Boy and girl racers go digital and high-end

Boy and girl racers go digital and high-end

Today’s young drivers were born into a digital age and their tool boxes include laptops.

These young guns are part of a new breed of motorists – and they are shaking up the hot rod genre and taking it to a whole other level.

An obsession of mostly those aged in their teens, 20s and up to the forty-somethings, is called “import and performance”.  What most think as hot rodding is the now ‘old-school’. The new motorsport culture in New Zealand is import and performance - overseas it’s known as ‘tuning’.

Kiwi-style import and performance’s top cars will be available for the first time for general public viewing in Auckland at next month’s CRC Speedshow – Australasia’s largest motorsport event.
There are niche import and performance car shows around the country but this is a first for CRC Speedshow, and only the best import and performance cars in New Zealand will be on display says CRC Speedshow Director, Ross Prevette.

As humans, we love our cars and motorbikes – and we just can’t stop tinkering, changing, transforming and creating truly one-off versions from standard models.

This inner and compelling drive to be creative started as soon as the first car rolled off the production line more than 100 years ago – it’s nothing new.  But what’s different this time is that humans are being born into a digital age, and therefore are naturally thinking about and doing car modification in a totally fresh way, says Prevette.

Any part of a car or motorcycle can be tuned, but the basics include: audio, interiors, engine tuning, suspension tuning, body tuning, tyres and even detuning.  Detuning is returning a modified car to its original factory status or reducing its performance in a particular area of modified tuning.

Car tuning started pretty much as soon as the first-ever car was created, he says.

“Here in New Zealand people would tune and modify their Cortinas, Minis, Morris and Vauxhalls, etc, but the real import and performance boom began shortly after Japanese and import cars starting pouring into New Zealand in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“The scene’s not just limited to modified Japanese cars.  Many European cars models, such as Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, and Porsche are being changed in every way. Pretty much any vehicle that’s not an American V8 is being transformed to their owners’ unique tastes.

“Obviously movies out of the United States such as the Fast and the Furious series, have had a huge impact on the whole scene,” says Prevette.

How they differ from ‘ordinary’ new cars is the really the work of the car owner’s mind.

“All import and performance creations start life as ordinary cars. Then the owners’ imaginations take flight.  Often both grand ideas - together with a lot of money - are used to create truly unique rides. Some owners prefer to concentrate on the car’s look, while others target efforts into performance, power and handling. Some people will just go all out and do both,” says Prevette.

Boy racer ‘culture’ already mature

This latest generation of car culture has already fully matured and come full circle, he says.

“In the early days the import and performance scene was viewed by many as a bit dodgy, with many involved being boy racers. Drivers would buy an old Japanese import, bolt on a new set of wheels, and illegally cut the springs to lower the car.  

“They’d put in a big ‘duff duff’ stereo, add a high-flow air intake and then go out and terrorise the local neighbourhood.  It didn’t take long for many after-market parts companies to realise that this was going to turn into a huge market within a few years.

“Basically, a whole new parts and after market industry was created that specialised in the design and manufacture of ‘go fast’ parts, body kits, suspensions - basically whatever drivers wanted,” he explains.

Before the imports and performance car scene, it was really only old cars that were built into rolling works of art called hot rods. Today many people, especially 20 to 40 year age groups, are choosing to create from recent models, rather than the classic old rusting and dilapidated relics from the 1930s to 1960s that would be typically turned into a hot rod.

In fact, the majority of import and performance guys and girls are spending as much money - if not more - on their cars compared with their hot rodding counterparts.

Many import and performance car builds are every bit as good and sometimes better than the hot rods. The whole scene has moved from being a bunch of noisy boy racers into a massive lucrative international market and very professional, Prevette adds. 

Most import and performance cars are Japanese and European, with a sprinkling of English cars coming onto the scene, he says.

