Theme : Aftermarket – Introduction

For some people things are never good enough.

Image : mk1-performance-conversions.co.uk

Pity the car designer. They slave to produce concept sketches, fight with the competition to get them accepted then resist the attempts of mean-minded production engineers and cost accountants to dilute the design until, finally, their original idea is presented in the showroom in an approximation of a certain percentage of its original glory. You might think that, at last, they could rest and draw some contentment as the children of their imagination begin to populate the roads. Yet no, their problems have only started.

For, if it isn’t enough to see their cars filled with humanity in all its ugliness, rather than the idealised figures of their concepts, and if they can bear the sight of road dirt accumulating on all those well thought out creases and curves, there is worse to come. With total disregard for the credentials of a graduate of Pasadena ArtCenter or an engineer who has presented 5 papers on The Secondary Thermodynamics Of Combustion Chambers, the tweakers and modifiers can’t wait to get to work. From rectifying the lack of carbon fibre cupholders, to improving longevity, performance, emissions and fuel economy with a chip fitted in just 5 minutes, the Aftermarket beckons.

What do we think of this? Is it an expression of personality to modify the appearance of your car, or just a waste of money? Does a backstreet engineer understand your motor better than the 1,793 graduates involved in its conception? DTW will find out. Or not.

13 thoughts on “Theme : Aftermarket – Introduction”

  1. Thank you for that magisterial and thorough summary of the Aftermarket. Can we say that this represents a major cultural divide?
    Fluffy dice versus OEM equipment. Coffee/tea. Left/right.

  2. Does a backstreet engineer understand your motor better than the 1,793 graduates involved in its conception?

    Ouch. The connotation in that question is clear, only fools dare make alterations from stock. I take issue with this. Just as the designer must make compromises with the look of the car, the engineers must make compromises to deal with a host of issues from bean counting and regulatory to marketing needs. The operating state of a car as it leaves the factory is rarely optimal.

    In the 00’s I ran a car club in central Ohio focused on the original Saab 900. We had 8 core members and 5 were engineers, myself included. Our guru had advanced degrees in both mechanical and electrical and worked as freelance design engineer for Indy car builders. We made modifications to spark, fuel, suspension and braking. My base turbo would outperform the stock SPG I later bought, handily, and I put 80k trouble free miles on it. This on a car I had purchased for $500 with 212k miles already on the clock. But none of us had even visited Trollhättan, let alone been involved in the conception of the Saab B motor.

    Meanwhile, down the street, I had a neighbor who would get together with his friends and turn base Japanese compacts into forced induction sleepers. They would do this by simply slapping on turbos and other go fast bits while doing nothing to up rate the internals of the motor. As a group they’d blow several motors a summer. For them this was the game, see what those little mills could do before they made smoke.

    Are we to be lumped in with the slappers? The question seems to present a false dichotomy; one either drives stock or is involved in questionable activates. I say the issue isn’t a binary one and there is instead a spectrum. As for that 5 minute chip, just because it takes moments to flash a ROM doesn’t mean the work that went into the mapping was faulty.

    Is it a waste of money? Rare is the hobby that doesn’t draw down one’s bank account.

    As for what I think I love it. From mods to so subtle they are hidden inside OEM castings to cars so fanciful you can’t tell what it started life as I enjoy seeing the range of what people can get up to in their spare time. AI also I love seeing the work that goes into the meticulous maintenance of a car in its factory form. The world is big enough for the two camps to get along, especially since many, like myself, have a foot in both.

  3. Dinger. Simon is often provocative, but he never judges. I’m sure that last paragraph of his was just a question, not an implied statement, and you’ve answered it very convincingly. Yes, for 93% of the customers those 1,793 graduates of Simon’s probably do know best, but for the rest possibly not. Personally I’m very glad that some people tinker madly with their cars, though as you state they fall into 2 camps and I’m not sure about the ones whose hatchbacks fart and splutter down the street yet seem to have less power that the 1100 entry level – but if it gives them pleasure, why not? Though, much as I wish your last sentence was true, I guess that, in Europe, modifications that are anything more than superficial might end up being forbidden sooner rather than later.

