Hindsight is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Understanding some things weren’t as amazing as we thought they were in their golden days. The same applies to the tuning style of the “Fast & Furious” era or, rather, the early-to-mid 2000s. Got wings? Got flashy colors? Got the loudest audio setup and tons of screens? It was all about that!

Tuning goes almost as far back as the car itself. Modifying an object, with either functionality or looks in mind, is a natural impulse. Same goes for modifying a car. People used to do it as far back as the beginning of the first decades of the 20th century, switching engines off a Ford V8 and stuffing them in a Ford Model A. Everybody remembers the hot rods in movies like “Grease.”

A lot of the tuning in the early days was carried out with competition in mind, motor racing being a great catalyst of innovative ideas that arose from the need to make a car go faster than it was originally intended to. Generations of “garagisti” – as Enzo Ferrari would call the British racing teams – or shop owners made a living out of improving a car’s natural ability around corners or in matters like acceleration or top speed.

Coupled with the mechanical part came the visual part. If you are to modify your car, you want people to notice it even before you turn the key in the ignition – mind you, unless sleepers are your thing. That’s why the hot rods featured flame graphics on the sides or outlandish pinstriping following the car’s profile. All that evolved into metallic paint jobs, big chromed wheels and many other elements that made people turn their heads, if not in appreciation at least due to sheer awe.

Arguably, the peak of the looks-over-functionality drive was reached somewhere in the early ‘00s with the advent of the “Fast & Furious” franchise. Back then more about cars and illegal street racing than about jumping between skyscrapers, Michael Bay-esque explosions and desert racing, the franchise transformed cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R (R34) or the Mazda RX-7 (FD) into cult icons that everyone bowed before and adored. And that everyone wanted to mod.

Be it visually or mechanically, Japanese machinery became the go-to platform for tuners in the early part of the new millennium. It wasn’t all due to the fad since these cars had very potent underpinnings that could hold vast amounts of horsepower beyond those offered on the showroom floor, but we’re talking here more about the aesthetic department. Large body kits, huge wheels, colorful everything, vinyl liveries – not to be mistaken by the vinyl trim on Malaise-era land yachts – and earth-pounding sound systems.

Read on to relish the memories of the tuning scene as it was back when many of us were in their teens.

Body kits

Blame The Fast and Furious Franchise For The Rising Prices of Japanese Sports Cars
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Fender flares, front air dams and big wings aren’t something new. They became essential in racing as engineers started to understand and, thus, apply aerodynamics on what were, beforehand, machines too fast for their own good. What we’re talking about here, though, are those flashy bodywork modifications mare more for the show rather than the go. Granted, bulged arches were necessary if you packed 20” rims all round, but those didn’t help the car handle any better either.

Everything had to be big and round, a clear departure from the flat surfaces and straight angles employed in the ‘80s. Remember the Mk. IV Supra in “The Fast And The Furious”? That’s the epitome of tuning in the early ‘00s.

It checked all the boxes: huge splitter up front with many gaping air inlets, tacky sides skirts and a rear bumper completed by some wannabe aerodynamic elements that were, more likely, a hazard to pedestrians.

Oh, and let’s not forget the big wing on the trunk.

That particular car surely went fast, but were all those add-ons around the outside helping it to stay leveled on the ground? Not really. But, at least, the Supra was meant as a performance car from the get-go. Adding a massive body kit to it wasn’t that much of a crime. What happened, though, was that everyone made their cars look like it. Even cars that had no right to wear these flashy threads. You’d see people showing up in their souped-up Peugeots, Dodge Neons or Ford Focuses featuring the same kind of mods. Many spent so much on the exterior that much of the underpinnings were left untouched. I guess this is why the sleeper movement emerged...

Spinner wheels

If big, bold, in-your-face multi-spoke wheels aren’t flashy enough for your 2003 self, cue spinner wheels. They are a prime example of ‘00s kitsch, but many of us liked them at one point or another during their fleeting period of popularity, right? But let’s think about the idea behind this contraption. Somewhere, sometime, someone saw fit to add a moving part to… the wheels!

The only exterior element of the car that’s already moving was in dire need of something more.

These spinners would roll in the opposite direction of the wheels and, to compound the aesthetic effect, would keep on spinning even as the car’s ground to a halt.

Everybody in the Hip Hop scene seemed to love them and kept adding them to their SUVs but, just like the Cadillac Escalade or the Lincoln Navigator, nobody really remembers them nowadays. Which is, honestly, a good thing, no matter how much they improved your car’s “Visual Rating” in NFS Underground.

