By on April 29, 2014

Before Fast and Furious was even a glimmer in the eye of a Hollywood producer, import car enthusiasts were paying nearly twenty-five hundred dollars for a lousy intake manifold – hard to believe, right?

Well, if you lived in Toronto in the mid-1990′s, not really. The Canadian dollar was in the toilet, internet shopping did not exist, and buying from a local vendor at inflated prices was your only option. This documentary, which debuted on A&E sometime in that era, was the talk of the town when it came out. I remember getting a “taped” copy (back when you could record things on VHS, not TiVo or DVR) and being amazed that somebody went out and purchased a laptop computer just to tune their car.

My, how things have changed. Still, it’s nice to take a look back to the days when a B-Series Honda EG hatch running 12 second times was a huge deal. And how about the Miata and FD RX-7, two cars that we may not normally think of as street drag contenders, being abused mercilessly in pursuit of bragging rights?

Less than a decade after this documentary, Ontario imposed draconian anti-speeding laws, whereby getting caught at 31 mph over the limit meant an instant impounding of your vehicle, a 10 day driving ban and a fine of up to $10,000. While these laws killed off the street racing scene, they also made Ontario one of the worst places to drive.

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28 Comments on “TTAC Goes Way Back: The Dawn Of Import Drag Racing...”


  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Growing up and watching this stuff influenced my life in ways I could have never predicted. I was one of those geeks in high school trying to eek out as much speed with my penalty box cavalier at the local drag strip with money I earned washing cars at the local dealership. Cars were a gateway drug that led me to my school and inevitably led me to my career.

    That addictive smell of new rubber and auto components still hasn’t worn off, almost 20 years later.

  • avatar

    Need for Speed was a far superior film to most of the Fast and Furious franchise.

    Vin Diesel dominated F&F1 and his fight against The Rock made F&F5 cool. F&F6 was lame.

    I don’t care about a bunch of souped up Honda Civics.
    But the Shelby in NfS was awesome.
    I have to admit, I was sad when the cops wiped out the Veyron.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The laws didn’t completely kill off street racing, organized races still happen all over Ontario. What the law did do was allow a huge swath of people to be charged unconstitutionally under the pretense of “racing” when they were merely speeding. The conviction rate under this law is very low, something less than 1/3. However, regardless if convicted or aquitted, charged drivers still experience the loss of their vehicle for 7 days plus impound fees.

    50km/h over the limit isn’t at all unheard of when speed limits are set artifically low at 100km/h on roads that in the US would easily be 120km/h.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      The speed limits in Canada (and Ohio) always catch me off gaurd. On my regular commute around Detroit, traffic, especially on I-696, moves at 80-85 MPH or 130 KPH. If I have to go to Northern Michigan, anything under 80 MPH and the beautiful blue Chargers and Explorers pay no attention. I tend to pay the Michigander driving in Ohio tax once a year and have had tickets in Ontario as well. The speed limits are waaaaay too low.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        Funny, I’m more worried speeding in upstate NY and Vermont than I am at home in Quebec. One of my two speeding tickets in my life was in Saranac Lake NY. Both in those states and in Quebec and Ontario, the limit at which you have to worry about getting pulled over seems to be 75 MPH. The difference in Canada is that I feel like it’s less patrolled. Hitting 120+ MPH was practically a daily occurrence when I had my bikes. Of course I didn’t stay up there long, but didn’t get any tickets over years of doing so.

      • 0 avatar
        greaseyknight

        Its similar here in Milwaukee, 50-55 limits on the freeways in the Milwaukee County, and thats with 3 lanes of traffic. Everybody goes at least 10 over, but still thats only 60-65.

      • 0 avatar
        TCragg

        My father is a retired OPP (Ontario Provincial Police). His personal threshold was 120 km/h on 400-series highways. Anything less wasn’t worth his time in court. I keep my cruise set at 118, and routinely pass OPP cruisers on the 401/402/403 at that speed and they don’t even blink. So the defacto speed in Ontario is really 120. Check out stop100.ca for a petition to raise Ontario’s archaic and arbitrary speed limits.

    • 0 avatar

      We have laws on the books that can ticket you for “exhibition of speed”.

      I think they could get me for doing burnouts or loud revving, but recently I get pulled over all the time for tints.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I was suprised I was never pulled over for tint on my GTI in Michigan. I bought the car in the Phoenix area, so the dealer put on the legal limit of window tint for AZ. The tint level is illeagal MI. I was even pulled over in Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe Shores for other erroneous issues without the police officers saying anything about the windows.

        • 0 avatar
          multicam

          Try driving in Hawaii, it’s hell. Rumor has it that somewhere on oahu the limit is 60 mph but the most Ive seen is 55. People actually go 55. Not that H1 is usually flowing that great anyway.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    You mean Mazda really did have zoom-zoom once?

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Of the mainstream Japanese makers, I’d say they’re the ones who still have it the most. The RX-8 is in its very recent history, the 3, 6, and crossovers are all noted for their dynamics in their respective segments, they’ve kept the Miata true to its mission, and are working on a new lighter one. Many discount the Miata upon looking at it on paper, but as Mr. Baruth has noted, the driving experience is golden.

      Honda is a shadow of its former driver-oriented self, and Toyota’s cars are as appliance-like as ever, minus the cool sports cars it used to make. Both make very competent cars, but I wouldn’t describe their offerings with the phrase “zoom-zoom.” The FR-S is a great concept, but apparently not as well executed as it could’ve been.

