tune - make more precise, intense, or effective
Within the automotive world, hidden away from all the shiny new supercars and drowned out by the lumpy-cammed V8 musclecars of the past, in a very dark corner sits the red-headed stepchild of automotive culture, the tuner. For many, the word "tuner" conjures up the most vile and wretched kind of car enthusiasts. He came to life in the 80s but started to gain notoriety in the mid-90s. You could tell he was near by the incessant drone of his coffee can exhaust which was just a bit smaller than the subwoofer that filled the trunk of his Japanese import. He was a brash, degenerate hooligan. He was a ricer.
Today, that ricer is an adult and the industry that spawned him has bred millions more around the globe. The aftermarket is a multi-billion dollar industry and while it slowed a bit during the recession to mourn the closing of long time tuner HKS and the magazine Sport Compact Car, it shows no sign of stopping. Are we really surprised by this?
Take a step back in time to the 1950s. Look around and you'll notice America at its most wholesome. World War II is fading into a distant memory, jukeboxes are playing rock 'n' roll at a slightly higher than moderate volume, and people of all ages are happily consuming milkshakes and hamburgers. Happily, until the distinct rumble of a flathead V8 sporting straight pipes makes civilized conversation impossible. The hot rod had arrived.
The hot rod was a crude if not effective piece of engineering. Many of the GIs from WWII had learned how to service vehicles and brought that knowledge home. Combining their abilities with a yearning for an adrenaline rush that hadn't been felt since the war, they created speed by swapping in bigger motors, freer breathing carburetors, and screaming camshafts. If they couldn't find a part, which was usually the case, they made it. Passion fueled ingenuity and ingenuity carved out a niche in the automotive world that is still, to this day, filled by the subculture of hot rodding.
Cross over the tracks to the other side of town and it's a different story with the same ending. Here, speed is not a necessity. Cruising is the most popular way to travel and it's all about being low and slow. The lowrider rules here.
While hot rodders and lowriders have both existed in our lexicon for over 60 years, they probably never saw eye to eye on matters like modifying a car the proper way. Who says they have to? The same debate rages amongst the tuners of our generation. There are those who tune for speed and prep their cars for drag, drift, time trial, hill climb, club racing, etc. Others want to show off their fatlaced, hellaflushed, stanceworked, VIP'ed piece of work on the street at every stoplight, every boardwalk, and every brightly lit parking lot.
If you are an enthusiast, you are, to some degree, a tuner. Whether it's changing out the mids for some more clarity, adding a cold air intake for more power, or putting your car on airbags for that perfect stance, the car is an extension of its owner. Tuners are fickle people. There is no perfect car until we make it perfect. Be loud, be bold, be fast!