Take the Tour

Dec 13, 2012

The basic idea behind Pro Touring is simple-take a classic automobile and make it perform better. Upgrade its engine, improve its brakes, outfit it with the latest technology blended with a nod to the past.

Some thought Pro Touring was just a fad, but its presence in the market-and number of fans-continues to grow. Happily, there’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon.

These projects have become a favorite for many speed shops because of the creativity they allow. Professionals can take a classic muscle or pony car and add just a hint of originality for a one-of-a-kind ride.

We checked in with several companies that offer parts for the Pro Touring movement to see what’s up-what are the hot products, where are the opportunities for installers and how can everyone take advantage of a segment that’s shown real staying power.

The Pulse

Our first question was on the pulse of this season. We asked our experts their take on the Pro Touring market.

“Pro Touring is here to stay,” says Brady Basner of Powermaster Performance. “Gone are the days of purpose-built cars that can only do one thing well. People expect their cars to be anything they want, whenever they want it. With the technology and extremely high-quality parts available, it’s no longer difficult to get there.”

That demand for increased performance is what drives the segment.

“The Pro Touring market is a direct result of what muscle cars are all about: driving, handling and stopping like a modern sports car,” says Ron Duncan of Classic Performance Products. “Although, hasn’t it always been about that for muscle cars? Gearheads have been doing ‘Pro Touring’ upgrades to their cars before the term was coined.”

And it’s showing its ability to stick around.

“It’s as hot as it’s ever been,” says Jesse Powell of Aeromotive Inc.”There is no doubt that it’s a fad, sort of like Pro Street was. But these fads exist for a reason. They are the extreme version of what a muscle car restoration can be. It’s building a car to do things it was never capable of doing before. That’s cool.”

Specific competitions just for these cars are also gaining popularity, he adds.

“Autocross, track days, etc., can be found at almost any car show now, and many with national exposure like Goodguys events,” Powell says. “These are not just trendy cars. They are competition-ready cars that have a place to compete. You used to be able to do this with drag racing-have a car you drove to work every day and then race it on the track on the weekend at an NHRA event and be competitive. Those days are gone, but enthusiasts have found new outlets and Pro Touring has given them that platform.”

Wallace Leyshon of Heidts AutomotiveGroup sees things going well for Pro Touring.

“Even with a sluggish economy, we are still seeing a great deal of interest for our Heidts Pro-G line of bolt-in muscle car suspensions that are a very nice fit for owners and dealers building Pro Touring style cars,” he says.

Stick Around

Our second question was about the staying power of this genre.

“I believe that there are two reasons for its staying power,” says Duncan. “First is definition. Now that Pro Touring has a name, it has an opportunity to grow and be shaped into a ‘market.’ Next is evolution. Continued refinement of engine, suspension and braking upgrades and thinking outside the box offer each project that competitive edge.”

In many cases, the tweaks to a well-done Pro Touring car appear minor at first glance. However, for some of the best ones, Powell notes there’s much more than meets the eye.

“It’s like anything extreme. These guys are doing to their cars what most of them want to do. Maybe we don’t all want the look, but no one ever says, ‘I’m going to build this car, but I want it to be slower and slightly dangerous when it comes to handling and braking.’ They are the trendsetters. And while not everyone with a muscle car can afford to build a serious Pro Touring G Machine, there is no doubt they will incorporate some parts of what they see on these cars.”

And plenty of products available make it easy.

“Whether it’s a motor mount kit for an LS swap, direct-fit exhaust systems for any engine into any car, aftermarket ECU for EFI and engine swaps, or universal EFI fuel systems for any platform of hot rodding, these parts are out there and affordable,” Powell adds. “It makes these types of builds easy to do and fun. You don’t have to be an expert fabricator or welder to do these jobs. If you want to stuff a blown LS3 with a T-56 six-speed into your 1970 Chevelle, well, no problem. It’s your first build? No problem. If you can follow directions and have some common sense, you can do these things. That’s awesome and is great for our industry.”

It also broadens the market’s appeal, Leyshon notes.

“I think Pro Touring appeals to a very wide range of customer owners-people who grew up in the original muscle car era and now have the desire and resources to build a car that appealed to them in their youth. But now, with the incredible number of performance products available for these cars, they can actually build a car that performs exponentially better than the original,” he says. “Fully engineered, bolt-in suspension systems that can be installed by dealers or customers, along with the brake systems, crate engines and out-of-the-box fuel injection systems and wiring solutions make building a Pro Touring style car easier than ever.”

For fans, it’s hard to go wrong.

“Pro Touring literally offers drivers the best of everything,” Basner says. “Cars are built with all of the creature comforts of a brand-new, showroom-fresh daily driver and the performance that rivals many purpose-built race cars.”

One with Everything

Next, we asked who the main customers are and what are they buying.

