Remember that scene from The Fast and the Furious where Brian O’Conner tests out his newly-modified Mk IV Toyota Supra in an all-out drag battle against a Ferrari F355?
“Smoke ‘em,” growls Vin Diesel as the cars launch off the line and the bright orange Supra comfortably relegates the Ferrari and its disgruntled middle aged owner to a speck in its rear view mirror.
It makes for gripping viewing, but in real life would a modified car, no matter how well it was tuned, really be able to hold a patch on a supercar? Is it realistically possible to tune an everyday car to be faster than a Ferrari?
First of all let’s take a look at that scene in particular. Although it certainly seems impressive and it carries the famous prancing horse badge, the F355 wasn’t actually all that powerful compared to other cars of its time.
Powered by a 3.5-litre V8 engine, the F355 produced a maximum of 375bhp. Compare this to the Mk IV Supra, which even in its most basic format produced around 300bhp from its 3.0-litre inline-six engine.
Most reports claimed that number was on the conservative side, and the Supra’s engine could be tuned to handle as much as 900bhp without any modifications to its stock assembly. Considering that in the movie Brian’s car was supposedly able to produce north of 900bhp, that Ferrari would have been roasted before the Toyota even left second gear.
Can you tune a normal car to beat a supercar?
But forget about the Toyota for a second. After all, the Mk IV Supra in its time was an immensely powerful car in a decade when your average supercar wasn’t really all that super compared to some of the things available today. Could you turn, say, a vintage Fiat 500 into something that can beat a supercar?
Well, yes. For the price of your average exotic, let’s say £100,000 or so, you could modify virtually any vehicle on any level to beat a supercar with an engine swap, a strengthened drivetrain and some good old fashioned wrenching.
Even without an engine swap, there are always highly tunable and relatively affordable cars like the Ford Mustang, where the sky’s the limit with performance numbers if you’ve got the time, the parts and the money.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as anybody who’s encountered a swarm of boy racers in a Co-Op car park will tell you, it was incredibly common to see cars like the Honda Civic used as a tuner car. The Civic’s construction and highly tuneable VTEC engine could deliver an extremely high performance level for not a lot of money.
More mid-end cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo or R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R could very easily get exotic-rivalling performance for a bit cheaper given that they’re more powerful straight out of the box.
So why would anybody buy something like a Ferrari, a Lamborghini or a McLaren when for the same money you could buy and modify any car that could absolutely obliterate in in every single facet of performance?
Well, for a start there are always compromises involved. A Porsche 911 Turbo, currently the fastest car that Porsche makes, has supercar performance, but at the same time it’s also comfortable, reliable and can be quiet when you want it to be.
Could you make your Honda Civic go as fast as the Turbo for less money? Absolutely, but it’s never going to be as reliable and it’s probably going to be fairly rough to drive as well.
The same goes for an Evo or an STi as well. A built 2.4-litre Evo with modifications to its suspension and handling could fairly easily destroy a stock Ferrari 458 with money left over, but then it’s not a Ferrari is it? It won’t have the same sound, the looks or any of the exclusivity that goes hand in hand with one of Maranello’s finest.
If all you’re after is performance for penny, then a supercar isn’t the optimal choice, but then performance is only a small facet of the overall supercar experience. Exotics are luxurious, unique, exclusive and outrageous, and there are plenty of other places that money gets spent on a supercar other than in the powertrain.
Why buy a supercar at all?
Unlike tuner cars, they also happen to be warrantied in case anything goes wrong and have a much, much better resale value compared to something like a juiced-up Vauxhall Nova, which will have virtually none.
There’s also a massive difference between being fast in a straight line for 10 seconds or so and being to continually and consistently lap a fast track in the heat all day long, before cruising home afterwards without every looking at the gauges.
Yes, you might be able to smash a supercar in a straight line, but to make a truly competitive car you’d need a lot of full-time shifts to install parts, test them to make sure they’re stable and conduct track runs. Is your time really worth that much, or would you rather just pack it in and buy a supercar after all?
Likewise, the gap between ‘regular’ sports cars and true supercars is growing these days. Back when The Fast and The Furious was released, the stock Supra wasn’t that far behind the F355, but compare a modern WRX STi to something like a McLaren 650S.
Even still, with the release of cars like the new Ford Focus RS or the BMW M2, power is becoming more and more democratised. The RS, for example, costs just £31,000 here in the UK and it’s only 30bhp behind the output of the Ferrari F355.
Yes, you’ll still have to work at it to get it near the level of a modern supercar, but then when are you ever going to use all that power day to day anyway, unless you pull up next to a Ferrari owner at a set of lights with Vin Diesel in the passenger seat egging you on?
Can you still modify a car to be faster than a supercar? Absolutely you can, with relative ease and for much less than the cost of a supercar to boot, but whether or not it’ll be worth doing so is completely a personal choice.
Of course when it comes to tuning cars, it’s less about the end result itself and more about proof of your ability. It’s about taking a car and making it better to the point where it rivals meticulously engineered exotica, a statement about you as a person and you as a driver.
If that’s what’s in it for you then we’re all for it. But if all you’re worried about is the most amount of bang for the least buck possible, there are plenty of cars out there today as fast as they are furious, no NOS involved.