Theme: Aftermarket – They Who Call the Piper Tune The Player

The matter of tuning demands a little diplomacy. 

This photo is as good a representative of tuner culture. You’ll notice the sticker affirming the primacy of self-reliance even if it leads to failure. It says “I’d rather lose by a mile than win by inch if I made didn’t make myself”.

From my own personal experience, tuners seem to be perpetually in search of a new project. They are not alone in this. This is also true of bicycle enthusiasts who are often swapping out parts in the quest to save a few grams. Hi-fi people have the same compulsion: you’d swear that the noise was always about to overwhelm signal which then justifies the next purchase. Really it sounds fine. An iridium-platinum volume dial won’t make any difference.

And there are tuners of homes, people who are not content to leave their home in a functional, decent, presentable state once that is attained but who comb ‘Better Living’ and ‘Modern Home’ on the hunt for the lamp to end all lamps, the ultimate bedside table or the perfect wallpaper until next month’s perfect lamp comes along. So tuning isn’t actually an unusual past-time. We call these people optimisers as opposed to satisficers.

Tuned: Peugeot 406 coupe (source)

If you want to think about it, the aftermarket enthusiast is looking to match the car to their personality but also to mark out their membership and status in a tribe. This is signalled with parts and stickers. That’s where diplomacy comes in, via class and socio-economics. A distinct stratum of society is into overt slammed tuning.

[caption] Source

This makes it one of those instances of individuality expressed within a distinct group. It would appear to be a very status conscious group if one is to pay due regard to the frequent use of brand stickers on the cars. See below.

What is characteristic of the tribe is the uniformity of the types of changes made to cars: performance as measured by speed and handling, more aggressive bumpers, scowling lights. I doubt there is a comfort-orientated tuning tribe or if they exist they keep a lower profile.

The reason I feel this issues requires diplomacy is that while I would not aspire to these kinds of modifications myself I don’t want to be too judgemental because I am pretty sure, as I said, there are age and class issues involved and there is little worse than egregious snobbery. I have been on the receiving end of this when a Jaguar owner dismissed my Citroen for its lack of cylinders.

And I don’t want to be all relativistic either because I can say while I am delighted the tuners have so much fun I also think not a few of the modifications are a little over the top. One thinks here of the 20 year old Golf lowered so much as to shave the road or the perfectly nice coupe remodelled in an unsympathetic way. Golfs are quite bland and a perfect canvas for modification; a Peugeot 406 coupe is best left as it is, aesthetically.

However, an adjustment to the invisible parts might very well be in order if one feels the V6 is not adequately performant. Or perhaps one might want to re-upholster the car in finer cloth or hide (some Zegna cloth? Some Bridge of Weir leather?) For me the best tuning is that which runs with the character of the car rather than that which dresses it up in ill-fitting sports kit. I feel though that the neon-paint and body-sill merchants are deliberately working against the norms of good-taste.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

3 thoughts on “Theme: Aftermarket – They Who Call the Piper Tune The Player”

  1. Richard makes a good point here about snobbery. It’s so easy to sneer.

    But really, is this type of modification not a form of love? The young men – (and they are almost all young men) – who indulge in this form of aftermarket enhancement truly love their vehicles. It is not for the likes of us to adjudge the artistic, tasteful or socio-dynamic merits of this subculture. It is not ours after all.

    Furthermore, it is usually the work of their own hands, the sweat of their own brow. It’s also a culture as old as the hills; one many of us indulged in it (to some extent at least) in our youth. If nothing else, they do enliven our streets somewhat.

  2. My best friend collects both new and old vinyl, and has a very nice hi-fi system, which I have helped him optimize – seeing as I worked in the amplifier and speaker fields for decades off and on while still maintaining a main job occupationas an engineer.

    He is also in the car business as a warranty manager for a large FCA dealership, as I’ve mentioned many times. While the man is highly interested in his hi-fi, and is open to paying for tweaks, his ideas on cars amount to liking one that moves from A to B and costs a minimal amount to operate. He cannot get it through his head that all the automotive rubbish he continually recommends to me interests me not in the slightest, and cannot draw the parallel that his interest in hi-fi is to him what a decent car is to me. He is not a car guy.

    Everyone tends to have a “hobby”, something that draws them into more than a passing interest, and where they may fairly be said to become expert compared to the hoi polloi. We have birders, flower growers, hikers, bikers, home-improvement types, photographers, pigeon fanciers, etc, etc, etc.

    So it’s not surprising that we have car fanciers. In each “hobby”, out of a hundred people, perhaps ten percent have any real clue, based on my 70 years of observation. The remainder operate on old wives’ tales and whatever homespun logic they pull out of the grey matter stuffed between their ears. Surely it was ever thus. The vast majotity of modified vehicles are “tuned” by these no-hopers, and to someone with an actual clue, it can be a matter of just shaking one’s head while wondering what in hell the modifiers were thinking – it’s obvious they do not grasp the basics. But, the exact same criticism can be levelled at the dabblers in any hobby including those who may be expert in a different field.

    So I tolerate the boy racers. No doubt a majority who only go in for visuals and/or hacked suspensions do it to customize their rides, feeling it helps them stand out from the amorphous grey blob of society. However, at least they have not succumbed totally to a life where watching Netflix and becoming an expert on neatly opening large and frustratingly well-sealed bags of chips (crisps) or cheese whizzies is their only claim to being unique among their peers.

    I actually believe that showing some sign of gumption no matter how misplaced is preferable to giving up and burying one’s nose in a smartphone all day long. That is what I see on a daily basis – people whose main interest in life is in the minutiae of nothingness.

    1. There’s a lot of wisdom in that. For similar reasons I felt that it was unwise to dismiss tuning. The obvious extreme case of bad judgement has a match in other fields. What alarms me in any hobby group is the territorial marking. Sometimes the odd member of the car tuner crowd can be a bit overly-assertive. I like it people have fun with their gadgets and cars. The self-taught expertise is rather wonderful. When that becomes a sign or shibboleth for in-group and out-group distinctions the fun has stopped.
      I can’t think of any area in my life where I’ve been a maximiser or optimiser. I might be a bit wierd like that.

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