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A bit of 90s Nostalgia: Tuner Car Theory

Black Acura NSX Coupe

The automotive bug usually strikes around sixteen, but even younger if you have a really bad case. The problem with cars or anything gas-powered is it requires cash flow. Most young adults start looking at Craigslist and Auto Trader to find their four-wheeled soul mate. After sorting the cars by price (low to high of course), you quickly learn the reality of your budget prohibits the purchase of your dream car. So then you move on to searching for that needle in a haystack―a car within your budget that requires some TLC, but has good bones and the potential to be something fast and unique. Within examples like this one, lies the genesis of the tuner industry.

Enthusiastic youth think: Since I can’t afford an AMG Mercedes or a Shelby variant of the Mustang from the factory, I could get a stock version and DIY it. If you’re not familiar with these acronyms or titles, many automotive manufactures have their own internal performance tuning arm. Their goal is to add horsepower and promote distinctive design queues, i.e. bulging fender flares, bigger brakes, larger wheels and of course, lightweight components made with carbon fiber. These not-so-subtle modifications are supposed to give you the sensation that you’re driving a racecar for street. And believe me, it works. But with those premium upgrades comes a premium price tag. If you’re not interested in off-the-shelf, high-priced OEM performance options, then the tuner world is for you. Let’s look at the different types of tuners.

“I can’t! It’s a Geo!”  -Ned Flanders

You love your Subaru WRX. It’s paid off, it’s well-maintained and it’s the perfect swiss army knife for going to the grocery store and the occasional track day. That said, it would be nice if it had a little more horsepower, stronger brakes, and tighter handling. With a couple of inexpensive “bolt-on” modifications like an ECU tune, a budget brake kit and sticky summer tires you can go from driving a grocery-getter to an autocross killer. The tricky part is not to go overboard. Too many aftermarket parts can hurt the reliability and comfort of your daily driver. We’ve all seen those cars that are way too low with massive wheels bouncing down the street.

90s Subaru WRX STI Tuner
90s Subaru WRX STI

“Please, look at me! I’m so pretty!”  -Silvio, the landlord

Another aspect of the tuner car is the ability to turn heads. These aesthetically pleasing tuners are not necessarily intended to be practical or even drive well. They are statements and can be considered works of art if done properly. Most car enthusiasts have seen the original Fast and Furious. That movie took everyday cars and turned them into action stars that jumped off the screen with their vivid paint schemes and aggressive attitudes. The hero car, a 1993 Toyota Supra driven by the late-Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Conner is an icon in its own right. A tuner car is a form of self-expression. It gives the creator a canvas on which to a build their automotive masterpiece.

Paul Walker's 1993 Toyota Supra - The Fast and the Furious
Paul Walker's 1993 Toyota Supra

“World’s are colliding!”  -George Costanza

Finally, the world of speed and the world of beauty collide in the perfect combination of engineering, performance and design. The tuning shops pictured below are the pinnacle of the industry. They have taken mostly base model sports car and turned them into a picture-perfect version of what a sports car should be. If you want to buy one of these amazing creations, there is a hefty price tag. Yes, these are extreme examples, but they show what’s possible and might give you some inspiration for your own project.

Singer Air-cooled Porsche 911 "Boston"

Another Game for Mila

At Vintage Ltd we have our own in-house tuner 90s nostalgia project that we’ve been slowly building over that last three years. It’s been a roller coaster of the good, the bad and the ugly. But we always have a blast discussing modifications and laughing about all the new ways Mila could, and probably will, leave us stranded. This is why the tuner culture is such a tightknit group. It’s not just about the cars but the fun and comradery that goes along with it.

If you want to learn more about our project car Mila, check out our first blog and future blogs discussing our progress with Mila.

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