Getting today’s youth into the hobby is proving more difficult. Technologies such as the smart phone, game consoles, and social internet sites have taken old cars out of their minds along with many other past times. Through all of this there is one less spoken about part of the car hobby that has caught the younger crowd’s attention-the imports.
The Import, or tuner car, is a niche in the hobby that is frequently overlooked–or even frowned upon. The fact is; these cars are the gateway into the collector car hobby for many younger entry level enthusiasts. Mechanic skills are best learned starting out with something simple – considering shop classes are now few and far between – learning off of imports is a gateway into the collector car world. For a younger person with limited tools, garage space, and resources; or lacking the guidance of someone older with more experience, these cars are an excellent start.
Import cars are readily available compared to their classic American counterparts. Due to their fuel economy they can be used as a practical daily driver while providing the perfect base for performance modifications. Since the cars are newer than the older classics, less initial repair is needed and parts are readily found and generally more affordable-rust is also less of a concern. Extremely light bodies and motors allow for improved handling and speed. Even the performance parts are generally less expensive– one of the more pricey items would be an ECU for very accurate tuning, generating maximum power at desired ranges and allowing maximum efficiency.
In this particular niche in the hobby there are two distinct groups; “ricers” and the imports that some folks may refer to as “tuners”. Ricers are known for following trends and basing their car designs more upon looks rather than performance. The import side creates their own wake, concentrating mainly on performance and the latest technologies-making their individual creations of performance, handling, and style. These are the folks who love to turn wrenches.
For long term Import enthusiasts, this world is consistently in the limelight for cutting edge technology. Darren Cantrell, a CNC Machinist, discusses his experience with modifying an Import VS a Chevrolet small block; “I look back at when I thought it was amazing to make 500 horsepower out of a naturally aspirated Chevy small block and almost let out a laugh. I can easily pull that out of my turbo 2 liter 122 cubic inch engine without hesitation, and knock down 25-30mpgs on the highway while I’m at it.” Darren, who loves all cars including all American classics, states; “What’s possible with cars these days is constantly being pushed to the limits– it’s truly amazing to be a part of it.”
Import hobbyists come from many different backgrounds, just like any other enthusiast. The most common cause for developing this passion is getting involved in projects, ranging from classics to drag cars, with dad or any other friends/family member. The enthusiast’s dedication is supported by Import car shows including small weekly local meets all the way up to large events touring the US; such as Hot Import Nights–now taking place in over 16 US states and expanding to regions outside of the US. Jared Schlueter, who has been racing on drag strips since he could drive, started out in this hobby working alongside his dad. Jared describes his car buddies as a second family; “There has been many nights where we’ve just sat there on the bare pavement in a parking lot next to our cars chatting long past midnight, going on fun little cruises, or gathering in a garage while we all watch one person work on their car.”
Out of anyone asked, everyone in this niche of the hobby has a love, if not a deep respect, for any and all cars. Jay Bearup, an ASE certified master mechanic, couldn’t have said it better; “Anytime I’m behind the wheel I’m creating memories; none stand out in particular, just the friendships I’ve created though my passion for cars. Something in the end we all have in common– import, exotic, and classic lovers alike.”