Exploring LA Tuner Car Culture At AutoCon
California Love

Thanks to social media, the automotive industry feels so small and connected at times. With just a few clicks on my phone, I can be instantly exposed to the latest aftermarket tuning and styling trends.

Thinking about how internet-spoiled I am, I was recently prompted to ponder my hometown of Los Angeles, and how it was at the epicenter of the stateside tuner car scene in the mid ’90s through to the early ’00s. Excessive bodykits, under-glow and decal overload defined the burgeoning tuner era, and LA was at the heart of the movement.


But after 20 years, can La-La Land still be considered the hub now that the automotive community is so connected? Last weekend I decided to put down my phone and go and find out first-hand at AutoCon LA.


AutoCon have been running events since 2010, and in that time have grown into one of the nation’s most respected promoters of car shows for, primarily, the tuner set. So if I wanted an answer to my question, the series’ first stop of the 2017 season would surely be the place to find it.

Tuner Trends Start Here

I arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center just before 1:00pm when the show was due to start, and noticed that the line of people waiting to get in and check out the cars was already wrapped right around the block. Luckily, I had a media pass and was able to hop on in while there were only a handful of attendees on the show floor.


I should start by saying that, even though I was born in Los Angeles and am slightly biased towards it, I’ve always thought of LA as the place where tuner trends originate. Some of the most extensively modified cars in the United States were dreamed up and built out of the City of Angels, and you only have to take a stroll through the bigger events on the calendar to see it. Am I wrong?


Of course, a lot of styling cues seen on these cars come from elsewhere, and obviously Japan remains to be the biggest source of inspiration. It’s also the place where a lot of the parts being used in tuner-type builds originate from.


A quick glance around the the convention center’s expansive South Hall had me excited for what I was going to find, and one of the immediate stand-outs was an incredibly clean Nissan 300ZX sitting on Desmond Koenig wheels. I see these cars maybe once or twice a month, but they’re usually in the worst of conditions, so being able to look over one as clean as this example was quite nice. It was also the only Z32 at the show.


Some of you may remember Kelvin Hsiu’s Evolution IX MR that we featured earlier this year. This still rates as the most insane Evo I’ve seen in person.


Sticking with the high performance Lancer for a moment, I’ve noticed more and more Evo Xs around LA recently. Given that production of the long-running Mitsubishi model has now ended, I wonder if people have been snapping them up before the prices inevitably rise?


Although it’s still relatively new, the ZN6 (and ZC6) has already lent itself to every type of build that I can think of. I’ve seen them as garage queens, rally weapons, drag warriors, drift machines, and surprisingly even tow cars among other things. To me, this is the platform that revitalized the tuner scene, which felt like it was fading away in the years prior. It’s also the model that shot Rocket Bunny’s fame through the roof here in LA. I’m honestly not joking when I say I see at least two or three TRA Kyoto-kitted ZN6s/ZC6s a week just driving around town.


One thing that intrigued me at AutoCon was the number of E30s on display, which was a lot more than I had expected. I’m definitely used to seeing late-model BMWs (E90 and newer) modified with both styling and performance upgrades – sometimes both – but while E30s are commonplace on the streets, I can’t say I’ve seen too many of them built up to a show standard in this part of the world. Maybe times are changing…


I’ve also noticed that people are starting to stray away from the super-slammed look, with more of a move to aggressive fitment. That’s not to say that I didn’t see more than a few sill-scrapers at AutoCon LA.

Big-ass, race-inspired GT wings! Are they here to stay? I think so, and I’m definitely not complaining about it.

Some of you might be wondering about the awesome TCP Magic-kitted FD3S Mazda RX-7 sitting on RAYS Volk Racing TE37SL Black Edition wheels in the cover photo and above. It’s owned by Jonny Grunwald who is Bulletproof Automotive’s former project manager, and you can expect a full feature very soon.


It’s always nice to see builds based on less popular modifying platforms, like this fourth generation Impreza. While the WRX variant is an excellent looking car, I really love the headlights on these base Imprezas. Disclaimer: I also own one as a daily.


