Seeing, hearing, and feeling is believing. Whether it’s on the street, at a car show, at the race track, in a magazine, or on a YouTube video, a nicely tuned car that packs lots of performance can spark plenty of interest from other enthusiasts. That interest usually leads the inspired to want to build something even better. While that’s all well and good in the abstract, it begs the question: What does it take to create an impressively tuned machine?
The first step in tuning for success is defining what the final result should be. Is it going to be a more potent street car? A weekend drag racer? Something to autocross during the spring and summer? If you’re not entirely sure of your goal, head to some car events that appeal to you and chat with the owners of the cars that pique your interest. Ask them about the good and bad experiences they’ve had with their vehicle, the things they wish they would have done differently, and what sort of budget to have. For more inspiration, pick up some relevant magazines and check out online car forums and videos on the machines of interest.
Once you know what you want, it’s time to either find a car to build or research the needed parts. If you’re in the market for a vehicle to use as the foundation for your project, online sources like cars.com and autotrader.com are excellent places to start. If it’s a more common car, even craigslist.org is generally worth checking. For rarer machines, marque- and model-specific forum classified pages may yield better results. And remember, always get a pre-purchase inspection done by a reputable shop before buying a used car!
With the goal established and a car allocated, it is time to do some parts research. For instance, if the goal is more power for a daily-driven muscle car that will be used for weekend track days and the occasional trip to the drag strip, then find some similar examples online. Which parts did other builders use to make their street/strip/track cars? Once you have a list of parts you want, spend some time researching both the quality and performance increase of each required component. While this may be slightly tedious, it will pay dividends later.
After researching, selecting, and ultimately ordering the parts needed to build the machine you are envisioning, it’s time to decide who will do the work to get you tuned up. If wrenching and hands-on tuning is your thing, but you’re not 100% sure of how to do all the installation work, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of tutorial videos on YouTube and other video sites that can help you work on your car. If you opt not to do the job yourself, do some more online searching for auto tuning and installation shops in your area. Sites like yelp.com can help you avoid places that aren’t on the up and up.
Once everything is installed comes the final (and often most important part) of a tuning build: the fine-tuning. Careful research of cars, other projects, part installation, and shops will more likely ensure a favorable outcome. Even so, that doesn’t guarantee the immediate final result will be perfect. For items like electronic engine tuners, experimenting with different settings will ultimately lead to the one that is best for your car’s intended use. Systems like suspensions, however, can be more finicky and can require more time to get dialed in—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The purpose of tuning a car for more performance for many enthusiasts is having quicker laps and more fun at the race track. As such, test and tune days at road courses and drag strips are excellent environments to get the ‘bugs’ out of an upgraded engine, suspension, or braking system. In addition to getting to feeling out your car, track days also provide a relatively laid-back environment that allows drivers to compare notes. These events provide an environment to get a car just right, and they’re usually lots of fun as well.
What is the key to being tuned for success? Proper planning produces proper performance. In other words, doing solid research and picking the best parts, tools, installer(s), and tuning strategy will likely lead to a goal in reality that was once just a dream. This summary may seem a little abstract. In the end, though, establish what you want, a plan to make it happen, and a deadline by which you want that goal achieved, and the chances are good that you will be the one with a machine that inspires others to want to build something just as impressive.