CJ Cardinalli Talks Car Mods and His 'Bagged and Ruined' Tesla Model 3
The Tesla community is a relatively close-knit network, and with auto mods still being relatively new among these communities, the crossover between both represents an ever more niche community. In a recent interview, car show builder and Instagram influencer CJ Cardinalli talked to EVANNEX about his background building out vehicles, the modified Tesla community and his plans for his next EV build-out.
Above: A customized Tesla logo (Image: Casey Murphy / EVANNEX).
With 14,500 followers on Instagram for his @casper_model3 Instagram account, CJ has garnered a close network of followers and friends through the Tesla mods community. With his show crew @ruinedtesla and his auto building business @CEEJ_Customs, CJ talks about watching the automotive modification community move beyond fossil fuels, along with his own projects on other Teslas, and his custom Model 3 build.
Modded Tesla talk with CJ Cardinalli of CEEJ Customs
EVANNEX: How did you become interested in driving a Tesla?
CJ: As a car show builder, I wanted something brand new that no one has really modified yet. I bought the car in mid-2018 and from the start, the vision was to build a full-blown show car.
The crazy thing is I bought the car without even test-driving it. I just had a feeling I was going to love it due to all the technology that was in the car. Turns out I was right and loved it at first drive. I started modding it the next day with basic bolt-ons and vinyl overlays.
EVANNEX: Tell me more about being a car show builder. Any favorite car builds before the Model 3 came along?
CJ: I have been involved in DIY modifying and building cars for over 20 years. I have performed hands-on modification installs for Euro, JDM, and now Tesla and EV cars. I started my own company in 2019 called CEEJ Customs. CEEJ Customs was founded to give back to the Tesla community and provide affordable install prices to help fellow enthusiasts personalize and build their cars, from vision to reality.
I would have to say that my favorite build, besides the Tesla, was my BMW e36 M3. It actually had more mods on it than my Tesla, if you can believe it.
EVANNEX: How did RUINED, your car show team and modded Tesla club, start?
CJ: I was actually one of the founders of the group, and am the current SoCal Chapter Director. RUINED Tesla is a car club/show team with chapters all over the US. It all started as a hashtag (#RUINEDTESLA) in the fall of 2019, when the Tesla purists would tell us we “ruined” our cars by slamming them into the ground.
It was founded by a group of the first modified Model 3 units on air suspension. With an active and expanding membership base, we strive to remain tasteful yet refined as we expand our wealth of technical knowledge, with an encouragement for DIY. By sharing our love for automotive style coupled with sustainability, we move to keep car culture alive as we advance beyond fossil fuels.
EVANNEX: Any favorite EVANNEX parts in the past? Any favorite mods?
CJ: Overall it’s a one-stop shop to build up your Tesla to a pretty decent build. The carbon fiber door trim and seat backs stand out to me the most for the interior. On the exterior, the fact that you carry so many top-name brands for body kits is also nice.
As for my favorite mod, my frunk builds are always my favorite. I love getting creative with custom displays. I have had five different versions of my frunk, and I’m working on the sixth now.
EVANNEX: What makes the Tesla community different from other automotive communities?
CJ: I think the community is very split between the Tesla purists and the people who want to mod them. Most of the Tesla guys in the show circuit came from either a Euro or JDM background, and you can totally tell by the way they mod their Teslas. I would say that the people in the modded community are very welcoming and nice overall, compared to other communities I have been a part of in the past.
It’s usually the people outside the community that tend to hate on our cars, but it’s getting better as time goes on. You keep seeing modded Teslas everywhere now, and bagged ones are a dime a dozen.
EVANNEX: Who else would you recommend talking to in the Tesla community, or is there anyone specific providing unique coverage that you like to follow?
EVANNEX: Are there any questions you think I missed that I should ask?
CJ: My next car after the Model 3 — I would love for my next project to be the CyberTruck. I do have a reservation on a dual-motor that I made the night of the release. I already have some cool ideas that I want to do to it.
EVANNEX: Any events/happenings coming up that you think readers should know about?
CJ: Here in SoCal there’s pretty much a meet or car event almost every night of the week. But I would say my favorite show of the year is always Spocom. If you’re looking for a really good Tesla-only meet, my favorite is Hot Tesla Nights. It's an event that RUINED co-hosts with @teslameets that draws up to 100 modded teslas.
EVANNEX: Any advice you would give to those hoping to get into modifying their Teslas? Any good places to start?
CJ: I would say plan your build-out before you start. A good thing to start out with is suspension; then focus on wheels. Plan a theme and stick with it throughout the build. Sites like EVANNEX have pretty much all you need to get your start.