Some artists prefer paper, others canvas or wood. But for those wielding an airbrush, sheetmetal is ideal. Despite its seeming like a relatively recent movement, airbrushing artwork on vehicles has been around for over half a century. And for those car, truck and motorcycle enthusiasts looking for the ultimate in expressing themselves through their ride, it’s hard to top a custom airbrush graphic or mural.
The Early Days of Airbrushing
According to some historians, the first fully functional airbrush was invented by Charles Burdick, who, via Thayer and Chandler Art Materials company, presented his small paint spraying device at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The basic design still continues to this day, and consists of pressurized air that runs through a venturi, creating suction that pulls paint in from a reservoir and atomizes it into tiny droplets. The resulting fine spray of paint can be precisely released and controlled via a trigger on the sprayer and used to provide the artist’s most minute detail.
When car customizing really started to take hold in the 1950s, having a “flame job” done to the front of a car was about the coolest thing a hot rodder could do to jazz up his ride’s looks. Back then, nothing gave off the impression of potential speed like flames igniting and spreading out over the front of the car.
If the van’s rocking, don’t come knocking
Airbrushing seemed to reach its zenith in the 1970s with the custom van movement. In addition to their love den interiors outfitted with huge beds, wood paneling and plenty of deep shag carpeting, these massive, nearly windowless boxes on wheels provided the perfect blank canvas thanks to their large expanses of flat sheetmetal.
Wolves howling at the moon, dragons soaring through the air, and Sorcerers doing their thing were popular van art themes of the time. Some were literally out of this world as they depicted Star Trek or Star Wars scenes, as well as moonscapes and other extra-terrestrial visions.
This era also saw low riders hitting their stride and getting artsy. Typically an early-mid 1960s American car, a low rider was exactly as its name implied with its suspension lowered to the point of the car nearly scraping the pavement. More modern versions use adjustable air or hydraulic suspensions. These allow the driver to raise the car up for normal driving, slam it to the ground for “low and slow” cruising or even rapidly raise and lower the car to the point of hopping around. Chevy Impalas are usually the vehicle of choice here, and the airbrushed graphics typically depict a beautiful, scantily-clad Latina on the hood or trunk.
Dude, those are some sick graphics
In addition to those classic themes, modern day graphics — as with much of the clothing and jewelry nowadays — seem to have a preoccupation with skulls. The variety of these “boneheads” won’t be denied as they range from whimsical to downright scary. There are also paint schemes that pay homage to certain ethnicities. And flames haven’t gone out of style either, with “ghost” flames — those usually done in a slightly lighter or darker shade of the car’s primary color — being quite popular.
Getting ink…we mean paint…done
If you’re looking to customize your ride with airbrushed art, you have plenty of options as even a cursory Google search brings up plenty of talented artists and samples of their work. Should you be artistically inclined and want to give a go yourself, you can take a class or even get tutored via YouTube. The Airbrush Museum site is a good source for all things airbrushing.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a sports car with a strong, well-deserved fan base – the Mazda RX-7
Back in the fall of 1978, Mazda put out a rather bold print ad in the car buff magazines. It pictured Mazda’s new, rotary-engined sports car, the 1979 RX-7 sitting proudly in front of sports car icons that had debuted before. The 1947 MG TC. The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette. The 1970 Datsun 240-Z. “This year, it’s the Mazda RX-7.” A brash statement, certainly. And one that time would reveal to be more than justified.
Those car mags — Road and Track, Motor Trend and Car and Driver — had high hopes for the car. Expectations that were met, if not exceeded, once they laid their collective driving gloves on Mazda’s light, sleek and well-rounded sports car. Those basic tenets of light weight, a free-revving rotary engine and an athletic chassis carried the RX-7 through, essentially, four generations, as the last version was dubbed the RX-8. What has also carried on is the unabashed enthusiasm the RX-7s fans have for this very unique sports car.
Getting it right the first time
A sleek, pointy-nosed silhouette with flip-up headlights was what one first noticed upon seeing Mazda’s new 1979 sports car, dubbed RX-7. Yet under the handsome form was the big news. For there lay a powerplant and suspension that could put an ear-to-ear grin on the Grinch, were he a road test editor. And it started at under $6,500, though by the end of that first model year the still-crazy-bargain price had crept up to around $7,000.
It may have made just 100 horsepower, but the RX-7’s tiny 1.2-liter rotary engine, when looked upon as power per liter, was a monster. However, fuel mileage was also more like a larger engine, with 17 to 19 mpg being about average. More notably, it was a delight to drive, thanks to its ultra-smooth, eagerly revving nature that, coupled with the car’s light weight of just 2,400 pounds, provided sprightly for the day acceleration. Though 0-to-60 in about 9.3 seconds and a 17 second quarter mile time aren’t exactly scorching asphalt, consider that a 1979 Camaro Z28, with its 5.7-liter V8, took about 8 seconds and 16 seconds, respectively, for the same sprints.