In-car audio/video systems

Sony to provide Audio Systems for U.S. Ford models
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2007ford sony

Talking about video games, it was really something if you could pop at a gas station and play Gran Turismo in your car back in 2004. Those who could, invested large sums of money in retractable screens and built-in consoles with the winner being the one who could cram more LCDs in his or her car – flamboyantly-colored upholstery counted too.

Indeed, the PlayStation 2 was launched in the year 2000, and folks first got a taste of the spice of JDM cars in Gran Turismo.

Then, in 2003, the first Underground game from the “Need For Speed” franchise was released, fueled along by the F&F craze. Everybody wanted their cars to look like in the game or in the movie, and that included multimedia bit. It was even better if you could play the game inside a car that looked as if it was part of the game!

That’s how the interiors of many unassuming hatchbacks were altered forever, fiberglass inserts replacing trunk space in the aim of having more speakers and subwoofers. The aim with your sound system was to achieve a thin balance: have the car rock back and forth and vibrate visibly from the bass, but not hard enough to knock the bumpers off your ride. Just like TV screens in the back of the headrests in luxury cars, having an entire audio/video store in your means of transportation became less relevant.

Headlight/taillight add-ons

2017 Lexus IS High Resolution Exterior
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These are more minute exterior details, but they were very popular 15 years ago. Everyone seemed to think that blocking half of their headlights with an edgy piece of plastic would make their cars look better. Arguably, it did help on a number of occasions but, usually, it just looked out of place. It was the same story at the back where, for a while, you would’ve been forgiven if you thought everyone had fallen in love with the transparent taillights of a Lexus IS300.

Now, surely, these are some of the cheapest modifications you could get your hands on, but that doesn’t mean you should. The purpose of the eyelids is, supposedly, to give your car a frowny look.

Make it seem like your car doesn’t think today is a good day or that it is serious and it means business.

The trouble is, these eyebrows got mounted on the silliest of cars: Volkswagen Beetles, Peugeot 206s, Ford Fiestas, even Smart cars! You can see how that didn’t make those city commuters look pissed of, although they made the rest of us the polar opposite of pissed off when we saw them.

The taillights are a different matter. Folks started thinking around the turn of the millennium that the whole thing with red taillights is outdated. A car, should, instead, roll with some transparent taillight covers to show off the either tinted light bulbs inside or tinted lamp covers alone. The idea looked alright on the IS300 because that’s how the guys back at the factory wanted it to be, but unenviable on your average Civic Si. Another thing that didn’t look good on either the Civic or the Lexus were neons under the side skirts. They were necessarily colorful and would’ve been cool as a Christmas decoration and nothing more. You could, though, argue, that they helped you avoid tripping when you exited your vehicle.

Lambo-style doors

2016 Lamborghini Aventador LP760-4 By DMC Tuning High Resolution Exterior
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Lamborghini themselves first made use of scissor doors on the Countach which debuted in 1974. Roll on 30 years and the brand’s flagship model, the Murcielago, still had scissor doors as its trademark design element.

Few can deny the dramatic effect of a Lamborghini with its doors up, but that doesn’t mean the concept should trickle down to cars that were bought off Craigslist for $3,500.

It got so bad that even SUVs had them. Basically, you were the boring one out if your doors opened as they were originally intended to. They had to either go up or, at least, open like suicide doors on a 1930s sedan. It was one of the most out-of-place modifications you can think of, so out of place that even Lamborghini have kept them for their top model only, as a sort of a heritage element.

Extreme decals, ’vinyls’, liveries

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS NASCAR Pace Car Exterior
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You can’t talk about the mainstream tuning trends of a decade-and-a-half ago without mentioning the tribal paint jobs, burning vinyl, and everything else that adorned the sides, trunks, and hoods of modified cars back then. The recipe was simple: get your car colored in an ostentatious tint, like a metallic orange or a pearlescent green, then top it all off with some “meaningful” decals. They had to convey whatever message you wanted to tell the world about yourself or the car.

The options were only limited by the budget but, in the virtual world, games like NFS Underground, Underground 2 or Juiced offered countless possibilities.

Then you’ve got those that added needlessly decals of various parts-making companies to the side of their cars, usually on the side windows or just before the front wheel arch. The trick here is to spot those that flaunt with stickers that have no business with the parts used on the cars itself.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to personalize your car, to want to make it your own and, after all is said and done, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. With that in mind, you can’t deny that some of the trends put forth in those days seem weird today. That doesn’t mean that, if you want to relieve your glory years, you can’t have your car looking like it came from the first F&F movie - that’s perfectly fine and these six items are the way to get there. Anyway, people already find faults with today’s tuning trends, let alone in 15 odd years.

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