If you spend any amount of time on YouTube watching car-related videos and vlogs, you’ll probably know of TJ Hunt and his supercharged Subaru BRZ, Nissan R35 GT-R Black Edition, and 350Z pictured above. The line to get a picture with him rivaled that of the one to get into AutoCon.


The most unexpected find of the day was this Golf, which was on some other level of cool. Yes, I think it’s pretty badass. I like the WRC theme the owner has going on, and the raw bolt-on nature of its exterior modifications give it some added aggression.


Another one of my favorites was this FJ80, or more specifically, the Lexus LX variant which I never get to see. Sitting on classic bronze Volk Racing TE37X Progressive Model wheels, there was almost too much awesomeness for my peasant eyes to take in.


I’m really liking Kei Miura’s new Pandem kits as they have a more angular look as opposed to the original Rocket Bunny design, and therefore work better on older cars that have a boxy look to them, like the BMW E30.


This particular E30 build had a lot going for it, including a set of super-clean Rotiform RSEs.

The modifications flowed through to the interior which included a gold-colored half-cage, vintage Recaro seats and a wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel with matching shift knob.


If there was one surprise above all at AutoCon, it was the distinct lack of Hondas. Given they were once the mainstay of the LA scene, I wonder where the love’s gone? I also wonder with the release of the new Civic Type R whether we’ll see a resurgence in popularity.


Speaking of, Honda was actually at AutoCon with the new car, as recently unveiled in production form at the Geneva International Motor Show. The fact that it was mobbed all day could be seen as a positive sign.


LTMW probably pumps out more TRA Kyoto-kitted cars than anyone else in the SoCal area, and they were at the LA Convention Center to debut their new Pandem R32 GT-R build. Needless to say, the Skyline attracted a lot of attention. The question has to be asked though: given the collectability of the BNR32 GT-R now, would you be brave enough to go down this customizing road?


With Subaru being the fastest growing manufacturer in the US, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing more and more WRXs around the place. To put it into perspective, they sold just over 170,000 vehicles in the year 2000 and just over 615,000 units in 2016.


I like the somewhat subtle approach taken with this particular car, utilizing and embracing the factory lines instead of using a bodykit.


Ah, overfenders… Don’t get me wrong, I really do think they have a place, and we’ve seen some amazing builds that perhaps wouldn’t have had the same impact if they weren’t wearing the opinion-dividing style of wide arches. The issue that I see though, is that because they’ve become so popular, we’re starting to see some major knock-offs.


Some look great because they flow well with the car’s original lines, but other times they don’t. What do you guys think?


This lone Hakosuka was like a people magnet for all the right reasons, though. Its owner, Joel Tan, also has a certain TE27 Corolla that we featured early last year in his garage.


Despite there being no shortage of them, the RX-8 can’t be seen as a popular tuner car modifying base, so when I saw this ultra-clean build I had to snap a few images and include it in this post. Hopefully Mazda will hear our cries for another rotary-powered performance car in the future, preferably along the RX-7 lines.


I really wasn’t sure what to expect from AutoCon LA, but I’m glad I came along. I’m also happy to report that Los Angeles is indeed still the epicenter of tuner car culture – in my humble opinion anyway.

There’s another AutoCon show coming up this weekend as part of the Formula Drift season opener in Long Beach, and with Paddy headed along to that event, I’m interested to hear his thoughts on our cars. In the meantime though, stay tuned for a few spotlights I have coming up.

Louis Yio
Instagram: lusciousy



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I'd love to see a breakdown of the different car cultures in the U.S, especially East vs West. Stanced cars are much rarer here, even more so in the South/Appalachian range where the roads would reduce most of these cars to scrap parts.


HA! The ROADS will reduce the cars to scrap out there.!.!.!

LA has thickets of thieves to do that job.


It's funny that you mention that. I was actually talking to a fellow photographer from the east coast at AutoCon and we were discussing this exact difference between east and west coast cultures. There is more to it than just stanced culture but you're definitely on to something with that idea.


@louisyo its funny you say theres a lack of hondas.. when in the picture with the blue Datsun there looks like a whole row of them in the back lol.


That's still just a small handful of them, especially compared to the amount that I used to see at old school Hot Import Night events.


