Ask the Best and Brightest: Were Tuner Cars Better Back in the Day?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
ask the best and brightest were tuner cars better back in the day

ABT Sportsline press release: “For many years ago people used to wear their hair, even in Kempten, in styles which seem strange to us nowadays. ABT Sportsline, however, already knew how to properly “style” cars from the VW group 50 years ago. Since then the motto ‘cooler, faster, wider’ has lost none of its fascination.” None?

Join the conversation
4 of 24 comments
  • Qfrog Qfrog on Jun 09, 2009

    There are a lot people suffering from the delusion that they are tuners because they tack items onto their cars purely for perceived effect. You'll find plenty of garbage sold to this type of individual anywhere and everywhere the word racing is used on an item not found on any sort of competitive race car. If anything has changed it is that technology is so accessible today. The level of technology implemented is ever increasing, and frankly you need to be a geek to really tune an engine safely. Without spreadsheets I would never have gotten as far as I have with my toy car. The aids available to the person doing ECM tuning is ever expanding. I run a full stand alone engine management system, my ECM has a Motorola RISC CPU operating at about 180Mhz. I've owned personal computers with less clock speed and less processing power. While this is one of the more powerful processors used it isn't necessary, some of the basic stand alone systems you can build yourself use much less powerful processors. Building your own ECM was not a part of tuning a car until recently. Nor was building a rather complicated engine wiring harness to integrate said computer. I run a wideband oxygen sensor system all the time, it refreshes at about 10hz I think. This is not cutting edge, it is actually just run of the mill for anybody that knows what they are doing. From time to time I do some of my own tuning with a laptop which is a must these days. Some tuning can only be done on a dyno. Getting the engine load just right at a particular RPM is just not possible without an eddy current dyno or some custom made topography. I take data logs which provide me with feedback on what is actually going on, not what I *think* is going on. I do data analysis of the logs and then make changes to the engine management system. Again, this is not cutting edge, but it is how things are done now. I'm now at the point where I can expand my focus to other areas besides engine performance. For the last 8 months I've spent countless hours researching and working on braking systems. In my spare time I do braking torque and bias calculations, deceleration rate calculations, distance calculations and other such fun things. I'd be offended if you referred to me or my car as "tuner" anything. The term has too may negative connotations. I reserve the word "tuner" for the person that does my ECM tuning on a dyno. I much prefer to call what I do tinkering or dabbling. I am engaged in the study of automotive performance, my objective is to understand the systems which I'm working with and improve them where possible based on observation and analysis of operation. I am not part of a Hollywood fueled fad or a pathetic lifestyle which celebrates street racing. I think of my toy as a modern day rat rod. I've focused primarily on function and on track that is all that matters. The car isn't pretty and I know it. For the time being my car is simply a tool which I use to elevate my understanding of automotive systems and how to alter their performance to my liking. Outside of working towards understanding how things work I use my toy as as a vehicle to practice and elevate my skill set for lapping road courses, on road courses. It was written above that tuning a car is a waste of money. Not so, if you have a place to enjoy such a car (road course, drag strip etc) and if you enjoy technical challenges then it can be great fun. I happen to derive much satisfaction from my work with engines and brakes. I haven't even started to study suspension and aerodynamics both of which are black arts to me at the moment. My toy last month on track:

  • Escapenguin Escapenguin on Jun 09, 2009

    Better looking? Usually not the case. Tuners these days seem to get a lot more horsepower out of cars, but it seems to come at great cost and wizardry. Often you'll see guys in the import scene that specialize in tuning one engine from a certain range of years it was manufactured.

  • Niky Niky on Jun 09, 2009

    Rat-rod? Sounds like my car... Unichip Q piggyback, lopey cams, a port and polish, full breathing mods, a Propane kit (with its own separate ECM, which references the stock ECU and the Dastek piggyback...) not a stock suspension component in sight... Dirty paint, scratches, a banged up bumper from being rear-ended... dodgy upholstery... but I love her to death... I'm simply waiting for my own wideband O2 to give myself on-the-fly tuning via the built-in compensation maps in the piggyback (built-in, but I have to program them myself)... the stoichiometry is so far from stock that the car won't run properly on the stock ECU anymore... Hahaha... Too bad the actual "Rat Rod" culture has been taken over by a whole bunch of poseurs who think that true Rat Rodness comes of encouraging rust formation on otherwise pristine body panels... which is just as bad as trailer-queening... - vento97 : June 8th, 2009 at 12:20 pm Tuning’s for knobs whatever age… Non-tuning’s for people who drive appliances… There, there, let's be polite... those people have a name. It's called sheep. - What I meant when I said "easier", I meant that anyone with a basic knowledge of simple tools could add distributor advance, re-jet their carb, cut open their exhaust...remove their air filter... adding up to a few dozen ponies... Nowadays, ECUs and their assorted sensor arrays are so complex that changing an air filter or slapping on a new muffler without doing the complex calculations required to ensure that you won't mess up the O2-sensor / MAP sensor / MAF sensor / etcetera readings will often result in a loss of power. I almost laughed my ass off when the first tests of Nissan 350Z exhausts and intakes came in, and they made no power at all over the "stock" items. - BUT: if you're one of those enterprising souls who's not afraid of a circuit board, programmable ECUs are damn amazing... I've driven diesels which, when stock, were merely 16-second cars... but after a simple chip-job, would spin the tires ceaselessly in the first three gears.

  • Escapenguin Escapenguin on Jun 09, 2009

    @vento97 My Dad has a GMC 2500HD, and I can confirm that reprogramming the CPU has made it downright ridiculous as far as extra power and torque. It was a pussycat before we "chipped" it.