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Affordable, Creative Ways to Make Any Car Look Steampunk

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Steampunk car vehicle modification style paint ideas tips accessory cabin interior exterior Victorian fantasy

Steampunk styled classic car at International Steampunk City 2011 in Waltham, MA
Photo: Selbe Lynn via Flickr/CC

You’ve spent years perfecting your steampunk outfit and gear, but the illusion is broken when you show up to the convention dressed from head to tow in your ensemble…driving a glaringly modern car. No doubt you want to overhaul your daily driver into a steampunk contraption, but doing so can involve a lot of money and effort—not to mention the purchase of a classic car with an old-fashioned body.

With a visionary eye and some creative work-arounds, though, you can tweak your car enough to give it a steampunk aesthetic without breaking the bank. The easiest approach to modifying your to car to evoke your favorite alternate history era is to implement the same fashion and design cues utilized in steampunk outfits and accessories.

Disclaimer: However you choose to modify your car, make sure you don’t do anything that makes it dangerous or illegal to drive!

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DIY Tips to Mod Your Car into a Steampunk Vehicle

Debadge the car: Remove any trace of the brand logo, name, or vehicle name of the model you’re driving (here’s how to do that).

Accent paint: One of the most recognizable characteristics of steampunk art is the coloring. Use a permanent copper or bronze paint to give a more old-fashioned, metallic look to parts like the grille, bumper, fender guards, etc.

Rivet lines: Outline the seams along the fenders, hood, pillars, and trunk with fake rivet heads to make the panels look like mounted metal sheets.

Accessories: Mount some old-fashioned items characteristic of turn-of-the-century vehicles like exterior car horns, a hood ornament, and smokestacks.  Mount flexible hoses and tubing to the body of the car, making it look like they’re protruding from the exterior.

Exposed gears: You can achieve this must-have aspect in a variety of ways. For instance, buy those fake, peel-and-stick side vents, painting them and replacing the intake mesh with gears to give the impression of the “inner workings” of the body. Or, buy a custom wrap/decals for the sides of the vehicle that look like they’re a cutaway

Rims: Replace the hubcaps on your car with retro-styled hubcaps with many narrow spokes painted in bronze or copper.

Window tints: If you don’t want to overhaul the interior of the vehicle and want to direct your efforts to just the exterior, or if you want to draw attention away from the interior in general, have the car’s windows tinted very darkly. Doing so will emphasize the exterior of the car and leave whatever’s inside strictly up to the viewer’s imagination.

Interior: If you do want to do some work to the cabin without completely overhauling it (who really wants to reupholster the floor and ceiling of their car?), here are a couple quick additions to make:

  • Get a wood steering wheel cover.
  • Paint the dashboard copper or bronze, and add rivet lines at the seams.
  • Give the air vents and other parts chrome coloring to contrast.
  • Install brown leather seat covers.
  • Find any other wood accents to add to the door panels, shift knob, etc.
  • Remove the glovebox and install imitation gears so it the compartment now looks like the exposed inner workings of the dashboard.

What About a Motorcycle? You can use many of these same techniques to modify a motorcycle to give it a steampunk aesthetic. Honestly, modifying a retro-styled motorcycle (which are still made today) would be much easier than doing all this work on the car you drive every day, so give this option serious thought.

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