@louisyio Your absolutley right on that. The dominance of one make at a show is no more. But you have to admit. After zooming in on the photo of that black civic coupe in the background, it looks like the type of build from say import showoff or battle of the imports from back in the day. I would like to see more pics of it. Spot on.


I'd love to see you guys do some East coast stuff and compare. The Tail of the Dragon (and the surrounding area) has an especially underground touge scene that's worth checking out! I love learning from other sides and seeing how people do builds differently.


I can't believe you even took a pic of TJ's car. Nasty


My take on the TJ thing:

He doesn't resonate with me, but he seems to with the younger generation so it's hard to say anything without seeming like an old grump which I swear to god happens more and more these days.


"Aww, they took my H. How else will people know its a Hyundai?"


Hating on TJ is like hating on puppy dogs. Puppy dogs that consume only Monster Energy drinks.


He's the AdamLZ of the car scene to me.

I don't hate either, respect the fact they've carved a market for themselves, but I am hyper aware of the fact I am not their audience.


LZ is equally worse

Kieran Hill-Cousins

Anyone know the name of the arch kit on the Mercedes?


Sarto Racing. Definitely made me waste a half hour on Craigs List... I think these older CLKs are going to get more popular for tuning soon, they have great lines.


You mention knock-off body kits but include 2 photos of a Datsun 510 sitting on "CNT" fly-by-night replica faux-piece wheels.


Great pics and feature Louis! Im pleasantly surprised at the attention to detail on all the cars you featured, a nice departure from shows where people just throw the parts catalog at a car and forget about custom details. I particularly like the Pandem kitted E30, it fits the body shape perfectly. And those CSL style fender fins are tits awesome! Anyone have a clue who makes them? Thanks! cant wait to see Paddy's coverage from LB!


I'm expressing my hatred for TJ Cunt in this: That 350 is so ugly, every other car you took a photo of looks better than that shitbox. His BRZ has a fake Pandem kit on it. *owns a black edition R35 but can't be fucked getting a legit Pandem kit* Logic out of fucking 10. Sorry for the profanity.


Wow theres some serious hate for this TJ guy lol, 3 out of the 9 comments so far... I guess I should be thankful Ive never heard of the guy, one less thing to hate about the world every time I wake up lol. Is he just a youtube poser or something?


He got shit on by loads of people for having a fake Pandem kit on his car late last year. Actual douche.


I can't stand TJ Hunt, he sends completely the wrong message out to his young followers who now think its ok to buy fake body kits and stick 50mm spacers on a car. He's just hijacking the car scene for likes a subscribers.


Let's take a look at some CA history. We have always been the forefront for the Japanese Automobile with industry with headquarters for Honda - Toyota - Nissan all in the Southbay area of Gardena and Torrance. We have always been an automotive state from our race tracks (ASCOT) to big name automobile headquarters based out of the beautiful South bay area.



I don't think you can really knock makers other than TRA Kyoto for getting into the over-fender game. Unless they're creating replicas, there's nothing wrong with creating a different take on something which is wildly popular. You might as well give a hard time to the different body-kit makers of the 90s-00s who weren't first to market.

Now, the issue of whether the over-fenders work properly with the OEM body lines is different, but really in the eye of the beholder. Some people will like some versions better than others, and vice versa, not to mention those that just prefer the stock body to any modifications. Admittedly, some over-fenders look better than others, or suit a certain car better than others. As you pointed out, Pandem kits seem a bit better suited to more vintage cars than Rocket Bunny ones do. But that's the beauty of building a car - looking at all the available parts and piecing together a combination that looks and/or performs the way you want it too.


Had to youtube search this TJ guy to see what all the hate is about....

I think it says a lot for the future of import enthusiasts when a guy like this douche bag has a line for a photo op almost as long as the entry to the event. What happened people? These drop kicks are the reason cars like 32GTRs are getting chopped up for widebody conversions. They're the reason stupid kids are running 50mm spacers and cheap knock off wheels on their replica widebody kitted ZN6's.

