"We've been waiting for a show like this for a long time..." was the sentiment echoed by so many attendees I talked to at the first-ever Tuner Evolution car show in Puerto Rico last Sunday. But prior to the doors opening, I didn't really know what to expect...
Not just a first for the Tuner Evo crew, it was also my first time visiting the U.S. territory. Would it be a waste of time? Would the Puerto Rican community come out to support a U.S. mainland-based car show? Are there even quality cars out in the Caribbean, or would I be subjected to a room full of busted-ass Honda Accords on fake wheels?
Everything was a bit unknown, especially since the majority of the island doesn't put themselves out on social media like what we see here, so it wasn't as if I could simply look up the hashtag #tunerevo and check out every car registered for the show. As I began to learn more about the local scene, builders and shops don't rely on Instagram likes to validate their cars. There's also a special story behind every build.
You won't find cookie-cutter builds or full-blown modified cars that are simply dropped off at a shop and picked up weeks later. The Puerto Rican car community is made up of father-son duos that've spent 10-plus years working on a single project car together. There are also project cars assembled by close friends that meet up every night after work as they share a six-pack of Medella Light and wrench until their wives scream at them to come home to bed. It's a scene that's as raw and genuine as it gets, and it's a scene that, while physically the size of Connecticut and 1,000 miles away from Florida, it's got big heart and big builds that deserve recognition from the global enthusiast community.
I woke up Sunday morning in my hotel across from the Puerto Rico Convention Center, still wary about how the day would unfold. I still hadn't heard too much information or any details from the Tuner Evo staff, and surely didn't see any spoilers on social media. But as I packed up my gear and started making my way to the convention center through the 89-degree heat, I was greeted with an enormous line of people waiting to get in. And when I say enormous, I mean it stretched as long as something you'd see outside a Bruno Mars concert. As the doors opened, I followed the crowd in and all of my questions were answered instantly - and in a good way.
It didn't take more than strolling down a couple rows of cars until I noticed the caliber of workmanship could easily rival what I see back home. But what stood out most, though, was the diversity... In many of my show reports, I often boast about how the display of cars are diverse with show, street and track builds; however, in Puerto Rico, there was some really off-the-wall stuff, especially when it came to drag cars. If you've been in the scene for over a decade, many of you remember Puerto Rico for their expertise in rotary engines as well as also holding some of the most prestigious records in drag racing. From what I'm told, the rotary and 1/4-mile scenes are still popular with two drag strips still frequently in use. So, as you can imagine, a good showing of two- and three-rotor-powered machines were in the house, not just in Mazdas, either. Rotary-swapped Suzuki Samarai were quite popular and I also found a golf kart converted into a dragster which might just be one of the coolest things I've ever seen! Speaking of drag cars, there was also a school bus (yes, a school bus!) that's been converted into a 9-second monster. While it's not a rotary, it somehow runs on cooking oil!
Aside from the hardcore race and quirky stuff, walking Tuner Evo I felt the strong presence of Honda and VW builds (stay tuned for part two of my coverage). These guys know their shit and have the right parts; they may be slightly incomplete compared to what I see back in the States, but they're 90 percent there. I also encountered a strong Mitsubishi presence with several generations of Evos and Mirages on hand. The stance crowd wasn't forgotten either. Some of us scoff at the extremely low and wide cars sometimes (myself included), but Tuner Evo is the first major car event to welcome the scene on the island. Drifting and time attack both exist in PR, though not as prevalent. I was lucky enough to meet a few of the guys who are strong supporters of both movements, however, with only one drift track and one road course available, both communities are struggling to grow quickly. But we plan to shed some light on some of the nicer examples from these genres including a JDM-themed Ford Mustang which you'll either really hate or really love (I'll be the first to admit that I love it!).
Here in the continental U.S., especially in heavily populated metro areas, we definitely take a lot for granted. We can road trip to an event that's six hours away, call up a dozen shops to aid us in whatever install or custom fab work we need help with. Hell...we have air-conditioned indoor car shows year-round. In Puerto Rico, where it's 80-degrees and 80-percent humidity year-round, none of that is a given, and enjoying an event as organized, competitive and entertaining as Tuner Evolution was non-existent until last weekend. The result couldn't have been any better and exceeded everyone's expectations, including ours.
The locals tell me it's been a long time coming, and judging from what I saw, visiting Puerto Rico will be something we'll look forward to doing year after year, from here on out.