July 1, 2012

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The Need for Speed

Up the Ante with High-performance Tuning

Tom Haraldsen

July 1, 2012

It doesn’t take much for most of us to relive a memory from our teenage years—usually that first year when we get our driver’s license and have the chance to borrow our parent’s car. You pull up at a stoplight, another young buck pulls up in the lane next to you, and before you realize it, you’re both revving up the engines and inviting each other to drag race off the line.

Some things we just never outgrow.

The need for speed, no matter how many horses we already have under our hoods, prevails in many, many car owners—male and female, young and old, experienced and inexperienced. To prove that point, you need look no further than to specialty shops along the Wasatch Front that focus on high-performance tuning. They’re almost constantly busy, and their customer base might surprise you.

Revving up the Engine
Because of the nature of these vehicles—customized to exceed both the driver’s expectations and most speed limits—a couple of sources for this story spoke anonymously to Utah Business. They were, however, united in their love for both their cars and their car’s maintenance experts.

“I’d have to say my [car] and I have a love-hate relationship,” says a Salt Lake City business executive who is well-known in auto circles, and who we’ll call Jack. “When I first bought my latest vehicle (a 2010 Mustang), it was already hot. But I wanted it hotter. Loved it, but wanted more.”

Jack had friends in Las Vegas, where high-performance shops are a bit more plentiful than in Utah, and he began taking it there “to get it zooped up.” What he discovered is that such an embellishment isn’t a one-time process and takes more time and effort than he was willing or able to make through frequent trips to and from Vegas.

“A lot of customers aren’t interested in [a vehicle] requiring a significant amount of maintenance,” says Joe Sim, owner of Turbo Labs in Orem and referred to by customers as “Turbo Joe.” “I tell my customers that this is a commitment, kind of like a marriage. I probably turn away 30 percent of the people who come in here. It really is about commitment.”

Sim tells of a customer who owns a 2010 Camaro—factory delivered with 330 horsepower. The customer wanted more—900 horses under the hood, 1060 at the tire. They’ve been working together for over a year. Sim says the initial buildout can take up to a year, and during that time, the car might be in the shop monthly for adjustments or new parts. It’s not, he says, “a cut-and-dried thing. It takes time to perfect.”

And then there are the customers who want their mechanics to be magicians.

“Almost weekly, I get someone who says, ‘I wanna have my car run on unicorn blood and Smurf poops!’” he says with a laugh. “It’s hard for me as a business owner to balance expectations with realities. Even sometimes when cars change hands, the new owner still brings it to me because they know that we—the car and I—have history together.”

In another part of Salt Lake County, a husband and wife share a habit—hot cars. Like her spouse and the brothers she grew up with, Carol, as we’ll call her, also feels the need to be fast on the highways.                   “I work in an industry where, let’s just say, it’s not common to find a speedway mama,” she says with a smile. “I think a lot of my friends would be shocked to find out how much I love fast cars and tinkering with the ones we have.” She has a favorite tech specialist in Utah County, but is still surprised that high-performance isn’t more popular here than it is.

“I grew up in California—we both did,” Carol says. “It’s very common to have high-end cars geared up for speed. Maybe it’s just the conservative nature of Utah, but I don’t have a lot of female peers here who love speed as much as I do.”

Fast and Powerful
So what kinds of vehicles make the best candidates for high-performance upgrades? “Most of the time, [customers] take a vehicle that’s already performance oriented and increase it from there. I don’t recommend it on a regular sedan,” says Joe Sim of Turbo Labs.

One problem is emissions legality. Sim had a customer who wanted to take his Lexus from 300 to 900 horsepower. But “when you build something real heavy, emissions can become an issue.”

Sim says the 335 BMW is probably the best candidate for a high-performance makeover, since it’s already turbo charged and built to handle a lot of power. He also likes the Mercedes SLK65.

Turbo Joe also had good news for the American auto industry.

“There’s been an interesting swing over the past two decades, where imports ruled the world through the ’80s, American cars the ‘90s, and then imports again,” he says. “But over the past few years, Americans are taking back the market.”

Maybe this time, domestic cars can stay out in front and speed away from their foreign competitors.


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