10 surprising facts about the import tuning scene

Car tuning culture has a long history and means a lot to many people. Depending on who you ask, its origins lie somewhere between America, Germany and Japan. Since the invention of the automobile, people have always tinkered with their vehicles with spare parts to optimize them and get better performance from them than when they left the factory. But the practice became more radical and later became a cultural movement. From the American hot rods and dragsters of the 30s to the popular body races of Germany and the illegal mountain races of Japan nicknamed “togue”.



After the oil crisis of the ’70s happened and killed the muscle car, there were a few national performance heroes left, and they were largely unconvincing. The new wave of cheaper Japanese sports cars making their way to the United States in the 80s outperformed their domestic rivals. Soon, used Hondas, Toyotas, Nissans and Mazdas became plentiful and affordable. They were also easy to work with and turn into small pocket rockets. Young adults could now afford to build fast, fun, and economical cars, giving rise to the import tuning subculture. Here are ten surprising facts about the import tuning scene.


ten Born in Southern California

Southern California has been home to youth car modification since the hot rod days of the 1950s. Since the city of Gardena in this region has the highest population of Native Americans Japanese in North America, it’s no surprise that this was the first place Japanese vehicles gained popularity in the early 80s. And the presence of authentic Japanese parts retailers encouraged modification, and soon Import street racing and dating sites have sprung up.

The standard of living there was higher than in many other parts of America. According to Craig Lieberman, they were more receptive to buying Japanese cars and had more modified Supras, RX7s and NSXs on their streets and car shows than anywhere else in the country.

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9 Dominated by JDM cars

Import tuning is for all kinds of imported vehicles, including those from Europe. Import drag racing of the 60s, also born in Southern California, involved modified European cars like the VW Beetle, Austin A40 and Ford Pop. So Europe provided amazing and user-friendly cars like the BMW 3 Series, Porsche 911, Mercedes AMG and VW Golf. However, JDM cars dominated the import tuners scene.

Japanese cars were more affordable and practical, while their German counterparts were already performance-oriented and expensive objects of passion. The kids couldn’t afford a Mercedes AMG or a Porsche 911.


8 Many reputable import tuner shops

Auto repair and body shops that existed in the early to mid-1990s played an important role in nurturing the culture. The shop owners’ teenage sons realized they could increase the performance of Japanese cars by adding a few mods. They had the money, the ability, and the know-how to do it, and went that route rather than throwing big bucks on American muscle cars they couldn’t modify. As the practice grew in popularity, new stores of enthusiast import tuners sprung up and became reputable stores.

Most stores have built their authority and credibility on the street by specializing in a few models. For example, SP Engineering built GT-R RX-7s and Supras, Jotech Motorsports worked on Supras, and Jotech Motorsports built the world’s fastest Honda Civic in 1999. Unfortunately, few popular shops still exist today. today.


seven Golden Age – Late 90s to early 2000s

Street racing was already popular in the 90s across the United States and aimed to brag with their modified Civics and Integras. But popularity grew dramatically and exploded with the release of the first Fast and Furious movie in 2001.

In 1999, several tuner car events were happening every weekend all year round. Additionally, the annual SEMA show devoted more exhibit space to tuners, and automakers were adding them to their booths. And there were over six series of tuner-exclusive events like Import Battle, Hot Import Nights, NIRA, NOPI, Import Showoff and Extreme Autofest.

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6 Hundreds of car companies make cool parts for tuners

With the growth in popularity of tuning, an insatiable demand for parts has been created. As a result, hundreds of car manufacturers making cool parts for tuners appeared. In 1999, Japanese companies such as HKS, Trust and Apex established distribution facilities in the United States.

Also, many auto parts distributors that had previously specialized in selling auto repair work like PepBoys and Autozone started stocking accessories for tuners.

First came the cars, followed by the modifications that became commonplace, then the magazines. At the time, the fascination for magazines was great. Their number of pages counted and varied according to genres and popularity. As popularity grew, the tuner magazine pages grew from 60 to 80 pages per issue.

In 2000, there were countless imported tuner magazines producing issues over 200 pages and were more than all pages of domestic tuner magazines. There were several magazines, each aimed at popularizing a niche. But soon the rise of the internet and tuner websites gradually killed them off.

4 Fast and Furious Impact

Some people mistakenly assume that the Fast and Furious franchise triggered the import setting. The scene predates the 1997 Grand-Turismo racing game, which also introduced many young gearheads into practice and came long before the F&F. The culture had already experienced its first golden age before the first film was released in 2001. But we cannot deny that the films had a huge impact on pushing the cultural mainstream.

It made the scene super popular and got everyone pumping up their cars. Many kids have installed fart cans and stickers on the hood of their CRX after watching the movies.

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3 Expansion became unsustainable in 2008

With the market for imported tuners growing rapidly, global dominance seemed inevitable, but it didn’t. The market contracted after the US entered recession in 2007. This affected the tuning hobby as many industries were affected and people had less disposable income, making expansion unsustainable .

Manufacturers caught up in the mid-2000s and started producing cars with good performance from stock. There were fewer tuner-specific companies, so fewer parts and accessories were available, and new cars were no longer tuner-compatible.


2 Affected by cheap counterfeits

One downside to the growing popularity was the entry of greedy manufacturers who spammed online stores like eBay with counterfeit performance parts. New tuners who weren’t shy about faking it until they did chose these inexpensive parts over the well-designed ones.

These parts were cosmetically similar to the original but at a third price and were of poor quality. Yet bargain shoppers went after them, which affected the real parts manufacturers, which drove many of them out of business.

RELATED: These 10 Japanese Tuning Shops Build The Sickest Hondas

1 A shadow of its glory days

The import tuner scene isn’t dead, but it’s safe to say that it died a spiritual death and has changed tremendously. It is a shadow of its former glory. Most magazines died along with their fellow print companies, with only a handful like Speedhunters and Honda Tuning surviving online and keeping the import tuner lights on.

The tuner fans who made culture popular are now older and their tastes have changed. They can now afford Porsches and BMWs. Also, their hobbies may have branched out into other tuning genres like restoring classic cars.