Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tuners and Ricers

Recently I was having lunch with a coworker, JP, who at 23 is quite a bit younger than I. It was a work lunch, but once the work discussion ended, talk turned to cars, as it often does with car guys. JP had just gotten a new car to replace his beloved, but worn out, Honda Civic Si. After serious research, shopping, and some incentives, he bought a VW GTI. I couldn't resist the opportunity to point out that it was kind of a weenie-ish car. JP acknowledged that is was a punk kid's car, but as he was 23, we was holding on to what was left of his punk kid-ness for as long as he good. Eventually, he would have to get a grown up car, but for now his turbocharged GTI was perfect for his inner punk kid.

JP was and is a tuner. His Civic Si had the large, droning exhaust, aftermarket intake, and of course loud stereo system. To JP, tuners are punk kids, a label that is not meant to be insulting, but provides a good description of your average tuner. Tuners are punk-ass kids.

Tuners tend to be the younger crowd, often teenagers, and they are often viewed as the most obnoxious by other car guys. This isn't entirely fair, some tuners are extremely knowledgeable about cars in general, and have chosen smaller, lighter cars to work with because that is the average car of their generation and is what they prefer. Still, there is some bad blood there with good reason, largely because of a group of tuners derisively called ricers.

Ricers are the youngest (and to be honest, the dumbest) of the tuners. They know little about performance but a lot about body kits and mufflers. They are the ones most likely to drive a Civic with mismatched body panels, a huge wing and loud muffler. They labor under the impression that body kits and wings somehow increase the speed of their car. The Ricer's life was deeply affected by the Fast and Furious movies, and they refer to nitrous oxide as NOS. Every group has their obnoxious wing, and the ricers are to tuners what skinheads are to bald people.

Tuners are quick to point out to anyone that will listen that their heavily modified, lightweight modern car will stomp any stock muscle car from the late 60's on a road course. They seem to think that this match up is fair, and the tuner has never considered the possibility that guys driving Mustangs or Camaros might also spend money modifying their cars, or that a supercharged V8 might just be faster than their inline four. They mock drag racing and point to the road course as the only real test of a car's performance. This is because the poor performance of their cars at the drag strip is well known. Yet even the more mature tuners will never watch auto racing, because then they would see that their beloved import cars are usually in a class all their own in road racing (the ST class in Grand-Am racing), and they are quickly lapped by on the road course by the supposedly heavy, slower V8 GT cars that Tuners dislike so much. Tuners would be following drifting on television, but after Vaughn Gittin, Jr. won the 2010 Formula D drifting championship in a Mustang, drifting had to be tuned out. Great pains are taken to keep the bubble of ignorance intact.

Tunes are are typically the least mechanically knowledgeable gearheads, though they tend to be younger than other gearheads so in large part this is due to their inexperience. Lack of maturity also contributes to their rabid close-mindedness about cars; they avoid experiences and knowledge that might threaten their preconceived notions.

Yet for all the punkishness, tuners are car guys. The punk-ass kid tuner is doing exactly what the fogie hot rodders were doing in the 60's and 50's—taking the common cars of the day and making them go faster. In the 60's the average cars were Fairlanes, Galaxies, Impalas and Novas. Today the common cars on the road are compacts and hatchbacks. What tuners lack in mechanical prowess, they make up for in computer know-how, and they can accomplish a lot with a laptop and an OBD II connection. Souping up a modern car is a computer intensive process; the days of adjusting the air fuel mixture with a screwdriver are past (unless you have an old car). The modern automobile requires a computer to diagnose problems; modern mechanics have to be reasonably computer savvy. For the hot rodder of yesteryear, that can be threatening.

Tuners have some valid points. Yes, there is more to life than the ¼ mile. Yes, a properly modified sport compact will best an improperly tuned muscle car any day of the week. But the bottom line, after all the trash talk is filtered out, is that tuners are car guys that like Japanese compact cars. They enjoy working on their car, driving and all the other things car guys love. That's pretty much it.

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