will be some reason for the downgraded badge choice, usually suggesting some bit of deeper understanding of the car, like having a Lotus with Toyota badges (they supplied the engines on many of them, you see) or if there’s been an engine swap or something like that.
I can even think of one example where an actual carmaker sort of did this same sort of badge-downgrade: the Kia Elan.
Remember, Kia once sold a re-badged Lotus Elan, with their own engine instead of the one Lotus used, which was an Isuzu engine, anyway.
The last way the re-badging can be done is the most geeky way, the Lateral Re-brand. In this case, one car is re-badged as another of roughly the same stature, for reasons that are likely hilarious to the owner and a few close friends and are baffling to anyone else. Like this Porsche Cayman owner with BMW M318i badges on it. I’m sure there’s a funny story there?
Hell, I’ve done this one myself. See the badge on the abused front not-grille of my old Scion xB Autopian Test Car? That’s a Great Wall badge, because the Chinese company Great Wall once made a version of the xB called the Coolbear, and I had a friend in China send me those badges. Just because I thought it was funny. I’m about certain nearly everyone else who saw it had no idea what the hell it was, and likely didn’t care. But I always smiled when I saw it.
So, here’s what I’m saying: if you feel like re-badging your car to look like another carmaker built it, have at it! Stick a Tesla badge on your 1992 Ford F-150! You know that’s gonna get a lot of dorks all kinds of worked up! Pop a BMW badge on your Subaru BRZ! Put a nice round VW logo in the round hole in your Mercedes-Benz grille!
Mess with all the brands! Keep things confusing and fun. Make those PR people earn their six bills a week, and get those one-brand loyalists all worked up.
This is how to fight the scourge of status and badge-snobbery in automotive culture: keep everyone nice and confused.
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