“Here is the good news: If you are reading this it means that you are a true car geek and a survivor.” That was how Jay Chen opened his final editorial for the last issue of Sport Compact Car Magazine back in March 2009. That article is something that has been on my mind a lot these last few weeks. It’s almost hard to remember now, but there was a time after the 2008 financial crisis where Automotive Culture almost died. Magazines closed their doors, the sports car market died up, aftermarket parts companies disappeared. Things were bleak for a while there, and there is some concern that the future may be as well. No one has that crystal ball that will tell them the future of course, but even if the car scene continues on full steam ahead this does give us a good opportunity to remember how good we have it right now.
Things may be on a brief hold right now but one thing is for certain, cars are mainstream again. It’s hard to go a day without accidentally running into a product of the current automotive culture. Whether it is seeing a commercial for a cable TV reality show based around “Street Racing” or if it is just seeing a heavily modified or rare car on your drive to work. Cars have always been a part of American culture, but I feel we are in a current renaissance. Automotive festivals and events are bigger than ever. Whatever you are into there is some big event for you. Muscle cars have Drag Week. Shitty old muscle cars have Roadkill Nights. 80’s and 90’s car fans have Radwood. Circuit racers have Gridlife. Grassroots drifting has Final Bout. Off Road Racers have King of the Hammers. Of course all the classic events are still going like SEMA, Goodwood, Pebble Beach and even they have grown in size. If you are on a tight budget things like 24 Hours of Lemons and the Gambler 500 got you covered. Of course we can’t forget all the Cars and Coffee events that have sprung up across the country. That is not even scratching the surface. Whatever you are into, there are probably at least 3-4 events per year for it.
If going fast is your thing, then today’s market is perfect for you because speed and power have never been cheaper. New Direct Injected Turbocharged engines are proving to be powerhouses. Take my Fiesta ST for an example. It is a 1.6L turbo engine that makes 200hp at the crank from the factory. With nothing but a ported turbo, larger intercooler, downpipe, and tune, you have a car that will put down 320 wheel horsepower. If you want to go bigger, the tried and true LS with a turbo swap nets you 700+ horsepower like it was nothing. Old cars are benefiting from new technology too. Easy fuel injection conversions are giving old engines new leases on life with better drivability and power.
Technologies like computer aided stress modeling, CNC machining, and 3d printing are cheap and easy to use these days as well. This is all great news for anyone trying to modify or restore any low production, rare, or just not popular cars. Things can be made more precisely, stronger and more affordable than ever before. Cars that would have otherwise sat neglected or worse, scraped, are now being brought back to life to continue their story.
I believe that the current good times we have are a direct result of the last hard times. Times were tough but as Jay Chen put it in that same editorial, “Those left standing are true intelligent discerning enthusiasts in search of speed and automotive knowledge…tuning has been whittled down to nothing but the hard-core enthusiasts.” These hard-core enthusiasts rebuilt the whole automotive culture to be bigger and better than before. These companies and people stuck through everything and made sure that this niche hobby didn’t pass away. The scammers, leeches, and shady people who caused harm to the community by providing crap service or just blatantly broke the law making counterfeit parts for their own gain couldn’t survive anymore and were purged from the community.
Now that times are good again the scammers are back, unfortunately they too are bigger than ever. Overly inspired by all the fix and flip shows that seem to be playing non-stop on cable television, people with zero talent, knowledge, or passion are trying their best to get rich quick flipping cars. Plenty of scammers making counterfeit, knock off, or just plain poorly designed parts are more than ready to sell to those flippers, or anyone else for that matter. I half suspect you could build an entire car with cheap parts off Ebay, something I would like to test someday, just to see how poorly that would all go.
Times right now are good, but we shouldn’t take that for granted. Keep supporting the people, businesses and friends that have made the community possible and fun. Don’t worry about the future, even if things get bad, that will just once again weed out the posers and people who are only here to make a quick buck. Those of us that are into cars for the right reasons, for the friends we make, for the challenges we overcome, for the victories on track, and for the sense of comradery, we will be fine. In fact, we will be better.