These companies have made a business of taking performance cars to the next level.
Sometimes good isn’t good enough and great is only great if you lack imagination. Sometimes custom carbon fiber body panels, lift kits, twin-superchargers, straight pipe exhausts, and giant wings and splitters are called for, sometimes all on the same vehicle. Faster, louder, better handling are what every true blood petrol head long and strives for. Naturally, some companies have made their niche proving more is indeed more. These are the in-house and independent tuning companies that make performance cars perform even better, oftentimes to taking things absurd levels.
Below we’ll highlight some of the slickest, most outrageous, and most ambitious tuning houses and their coolest builds.
Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, or SVT, was founded in1993 as a special division tasked with developing performance versions of Ford vehicles. Most famously, SVT developed the original Ford SVT Lightning a performance version of the F-150 and the SVT Cobra base off the Mustang. Few might recall that there were also SVT versions of the Contour, tuned to 200 horsepower and sporting a 5-speed manual, and an SVT Focus good for 170 horsepower. The SVT division would eventually be combined with Ford Racing and Ford Team RS to form Ford Performance.
If you’re familiar with Mercedes-Benz, you’ve likely heard of AMG. The tuning house was founded in 1967 by two former Mercedes engineers, Erhard Melcher and Hand Werner Aufrect. They began by building racing engines for Mercedes cars. Their first was the now infamous “Red Pig” 300 SEL. Over the years, the relationship between AMG and Mercedes grew, with AMG producing all manner of souped-up Mercedes. Today, AMG is an official subsidiary of Mercedes and there’s an AMG version of nearly every Mercedes model, each sporting a handmade AMG engine. For more on AMG, click here.
TRD stands for Toyota Racing Division, but TRD is as much about features you’d want for a rally car or Baja truck as you would for driving on dry pavement. Common TRD Pro add-ons include off-road Fox shocks, skid plates, beefy BBS wheels, and Nitto all-terrain tires. TRD versions of Toyota’s cars add additional aero bits, sport-tuned suspensions, and bigger brakes.
Nissan Motorsports International, or Nismo, is Nissan’s motorsports division and is responsible for some of the sickest Nissans ever built. Nismo currently competes in the GT circuit and Formula E. Their first build was a 1987 Nissan Skyline, other highly sought-after Skylines would follow, including the Skyline GT-R, R33 Skyline, as well as the Silvia 270R. Today, there’s a Nismo tuned version of many of Nissan’s production cars. The GT-R and 370Z might come as no surprise, but there are also Nismo versions of non-sports cars like the Juke, Sentra, and the Frontier pickup.
Founded in 1977, Brabus has long specialized in luxury and performance car modifications of Mercedes. Though they have Brabus versions of most current Mercedes-Benz models, including everything from the S-Class to the GLC, their most well-known and sought-after build is the Brabus G-Wagon. But Brabus doesn’t just juice up today’s Mercedes, they also do among the absolute best Mercedes restorations in the world. They even do a Brabus version of the Smart Car.
When all the horses aren’t nearly enough, you call on Hennessey Performance Engineering. Founded in 1991, this Texas tuning company specializes in taking the already absurdly fast and making them not ludicrous or plaid but dark matter-level unfathomably fast. They’ve tuned the C7 Corvette ZR1 to 1,200 horsepower, they built a Hellcat supercharged Jeep Gladiator dubbed “Maximus” with over 1,000 horses, and their own Venom F5 supercar boasts a twin-turbo 6.6L V8 making 1,817 horsepower.
The German performance car tuning house known as Alpina refers to themselves as the maker of “cars for automotive gourmets.” They specialize in the most rarified and athletic of BMWs and have done so for over 50 years. They started with a BMW 1500, adding a few horsepower here and there, evolving alongside BMW. Alpina racecars made a big splash in professional racing in the 1970s, taking major wins at Spa and the Nürburgring. Today, if M cars just aren’t fast enough or fancy enough, there’s always an Alpina around the corner waiting to take your breath away. Currently, the Alpina B7 claims the record for the world’s fastest production sedan.
Who doesn’t love a modified 911? Well, plenty of Porsche fanatics, but…it’s their loss if they can’t appreciate the next level 911s from this trio of performance tuners. RUF began restoring Porsches in 1960 and producing modified performance Porsches in ’75, and they’ve been at it ever since. Their most famous build was a 1987 911 known as the RUF CTR a.k.a. the Yellow Bird. It was tuned up to an incredible 463 horsepower and achieved a top speed of 213 mph. Making it the world’s fastest production car that year.
911s aren’t just known for being fast, they’re also strikingly beautiful. While some call RWB, or RAUH-Welt Begriff (translating to Rough World Concepts), founded by Japanese tuner extraordinaire Akira Nakai, a sacrilege to the classic 911 silhouette. But the outrageous wings, custom hand-cut fenders, and bold designs of Nakai-san enhance rather than deform the 911. And of course, they’re also crazy fast.
For the purest resto-mod 911, look to Singer Vehicle Design. Their builds mix and match the best of the 911 for serious performance that exemplifies the best of the Porsche icon. And their intricately wrought interiors leave prove no detail is too small to warrant consideration. Oh, and manuals only, of course.
Another tuning house with a taste for Porsches, the German tuners Gemballa was founded in 1981. They initially specialized in modifying 911s through the 1980s and 90s, adding wide body kits, high-end stereos, and performance engine tunes. Eventually they expanded to work on McLarens and a limited run of Gemballa-modified Ferrari Enzos.
These have been just some of the world’s many great tuning companies. Let us know which others you love in the comments below.