“One cool part about this segment is that it’s not as narrow as people might think. It’s not just your guys with laptops, or older hot rodders with fat wallets. It’s very broad,” says Powell. “I see older guys adopting new technology and EFI and using Pro Touring as their platform to launch this. I see young guys getting into muscle cars that were built way before they were even born and really doing some radical stuff with them. That’s awesome.

“In terms of what they are buying, that’s even better,” he adds. “It’s everything. It’s not just EFI conversions and LS motors. You name it, they are trying it. Carbs on late-model motors, EFI on traditional SBCs, standard transmissions, automatics, restoration parts, custom accessories-”there really is no limit to what these guys are doing. There is no cookie-cutter build.”

As far as who’s building, Leyshon sees two types of customers.

“One is dealers who build these cars either for customers or as a shop car that they plan on campaigning and then selling after they have established a performance record for it,” he says. “The other is individuals who want the experience of building the muscle car of their dreams and possibly sharing the experience with their family. The ‘I can build it just the way I want it’ thinking is now a reality given the number of products and access to technical information and previous experience that is available to the owner/builder.”

Basner believes one of the reasons for the segment’s popularity is its wide appeal.

“The main customers in the Pro Touring world are the average auto enthusiast that works hard and wants to get the most from their dollar. Pro Touring cars can work as a daily driver, a weekend race car, or a weekend cruiser. There’s no need for a high-dollar truck-and-trailer combo-just throw a set of tires in the trunk and head to the track.”

Duncan speaks of the range of today’s Pro Touring buyer.

“I think that the customers are as diverse as the products that they are buying. The basics are there: big brakes, sway bars, tubular control arms-those types of upgrades. The difference depends on the customer’s budget and goals for their project. Most of the time, the difference between a performance brake system with mono-block calipers and a single-piston cast iron caliper is just a matter of how much financing the project has and the ultimate goal of the customer.”

What You Can Do

And that brings us to how shops can get involved.

“Obviously, building turnkey Pro Touring cars is one way shops can get into the Pro Touring scene, but there are also opportunities for performance shops to offer their services in certain parts of the builds for customers such as installing brake, exhaust or fuel systems, welding in roll bars or cages or obviously doing alignments and dyno tuning after the car has been completed,” says Leyshon of Heidts. “Also, a Pro Touring car is never really ‘done’-new products are always coming out and as customers build, drive and race these cars, they will likely discover things they want or need to change and may look for experienced shops to provide these upgrade or fine-tuning services.”

Powermaster’s Basner recommends being prepared.

“Shops can stay on top of the Pro Touring trend by using the highest-quality parts available. Pro Touring cars are driven hard, and driven often. Customers want to enjoy their cars and not have to work on them when things break.”

From the track to the Internet, it’s important to connect with the Pro Touring scene in your area.

“Shops that aren’t already involved can sponsor and check out the forums for trends in the Pro Touring market,” notes CPP’s Duncan. “They should also pay attention to events like Autocross and OUSCI. Both are playing a role in the development of the trends and the market. Once shops know what customers want, they can provide it.”

And finally, Aeromotive’s Powell says to keep it personal.

“Be involved. Get out to the events. Get to know the guys in the area that are running these cars. They are, no doubt, huge influencers and probably cast a large shadow. You can learn from them and maybe you can be a resource for them as well. The trickle-down there will no doubt equate to business.

“I also say to build a car,” he continues. “Go out there and compete, especially since it can be done so affordably these days. Nothing garners more respect that participation. Plus, the knowledge you gain from being out there and being real is second to none and consumers know that. Consumers are looking for good advice on product as much as they are price and a place to buy it. Be that resource.”

Coming Up Next

With one eye to the future, we asked about possible trends, and proof that joining the Pro Touring movement can be a wise long-term investment.

“Pro Touring will go as far as manufacturers can take it,” says Basner. “The newest, most reliable and just plain coolest parts will always find their way onto cars.”

Powell says to think big.

“I think the sky is the limit here. It’s hard to pinpoint what guys will do next. There are already such extremes in this segment. I think you are just going to see more diversity, and more guys trying to do something that hasn’t been done before-different cars, oddball engine combos. If you say it can’t be done, someone will try to do it.”

And it doesn’t have to be just cars.

“We’ve been seeing more pickup trucks being built into the Pro Touring style,” says Leyshon. “When it comes to suspension solutions, obviously this is a growth area for us and others. We’ve challenged our Heidts dealers to surprise us with what they can build around our new universal Pro-G IRS system.”

So get to know the Pro Touring scene. It might surprise you, Duncan says.

“The biggest trend that we have seen in the last few years is knowledge. Pro Touring customers do a lot of research and it pays off. As far as hardware goes, the LS engine is playing an integral part in this market and with the Gen 5 small-block LT1 V-8 coming out, you can bet there will be further advancements. As far as suspension goes, perhaps traction control. And on the braking front, probably ABS.

“This industry is shaped by those that are willing to think outside the box and be trendsetters, so who knows what the future will hold?”