But the RX-7 was designed more for unwinding curvy roads than juvenile stop light drags. Yes, it may have been somewhat unsophisticated with recirculating ball (rather than rack and pinion) steering and a solid rear axle (rather than independent suspension), but no matter. With its small, light engine set behind the front axle line, the RX-7 sported ideal 50:50 front to rear weigh balance, which, coupled with the car’s low center of gravity, relatively quick steering and firm suspension provided tons of fun on one’s favorite deserted stretch of twisting blacktop.
Initially available in just base S (4-speed manual, steel wheels) and up-level GS (5-speed stick, fancier interior) trim levels, the first RX-7 lasted until 1985, by which time one could also choose plush GSL and top of the line GSL-SE versions. The latter in particular, available only in ’84 and ’85, is the one that first-gen RX-7 fans lust for, as it sports a larger (1.3-liters versus 1.2), more powerful, 135-horsepower engine, four-wheel disc brakes (versus front disc/rear drum) and larger (14-inch versus 13-inch) wheels along with all the luxury features of the GSL. A GSL-SE could dash to 60 mph in just about 8 seconds and fly through the quarter mile in around 16 flat.
For 1986, Mazda brought out the second-generation RX-7. A ground-up redesign seemingly inspired by the Porsche 944, the new RX-7’s styling featured flared out fenders that closely resembled those of the German sports car. The rear, wrap-around glass hatch was now one piece, rather than three as before, lending a cleaner look, as did the smoothly integrated bumpers. Inside, the design and materials were both improved, with thicker, well-shaped seats and large instruments and controls all within a wrap-around cockpit theme.
Under the sleek hood of all RX-7s, be they the base model or fancy GXL, was a 1.3-liter rotary with 146 horsepower, a sizeable boost over the previous base engine and still more than the previous, alphabet-soup RX-7 GSL-SE. The steering was now rack and pinion, all models had four-wheel disc brakes as well as a five-speed stick standard (automatic still optional) and the suspension was more refined, being all independent.
Yet despite the more generous features list and the more sophisticated underpinnings, the new RX-7’s curb weight only increased by about 150-200 pounds (depending on trim level). As such, the new RX-7’s performance was spirited, with the old 0-to-60 and quarter mile contests being done in around 8.5- and 16.5-seconds, respectively. As before, though, this car’s real appeal lay in the way in could confidently dispatch a series of S curves and switchbacks. Drivers in the know kept the rotary humming above 5,000 as they got their kicks slicing through and powering out of the turns.
More power is always good, so for 1987, the RX-7 Turbo debuted. Force-feeding the 1.3-liter rotary pumped output up to 182 horses, good enough for 6.5-second 0-to-60 and 15.0-second quarter-mile times, very impressive for the era. The Turbo also featured larger (16-inch) wheels and tires, firmer suspension tuning and plenty of luxury features including full power accessories, a sunroof and an upgraded audio system complete with cassette deck and graphic equalizer. It was the ‘80s, after all.
For 1988, a convertible joined the lineup. Sadly, the Turbo was not offered in drop-top form but could be had in a special 10th anniversary RX-7, the latter celebrating 10 years of RX-7 production via unique color scheme with white paint, white wheels and white bodyside moldings.
A mild, mid-cycle update for 1989 brought more power for the non-turbo RX-7s, now up to 160 hp, as well as more thrust for the Turbo, now rated at a full 200 hp. The increased muscle shaved a few tenths off the acceleration times, while color-keyed bodyside moldings and new wheels dressed things up a bit. That year also saw the GTU version debut, essentially a base model with some performance enhancements such as firmer suspension and larger, alloy wheels fitted with performance tires.
The next three years, 1990 through 1992, saw little change for Mazda’s exciting two-seater, apart from the GTUs version debuting. Essentially a Turbo model minus the turbo engine, it benefitted from the top dog RX-7’s top shelf underpinnings, such as the upgraded brakes and suspension components.
After seven model years, the second generation RX-7 had run its course. Those wondering how it could be topped would be stunned with what followed for 1993.
Look for Part Two in this series coming soon.
Up until fairly recently in the sometimes snobby classic car show world, Japanese cars usually got about as much respect as Kim Kardashian might garner on a celebrity version of Jeopardy. But the tide is turning, and in Southern California a big part of that reversal is the annual Japanese Classic Car Show held in a park next to the permanently moored Queen Mary.
Now at 11 years and counting, the JCCS seems to welcome all makes and models, provided they are of course Japanese. As we strolled around the show, we saw a large variety of interesting cars that ranged from “I had one of those while attending college.” to “I’ve never seen that car except in magazines or on the internet!” As we’ve already seen plenty of fourth-gen Supras and Nissan GT-Rs, we concentrated more on the stuff that doesn’t get as much glory.
Right off the bat, a mint 1986 Prelude caught our eyes. Original down to the wheelcovers, this Prelude looked like it just rolled out of the showroom. With its trim, slim roof pillar design and cleanly designed interior with heavily bolstered sport seats, this second-generation Prelude reminded us of how Honda could do no wrong back then. A similarly mint 1985 Honda CRX Si cemented that impression. Reminding us of Honda’s earlier, comparatively awkward time of the mid-’70s was a Kermit the Frog green 1974 Civic.
