The Hand Of Mod - SHedding Light on Tunings Companies
Oh, now this is risky: writing about the cult that is tuning. Entering this world, you open the door to many phrases and impossible-to-remember acronyms that are permanently engrained in the heads of tuners and ardent anoraks that follow this religious movement. To mere mortals, 2JZ's and VR30's are just scrambles of random letters and numbers, and if asked what a "Billet 6262” is, many would probably say it's the name NASA have given to some far away Earth-like planet. But to tuners, this is their bread and butter.
Tuning companies are abound nowadays like never before, but they're not all singing from the same hymn sheet. In fact, the world of tuning companies is inexpressibly diverse - something that’s exacerbated by just how broad this corner of motoring is. Everyone’s got different ideas about how different cars should be fettled with. While it’s very reasonable to say that there’s no right or wrong way of modifying a car, I believe that the hand of mod can bless some cars, and curse others.
- See this Corvette? It produces 3500bhp!! Just to clarify: three-thousand-five-hundred brake-horsepower!!
The typical teenage internet stat-eater will probably think I'm a total dingbat for even suggesting that any tuned car can be bad. In their mind, they've seen enough 1320 videos to know that tuned cars are staggeringly fast, and anything with less power than their favourite gazzillion horsepower liability is slow and unworthy - but that's because they're a bunch of cupid stunts (if you didn't read that wrong, 10 points!). If I were to stick any of these people in the passenger seat of, let's say, a stock 650S, a couple of seconds after pummelling the throttle into the floor, my nostrils would fill with a terrible smell of shit emanating from their direction. If you have no preference for performance, you have no right to sneer at anything that doesn't have 4 figures worth of horsepower. Let's get that out the way now.
More sensible people however will think that tuned cars are more trouble than they're worth. Their viewpoint primarily based on the fact that tuned cars can be incredibly unreliable. And no matter how much you lust after omnipotent performance, reliability issues are impossible to ignore.
It’s all very well having a Twin-Engined Godzilla with 4 Turbos-per-cylinder and enough horses in the stable to keep a Tesco’s butchers open indefinitely, but if it spends more time in pieces in a workshop than it does actually being driven, it’s quite a few steps too far. Tuning companies, of course, try to disprove any reliability issues or doubts. Many of the company websites I’ve come across all say the same thing: "our cars give more power without sacrificing reliability". But it’s all a load of rubbish!
A popular choice for people lusting after hyperdrive performance is a Lamborghini Gallardo Twin-Turbo'd to produce over 2000 horsepower at the wheels. While the acceleration these machines are capable of may look mightily impressive within the conveniently redacted world of YouTube, in truth, they require frequent rebuilds. The majority of tuned cars that've found internet fame - like the abundance of Twin-Turbo Lambos - are great examples of what can be done, but by no means what should be done.
Cars like the Nissan GT-R, and the Toyota Supra before it, have provided tuners with a place to bolt their Garret 4202’s for years. There’s no denying that 1500bhp incarnations of either are breath-taking to drive quickly when they work - but they're nothing but a huge, overheating pain in the neck and a drain on the wallet when they don't. Not to mention that for everyday use, they're nowhere near as nice or as friendly to drive as their stock kin.
You may think that the key to happier tuning is to stay away from godlike power - but even more modestly powered cars aren't immune from trouble. Take Autodelta's Alfa Romeo GT. The 3.2L V6 has been stroked to 3.7L, and then Supercharged to produce 405bhp. Which is all sent to the front wheels. And, other than a new differential, they've done absolutely sweet FA to anything else on the car, yet they claim it's just as friendly and usable as always. The stock, 246bhp GT however already felt like it had more power than it could handle. There’s a very important lesson to be learnt by all tuners here: if a car has a very apparent fault from the start, don’t do something that’s bound to make that problem miles worse; it's like looking at a gunshot wound and saying "I know what'll help: a bucket of salt!”
