The ’60s was a decade when the post-war world settled down and life was being lived to the full again. The auto scene, in particular, was growing and, naturally, people wanted to make cars look better and go faster. Engineers broke away from the constrictions of company life and began making a name for themselves by producing higher performance versions of run-of-the-mill vehicles to the delight of enthusiasts and racers alike. It began a trend and some made a real impact on the tuning market – their names becoming synonymous with particular brands and models. Some of them survived, some of them fell away and some eventually got swallowed up by the manufacturers, but many made a significant mark on the auto world. Here are ten of the best.
Austro-Italian Carlo Abarth started a tuning company back in 1949 and his trademark scorpion logo soon became revered around the world. Abarth exhaust systems were particularly effective. In 1952, he began a relationship with Fiat that exists to this day, frequently pumping out slightly insane sports-tuned Fiats. Fiat bought Abarth
A subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, AMG started off as a race-engine forge in 1967 before expanding into an engineering operation specialising in high-performance versions of M-B products. AMG and Merc started co-operating formally in 1993, and the tuner became a wholly owned division in 2005. It is now a high-profile asset to the company.
Before M Sport, there were the likes of Alpina – a Bavarian-based tuner of BMWs founded in 1965 – that was particularly successful in motorsport and the winner of the 1970 European Touring Car Championship. Alpina produces its own versions of various BMW models – often right there on the BMW production line – and in Germany is recognised as a manufacturer.
Founded in 1961, Autodelta became Alfa Romeo’s competition department two years later, intended to help put the company back at the top of motorsport following its achievements in the 1950s. The company was a success, particularly in sports- and touring-car racing, but is now a tuning-and servicing specialist.
Second only to Mercedes-Benz-AMG, Brabus is the most noted tuner of M-B
(and affiliates Smart and Maybach) products. Established in 1977, Brabus focuses on engine power and torque upgrades – plus brakes – to increase performance, but it also offers interior and exterior cosmetic enhancements.
Irmscher was started in 1968, and concentrated mainly on Opel products, going as far as operating the factory motorsport team. On the aftermarket front, it offered a variety of performance- and cosmetic items and later branched out to include GM stablemates Chevrolet, Cadillac, Kia and Saab.
Koenig started in 1977, and rose to prominence due to its performance modifications to Ferraris, upsetting Enzo Ferrari in the process. The Koenig C62 was the first-ever road-legal version of a Group C sports race car. The company no longer builds cars, but continues to make components.
Nismo is Nissan’s motorsport division that was founded in 1984, and ever since has been actively involved in a variety of on- and off-track programmes. Apart from involvement in international sports/touring car racing, Nismo develops specialised performance editions of Nissan, Datsun and Infiniti products.
Shelby American is the thriving modern spin-off of the company that created the Cobra and become synonymous with Ford – Mustangs in particular – in the 1960s. The links continue to this day, the company producing Cobra replicas as well as an ongoing run of Mustang enhancement kits to a global market.
TRD (Toyota Racing Developments) is Toyota’s in-house tuning house that develops
and supplies a full range of performance components for streetcars, as well as supporting race programmes around the world. It has two branches: Japan and the US. Parts for Lexus models are provided under an F-Sport label.