Automobiles Slay Poupon: Hoonigan Builds a Rolls-Royce Like No OtherHoonigan redeems an unlovable 1978 Silver Shadow.
- Words Zach Bowman
- Images Jeff Stockwell
Hoonigan is a merry band of scumbags, helmed by 0-60 Magazine founder Brian Scotto. They defy categorization, having become the Unitarian Church of vehicular mayhem. If it’s rad, it rides with Hoonigan. You’re as likely to see a 1,100-horsepower Nissan GT-R drag car as you are a high-flying ‘64 Impala lowrider or a ground-pounding trophy truck. The company has become a beacon for anyone who is fed up with the pearl-clutching car show crowd and the cliques it fosters. But even in that anything-goes atmosphere, an outlier hid in the background for years: a 1978 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
Scotto picked it up as part of a pilot for Car Saviors, a Discovery Channel show that went to embers. The premise was simple: take something unlovable and redeem it, usually with copious horsepower. The car got a brawling 6.7-liter Hemi V-8, a six-speed manual, and a handbrake, all of which were good enough for rolling shots on television and not much else. The Silver Shadow was engineered to do one thing exceptionally well: waft down British B-roads. When asked to dance with its new hardware, the car outright refused, threatening to eject its rear subframe.
That was more than five years ago. Scotto parked it on the stacker, where it lurked in the background of Hoonigan’s YouTube videos, teasing viewers. Any time that upright grille made an appearance, commenters begged to see the thing dusted off. But Hoonigan isn’t just a bunch of friends screwing around. It’s a business and builds don’t just happen because the internet wills it. The Rolls-Royce needed a patron saint. It found it in the unlikeliest of people: David Borla of Borla Exhaust.
Borla was around while Hoonigan was filming an episode of “This vs. That,” and mentioned his company got its start building exhaust components for vintage Rolls-Royce models. Collective lightbulbs illuminated, and over the course of the next few months, the Hoonigan crew and Borla worked together to come up with a concept that was true to what Scotto had in mind when he bought the Rolls-Royce for Car Saviors. It needed to be a thing they could throw three people in and proceed to execute endless drifts and burnouts, safely. It needed to be able to stand up to drag racing, track abuse, and road trips. It needed to be an ambassador for everything the Hoonigan flag stands for.
Ron Zaras, Hoonigan’s Vice President of Brand, was there for the early talks. “There’s nothing that teaches non-car people what cars are really about like putting them in the vehicle and having them experience the Gs, the noise, the smoke, the everything,” he says. “It’s such a more visceral experience than just seeing cars slide around on YouTube.”
“There’s clutch kicks. There’s handbrake turns. There’s all sorts of stuff going on. We wanted to build a stout driveline that could at least put up with a couple of shows before it gets rebuilt.”
After a few weeks of ideation and chats with various partners, the crew decided the best course was to carve out the floor pan and start fresh with Art Morrison front and rear subframes. That move meant completely modern suspension geometry with Strange Engineering coilovers and Baer brakes with six-piston calipers on all four corners. Then the crew ditched the old 6.7-liter Hemi for a new Mopar Hellcrate 6.2-liter supercharged V-8, and while the 700-horsepower engine is good enough for most of us, Hoonigan ditched the factory blower for a Magnuson TVS2650R kit that nudges the final figures to 1,000 horsepower and 950 pound-feet of tire-vaporizing torque.
All of it gets to a built Tremec T56 six-speed manual transmission via a Mopar clutch, but there was a problem: there was nothing connecting the front and rear subframes. To make everything play nice, the crew had to build a chassis jig, then set about constructing a custom tube frame and roll cage to make sure the car didn’t twist itself in two. “We’re trying to overbuild because, a) you’re going to put a lot of weight in this thing, and b) you’ve seen what we do,” Zaras says. “There’s clutch kicks. There’s handbrake turns. There’s all sorts of stuff going on. We wanted to build a stout driveline that could at least put up with a couple shows before it gets rebuilt.”
Outside, the Rolls is pure Hoonigan, an alternate-reality blend of IMSA, DTM, and JDM influences. “When you have a car like the Rolls, design becomes an internal creative committee, in a way,” Zaras says. “We’ll ideate down to color. We’ll lock ourselves in a room and we’ll go back and forth for days. We’ll get a couple of renders made, then we’ll land on a consensus. This is what’s cool, this is what fits the project.” That’s why Hoonigan landed on a white-on-white, gloss, and matte exterior wrap, befitting a car that might find itself sliding into a barrier or three. The team then custom fabricated aluminum bumpers to replace the 90-pound steel pieces that came from the factory; Zaras tells us that the team hand-polished the bumpers for two days to match the grille. The result is an exterior that, to the casual observer, looks mostly stock — well, except for those gold mesh wheels, another shout-out to the brand’s IMSA obsession.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this all sounds well outside of the wheelhouse of a bunch of scumbags doing donuts in a Los Angeles parking lot, but something interesting has happened while we’ve been watching Hoonigan over the years. The team has employed a small army of genuine craftsmen capable of producing world-class builds that point the enthusiast conversation in a way few other brands can manage. “We’re cretins with some skilled people behind the wrenches these days,” Zaras says.