Touching on Toyota
Over at the Toyota camp we spotted a pristine 1974 Corolla SR5. Factory original down to its little steel wheels with chrome lug nuts, this Corolla showed how even back then Toyota tried to make its little commuter car interesting. Next up was a red 1986 Corolla GT-S liftback, that, with its peppy, free-revving DOHC, 16-valve inline four, rear-wheel drive, tuned suspension and aggressive sport seats. This handsome sport compact made it easy to understand why modern enthusiasts love these “AE86” (the internal model code for this generation) Corollas.
And then there was the heavily modified 1985 Toyota MR2 that was a victim of the “hellaflush” movement. The latter is when a car’s suspension is lowered and wheels are fitted to the point that the tires are flush with, or even standing outside of, the wheel well lips. The wheels are often also cambered out to emphasize the “stance”. Functionally this makes no sense at all from a performance standpoint, given how it severely limits suspension travel to about nil and likely allows tires to rub against the wheel wells when encountering bumps or while cornering fast. Then again, maybe we’re just getting old.
Headlining the Toyota gathering was a 1967 2000 GT, a rare, limited production sports car the company brought out to battle the likes of Porsche and Jaguar. Powered by a 150-hp, DOHC inline six connected to a five-speed manual, the 2000 GT was more an athletic grand touring machine than hard-edged sports car, and that suits us just fine. With less than 400 ever produced (and of those only 62 being left-hand drive), these cars are rarely seen. Values of the 2000 GT have skyrocketed in the last five years, with one selling for over a million dollars at auction back in 2013. As they don’t change hands too often, we can only imagine what one is worth today.
The Rotary Club
Mazdas were well represented, as everything from a super rare 1967 Cosmos (their first rotary engine car) to a gorgeous 1979 (first year) RX-7 were on the show field. The Cosmos was one of just two or three officially exported to the U.S. and was something to see in its pristine, original condition with just over 8,000 miles on the clock.
That RX-7 was also a crowd favorite, a restomod sporting a later-generation engine swap consisting of a turbocharged 13B rotary easily making well over double the original 12A rotary’s 100 horsepower. It also featured upgraded suspension, wheels/tires and brakes. Wearing 16-inch BBS wheels in place of its orginal 13-inchers, this RX-7 showed well a tasteful but not over the top wheel upsizing can work. Also sharing the Mazda turf was another rotary-powered sibling, this time a mint and rare 1977 RX-3 SP in its somewhat visually overbearing, yet typical for the late-’70s, glory.
Ending with Z
Of course the Datsun (later Nissan) Z car contingent was in full force. Plenty of first-generation 240-/260-/280Zs were on display. A really nice, bone-stock 1974 260Z sat among a row of its modified brothers, seemingly proud to be wearing its factory wheel covers rather than a set of snazzy Panasports. A 1980 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition in its original black and red two-tone paint scheme represented not only the second-gen Z car, but also the rarer of the two 10th Anniversary paint schemes. On the off chance you see one of these rare cars , it’s usually black and gold.
A similarly rare 1988 300ZX Turbo Shiro (white) Special Edition. This all-white version of the Turbo appealed to enthusiasts who prized performance above plush features. As such, the Shiro did away with the standard Turbo’s gizmos such as the electronically adjustable suspension, power front seats and the digital dash. The result was more of a serious driver’s car that was about 125 pounds lighter and fitted with firmer suspension calibrations.
Check out our gallery below for more of the cars featured at the show!
Noe: Whether you want to maintain an original or modify a newer model vehicle, Advance Auto Parts has all the high-quality parts you need.
In part one of this two-part series, we look at interior modifications that improve the driver’s performance and comfort.
So you’ve got your engine putting out the power, your suspension/wheels/tires are dialed in, brakes are beefed up and the body is done. Now it’s time to turn your attention to the interior. With your ride’s notably increased performance and handling capabilities come increased responsibilities for the interior. Specifically, keeping the driver securely in place during high-performance driving, providing him with an effective interface between the car and himself, and monitoring additional engine parameters, such as turbo boost.
In the first installment of this two-part series we address seats and steering wheels, two important components that can optimize the performance of the most critical component in the car – the driver.
Get a hold of yourself
Now that you’ve got the more capable suspension and stickier tires, you don’t want to be sliding around in your seat while you’re unraveling your favorite twisty mountain road or taking part in a high-performance driving event, such as an autocross or a track day. A well-bolstered sport seat is key to holding your butt (and the rest of your body) securely in place while you’re enjoying your car’s athletic handling. It’s also a safety benefit, as you can better concentrate on the task at hand rather than having the steering wheel double as a grab handle as you try to prevent yourself from hip-checking the center console.