There are ways however to extract more modest gains from a car without turning it into an unreliable headache, or an unruly monster. Engine remapping - or "chipping" as it's more commonly referred to - is one of the easiest, most effective, and most sensible ways to give your car more performance. The benefits of chipping are subtler than a full engine tune and change of induction - but depending on what car you drive, the performance improvements can be pretty significant. And because you're only unlocking the performance the manufacturer originally designed the engine to produce, reliability isn't hindered.
The company "Superchips" offer an established remapping service. You can even go onto their website and find out how much extra horsepower they can eek from your car - with the most dramatic results coming from either turbocharged or supercharged cars. The supercharged B8 Audi S4 for example can be taken from 329bhp to 391; the Twin-Turbo F82 M3 or M4 can be enriched by 90 horsepower, from 425bhp to 515; and in the Twin-Turbo C7 RS6, chipping will take it from an already tasty 552bhp, to an Enzo-beating 658! Even in non-performance cars - like the bottom of the barrel turbocharged F20 BMW 114i - Superchips can increase the engine's power from 101bhp to 215.
Another tempting tuning road to go down is via tuners that work closely with manufacturers. Companies like Nismo, Brabus, Ralliart, Cosworth, and Shelby. This way, you can get more performance, usually sweetened with a handsome warranty - a warranty healthier than many independent tuners offer - in case anything was to go wrong. This inevitably makes high horsepower incarnations - like Shelby’s 850bhp Supercharged SuperSnake Mustang - a very alluring prospect indeed.
SuperSnake: that word alone enough to conjure images of a car launching down a quarter mile like a snake would launch at its prey. In SuperSnakes of old however, you were the aforementioned prey. Once upon a time they were murderous things, not giving a second thought to jamming the throttle open, causing you to plummet straight off the edge of a cliff (I'm not exaggerating, it actually happened). Happily, the SuperSnake Mustang of today won't kill you, which I personally think means Shelby have somewhat improved it. It may be dynamically flawed, with the primary handling trait being that of understeer - but the SuperSnake is the one place where handling can be excused. The SuperSnake is about pure, rampaging power - and whacking a supercharger on a Mustang to give it godlike oomph is a sacred process that’s been fundamental to every great Mustang’s existence. It’s tuning that’s both progressive and traditional, and for that, I like it.
In my view, one of the best types of tuning is when a car sticks close to legendary tuning roots. Carroll Shelby’s moniker is one that’s graced many great cars throughout automotive history, with the most prolific being the Mustang. Even though the great man is no longer with us, his name still bequeaths some of the best cars around at the moment - like the Mustang GT350R. It’s this Mustang that steers focus away from outright drag racing glory and onto all-round completeness. 526bhp from a 5.2L normally aspirated flat-plain crank V8, a manual gearbox, and a noise to intimidate Thor himself. It’s the noise in particular that makes the GT350R special. No matter how many reviews you read of that car, you will always find a paragraph dedicated to the writer's greatest descriptive efforts on the exhaust note - but ultimately, words cannot possibly portray the apocalyptic swell that shoots out of the back upon putting your foot down. It has to be heard to be believed.
Another type of tuning I favour is when a tuner doesn’t do anything to change or dilute a car’s soul. Of course, some more popular tuning car bases - like the Nissan GT-R - don’t have a soul to ruin. But when you have a car that oozes a very special kind of charm - something like the old 997.2 GT3RS, for instance - tuning isn't something you undertake lightly, or at all for that matter. But if you do it right, you can create a tuned masterpiece. And thanks to Alex Ross of Sharkwerks, said masterpiece exists.
The ethos of Sharkwerks' Alex Ross ought to be inspirational to tuners. For he believes the best way to tune a car is to take the car’s very spirit and intensify it rather than damage it, and that’s achieved by taking whatever makes the car great, and turning it up. While this all may sound like holistic bollocks, it’s exactly what he does with Porsches, with arguably the greatest example of it being his 997.2 4.1L GT3RS.
