Wednesday, 31 August 2005 17:00

Street tuners - take a look at the new hot rodder

Written by Karyn Hendricks
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The early morning serenity of the parking lot at the bow of the Queen Mary - harbored in Long Beach, California - was shattered by squealing, smoking tires and shiny cars pushed to maximum performance on the tight pylon road course. It is Shoot Day for the final episode of Street Tuner Challenge - a series on the Speed Channel featuring tuner projects by two "Over the Top" shops with tuner experience, and one major automotive manufacturer. 

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Autobody News managing editor Karyn Hendricks and contributing editor Janet Chaney spent a hot summer day in Long Beach evaluating the project cars from Speed Channel?s Street Tuner Challenge. Our intrepid reporters compared the project cars with their stock counterparts and offered their opinions on screen for the series? season finale.
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Street Tuners is an exciting automotive trend. "Tuners" can be considered the modern day version of the hot rodders of days gone by.

treet tuners is an exciting automotive trend. "Tuners" can be considered the modern day version of the hot rodders of days gone by. Instead of popping the hood and working on the carburetor, this new breed of sophisticated enthusiasts will be installing Brembo brake conversion kits and replacing factory hoods with a carbon fiber model. In fact, the show's tag line is "Street Tuner Challenge….flexes tuner power in places where muscle once ruled the streets."

Shot at various locations, Street Tuner (STC) is a hybrid of reality programming - documentary style - which delivers a one-of-a-kind automotive and lifestyle series. Every episode promises a hands-on, getting-it-all-out lifestyle segment.

STC challenges three teams to a "build to your best" competition to move vehicles from stock to extreme. The program focuses on the fabrication of sport compact cars. To punctuate the intensity and overall importance of the tuner market, STC chose vehicles from each major automotive region: U.S., Europe and Asia.

Each team had 12 weeks to complete its build - remarkably with no set budget. The goal was to build extreme vehicles that are capable of becoming "street legal" within a maximum of three days labor (24 hours). Each team encountered challenges that ranged from missing established deadlines to the unavailability of aftermarket parts.

On the waterfront

The shoot at the Queen Mary will be part of the season finale to be seen on October 12. Through-out the course of the series, the cars had been modified, painted, and were headed to the track the next day for a time attack - 3 cars, 3 drivers, 30 minutes. Only the lowest time posted on one lap counts.

The three cars chosen for this series were GM's Chevrolet Cobalt SS, the Volkswagen Jetta-Mark V, and the Nissan Skyline GTR. The Japanese right-hand drive Skyline, with a body style similar to the Nissan 240 SX, is not yet available in the United States.

Invited guests to this all day event included Autobody News, Speed Magazine, Speed Channel's SpeedFreaks, Performance Magazine and DSPORT magazine. Media experts were asked to evaluate the efforts made in modifying these stock sport compact vehicles into bold and exciting competition cars. This was an actual photo shoot with cameras on the media reps most of the day as they examined the tuner cars.

Competition cars

A factory stock model of each car was available for comparison with the modified version. GM sponsored the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS for the series. The stock midnight blue version of the '05 Cobalt did not even look related to the project Cobalt, which had been completely transformed into a non-stock, track car.

The interior was eliminated, replaced with a roll cage, fire extinguisher and a driver's seat. The doors, hood, roof, deck lid, rear wing, front splitter and roof were carbon fiber. Not composite, but actual carbon fiber - the same as Formula 1 and Indy cars. This GM-sponsored car is part of the General Motors Racing Division and was built to participate in the Grand Am Cup series. GM's professional race car driver John Heinricy showed off the car and his driving skills for the media.

After the GM Cobalt showed its stripes around the track one more time, in roared the second competing car - the VW Jetta Mark V. The factory navy blue Volkswagen Jetta-Mark V is followed on to the course by its ultra-tuned silver namesake.


The Jettas are introduced following one another through the tight course at break neck speed. After several laps, both cars cruised to a stop for the media evaluation. The silver Jetta is sponsored by Autobahn Designs, Inc./ABD Racing Team of Riverside, California. This was a very different modification from the Cobalt as this car was not "tuned" specifically for the track. The unique, sleek look of this car screamed curb appeal with ground effects on all exteriors. The body line in the deck lid was removed for a clean and uninterrupted view of the custom round tail lights. The factory head lights had been taken apart and the interior bezel of the light was painted to perfectly match the silver exterior of the car. DVD player's were installed along with Sony Xplod speakers, woofers, crossovers and amplifiers.

A subtle insert of grey suede in the seats and door panels added to this sophisticated tuner. But it was the roof of this silver Jetta that brought the ABN journalists to attention. It was covered with grinder marks - on purpose. To achieve this roof grind paint effect, the custom painter used two separate grinders - starting on bare metal using 100 grit paper to create the artistic pattern, then sealing it with blue- black tinted clear. Ironically, this sophisticated look is one that the collision repair industry has worked diligently to remove.

Murphy's law

The third car was to be the piéce de resistance. Several of the media came specifically to see the right-hand drive Nissan Skyline, but unfortunately went home with only half the picture. XS Engineering received this project vehicle in disassembled components as the stock Skyline is not permitted to be imported into the U.S. intact. Therefore, the Skyline required a functional assembly before it was capable of base testing for the series. Although the Skyline had been assembled and driven, due to alignment problems, the car never made it to the shoot. The suspension and alignment had to be spot on for the time attack on the track the next day - kind of like not making a delivery date in a body shop! Journalists and viewers alike will have to watch the finale to see the end result of this unusual car.

By the end of the shoot day, the definition of "tuner" became quite clear. A tune' can be a performance tuner, an appearance tuner, a sound-system tuner - or all of the above. It is the love of the automobile driving the new generation of cars and society. The hot rod is not gone - just takes a different form. The passion seen in the eyes of today's drivers is driven by new technology and goes by a different name - tuner.

SEMA, held in Las Vegas during industry week, accommodates - even highlights - the tuner movement. This is an industry segment that may blend well with an existing collision repair business. Tuners are sophisticated automobile enthusiasts that the autobody industry would welcome through its doors.

Production team

Street Tuner Challenge is the brainchild of WAS - We're Always Shooting - Productions, headed by president and executive producer Dan Woods. Woods, a former actor, also produces the currently running series Chop, Cut, Rebuild - also on Speed Channel. Senior editor Paul Hollingsworth has added the visual excitement to STC with what he calls "coyote" captures and edits - a concept component branded by WAS Productions.

Rounding out the team is producer Megan Waters - who handled everything on the shoot from the media interviews and coordination of the cars to the all-important lunch.

Street Tuner Challenge airs on Speed Channel four times each week. Primary airing times are Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Tune in now in anticipation of the exciting finale on October 12. Guaranteed to get your hot rodder juices going!


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