There are basically two types of performance seats, fixed back and reclining back. As the name implies, the fixed back seats are non-adjustable for recline. Advantages of a fixed-back seat include an abundance of lateral support and excellent compatibility with five- and even six-point racing harnesses. Fixed seats tend to be the choice of those whose car sees more racing duty than daily driver duty. Going with a reclining seat means you’ll enjoy greater comfort, much easier ingress and egress, easier rear seat access and considerably greater compatibility with stock seat belts. Reclining sport seats provide a nice balance between high-performance driving support and daily driver livability.
There are a number of companies to choose from when selecting a sport seat, such as Corbeau, Procar, Recaro and Sparco. Recaro seats in particular have been found as either standard or optional equipment in various high-performance cars over the years, ranging from Fords to Mitsubishis to Porsches. That said, all these manufacturers offer well built, comfortable and supportive seats for a wide array of applications.
Steering you right
Unless your car is over 20 years old, it probably has an airbag-equipped steering wheel. As such, you may choose to keep it in place for the added safety factor. That said, some enthusiasts prefer to swap out that original equipment wheel for an aftermarket unit. A few reasons are that a smaller than stock diameter wheel provides slightly quicker turning, a rim wrapped in leather, suede or Alcantara (artificial but very convincing suede) gives a more tactile grip, and an aftermarket wheel usually looks at least ten times better than that typically blocky stock affair.
Just as with the wheels you wrap your tires around, the wheel you wrap your hands around comes in a dizzying array of brands and styles. Check out the sites of Momo, Grant and Nardi and you’ll see what we mean. We prefer the classic three-spoke racing style with a traditional, non-sculpted rim, but your personal preference may dictate otherwise. Given the rather large amount of time you spend using the steering wheel, the importance of selecting one with the right overall diameter, ideal rim thickness and preferred grip cannot be overstated. As such, we suggest going “hands-on” and checking out the wheel (or wheels) you’re interested in at the store in addition to researching them out on-line. As they say in the car selling business, “the feel of the wheel can seal the deal.”
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is ready to help with a large selection of quality parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a rare but desirable bird in the sport compact segment – the Eagle Talon
One of a set of automotive triplets, the Eagle Talon is a rather rare bird in the sport compact car arena. Indeed, can you remember the last time you saw an Eagle Talon flying down the road? Yet this product of American and Japanese parents was one of the more interesting choices in its segment. Along with its aggressive, head-turning styling it offered available turbocharged power and all-wheel drive, the latter two features giving it a wheel or two up on the more popular kids in this class, the Honda Civic, Acura Integra and Nissan 240 SX.
The Eagle has hatched
Debuting for 1990 along with its Plymouth Laser and Mitsubishi Eclipse triplet siblings, the Eagle Talon was a product of a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. All built in the U.S. at the “Diamond Star Motors” plant located in Normal, Illinois, these three cars shared similar sporty hatchback styling and Mitsubishi mechanicals. The base Eagle Talon came with a 2.0-liter, 16-valve four with 135 horsepower, while the TSi and TSi AWD versions packed a turbocharged 2.0-liter sporting 190 and 195 horses, respectively. Transmission choices consisted of a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. Initially at least, unlike the Laser and Eclipse, the Talon didn’t sully its image with a price-leading, 92-hp stripper version. With 135 hp, even that base Talon provided peppy performance, but we know you’re probably thinking: “Yeah, that’s great, but tell me about the turbo!”
In 1990, squeezing nearly 200 horsepower from a four-cylinder turbocharged engine was big news. And thanks to the stout low- and mid-range grunt that a turbo provides, this meant blowing off less-muscular rivals from Honda, Toyota and Nissan was a breeze. Capable of sprinting to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds and running down the quarter mile in the low-15-second range, a Talon TSi was a genuine thrill ride back in the early ‘90s.
Offering all-wheel drive to more effectively put that power to the pavement provided an edge in handling, especially in foul weather conditions. The AWD version of the TSi also featured a more sophisticated rear suspension (multi-link versus torsion beam) as well as limited-slip center and rear differentials. Outfitted with a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks and a ski rack, a Talon TSi AWD was a skier’s or snowboarder’s dream.
Changes from 1990 through 1994 were mostly minimal. Notable highlights included, for 1992, slightly revised front- and rear-end styling and a switch from pop-up headlights to exposed units. The following year saw the debut of a declawed Talon. Dubbed the DL, this downgraded version shared its 92-hp engine and sparse standard features list with its entry-level Diamond Star siblings. The previous “base” Talon essentially continued as a new “ES” trim level.
Eagle Talon Version 2.0
As with the Eclipse, the Talon was redesigned for 1995 (the Laser was dropped after 1994). The two cars looked even more similar than before. One might argue that the Talon had more handsome styling, with a larger set of tail lights that helped minimize the heavy, “loaded diaper” rear bumper look of its Mitsu relative.
More importantly, performance was boosted via a pair of more powerful engines. Seen in the new entry-level “ESi” trim, the 2.0-liter non-turbo four now made 140 horsepower, while the turbocharged versions seen in the TSi and TSi AWD made 210 hp (205 with the automatic transmission). As such, acceleration times were a few tenths or so quicker, meaning a TSi AWD could hit 60 in about 6.3 seconds and rip through the quarter mile in the high 14-second range.