      Nissan kicked off the midsize horsepower wars in the early 2000s with the 250 hp Altima, but hasn’t really done much since then; the Sentra sport models were a joke, the Maxima became a whale. The 350/370 is quick and cool-looking, but in my opinion too heavy, and I didn’t really find it to be that much fun to drive on the streets. On the track it takes modifications to keep it from overheating. They do have the GT-R on the high end, but that’s a halo that most people will never reach.

      • 0 avatar
        fatalexception04

        People also forget for Mazda zoom zoom isn’t necessarily straight line performance. It’s about the way the car feels and handles in addition to the straight line speed. They’ve had some fairly quick cars in the recent past too. The above mentioned rx-8, the speed6, the speed3 and even the speed miata was quick. Plus look at their current offerings and they are generally a little quicker when compared to their respective class.

  • avatar
    imag

    I never understood import drag racing. The thing I always loved about the imports was the handling. It seems counterintuitive to spend so much money on making an RX-7 or a Civic simply go fast in a straight line.

    Then again, I still don’t really understand the appeal of straight line racing, so maybe it’s just me.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      The earlier import cars had the advangate of light weight. Slap a turbo on or up the boost on the factory turbo and suddenly you have a car that can keep with with Detroit machines that make considerably more power.

      That being said, I never *got* high HP FWD imports. They really struggle to put that power down and become really sketchy once they do. Supras, RX7s and even some of Nissans RWD offerings can be made to be really competitive though.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Drag racing has low cost of entry for a variety of reasons and safety rules are generally pretty light as well (for example if you have a car produced in the last nine years give or take all you need to hit the track is a helmet right until you cross into the 9.99 index or faster) in the quarter mile. That allows pretty much the majority of production vehicles on planet to engage in drag racing.

      Besides cost and lenient safety rules the proliferation of tracks (and straight roads for those inclined to street race) increases accessibility. Right now from where I’m sitting there are at least four drag racing tracks within 100 miles compared to zero road courses and perhaps one or two autocross events.

      Also the learning curve isn’t to steep for the most part, especially if you have an auto. In the latter case reaction time and good traction in a heads up race with an evenly matched car/drive4r makes the difference between winning and losing.

      • 0 avatar
        Sky_Render

        Autocross also has a low cost of entry. And it actually requires driver skills, as opposed to “push the right pedal down and hold the steering wheel straight.” :-P

        • 0 avatar
          3800FAN

          I knew a good number of people who purchased beater neons just for autocross.

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          That may hold mostly true for an auto or DSG equipped car ( the latter I think involves the least amount of skill when it comes to drag racing ) but to ring the most out of a manual transmission car you have to be on your game mostly at launch but also down the track where the more successful drivers can negotiate a speed or “no lift shift” keeping the gas matted and shifting fast enough to avoid hitting the limiter or blowing the engine up.

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      As with most ‘grassroots’ motorsport, the Import ‘scene’ was originally the result of the cars being very cheap to acquire, with a plentiful supply of 2nd hand parts (when you screwed up whatever you were doing.) And the second something becomes moderately popular, you had better believe that someone is going to begin to build specialty equipment (at a premium) for it.

      Drag racing is typically the easiest way to ‘go fast’ – it’s typically not hard to add power if you are willing to compromise everything else, you can find 1/8 mile stretches of flat road pretty much anywhere, and there isn’t a terribly high barrier to entry when the basics are ‘step on gas, try to keep it straight, brake when you cross the line.’

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      The rx7 can be made to go fast anywhere. Straight or twisty.

      At least a good part of the scene, was due to the racers racing what they had. Which, for many, meant what their parents originally bought them. Which, as a rule, were Civics and such. The middle class in most wealthy areas had largely “figured out” (as in, been told), that imports were the thing to have by the 90s. SO that’s what their kids got for their 16th.

      While these kids were far from the alpha ricers aluded to by the movie franchises, theirs was the money that powered the whole cottage industry that allowed the sillier exercises in FWD excess to be built. To sell your faux carbon coffee can to some pimple faced Initial D teen, you had to catch his eye with some crazy ostentatia, just like in any other emotion fueled market.

      Rural/redneck/Texan kids race trucks for much the same reason: That’s what they have, and kids like to race.

  • avatar
    velvet fog

    I saw this documentary when it came out. The guy blowing up the RX-7 on the dyno was pretty good.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      After hanging around Turbo RX7 guys back in the day, blowing up a rotary is pretty much a bi-annual thing. Doesn’t seem to phase them. Kinda like the Eclipse/Talon guys and their 4G63s.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    The MTO handing out licenses to everyone with a pulse and six months of frost heave are what really make Ontario terrible to drive in, the “street racing” law is just one footnote on a massive list of problems.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Boy that takes me back to my college days where everywhere I looked in Lowell MA was another fart can civic with a body kit decal covered rice boy. Only 1% of them had real performance modifications. 99% of them it was all cosmetic. Once I ate one with my 85 Reliant 2.6. We used to make fun of them mercilessly.

    • 0 avatar
      FuzzyPlushroom

      I lived in Lowell for most of last year, and there’s still no shortage of poorly-modified Hondas around. New trends, same mechanically-stock beater cars.

  • avatar
    krayzie

    This is the street racing stuff up at Woodbridge that I keep hearing stories about from older folks at work who had American muscle cars in the 80′s, and from people at car meets that had imports in the 90′s.


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