When Aloyce Omondi, the proprietor of Nairobi Pimp Auto Garage moved to the city in 2007, he was only coming to train as a mechanic, through apprenticeship. Knowing too well that the city was flooding with mechanics day by day, he had to be unique in his art.
He had an inborn art of drawing—and now he had become a motor enthusiast.
The sporty, flashy cars and how they dashed on the streets from the movies he watched, fascinated him so much that he swore to make the same someday.
He trained as a mechanic until he was confident to handle any vehicle by himself. Add to the intrinsic passion, he realised, the mix works magic. Yet, it was only when his then-employer entrusted him with pimping “Brainchild,” the first-ever modified matatu to ply the Nairobi’s Buruburu route, that he realised that was an unexplored field.
With more than a decade of experience in car modification, he says, the business has grown, thanks to Kenyans with Toyota Premios but want a Lexus design. Or those who want their Honda Civic to look like a Lamborghini, or a Toyota Wish to have a Subaru Impreza shape.
“These motorists crave car models they cannot have but want to feel as though they own one, that’s where I come in handy,” says Mr Omondi who is now known as ‘Engineer Omondi’ in the garage circles.
Whether they are racing ahead of manufacturers, car owners have been modifying different parts of their vehicles for aesthetic reasons or to improve performance.
So good is the car modification business that Suleiman Mwakuwanda, the owner of New Digital Cushion Makers in Majengo, Mombasa, says that it is will be hard for him to seek employment in another field.
He specialises in interior design and has been in the industry for 11 years now.
A majority of his clients are between 30 and 50 years old. For the older generation, Mr Suleiman says, they usually do not need much work done on their vehicles.
To pimp a vehicle’s interior alone, some of his clients can part with Sh200,000.
“It all depends on the type of modification. Some people want a very sophisticated design that raises the price, while others who just want it simple can pay Sh100,000,” says the 32-year-old.
The price largely depends on the quality of the material used, but it also helps the garage owners retain and woo new customers.
For Mr Suleiman, he says, it is creativity and precision that set him apart.
“Since this is a creative sector that has no particular formula, I strive to create my unique design,” he says.
In a month, he can work on more than 10 vehicles. So what do his clients ask for?
“For some, re-carpeting, putting rubber, checker plates, leather for the seats, rough and tough for the roof of the vehicle, and mirrors,” he says, adding that a client may also want an elaborate music system and a TV.
Mr Omondi says over the years, more and more garages are now “doing the same thing.” To stay ahead of the race, he does not import the car parts for remodelling because “that will make my services expensive.”
Importing the parts, he says, cost up to Sh90,000. Added to the taxes, the cost can go up to Sh120,000, plus additional installation charges of Sh20,000. He sources all of his modification materials locally.
“I don’t import the modified parts. We mold them here. The customer only sends us a photo of whatever he wants, we agree on the deliverable timeline and we get the job done,” he said, pointing at a molding clay.
He uses fibreglass, smoothers, molding clay and welding machines, and paints at various stages of the redesign.
Thanks to his prowess, he brags of a nationwide clientele.
“Most are referrals,” he says, adding that his garage is mostly frequented by car owners who are mostly between ages 30 and 40.
According to Mr Omondi, a complete car overhaul takes about two weeks. Each client’s request is unique and sometimes, even crazy.
“As crazy as wanting a sunroof for a vehicle that’s not authorised to have such,” he says.
However, it is these crazy modifications that are worrying insurers. They argue that modifications are making it hard to determine the risk profile of vehicles and therefore almost impossible to pick the right level of premiums.
While this is likely to dent the garage business, Mr Omondi is confident that his clients’ taste cannot be tamed by hiking the premiums.
“What usually happens in case of an accident, the insurance only caters for the original spare part and not the modified version. The client then tops up the deficit if they still want the modified versions to be fitted in their cars,” he says.
For Arun Kumar, an Information, Technology and Electricals graduate, he says he did a lot of research before quitting his previous job and settling on car lights modification as a profession.
A gaming enthusiast, the art of car modification was first a hobby before he commercialised it. He watched the modified car lights in games and translated them into the real world.
He has been running Modz & Lights Car Lighting Solutions for five years now.
Based in Ruiru, Kiambu, he says his business attracts mostly car owners in their 30s and 40s.
“They mostly ask for an upgrade when they can’t see at night,” he says.
“Sometimes, however, they just ask for adjustment for beauty.”
With the recommended warm-white light having a temperature of 5500K, increasing the brightness may mean endangering other motorists especially at night. The higher the temperature, the lower the visibility, and vice versa.
Traffic laws prohibit the use of too many bright headlights. But Mr Kumar argues that with newer technologies, he can adjust the lights be it to improve visibility or for beautification, without being a pain to other motorists.
The LED lights, he says, have the advantage of reducing the glare to zero. The inclusion of projectors in the lighting system translates to more focus at the centre of the road.
“The projectors also have the advantage of a sharp, clear-cut vision board, which then allows an oncoming motorist a looking space,” he says.
Then, there are those Kenyans who love classics and vintages, but take great pleasure in having them customised to fit the modern trends —or something close to how it left the manufacturer in the 1930s.
Their satisfaction lies in seeing their engines revving and functioning just as the modern models.
It is for the love of classics and the rarity of finding spare parts that Benjamin Ngige decided to own a “classics restoration” garage to help Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts reinstate their old models.
His is not entirely modification, but more of restoration.
For the last seven years, Mr Ngige has operated @GermantouchKE, a classic Mercedes-Benz restoration centre, and he has worked on more than 50 vintage cars.
“I’m currently restoring a W108, W109, W114, W115, and a W116,” he told BDLife in a previous interview.