Sadly, the Eagle Talon, and indeed the Eagle brand itself, would soar no more after 1998, having been discontinued after that model year. The biggest changes for these second-generation models took place for 1997, when once again Eagle debuted a stripped-out base model that deleted the ESi’s rear spoiler, audio system and intermittent wipers. Thankfully, this entry-level version did not substitute a weaker engine as it had in the past. That year also saw rear drum brakes replace the previously standard rear discs in non-turbo models, while the TSi AWD version got larger (17-inch versus previous 16-inch) alloy wheels. A larger front badge and rear spoiler are the more notable visual clues to these later second-gen Talons.
Should you be a fan of these exciting Eagles and want to capture one, you’ll likely find that task fairly difficult given that they were last produced nearly two decades ago. Still, that doesn’t mean impossible. Checking out the enthusiasts sites, such as DSMtalk and DSMtuners can provide a wealth of information, such as the most effective and economical mods, as well as classified ads for the cars themselves. And there’s always craigslist, eBay and bringatrailer.com, where your chances of finding an unmodified example are likely much greater than doing so on the dedicated sites.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to help in the care and feeding of your Eagle Talon, or otherwise. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, Street Talk pays tribute to a street-racing icon in the twilight of its career: the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
As recently as seven years ago, it was unthinkable that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution could be on its last legs. Fully redesigned for 2008, the Evo built on its legendary rally-car heritage with even more turbocharged power and its most sophisticated all-wheel-drive system yet. Dubbed “Evo X,” it graced the cover of seemingly every magazine in the industry, promising near-supercar performance for the price of an entry-level BMW 3 Series.
But then the Great Recession arrived, severely depressing demand for thirsty thrill-machines. In point of fact, Mitsubishi didn’t even build any Evos for 2009.
And when the economy eventually rebounded, the Evo X just couldn’t get back on its feet.
So here we are in 2015, preparing to bid sayonara to one of Japan’s true performance juggernauts. Let’s give the Evo a curtain call by remembering what made it great.
Invincible AWD Handling
The rally-derived Evo has always utilized a fancy AWD system to optimize handling, but in the United States, we didn’t get the full treatment until the Evo X arrived. The big news was the debut of Active Yaw Control (AYC), an electronically controlled feature that automatically transfers torque to the wheels that have the most traction. It was a revelation on the road, eliminating understeer in tight corners and making the Evo feel like it was quite literally on rails. Not many cars in the world could keep up, regardless of price.
Of course, some Americans were a bit miffed that they had to wait so long for an unadulterated Evo to arrive. In Japan, AYC had been offered since the mid-’90s, going back to the Evo IV, but Mitsubishi didn’t sell the car stateside till the Evo VIII turned up in 2003 — and neither that car nor its successor, the Evo IX, had AYC. Still, one spirited drive was typically all it took to heal those wounds. The Evo X stands as one of the best-handling cars ever created, and we can only hope that there’s a reborn Evo XI somewhere in Mitsu’s future.
A remarkable fact about the Evo is that it has been extremely fast forever, dating back to the Evo I’s debut in 1992. That car carried a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that pumped out nearly 250 horsepower, and by the time the Evo III came out in 1995, the turbo-4 was up to 270 horsepower, which is roughly where it’s been ever since.
Technically, the Evo X’s 2.0-liter turbo-4 is from a new aluminum-block engine family, supplanting its iron-block predecessors. It’s also rated at a slightly higher 291 hp. But in terms of real-world acceleration, an Evo is an Evo, regardless of vintage. Plus, the older iron-block design is more receptive to major modifications. The one thing the Evo X really has going for it in the powertrain department is its available dual-clutch automated manual transmission, which rips off ultra-quick shifts that no stick-shift driver can match.
The Evo’s full name is “Lancer Evolution,” underscoring its sensible origins as a compact Lancer sedan. Indeed, this sports-car-shaming dynamo is nearly as practical as a Corolla in daily driving, from its reasonably roomy backseat to its serviceable trunk. Sure, you could get a Nissan GT-R for three times the price, but it’s a glorified two-seater that feels bulkier besides. Naturally, the Evo’s impeccable handling comes at a cost in the ride-quality department, but we’ve never heard enthusiastic owners complain.
Have You Driven an Evo?
If you haven’t, go try one at your Mitsubishi dealer before it’s too late. This is a bucket-list kind of car. And if you have, what were your impressions? Give us some highlights in the comments.
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a foreign or domestic vehicle, count on Advance Auto Parts to keep your projects on track. Buy online, pick up in-store.
It’s a lot of things to a lot of people.
You can say it started in Japan, or America, or even Germany. There’s always another side to the story.
You can say it’s only about certain engine or suspension modifications, but you know there are some awesome mods out there that you’ve haven’t even heard of.
You can say it’s only about particular brands or body styles, but there’s a tuner forum for practically every model ever built.
Ultimately, tuner culture is where the cars we love meet the limits of our imaginations.
