Tuning is all about superlatives. Premium car tuners are in the business of making cars faster, lower, louder, more powerful – and of course more exclusive and expensive. However, a look behind the scenes quickly reveals that the people creating the seemingly unattainable are anything but unapproachable. The car experts behind the best tuning companies in the world are, at heart, simply car lovers who take pride in their work and enjoy wowing the public with the impressive results. That’s one reason why they relish the opportunity to come together with colleagues, car enthusiasts and automotive journalists for Conti Tuning Day. Twice a year, the event at the Contidrom test track lets tuners show off the best of their current portfolio on a specific theme and invite a select group of guests to ride with them. This year’s second Tuner Day featured only tuned SUVs, exotic even by this industry’s high standards of uniqueness.
Michael Schneider, Continental’s Head of Tuning, explains the unusual choice: “We don’t do this kind of theme very often, because sports cars are generally of more interest, but SUVs are currently getting a lot of attention and the range is enormous. Coverage of these cars is mainly focused on their off-road capabilities, but what is fascinating for Tuner Day participants is how fast an SUV can move on our course. The tuners really give us an impression of what they can do with SUVs.”
Before rubbing shoulders with a veritable Who’s Who of the tuning scene, the Conti Tuning Day introduces visitors to the world of Ultra High Performance (UHP) and Ultra Ultra High Performance Tires. A developer who works with tuning companies to create custom tires for their vehicles explains the specifications of this niche product and the development process behind it. The core job of Continental’s tuning department is to conceive and implement alternatives to the standard-issue tires in collaboration with the tuners who need them to round off their makeovers. In keeping with the tuning world spirit of “bigger, better, faster,” the tires on these cars also have to be bigger, wider, and of course a step above the standard. The Conti Tuning Day presents a rare opportunity for outsiders to gain insights into this process.
Next, participants are sent to the wet-handling course to experience the superior grip of Continental’s wide tires first-hand, then on to the slalom competition to test their driving skills. Finally, the opportunity to ride shotgun in a one-of-a-kind vehicle, with the expert who lovingly created it, is of course the highlight of the day – and removes any remaining doubts of the approachability of the tuners. In fact, this interaction with an audience outside the industry is not only welcome, but actually benefits both sides, as Schneider has observed: “Tuners are very dependent on being creative time and again, to set themselves apart from others, so they are grateful for inspiration and constructive criticism. On Tuner Day, there’s a lively exchange. Visitors get to sit in the car doing laps and ask all sorts of questions, but they’re giving valuable feedback, too. That’s all part of the concept.”
Despite the scale of the event and the caliber of vehicles in attendance, Conti Tuner Day feels like a relatively intimate affair. After all, every single premium tuning business that operates at the level required for an invite is based within easy driving distance of Continental’s Hanover headquarters and the nearby Contidrom test track. Their annual attendance at this event, considered a fixture on the industry calendar, is a given and has contributed significantly to the spirit of collegiality between the competing companies. Even though some of the German tuning companies have taken on a much larger dimension, their roots are still in this local, passionate scene. Even after 17 years in this business, 95% of Schneider’s contacts have remained the same. The minimal turnover reveals an unexpected stability at the heart of a world so dedicated to change, speed, and innovation.
“Everyone enjoys their work,” according to Schneider, “and that may sound easy, but joy is something you have to achieve first. When you do, it can last a long time. Today, many of the tuners are not only great friends, but they have also formed an association to deal with specific issues they all face, like emissions regulations, and to solve them together. There aren’t that many tuners worldwide. Germany happens to be the country where most of the vehicles that are of interest to tuners are built. There are other types of tuning, for example in the USA or in Japan, but here the cars also have to pass strict roadworthiness tests. Some tuners like Brabus, AC Schnitzer and Decker even give two-year warranties – that’s more than you get from the manufacturer. That's a whole different level of tuning and shows that the work is of the highest quality. At the end of the day, what matters to us is that the tuning partners we cooperate with meet our security requirements – and they underline their commitment to safety by equipping their cars with custom Continental tires.”