Ever since teenagers started dreaming of their first car, there has been an inherent idea that no manufacturers car is stylish or cool enough. They must be made better, by way of bigger wheels, louder exhausts, booming stereos and vastly-impractical bodykits. The tuning culture has alway been there, and has been glorified in Hollywood movies. Talk of a 10-second (that means a standing quarter mile to you and me) car often excites these racer folk. But do we all have this in us? Or is it the select few? Well, Brad Credit takes a look into the subject...
"All the Way Tuned Up" - By Brad Credit
For many car enthusiasts, The Fast and the Furious franchise is a love and hate sort of movie series. Some love the movies and the cars that are featured in them, widening their eyes when the tuned cars and their neon-lit under carriages speed down urban streets in the middle of the night, salivating at the mouths when the hood is lifted and the shiny, well-kept engine bay is revealed with all of its beautiful intricacies.
Some, however, loathe the films, not just for the plot of the film, but also for the tuned cars in the movie. Some think that if anything more than the exhaust is changed then the car has been ruined. Some view the car’s tuners as being ignorant youths with no respect for the original designers and engineers. Everyone's a critic.
Frankly, I love the modified cars in the films. Maybe it’s the countless nights of street racing in souped up Toyota Supras in Need for Speed: Underground 2, but seeing the luminescent street cars drifting through Tokyo parking lots (hopefully you know what I’m talking about) is the type of stuff I love about tuned cars.
Sure there are those cars that have been overdone, and yes, there are cars that only experienced the installment of oversized speakers, but to me tuned cars are what the car culture is all about. Owners have a love affair for their cars and driving, so much so that they spend a good deal of money in order to get everything they can out of their car.
The tuning culture didn’t have its beginnings in The Fast and the Furious’ film series, while that may have popularized the act of tuning cars improving upon a car’s performance has been something performed for decades. The first booming era was the time period between the conclusion of World War II and the beginning of the air pollution restrictions in the 1970s. During this time, the hot rod was the car of choice for tuners, taking pre-War, typically American roadsters and transforming them into berserk machines with flames painted from the nose and the engine usually out in the open.
Japan in the 1970s and early-to-mid 80s did not see many Japanese performance cars being exported to other countries, however in the late 80s and early 90s, this began to change. Cars such as the Nissan Skyline began to be privately exported through the back door to countries in Europe and the United States. Thank God for that, otherwise who knows what the world would look like today.
But why were people so interested in tuning their cars? I’ve talked to numerous people who are not enthusiasts and they simply can not understand why someone would take the risk and want to take off and add parts to their car by themselves instead of going to a mechanic, let alone why they would want to modify their car in the first place, in their minds if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The interest in tuning is actually a quite understandable reason. The combination of lightweight economy and compact cars -- which are normally the chosen cars when it comes to tuning -- and the low-price of tuning equipment are much more affordable and reasonable than investing in a sports car from the get-go. Sure, over time the car’s owner may spend the same, if not more, than the price of a fully-equipped sports car, but it’s that simple habit we humans have of preferring to spend a certain sum of money over a spread of time than to spend it all at once. Think about it like this, would you rather spend $30,000 on a Honda S2000 or $30,000 on making your sub-10k Mazda RX-7 twice as good as it already is?
And unlike many would like to think, tuning is not limited to tossing in two large turbochargers, a massive, incredibly loud exhaust, and go faster technology (such as performance chips) and styling. That’s just a stereotype. Open up a tuning car magazine on your average newspaper stand and much of the advertisements for tuner parts are things such as shocks, springs, things that make the suspension and handling better. High-performance doesn’t just mean powerful, just ask the MX-5.
But that doesn’t answer the question of why many do the operation of installing new parts to the car instead of letting a trained professional take care of it. Why take that risk? It seems that everytime that I get in a conversation about The Fast and the Furious, Need for Speed, and tuned cars with one of my non-enthusiast friends this question comes up.
I believe the answer to this is that it goes back to that love affair that us crazy petrolheads have with our cars. That process of extracting every ounce of performance out of a relatively standard car is the essence of tuning, and working on a car by yourself -- and doing it right, mind you -- is an extremely rewarding experience. And that aspect of getting everything one can out of a car is what I truly love about tuning. Sure some are overdone, some make no sense, and some are a bit depressing, but the right tuning puts the performance of a genuine sports car into the hands of the everyday bloke.
Maybe it was the fact that I’ve watched The Fast and the Furious and Tokyo Drift multiple times. Maybe it was the late-nights of weaving purple, luminescent economy cars in and out of traffic on a street circuit that to this day I swear was downtown Los Angeles on PlayStation. Maybe it’s the immense tuning I’ve performed on cars in Gran Turismo or watching YouTube videos of some month-long project some bloke worked on in his garage. Or maybe it’s the fact that tuned cars are genuinely electrifying.