That’s something worth celebrating, and here at Street Talk, we want to do our part. Let’s take a look back at the origins of tuner culture and how it came to be an integral part of the automotive landscape.
If you want to go way back in the day, the Indiana-based Roots brothers were hot-rodding blast furnaces in the mid-19th century. They needed a better way of melting iron with hot air, and an air pump with rotating impeller blades proved to be an excellent solution. That’s where the phrase “Roots-type supercharger” comes from, if you didn’t know.
But the Roots brothers never supercharged a car motor, because they lived out their lives in the horse-and-buggy era. That task fell to German engineer Gottlieb Daimler — the surname might ring a bell — who in 1885 was the first to apply the Roots’ forced-induction principles to the internal combustion engine. As for the turbocharger, it was more of a team effort, coming into its own from World War I through the 1920s as a performance-enhancer for airplane engines around the globe.
Of course, forced induction only represents one branch of tuner history. If you want to talk about naturally aspirated performance, you’ve got to give the USA its due — as early as the 1930s, American tuners were dropping hopped-up Ford “flathead” V8s and such into anything with four wheels. Later, the Italians and Japanese would perfect the art of the high-revving naturally aspirated engine, from Honda’s screaming inline-fours to Ferrari’s legendary wailing V8s. In Germany, meanwhile, Porsche turned the flat-6 engine into a museum piece that has lately struck the fancy of American tuning firm Singer.
Today, it seems like anything’s possible under the hood. But the truth is that modern tuners are standing on the shoulders of engineering giants, from all corners of the globe.
Another aspect of the tuner scene that we take for granted is the emphasis on cutting-edge style. But there’s plenty of history here, too.
For the American aesthetic — think side-outlet exhausts, power domes on the hood, that sort of thing — you’ve got to go back to that hot-rod scene, say from the 1930s to the initial postwar years, and follow it through to the muscle-car era of the ’60s and early ’70s.
When it comes to slammed Civics and Integras and that sort of thing, you’re looking at the results of parallel movements in Japan and Southern California. Starting in the late ’70s and early ’80s, newly prosperous middle-class kids in both locales had access to a wave of affordable Japanese compacts, and their exuberant fashion sense spawned a movement that the manufacturers themselves came to embrace (see, for example, Honda’s Type R factory street racers).
Then there’s the German tuner sensibility, which tends to err on the side of subtlety and refinement. The body kits preserve the stock design language rather than reinvent it, while the custom exhaust systems amplify the engine note without overwhelming it. German manufacturers have gotten in on the action with their own in-house tuning operations, most notably BMW’s M division and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG.
If you look around today, though, what’s striking is the cross-pollination on all sides. A tuned 2015 BMW M4 might be bright orange with a huge wing on the back, while a modded 2015 Ford Mustang might be as sleek and restrained as an Aston Martin. Globalization has hit the tuner scene, and if you ask us, we’re all the richer for it.
Freedom of Expression
At the end of the day, the tuner scene is about the driver. Factory cars come off the assembly line built to a specification; tuned cars are built to your specification. It’s no wonder, then, that aftermarket tuning has risen to such prominence in the automotive era. Our cars are a big part of how we present ourselves to the world, and tuning is our chance to make a unique statement. That’s a universal desire, no matter where you’re from, so it’s fitting that the tuner scene itself is a historical melting pot.
Where do your tuning influences come from? Tell us your story in the comments.
Editor’s note: Hit up Advance Auto Parts for your performance needs and more. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
In this installment, Street Talk takes on one of the truly unsung heroes of the tuner scene. Promise you won’t laugh, because we’re talking about the Chevy Cavalier.
To driving enthusiasts of a certain age, the Chevrolet Cavalier inevitably brings to mind the movie Swingers, wherein Jon Favreau’s character has the following exchange with a smoking hot model:
Model: “What kind of car do you drive?”
JF: “Uh, Cavalier.”
Model: [disdainful silence]
JF: “It’s red. I have a red…it’s a red Cavalier.”
Naturally, he doesn’t get the girl, and that’s largely how the Cavalier is viewed by the masses today — as a failure.
But if you’re into the tuner scene, you might be amused by the idea of tricking out a Cavalier to within an inch of its life. It’s certainly unexpected, and it’s bound to be relatively affordable, too. Could be a fun project, right? Let’s explore some of the possibilities.
The Cavalier’s successor, the Cobalt, came in a sporty SS trim level with a supercharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine cranking out 205 horsepower. Zero to 60 mph took about 7 seconds, and there was a lot of midrange passing power on the road.
The final-generation Cavalier’s humble 2.2-liter Ecotec 4-cylinder, on the other hand, most certainly did not have a supercharger.
But if only Favreau’s character had known the possibilities. Turns out you can grab the Eaton M62 supercharger off a Cobalt SS (or just buy a GM supercharger kit separately, supplies permitting) and bolt it right onto the 2.2-liter Cavalier motor. Give it a custom tune and you’ll be pushing 230 horses, easy peasy. That’s a lot of power in a lightweight sedan, and it just might be enough to convince you that a tuned Cavalier is worth the trouble.