Worldwide obsession

It’s definitely not just a New Zealand wave but worldwide generational surge. The culmination of many factors comes into play: the availability of cheaper import cars, media exposure such as the Fast and the Furious, and new motorsport disciplines such as ‘drifting’ all help drive the culture of a new generation of car owners. The scene is massive in every country, including Japan and the US.
To date, it’s mainly people in the 20 to 40 year age group that are serious, but there are a few older enthusiasts that prefer the newer cars rather than older long-established hot rod fare.

Girls are not leaving it up to the boys, and are really getting into the scene, says Prevette.  Some of the top-end end builds are costing just as much as high-end hot rod builds would be – which can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

What do hot rodders think of this new era?

Prevette says that to be honest, most hot rodders are very old school and don’t like the new generation with a passion.

“This is a shame because there is really no difference in what they are doing – the biggest difference is the age of the vehicle they’re doing it on. How they go about some of the work is not the same for those born in a digital age. For example, old school rodders tune with tools, where as the new school guys and girls tune with their laptops.”

Nick Hoyle, Automania’s co-owner, says such shows are designed to start breaking down barriers and acknowledging a culture that’s established but still in the creation phase.

“We recognise there are too many grey heads in hot rods, and too many young faces in the import scene.  Our aim is to have greater awareness around the culture of modified vehicles as being one and the same - no matter the age or type of vehicle.

“Working alongside CRC Speedshow is a fantastic opportunity for us to openly display what we do with our own show, while at the same time, keep true to our goal of breaking barriers by having large numbers of visitors being exposed to our culture,” he says.

Automania will blend race, import, Euro and street cars, all in one place. It’s always famously full of entertainment and atmosphere, and organisers are confident it will be an event that gets talked about long after the show is finished.

Insurance industry sees growth

From an insurance industry perspective, Larry Barnett from Classic Cover Insurance, says the import/performance tribe need to be seen as the next generation of hot rodders. It’s one of the largest growth areas in insurance today.

Barnett is a proud hot rodder himself.  

“I have to say that from the viewpoint of both a hot rod and import / performance car insurer - and myself, also a hot rod owner - there’s nothing new in what’s happening. It’s just the amount and the colour of the hair that has changed,” he says dryly.

“The psyche is still the same. Grab something stock with good bones, modify so it looks the part and scares you into respecting it when you drive it.”

Barnett explains that Classic Cover Insurance started out  covering hard to insure vehicles back in 1983.  He says nothing has changed, the company still insures those types of vehicles. Most of his clients have modified cars whether they are performance, hot rod, classic or race cars.

“I started hot rodding in the late 1960s and bought a 1940 Ford Pickup, which was 28 years old.  I put a small block Chev in it, with all the hot up goodies I could afford on an apprentice wage. Today, what are 20 year olds doing?  Buying 20 to 30 year old imports, doing the latest modifications and throwing every spare dollar they can to make them special and ‘their own’.

As drivers get older, so their budgets grow to be able to purchase later model cars.

But Barnett’s adamant, “to me, a ‘31 Ford coupe with a small block Chev in it, a 323 Mazda with a worked 13B, an R35 GTR or a BMW M3 with tens of thousands thrown at it, are all worthy of our praise, and should be admired. The work, the passion, the ideas are what it is all about - whether a hot rod, classic, import or performance car.”

He sees the performance car owner of today much of what he was, as a younger male back then.

“Yes, we were branded as well.  We were long-haired louts disturbing the peace.  Now we have boy racers doing the same. But most of us shed that image early on, and just love making something ‘normal’ into a fire-breathing monster with more horsepower than we know what to do with. Horsepower doesn’t scare me, but irresponsible driving does.”

Paint, upholstery, engine, wheels - are all part of the passion we share, Barnett says.

“We have a huge number of clients who own a range of different style cars; foot in each camp, so to speak.  It’s good to keep an open mind and enjoy the workmanship in all the diversity. That’s why I like CRC Speedshow, because there’s an incredible variety of vehicles and so much talent in all areas to be admired.”