Besides cars, my only other really guilty pleasure is eating out. I love trying new places, new foods. The more exotic, the better. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, it just has to be good. I've learned a few things from my culinary forays. First, if a restaurant hangs VW Bus panels on the wall as dcor, you're going to get a good meal-generally fish tacos. Second, places with open kitchens are a good sign. A restaurant that's as proud of how its food is made as it is of the food itself is doing something right.
Tuning shops are similar. In my experience, the good ones want you to see everything. Some guys will expound on the latest car their shop built, usually a collection of parts from other manufacturers bolted onto a dumped-on-the-ground, big-wheeled, chrome-tipped photo queen. Other shops, the good ones, want to get you into the back of the building where the magic happens. Techs start pulling out parts they designed and built themselves. They'll tell you what went into every part, joke about mishaps in the first few designs, how they overcame problems and what that means to the consumer.
I recently spent some time at Global Motorsport Group's new shop not far from our office. GMG has a massive facility that's operating-room sterile and lit like an electronic assembly clean room. The idea is to be able to bring customers back to show what's going on with their vehicles and allow them to poke around underneath while it's on the lift. GMG is the equivalent of Benihana-style Teppan cooking without the flying shrimp. There are no secrets; it all happens in front of you.
The week after touring GMG, I found myself sitting at a table with Raffi Kazanjian from Eurosport, Nik Saran from VF Engineering and Shiv Pathak from Vishnu Tuning. While enjoying an incredible Indian buffet, I noticed another trait shared by top-level tuners. These guys want their stuff tested, they want it dynoed, they want to go head-to-head with other tuners. All three of these guys complained about competitors who claimed higher performance numbers than they had. They weren't complaining because they can't make the same power, but because some of these products are rarely independently tested to back up the claims. These guys test competitors' stuff all day long, and they know who is lying and who isn't.
Elsewhere in this issue you will see the reincarnation of our Proven series, where we'll be dyno-testing aftermarket upgrades on a monthly basis to determine what's in the soup. We're tired of seeing hugely inflated power numbers. In the near future, you will also be seeing more behind-the-scenes articles where we take you inside shops to see how the latest products are developed. We hope letting you see what goes into design and development will help our readers make better choices when purchasing upgrades. The good tuners will appreciate a better educated customer and the not-so-good will be forced to step things up a bit. Either way, everyone wins.
Hopefully, we can do our part to help those spending their hard earned money on the best parts possible. Oh, and if anyone knows a good Irish Pub that serves a chicken-and-mushroom boxty within a three-hour drive of Orange County, e-mail me.