One of the Cavalier’s best qualities is that Chevy made about a billion of them, so there are a lot of owners out there who might want to add something extra to their rides. Predictably, the aftermarket has responded with a wide range of products, including plenty of lowering springs that’ll drop your Cavalier as far as you want to go.
You can go the eBay route, of course, but they call it “fleaBay” for a reason — there’s a lot of questionable stuff for sale up there. Here at Street Talk, we’re partial to established brands like Tokico, Eibach and Koni. If you opt for a known commodity, chances are you won’t be disappointed. In any case, dropped Cavaliers can look pretty mean, and Chevy’s simple suspension design means you can probably do most or all of the work yourself.
If you haven’t looked into scissor-style Lambo doors before, you might be surprised by how simple they are to install. You actually get to keep your original doors; the difference lies in the hinges and gas shocks that take the place of the factory hinges. Just imagine how differently Swingers might have gone if that red Cavalier had Lambo doors that popped up on cue. A supercharged, slammed and Lambo’d Cavalier would be a real sight to see.
Of course, there are plenty of other visual enhancements on the market, including spoilers, aero kits, graphics kits, you name it. And we haven’t even talked about interior tweaks like metal pedals, custom shift knobs and racing seats. If you buy a used Cavalier, you’ll likely get a sweet deal on it, so with any luck there’ll be enough cash left over to fund some sweet mods.
Do you push a Cavalier with a little flavor? Any tips for our friends out there who might want to do the same? Let’s get a conversation started in the comments.
Editor’s note: Hit up Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings and selection—to keep your Chevy (or most anything else) running right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, Street Talk heads down memory lane to appreciate the remarkably practical, but fun-to-drive Honda Accord EX.
Back in the 1990s, there were only a few midsize sedans that really appealed to driving enthusiasts, and the Honda Accord EX always stood apart. Man, I can remember going on a test-drive with my dad in a ’94 Accord EX sedan, five-speed manual of course, and I’d never known the old man to have an inner Earnhardt until he redlined that VTEC four-cylinder through first and second gear, cackling all the while.
Tell me something: What other volume-selling family car could bring a grown man that kind of joy?
Any mass-produced product that’s this good deserves its own retrospective, doesn’t it? Let’s hop in the time machine and give the various Accord EX models their due.
The Accord EX first appeared on our shores as a high-end version of the fourth-generation Accord, which is still a great-looking car, by the way. This was back when Honda was light-years ahead of just about everyone on the design and engineering fronts. You got a standard sunroof, upgraded interior trim and extra speakers for the stereo, which would become the basic formula for most EX Accords to follow. Oh, and you got a little extra under the hood, too, culminating with the 140-horsepower engine fitted in ’92 and ’93. It was a tantalizing taste of things to come, and even today, I wouldn’t mind picking up a well-cared-for EX from this generation. Goodness, Hondas were gems back in the day, were they not?
The Accord went all futuristic with its styling for the fifth-generation model, and the EX continued to lead the way. The ’94 and ’95 Accord EX shared a particularly attractive set of alloy wheels, and all EX Accords from this generation boasted the first application of dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder with variable valve timing technology, or DOHC VTEC for short. The sharp triangular taillights got a bit generic with the ’96 refresh, but the engine — same one that put that silly grin on my dad’s face — was still a highlight, and the EX’s six-speaker stereo was amplified by Alpine for crisp, clear sound. Let me tell you something, driving a fifth-gen Accord EX with the sunroof open, the stereo cranking and the VTEC on boil might be the best time you’ll ever have in a top-selling family car.
The Accord got bigger for ’98, but not too big, with the four-cylinder engine swelling to 2.3 liters but carrying over that DOHC VTEC technology. In fact, all four-cylinder Accords shared in the VTEC love this time around, but the EX continued to offer its exclusive sunroof, trim and stereo upgrades. If you ask me, this was the last time that the Accord’s dimensions were just right. It had plenty of room in the backseat, but it wasn’t that big on the outside, and it maintained Honda’s traditional low cowl for superior outward visibility. Throw in a five-speed manual that positively glided from gate to gate, and you had an all-around package that was still tough to beat.
This period includes three Accord generations, and I’m lumping them together because in my humble opinion, they’re all too big and boring to be considered in the same league as the EX Accords that came before. When the seventh-generation Accord appeared in ’03, it lacked that low cowl and tidy styling that had always set the Accord apart, and the eighth-gen model was just plain overgrown — the EPA even classified it as a large car! The current Accord (2013) is the best since ’03, no doubt, but it’s still a relatively tubby, ungainly thing that’s nothing like the sophisticated, visceral, light-on-their-feet EX Accords from 1990-’02.
Honda had something special going there for quite a while, and talking about it makes me nostalgic for those days. If I could turn back the clock and buy any of those first three Accord EX models brand-new, I’d do it in a heartbeat — wouldn’t even think twice about other family sedans on the market today.
