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Fine tuned: Auto culture transitioning from muscle to tuner cars with a new generation of enthusiasts

Fine tuned: Auto culture transitioning from muscle to tuner cars with a new generation of enthusiasts

Fine tuned: Auto culture transitioning from muscle to tuner cars with a new generation of enthusiasts

Since long before Harrison Ford cruised the block in his custom Chevy coupe in “American Graffiti,” Americans — particularly American males — have obsessed over fast cars with polished chrome and custom-painted bodies.

Now, as the owners of the original hot rods approach retirement age, the obsession remains as strong as ever with additional energy supplied by younger hobbyists and a growing appreciation for small imports and subcompacts.

“There are more younger people entering the hobby today than in the past,” says John Buchanan, president of Mass Cruisers Auto Club, a car club that sponsors massive biweekly cruise nights for car hobbyists outside Bass Pro Shops on Route 1 in Foxboro.

Buchanan said that while interest in classic muscle cars like Pontiac GTOs, Dodge Chargers and Chevy Camaros remains strong, a new generation is bringing with it a love for customizing import cars such as Nissans, Toyotas and Acuras.

Many of the newcomers combine a yen for high performance with a desire to customize their rides with special wheels, eye-catching paint jobs and custom body treatments.

“There has been a big shift in car culture with the younger generation from what our generation practices today,” said Buchanan, whose own collection includes a ‘31 Dodge. “But it has to do more with the millennials’ preference for ‘tuner cars’ and the use of wireless internet communications.”

Tuner cars are vehicles that have had many of their parts changed to increase speed.

A growing list of “tuner clubs” populated by under-40 hobbyists often rely on Facebook or Twitter to launch “flash cruises” and other instant enthusiast gatherings. Others feature more traditional club meetings and weekly car shows where members talk shop and show off their Mazda RX 7s and Acura NSXs.

Typical of the new generation is Rob Ryan, a hobbyist and sales adviser at The Drivers Side in Plainville, which specializes in car audio, customizing and performance equipment. Ryan also founded Boston Tuners, a car enthusiasts’ group that now has affiliates in several states.

“The thing that tuners have in common is creativity,” said Ryan, 30, who has built several import hot rods including an award-winning Scion TC. “The cars are made to look and perform a certain way. They 100 percent express the personality of the owner.”

Often, custom tuner cars feature swoopy air dams and bodywork accents, custom paint and fancy wheels as well as interior treatments. Many tuner car owners insist on high performance, which may mean using electronic tuning devices or adding turbochargers or nitrous oxide bottles to boost engine power.

Ryan’s own shiny green-and-black hot rod features a combination of power and panache. It includes a turbo kit, a lowered body and striking graphics featuring the comic book figures Hobgoblin and Spider Man set against the Boston skyline.

“Kids love it,” said Ryan, who built his first hot rod from a $500 VW Rabbit when he was a teenager.

While younger enthusiasts gravitate toward imports and subcompacts, they’re also inclusive in their car culture, Ryan said. Muscle cars and antiques are welcome alongside Hondas and Toyotas.

“We’ve even had a member who brought his Model T,” he said. Boston Tuners has its own page on Facebook.

Various factors have led to the rise of tuner cars among younger hot rodders, said Russ Rocknak, publisher of Mesh New England, a magazine that covers the hobby.

In the years after World War II, car enthusiasts had their pick of inexpensive prewar leftovers and relatively new consumer vehicles of the day. They modified them, added custom wheels and paint jobs and became the envy of their local cruising scene.

These days, there are plenty of Hondas, Subarus and Kias that have not yet outlived their usefulness and can be turned into head-turning performance machines on a reasonable budget.

The media has also helped create a generational shift in hot rodders’ tastes, Rocknak said.

“There are so many car shows on TV now that help to motivate car people,” he said.

Muscle cars or tiny tuners, there’s ample evidence that fast cars are still firmly embedded in the American psyche. Listings show at least 300 active car clubs in Massachusetts alone, Buchanan said, adding that the popularity of custom cars and their ilk is likely to be with us for a long time.

“If you look at the population statistics … there is a continued growth opportunity for the hobby in all areas including antiques and hot rods,” he said.

Published at Sat, 07 Apr 2018 03:31:43 +0000

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