The standard GT3RS was already a delicious recipe: it was a steaming hot slice of freshly baked Apple Pie. What Sharkwerks have done is add to the Apple Pie a scoop of the finest vanilla ice cream in existence. The standard 3.8L, 450bhp Flat-6 is stroked to 4.1L of normally aspirated goodness. Then the exhaust, ECU, suspension, wheels, and tyres are all upgraded. The end result is a manual, free breathing Rennsport 911 that produces 543bhp. But believe it or not, the power isn’t the first thing to encapsulate all your attention when you initially explore the car, for the increase in torque - and the way the car delivers that torque - is what you can’t help but notice.
The standard car produces 319lb-ft of torque, which peeks at 5750rpm. The Sharkwerks car however produces 400lb-ft - 385 of which comes in from as low as 2900rpm, and swells up to full torque at 5300rpm. All of these factors combine to craft a truly exceptional experience. Anyone who refutes how great tuned cars can be has obviously never heard of Sharkwerks, for they are the purveyors of purity in the tuned car realm. Sure, they have their turbo-nutter mobile too, in the form of their 800bhp 997 GT2. But the GT2 was always about purity garnished with the hooliganism and performance turbocharging can add. The Sharkwerks GT2 does exactly what the company preaches: takes the car’s spirit, and intensifies it.
You could argue that tuning isn’t necessarily about sticking close to a car’s origins. You could make it out to be a process akin to musical interpretation, and say that if a tuner wants to do something very different with a car, that’s absolutely fine. However, sticking with musical analogies, the way some tuners modify cars can be likened to a musician doing a death metal version of Clair De Lune.
There’s a fair few companies around that offer, or have offered, Twin-Turbo kits for Ferraris. Swiss tuner Mansory once offered a Twin-Turbo F12 that developed a rather frightening 1200bhp. Famous Texan Tuner John Hennessey has also bolted a couple of Turbos to a 458 in the past, resulting in a 738bhp Berlinetta. And once, the Rosso division of a company called Novitec, Twin-Supercharged a 430 Scuderia, taking power from 503 to 700bhp. But adding forced induction to any of these cars directly disturbs the one thing that made people fall in love with them in the first place: their spirit. And that’s something Sharkwerks refuses to do.
There are some cars however that feel as though their spirit is sedated, like they're not fulfilling their potential. The Lamborghini Huracan is a prime example of this. A glorious V10 and an intoxicating amount of straight line pace delivered with, in some cases, magnetic shocks that terminate cornering fun by drowning it with tidal waves of understeer - something which isn't helped by the 4WD system. There is of course the RWD Huracan, which is better, but again, it's restrained - with 30 less horsepower than the 4WD car - to make sure it doesn’t tread on its toes. But the Torado division of Novitec turns the Huracan into something that emanates intensified amounts of everything one would want a true Lamborghini to be. What they do is take a RWD Huracan, and then bolt to the 5.2L V10 two superchargers, resulting in 819bhp of unrestrained Lamborghini craziness.
The term “raging bull” is used far too frequently to describe Lamborghinis. Novitec Torado however unlock some of the beautiful rage that was hidden away within the Huracan. They take a car that was begging for more, and give ample amounts of everything it needed.
To cope with the extra power, the German tuners also upgrade the suspension, the chassis, and the aerodynamics. The aero tweaks give the Huracan a welcome dose of extra aesthetic pizzazz, which adds massively to its poster appeal. But more than anything, the Huracan tune has helped release the restraints that Lamborghini put on it, and for that especially, it’s a triumph.
As I mused at the start of this rambling blog, the world of car tuning is a cluster of different approaches and methodologies. But despite the diversity of this sect, there is some harmony to be found. In a lot of ways, tuning cars can be likened to different types of food: if it’s chocolate cake, it’s perfectly okay in moderation; if it’s healthy, boring rice and vegetables, a dollop of spice wouldn’t go amiss; if it’s already a scrumptious, mouth-watering recipe, be very particular about what you add to improve it; and if it’s a vindaloo to begin with, then for the love of god, don’t throw in any more chillies!
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Written by: Angelo Uccello
Tribe: Speed Machines
Facebook: Speed Machines - DriveTribe