    1. I should have been more clear I that my response was a rhetorical one, to the rhetorical question. I didn’t read judgement into Simon’s words.

    2. I was probably being over-defensive on Simon’s behalf. It’s Mayday. He always gets rather touchy round about now – for reasons we never ask.

      Incidentally, should you wish to contribute something about your Trollhatten specials for this month’s theme, it would be well received.

  4. My anxiety about “aftermarket” is that it’s yet another way to make them-us distinctions. There are lots of them: are you a marque enthusiast or a model enthusiast. One of them is not for P.L.U (but I am not certain which). Which marque? Among aftermarketists there are people who buy a mirror for towing all the way to….
    I’d better make this an article.

    My car has aftermarket paint and I “tuned” the wheel colours. Let she or he who is without sin cast the first stone, as the Good Book has it.

  5. “Aftermarket” is a broad term. At one end you have alloy wheels and £300 ECU remaps, or yoofs turning up the wicks on their turbo-engined beaters until they explode. And at the other are non-manufacturer projects like the Pininfarina-created Ferrari 456 GT Venice station wagon, a thought experiment that required one of the world’s greatest styling houses and a Sultan with deep pockets to realise. Somewhere in the middle of those two points are a whole host of tuning companies, engine swappers and Freds in Sheds of variable skill or imagination.

    Car and Driver recently reviewed a brand new Miata with a crate V8 shoehorned under the hood; thoughts of John Barker’s semi-mythical and semi-functional Ford Capri Rover V8 were dispelled by the thoroughness of the conversion, the company involved going so far as to develop modules to intercept and translate ECU signals between Mazda and GM-ese. In the UK, there are businesses transplanting buzzing Honda VTEC lumps from the fronts of Type Rs into the rears of Lotus Elises. (That those engines most often replace Rover K-Series units suggests a greater degree of necessity than the Miata V8 conversion or, indeed, a Glickenhaus P4/5.)

    I am always drawn to automotive projects that ask “what if?”, no matter how fantastical (or mundane) the nucleus of that postulation is, and as long as the answer is executed with skill and taste. Unfortunately both skill and taste are seemingly at a premium today, as attested by the welter of Range Rover Sports blighted by the wrath of K A H N. I look forward to seeing what gems this month’s theme brings forth.

    1. Indeed Chris. I profess myself mildly heartbroken at the response to last month’s Theme, the subject of which I have already forgotten. So, as you suggest, this month’s Theme is a large net spread over a wide area. I am expecting a far better response, or certain DTW members will be asked to See Me In My Study.

    2. Simon: that was a challenging theme in that I gave it active consideration nearly every day but was unable to pick a subject from the many available.

  6. Let me start this by saying that I really, really dislike pimped up Range Rovers, X5’s etc, a dislike only exceeded by my dislike of BMWs and Mercs with darkened glass and over sized wheels but once you’ve bought the car it’s yours to disfigure as you please, subject of course to legal constraints.

    We have a very personal relationship with cars and because of this we want to make them “ours”. I don’t think this applies only to cars; I have modified bicycles, squash racquets, fishing rods and hi fi systems. I didn’t think I knew better than the manufacturer but I did think I could make the product more suitable for me. Car makers specify for most of their target market but any one owner might like to sacrifice economy for performance, comfort for road holding and thus the Aftermarket.

    In the distant past we all took the cylinder heads off our Midgets, Anglias and Triumph Heralds to balance combustion chambers and polish ports; suspensions were modified, spotlights were fitted and better tyres sought. Aftermarket changes were common place and in doing so we learned a little about how cars worked and a lot about how they didn’t. Really on DTW we should find it harder to understand those who simply accept what the manufacturers provide than thos who think they know better.

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