The history of mechanical tuning – when did it start?
Tuning and design

The history of mechanical tuning – when did it start?

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Car tuning is as old as automotive history. Its history is also inextricably linked with motorsport. Find out what were the landmark moments in the history of mechanical tuning.

Car tuning can take many forms. The most popular are visual modifications and changes aimed at improving technical parameters and driving properties. In the latter case, it is primarily the introduction of improvements to the engine, power and fuel systems and suspension. These types of modifications are known in principle since the dawn of motoring – drivers have always felt the need to adapt their vehicles to individual needs. In its history, however, mechanical tuning has gone through many stages.

How did it all begin?

The first documented instances of mechanical tuning date back to 1895 when a Texas banker named Stone commissioned engineers in New York to modify his new Baker & Elberg Electric vehicle – unfortunately we don’t know what modifications were involved as the car has not survived to this day. However, the origins of tuning are primarily associated with motorsports – the first vehicles modified for racing purposes hit the tracks in 1901.

Hot-rods and low-riders

Mechanical tuning became more widespread with the massification of car production. The first automobile for the masses was of course the Ford T, which underwent numerous modifications by its owners. Among them were alcohol smugglers from the Prohibition era who modified their vehicles to make them easier to escape from the police. This is how hot-rods were born, as well as… nascar racing. The hot-rod era lasted until the mid-1960s and mostly involved the popular Ford A. Modifications included adding extra carburetors, compressors and dual exhausts. The front suspension was also often lowered to give the car a race car look. A separate branch of tuning are low-riders, cars with lowered air suspension, which are equipped with powerful engines. They appeared on California roads in the 30s of the 20th century thanks to Latin immigrants. They reached their peak of popularity in the middle of the century.

From racetracks to roads

Cars modified for sports purposes to this day remain an inspiration for lovers of mechanical tuning. Patents developed in them were quickly adapted to commercial vehicles. Sports car mechanics are responsible for the turbochargers, modified carburetors and improved exhaust, brake and cooling systems that are now commonplace in tuned cars. They were used in sports cars, elegant limousines and even trucks. Since the oil crisis of the 1970s, tuning has also become popular among owners of smaller cars such as the Volkswagen Beetle and Volkswagen Golf.

The tuning market

The development of tuning has led to the emergence of specialized companies offering professional modifications to mass-produced cars. Giving the car to such a workshop, we can perform modifications of virtually any type. Developed market of parts and advanced components for tuning helps in this. The only limitation is the budget – converted car can ultimately cost several times more than the basic model from the factory

Era of digital tuning

In today’s cars electronics play a very important role. The work of individual components of the car is controlled by computers and advanced algorithms. No wonder that the latest era of tuning concerns precisely the modification of electronic systems. And although the so-called chip tuning does not relate directly to interference in mechanical components, it has a clear impact on performance and driving characteristics of the vehicle. Thanks to it, we can drive faster and more dynamically without interfering in the construction of the vehicle.


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