This blog post is to speak to those who might be new to the performance car scene or just getting started in it. I feel some of the points I make are important and I’m not going to sugar coat anything here. It is a fact that expectations can often times be made unrealistic by inaccurate assumptions and a lack of overall knowledge of our high performance industry. Newbies, this is for you. Old cats… you’ve likely already lived it but read on if you wish. By the way… blogging is still very new to me and the time I have to write is limited… so these posts are typically written off the cuff and in a hurry. This one is no exception, but I’m scarfing down a late shop dinner and reflecting on things. So here you go…
Every day I am confronted with someone with a false sense of reality about what it is that we provide in the automotive aftermarket. Usually racers and those who have labored under their own cars completely understand what it takes to own modified vehicles. Others, however, are those who “see and want” without any real consideration of what that might mean as far as ownership. The problem is that what they “see” is based on a perspective based on inadequate public perception of what owning a modified or customized vehicle really means. Worse, people constantly aim high at power numbers… usually because of something read on the internet. They do not realize that while a couple of hundred more horsepower can be had for a marginal increase invested over a lower power kit, their COST OF OWNERSHIP INCREASES DISPROPORTIONATELY. Let me say that again another way because it makes me feel better… You will break stuff. Things will wear out sooner. It will cost you more money and down time (that’s time NOT behind the wheel if I wasn’t clear). A project’s build price does not include the cost of ownership or maintenance required over the vehicle’s life span.
Forget what you think you can have when you are looking at Instagram shots of timeslips and dyno runs. It is far too easy to establish a false set of expectations in your mind based on an emotional response when you see how awesome that result is. You probably have no idea that the slip you are looking at expired an engine or transmission on the next pass in pursuit of it. You will not realize the parts expended and substantial hours that it took to achieve that result in most cases. You will not see the pictures of the car’s ride home on a flatbed. You will not see the money poured into the job. You will never see that story. You will never hear anything about it. You will just see the glory slip or glory pull from a dyno session which was done to achieve the highest marketable result. That’s exciting, and it sells. If you know that with great power will come great expense, great. It is far more likely that you don’t. That is not great.
I encounter these instances of ignorance nearly every day. Ignorance is not stupidity. I don’t want my comments or opinions to be misunderstood here. You have to consider how deep and how cold the water is before you jump in. Most do not. They get caught up in the emotion of it all and don’t ask the important questions. There is an entire community of people who are spending time in their private chat rooms and social media groups without an actual industry professional in the room. I’m aware of this because I see the screen shots leaked to me all of the time. Customers educated by social media posts, fluffed up ads, and doctored testimonials by people who negotiated a special deal on the back end of a service or parts provider. Unfortunately that’s the world as seen through advertising and speculative chatter, and not real-world hands on experience or real-world results.
Each week new vehicles in their fully stock configurations roll off of the assembly line and reach showrooms with mechanical, electrical and other issues. However, in the aftermarket we are often expected to deliver a vehicle that doubles or triples the power of said vehicle with a zero-failure expectation of any kind. That is not only unreasonable, it’s completely ridiculous. Your odds are not less that you will have issues with a modified vehicle. They are greater. Period. End of discussion. No way around that any more than there is a way around your eventual death. Ask Michael Jackson.
The craft of building high performance automobiles in the aftermarket is not an exact science. It’s more of an art. With art, there is often a process of finding something and a learning curve associated with it. Sure, we apply engineering to solving the problems we face, but the path we take often requires some trial and error and a great deal of creative thinking. There is also the factor of the unknown. Just because a set of modifications lasted on vehicle A for a year or a few thousand miles doesn’t mean that vehicle B will perform as well or for as long. Add to that an instance where a builder is being asked to work with components that they may not have prior experience with or a vehicle that has previously been through previous mods, successful or otherwise.
With so many high horsepower numbers being thrown around today it is often perceived that it is reasonable to triple an automobile’s horsepower and do so with the reliability and maintenance-free experience of a Toyota Prius. As my father used to tell me… “Get your head out of the sand, son.”
There are no vast teams of engineers working at finding ways to triple the horsepower of your car that was built with components that would just let them live long enough to make it through a limited warranty period at stock power levels. The pool of individuals working on any given platform in the aftermarket is for the most part unique and very small. It’s a ton of work and takes a great deal of testing and experimentation to find ways to not only make power, but to attain an acceptable level of reliability. None of us are perfect. None of us hit the bulls eye every time. That is a fact.
Rarely do people see the true drama behind the scenes of what it takes to develop, build and maintain these machines. We aren’t talking about a LEGO set. Eventually, yes, many platforms get to a point where there are some great products available from multiple sources. However, it’s rare to actually see all the pros and cons of each presented completely let alone how they may work well or not well with other products. As with most things today it’s about who writes the better ad or spends the most on a beautiful video presentation which is then cut and pasted at once to multiple social media boards and internet forums for maximum excitement and exposure. That makes for an interesting read, but that’s not all of the information you need to make proper decisions for your mod path.
Ask your industry professional to walk you through all of your expectations and let them define for you the limitations. If they can’t or it sounds too good to be true, use your common sense. If you don’t have any… borrow someone who does or hire a consultant to look over your project. I do this quite a lot, and it’s been a great check and balance… not only for me, but others. If the people you are working with are interested in the best fit for you and not just their bottom line on parts sales, getting a second professional opinion should not be an issue for anyone involved. Take your time and get real information… not hear-say internet jibber-jabber. Also… when you get the information… don’t blow it off because “JimmyShift67” or “McLuvinMyBoost” convinces you that they know better in some late night chatroom. Your builder doesn’t want you to have a poor experience any more than you do. Not if they care about the industry that provides their day to day wage. Work with experienced providers who will stand with you when issues occur or something breaks, what have you. They will. They always do. It is unavoidable so never enter into this hobby thinking that you will somehow be exempt from the occasional issues. Some are super lucky… most are not. At my shop, we work damn hard to provide the best builds and repairs that we can. As hard as we work at it, and for as long as we have been doing it… shit happens. Daily.
I’ve been doing this a very long time. I have seen it all over and over again. I’m not sure if there is a better way to present the good and bad other than to convey that you should think conservatively when you enter into this hobby if you are inexperienced. Take it a step at a time and earn your stripes. Check your ego at the door and save yourself some money and wasted time and aggravation when getting started. To this day, most of my favorite vehicle preps are 700-1000hp cars. We’ve built some monsters… but they are high maintenance and less of an overall enjoyable experience for most than the cars we can build with a large safety margin and greater longevity. If you are one who can handle the ebbs and flows of high horsepower ownership (basically writing the car off as a limited use toy), then by all means… secure your dream. If high maintenance and operational costs are a no-go for your wallet or lifestyle, shoot for a more modest build and see what it’s all about… but no matter what you do, keep your expectations reasonable. This is an imperfect hobby filled with surprises. If it were predictable, it wouldn’t be exciting.
Thanks for reading.