You'd have to live in Manhattan and not get down to the street much to have missed the tuner car craze that's rallied across the nation. They're everywhere, and not just Hondas anymore. With sales of aftermarket performance parts surging, it was all too easy to imagine legions of car guys emailing Design News after we posted our "calling all cars"— asking readers to tell us about their tuner vehicles.
We can only posit a few explanations for the dismal response: 1) the message never got out (it was appended just once to a fluid power newsletter); 2) DN readers are too busy working on their cars to actually respond to a dopey magazine poll; or, 3) DN readers are too busy creating new dishes in their Manhattan apartments to respond to said dopey magazine poll.
If it's the former two, then please share with us here the stories of a couple of readers who did get the word and responded. If it's the latter, please send your recipe ideas along to Better Homes and Gardens. We're sure they'd want to know.
And thanks, you few guys, for checking in. We'll send a couple of free issues out to you (a $10 value). Show them to your mechanic friends . . . over a frothy Cappuccino.
The New "Garage"?
First time homebuyer George Lutzow says the second thing he asks about while shopping for a house is a two-car garage (the first thing, as every engineer knows, is price). Never mind stainless steel appliances. Give the man a pit or the room for a lift.
Meanwhile, a shop down the street lets him use its hoist on slow Saturdays, where you can find him wrenching on his '87 Camaro Z28 or his 2001 Corvette, both of which he races in SCCA sponsored Autocross timed-lap contests.
The SKF applications engineer has completely rebuilt the engine and suspension in the Camaro and modified the Corvette's exhaust. He helps his friends with their cars, and he's giving his college-age brother a hand prepping a 1970 Chevelle for the drag strip—meaning dropping in a big-block motor and adding a roll cage.
While studying at Drexel University he was on the Formula SAE team where he continued his shade-tree mechanic's training that he'd begun on a 1978 Malibu.
Of the "tuner" phenomenon, he sees it as something of a catchphrase to describe folks who bolt on looks without always improving performance. Take lowering, for example. Sure, it drops a car's center of gravity, he says, which ought to help handling. But, if the lowering doesn't take into account how or how much the suspension moves, a tuner can end up with a ride that's "choppy," he says.
The factory tuned cars—Ford Focus SVT's, Dodge Neon SRT4's, Subaru Imprezia WRX STi's, Acura RSX Type S's—are good starting vehicles for drivers who want performance and don't mind paying for it. They're engineered, he says, so the high-end brakes have to work with the sport suspension. "The car manufacturers have to maintain safety," he says. You don't always have that assurance with home builts.
An obvious GM man, Lutzow's been particularly impressed with the Cadillac CTSV, saying it hit the target the company aimed it toward, the 3 Series BMW. He's driven both.
Working as a fabricator before becoming a design engineer for Symex Technologies gave Trevor Frank the confidence to delve deep into the fundament of his '93 Audi S4. He's had his hands around its airway (he added an intercooler), its brain (a Danish friend help him with the chip tuning), and its legs (he cut down the front struts). Yet the car remains perfectly street legal—and a bit of a sleeper, at that. People don't expect the performance that the four-door family sedan delivers, Frank says. He drives it daily and to and from races.
The list of cars he's worked on doesn't stop with the Audi, either. He's helped build a 1955 Porsche four-cam motor, and coaxed an original Mini 63 cid engine into spewing out 120 horsies.
Engineering-wise, the most challenging bit on the Audi involved installing a larger US made mass-airflow sensor on the intake, then using a voltage mapper and spreadsheet to plot out the tables of the original MAF sensor. Even the company that sold him the unit for voltage mapping didn't think he'd be able to do it, Frank tells Design News. After he had an image of the old MAF map, he used the voltage mapper to make the new output voltages the same as the old for the various flow rates.
Frank helps out a local tuning business from time to time with his knowledge of materials. According to 034EFI business owner, Javad Shadzi, that knowledge comes in handy in developing performance solutions for Audis and VWs, such as the performance package 034EFI builds that drops about 700 hp into an engine compartment formerly filled with a hundred.
The interest in tuning—what was known in the '50s as hot-rodding—resurged in the '90s. Hondas, which responded well to minor modifications, became readily available, Shadzi says. "They provided perfect platforms for tuning, what with their really nice twin cam motors and wonderful independent rear suspensions," he adds. The sedans of the 1970s were, instead, educated beyond their intellect, one might say. Today, it doesn't take much to turn even an econobox into a passable street racer. They are basically detuned for "domestic" use, he says. Hmmm, does that mean a grocery-hauler?
Solids Modeling for Dr. Porsche
A long-time contract engineer in electronics packaging and aerospace, John Tilden honed his own mechanic's feel at his dad's garage starting when he was about five. He's restored a Porsche 911 for which he fabricated a few parts when he couldn't find the "right" pieces. In addition to the 1987 911, his car stable includes an Avanti S6 to which he hopes to add an FMIC and complete RS2 conversion. He'll probably trash the Hot Wire and resort to pressure sensing MAP for mixture control. To the Avanti he's added 18-inch wheels, a chip, and Stromung exhaust.
On the job, Tilden models 3D electronic packages using SolidWorks. After hours, he's begun modeling the front end suspension components of a Porsche 911, which he believes he can improve significantly.
Tilden found that some modifications bring new worries, like the time he increased the rear sway bar diameter on an Audi from 15 to 25 mm. The step up overstressed the mounting brackets and they began failing regularly. He had a local shop in the Seattle area laser cut and brake form 50 new bracket pairs, so he'd have plenty of replacements.
"I still have some of the powder coated parts left," Tilden says.
Reach Senior Editor Paul Sharke at email@example.com.