I trekked out to the performance World Car And Truck Show last Sunday (March 16), not because I have an interest in increasing my chances of dying a fiery death in a high-speed midnight street race, but to help me understand those who might.
Oh, all right. Getting some tips on souping up my rusty 1991 Acura Integra, a vestige of my teenage suburban life, would be okay, too.
Finding a place in the sea of parked cars outside the International Centre off Airport Road, I discover that my lot neighbour is driving the same car. The only difference is his (or less likely her) car’s interior features mismatched aftermarket seats, shiny gauges and badly painted panels. I know I’m entering a zone catering to performance enthusiasts, but my neighbour’s skills aren’t building my confidence.
Inside, it’s all Motor City eye candy. Men in NASCAR jackets are held in states of awe around beastly Mustangs and scantily clad women.
Along the outer edge of the first showroom, vendors hock everything from die-cast replicas to high-end sports transmissions. I try but fail to find anyone dealing with alt-fuel engine upgrades.
The show isn’t (overtly) about illegal car tuning. A lot of it is about costly ride pimping, often with really cool results. That might mean painstaking paint detailing, restoring a deceased DeSoto or squeezing countless speakers, LCD screens and Xboxes into a classic Chevy. But that also means trying to squeeze more out of an already over-powered speed device.
“Even a stock Civic or equivalent is capable of death-inducing speeds,” confirms the OPP’s Cam Woolley when I phone him two days later.
It’s possible, he tells me, to increase engine performance in a way that allows the driver to handle the car properly – but a tuner would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to accomplish this.
Those are the pretty cars at the show, the ones that sparkle thanks to piles of cash and time. But what plagues our streets are the cheap knock-offs, sort of like counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags, except deadly.
We’ve all seen those heaps. I’m often confronted by someone in a junky Civic revving his engine next to me at a red light, goading me into a pointless male ritual.
For those sinking their meagre paycheques into their cars, flair might be the best option. The Noyzboyz exhibit in the next room shows where some of that cash can go: out the exhaust.
Or if you’re tired of noisemaking, there’s another kind-of illegal option: nitrous oxide. NOS, as it’s called by those who like bad car racing movies, allows more fuel to burn and thus increases an engine’s power output. Sucks for fuel efficiency, wicked for passing. “It’s pretty neat. It kills the engine,” Woolley deadpans.
According to one of the hawkers pushing a NOS kit at the show, it’s illegal for use on the street. So why is he selling it here, in plain view?
Apparently, I can have the kit installed, I just can’t have the nitrous hooked up. But there’s no controlling who’s buying it. The very average-looking vendor who barely looks up when we speak doesn’t even ask if I plan to use it on a track, one of those open-to-the-public courses. Imagine if that was how we bought rifles.
If I just want to show off how cool my wheels are, I can do it without touching my stock engine or tampering with the exhaust. I can offend bystanders with a homemade skirt kit, a wraparound that makes the car appear lower, or maybe blinking lights. Those are legal, right?
Turns out wacky coloured lights don’t conform to the white or amber front and red back light rules and are illegal, according to Woolley. Some skirts are crappy and dangerous. He cites the example of a Honda driver who installed a fibreglass nose skirt.
“It was a real butcher job. It fell off and basically knocked the car out of control and into the path of a passing tractor-trailer.”
I watch a couple of young guys snapping pix of some of the pros’ work. I wonder if they’re going home to get cracking on their homemade versions. That’s probably why the OPP brought out tough regs on street racing, like impounding the car and taking away the driver’s licence for a week.
Maybe people could try my approach: leave the car as is, buy some good racing video games and tinker with the performance of your bike.