Maybe the reason Honda's were not represented is for the simple fact that the honda guys don't want to be associated with the younger crowd who automatically deem every honda owner as a 'know-nothing posers' (you know what I'm talking about).

It needs to change. It HAS to change. Make import tuning great again!


Wow, gotta give Louis huge props for the MULTIPLE Z32 shots...just wow! Despite Dino's claims of Z32 love and features to come, the poor Z32TT is still among the least-seen great cars here on Speedhunters...other than that horrible trashed one quite awhile ago, and a single shot of a really nice blue one from Dino-san also quite some time ago.
And you sure can tell it's LA with all the multi-colored paint (that's still around???) and bling, bling, bling on top of more bling-bling...hurts my eyes!


Thanks for taking a pic of my car. (Takata Evo X)


Super stoked, thanks for the awesome shots of the Z32 and feature Louis!


I'm not a hater usually, but 75% of these cars are ridiculously ugly, or just plain laughable. Like a clown's company car. The E30 and the EVO X is stunning tho.


Interesting. I thought most of the cars looked pretty dang good. I'm a fan of all walks of life of the car life. About the only thing I don't like these days is the stance movement with teh super stretched tires and the horribly wrong offsets. Oh, and that Oni camber garbage.


Please, pretty please have a spotlight on that Golf. It's amazing. So many things to look at! Also, about the overfenders. I just hope that the bolt-on look will slowly disappear and evolve into blended fenders. No crazy boxes, just extend the car original lines. Look at how WRC teams do it, that looks amazing. And it will still requires to destroy your bodywork anyway.


love that R32,
and that golf WRC (GOLF 6?) looks so damn sexy


TJ Hunt is a joke, that car is extremely ugly and by no means he's a " builder", it's all about the likes.


Yes, the car is ugly.
No, he's not (by any stretch of the imagination) a legitimate builder.
Yet, that's not the travesty.

The unfortunate truth is that we live in a society where those things DON'T MATTER. It's the march of the lemmings, folks.

Welcome to American conformity...we'll do it bigger and better than anyone else!!!
F*** yeah!


I love the BMW E30, the first one to be seen from the top of the page, than the pandem kitted E30, I love certain cars that have body kits and certain cars that are just plain simple. That WRC inspired Golf is badass!!!! Haha,


That Z32 > Everything else at the event. It's a shame that you don't see more of these at car events..They're an amazing car to own/drive, and I can personally attest to that. The Z32 seems to still be getting the same kind of treatment, that the RX7 has gotten over the years..because of their supposed maintenance or reliability issues (which have been blown out of proportion) The best looking out of all the 1990's Japanese sports cars, is the least appreciated and understood.


....not a fan of overfenders, stanced cars, window decals, or extreme negative camber.

That said, there was plenty of great content in this post. Dig the z32 especially


Where can I find more photos of that Golf MK6? I'm in love


Its pretty cool to see the brown e30 that went to my school last year in a speedhunters article


Awesome car pics


"If there was one surprise above all at AutoCon, it was the distinct lack of Hondas. Given they were once the mainstay of the LA scene, I wonder where the love’s gone? I also wonder with the release of the new Civic Type R whether we’ll see a resurgence in popularity."

Really. This is LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA USA. The good Hondas have either been stolen, wrecked, stolen and stripped or impounded by the corrupt and dysfunctional LAPD.

The new "TYPE Rrrrr" won't do anything. It's hideous, overweight and looks like that steroid dog!


I highly doubt that the Type R won't have an impact on the scene. It's the first Type R in the US. Whether or not you think it's ugly doesn't matter to all the Honda fans who will be snatching this up like hot cakes when it comes out to the public.


Nothing kills a sweet build more than a bumper mounted wing. Track look is the new hella flush. I mean, I'm all for function over form but this whole "race car" thing is pretty poseur-ish to the maximum. Crazy wide-bodies, thick spacers, bumper mounted wings sitting on top cheese graters, beef cake tires, and bags = ehh. Not necessarily talking about the cars featured in this article, just what I've noticed around the popular builds here in socal.

Automotive obsession

Picking up an AMG Edition One! https://youtu.be/JFu5lUcXo_A


more on the 6 gen camaros!