Let’s Talk Accords
Have you ever owned a 1990-’02 Accord EX? Have a different take on how Honda’s been doing since then? I love talking about these cars. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
Editor’s note: Got projects on the horizon? Visit Advance Auto Parts for the best in selection and values. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Tributes typically come toward the end of a career, but the BMW M3’s still in its prime. After all, the brand-new 2015 M3 sedan (joined by its coupe/convertible siblings, now known as the M4) is out right now, code-named F80. It looks great, it’s got 425 horsepower, and the steering and suspension systems are purpose-built for people who love to drive. You could even argue that it’s a decent value at $62,950 including fees, especially when you consider that the M5 starts at $94,550.
So what’s this business about a “tribute”?
That’s simple. We’re here today to pay tribute to what the M3 used to be, what made it truly great. Because the new M3 is not a great car. It’s merely a great numbers car, the kind that’ll get armchair jockeys all excited about its 0-60 time, its cornering g-forces, that sort of thing. Look, at the end of the day, it’s got a turbocharged inline-6 under the hood, just like the lesser 335i/435i. If you test-drive one, it’s not going to feel like some wholly different beast; it’s just going to be a 335i/435i cranked to 11. Previous M3s, on the other hand, had race-inspired, naturally aspirated engines that were unlike anything else in BMW’s lineup, and that’s what made them so special.
They were undeniably a breed apart, and sadly, now they’re gone.
Let’s take a minute and give them their proper due.
The M3 that got it all started was powered by a four-cylinder engine making a humble 194 horsepower, give or take, and it remains the only four-cylinder M3 ever built. But in terms of character, it’s an M3 through and through, unlike the current 425-hp turbocharged model. You had to cane the little 2.3-liter four to get much action out of it, but once the tach needle swept past about 5,500 rpm, a whole new personality emerged. The E30 M3 rewarded drivers who were adept enough with three pedals (no automatic was offered) to keep the engine on boil through the turns. Driving one was a skill to be mastered, and that’s what whetted everyone’s appetite for the genuinely fast M3s to follow. Kids these days might laugh at the goofy rear wing and some other “period-correct” details, but the E30 got the M3 dynasty off on the right foot.
The E36 M3 was the first to get its power from an inline-6, which had long been BMW’s trademark engine type (the four-cylinder E30 was an outlier). For M duty, the engineers whipped up a doozy — a 3.0-liter mill that pumped out 282 hp. By the time the E36 M3 made it to American shores in 1995, however, BMW had elected to give us a tamer 3.0-liter straight six that dipped to 240 hp, but it still got the M3 to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, an impressive feat for the day. BMW rubbed a little salt in our wounds for ’96, when the displacement of both motors increased to 3.2 liters, yet the US-spec version held firm at 240 hp while the Euro version improved to a formidable 316. Nonetheless, even the defanged American E36 M3 was a sublime car, with a slightly feral roar at full throttle that would turn into a full-on yowl in the E46.
Ah, the E46 M3. Some say it’s the greatest all-around car ever built, and we wouldn’t disagree. It had luxury, style, space for four adults (though it wasn’t offered as a sedan) — and most importantly, it had the same engine around the globe, a 3.2-liter inline-6 cranking out 333 hp. That’s a number that enthusiasts will always remember, and for those lucky enough to have driven this M3, the distinctive velvet-chainsaw wail near its 8,000-rpm redline is equally unforgettable. It’s not that this engine lacked torque down low; on the contrary, it was a tiger at all operating speeds. But taking it to redline unlocked something extra, and once you experienced it, there was no turning back. You just had to keep doing it again and again.
The “X” signifies that the fourth-generation M3’s three available body styles (the sedan returned from its E46-era exile) had individual codes: E90 for the sedan, E92 for the coupe and E93 for the new folding-hardtop convertible. Another departure from tradition was the 4.0-liter, 414-hp V8 under the hood. There was actually some grumbling at the time that this M3 wasn’t a suitable heir to the throne. Too heavy, too insulated, too much technology — the naysayers were initially out in droves. But as with its predecessors, the engine made the difference, and it would not be denied. Running the V8 through the gears, shifting at its 8,400-rpm redline, you could be forgiven for thinking BMW must have borrowed the engine from Ferrari. The E9X was faster than its forebears, yes, but that wasn’t really the point. What mattered was that it had the spirit of those previous models, that insistent growl from under the hood constantly egging you on. Where would BMW go from here? Would we see a V10 M3? A return to a naturally aspirated inline-6? Whatever the answer, it seemed that the M division could be trusted to do the iconic M3 brand justice.
But then fuel-economy regulations got tighter, and automakers started realizing that they could achieve alluring economies of scale by tweaking existing engines for use in high-performance machines, and the F80 M3 happened. Turbocharging both dulls the new car’s throttle response and strangles its exhaust note, which is why BMW has seen fit to pipe fake engine noises through the speakers during acceleration. A turbo inline-6 plays perfectly well in the 335i with its civilized sportiness, but the M3 had always been about authentic performance-car spirit, an exercise in joy rather than jadedness. The joy, alas, is gone.
Ah, but what a car it used to be.
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