A limited-edition Pagani Huayra die-cast model signed by Horacio Pagani sits on the corner of Ben Schaffer’s desk, and just next to it is a 3D-printed Tesla prototype model signed by Elon Musk.
Those guys come from totally opposite ends, as far as left brain/right brain, but they represent the most innovative and exciting parts of automotive culture,” says Schaffer, president of Unplugged Performance, a SoCal-based tuning shop that shares a business park with Musk-founded SpaceX. The Unplugged team got its start building outlandish, SEMA-friendly performance cars such as Schaffer’s daily driver — a 2012 Nissan GT-R with a full carbon-fiber body and Lexan windows — and began working on Teslas three and a half years ago after Schaffer bought a Model S.
“When I drove it for the first time, my mind was blown, totally blown,” he says. “As a car enthusiast, the experience of driving a Tesla isn’t really relatable to anything else. But I would walk up to my car, and it didn’t feel as special as it was. When I drove it, it felt special. But when I looked at it, not so much.” Unplugged has since started to update Tesla “P” performance variants with a more aggressive, futuristically handsome aesthetic that matches the EVs’ unexpected performance. The hope is that even the most hardcore car enthusiasts are now drawn to Teslas.
Schaffer leads us through Unplugged’s front door toward his 2016 Tesla Model X, which has been wrapped in burnt-orange vinyl and fitted with a prototype body kit made of hand-laid carbon fiber. “A lot of Tesla owners happen to come out of Aston Martins and Bentleys, Ferraris and Lamborghinis,” he says. “And, yeah, this Model X is quicker than some of those cars, but it didn’t feel as special.”
Unplugged Performance lowered the adjustable air suspension to get an extra 1.5 inches of drop, covered just about every exposed interior surface in carbon fiber, and fitted a body package that embraces the Model X’s big, smooth, aero-friendly vacancies on front and rear bumpers instead of tacking on fake vents or superfluous, nonfunctional trim. “No matter what,” Schaffer says, “it’s going to be a divisive design because the car itself is that way.”
As the sun sets and tints the clouds pink, we look up through the top of the windshield and watch a half-lit waxing moon push its way into the evening sky. We pull into an overlook to snap a few photos, and even though we’re in the middle of nowhere, we immediately draw a crowd when the falcon doors open. People ask what kind of car it is, and we tell them. We tell them how quick it is, and they can’t believe it.
Imaginative creations of people like Pagani have challenged and inspired customizers, and maybe Musk too will become an idyllic figure in the aftermarket world.