In Germany's deep south, the rolling hills are interrupted only by chocolate-box houses and drivers hammering down the unrestricted roads as they test the latest hellbent creation to blast through the doors of such grand factories as Ruf, TechArt, Abt, Gemballa and Hamann Motorsport.
The innocuous-looking Friedrichshafen, close to the Austrian border and with an airport slightly larger than the average family home, provided the base for the second annual Tuning Show in these parts. For any fan of power, torque and speed, this is the place to come and worship on the shores of Lake Bodensee.
Some of the major players were conspicuous by their absence, but this is a work in progress, and the show has all the signs of success as. 60,000 car fanatics turned out this year, and next season should be even bigger.
Friedrichshafen is just down the road from a plethora of the country's leading tuning houses and is also close to the surprisingly active Austrian and Swiss tuning scenes. So the Swiss manufacturer, Rinspeed, which insists on setting hybrid cars/boats/planes/bicycles on an unsuspecting public, was out in force.
At Friedrichshafen Rinspeed demonstrated its car with a separate powered underwater viewing bubble, and another one with a hovercraft that slides easily off the back. Maybe the Swiss Army Knife was just a practice model for a whole wave of automotive multi-tools about to descend from the sky like Sentinels. But let's hope not...
Thankfully Switzerland had some far more sensible representation and may well have produced the star of the show with Suljemani's breathtaking interpretation of BMW's Z4.
There were plenty of others at the show, and the German flavor of the event prevailed as hundreds of BMWs, Mercedes and Golfs of every vintage turned out. With the Z4 proving the machine of the moment, despite failing to shake the Earth with its sales figures, there was inevitably a hatful around.
But this one has 400 bhp on tap, matching Hartge's M5-powered standard setter, and the Swiss firm has used the original 3-liter powerplant and a turbo, which saves weight and should produce a wholly different driving experience.
The 0-to-60-mph time is 4.8 sec., more than a second faster than the standard machine, and it will hit the magic 300 kph (187.5 mph) mark. Producing 361 lb-ft (490 Nm) of torque at 4500 rpm, this machine may soon be a popular Stateside ticket.
Suljemani exec Adriano Valente revealed that the company should be operational in California in just over a year. Not only did the company have this monstrous Z4 on show, it also brought a 5 Series with EUR26,000 worth of mods, and there's a range of BMW and Mini add-ons available.
Breyton BMW also bought an impressive selection of cars, including a heavily modified 5 Series that looks much better dropped and fitted with a more aggressive aero kit. The original Bangle car was androgynous and failed to spark the imagination. With a few deft touches, Breyton has worked wonders and installed a 256-bhp kick up the diesel's rear.
Its Z4 3.0-liter comes with a turbo as well, delivering 302 lb-ft (410 Nm) of torque, a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.9 sec., and 325 bhp for the rear wheels to play with.
Hamann Motorsport was clearly the runaway winner in terms of floorspace and also with the speed with which it has so comprehensively modified the 645Ci. The Laupheim company's range has exploded in recent years and now BMWs, which made its name, rub shoulders with Porsches, Range Rovers, Ferraris, Mercedes and MINIs.
The 6 Series now boasts an increased-capacity five-liter engine and 412 bhp. The top speed has skyrocketed to 180 mph and torque has increased to 439 lb-ft (595 Nm) at 3900 rpm--that's a 145 Nm increase on the stock 645Ci.
The 0-to-60-mph time for this 2+2, which weighed just the wrong side of 3,500 lb in factory spec, is now just 4.8 sec., putting it up there with the cream of the sports car world. And with perfect front-to-rear weight distribution and all the electronics on board, this car is so easy to drive that it could just prove a wildcard entry to a supercar group test someday.
At EUR140,000 ($170,000), it doesn't come cheap, but this could be, without the aero mods, a sleeping giant capable of surprising near enough anything
Techart had a mighty selection of Porsches, including its 530-bhp conversion for the 996 Turbo and its monstrous 504-bhp Cayenne. The firm merely fitted a sport air filter and altered the electronics on the 4.5-liter unit to unleash such ferocious power in an SUV. Dramatic aesthetics add to the effect on both cars, together with the rest of the TechArt family that covers the entire range from Stuttgart.
Motoren Technik Mayer boasted a presence with its gleaming A8 and its 496-bhp 4.2-liter motor. Another turbo junkie, MTM has been racing in the U.S. Grand Am series with its Audi S4 recently, and it's working on the ultimate TT.
The coupe may be a little dated now, but MTM has put two turbo-powered engines in the car to achieve a top speed of 218 mph with, hopefully, perfectly synchronized four-wheel drive.
Abt Sportsline sported a large stand but only one new car, the modified Golf V that looks much more aggressive than its predecessor without the modifications. Abt has eked another 30 bhp from the stock 140-bhp TDi. Abt also bought its 370-bhp VW Touareg to the show, together with its Audi allroad.
Novidem's 384-bhp R32 conversion was the most dramatic VW on display, however, by a long way. The original R32 achieved instant legend status, and this one has 140 bhp more to play with, thanks to the turbo, and 324.5 lb-ft (440Nm) of torque. It's excessive in every way, but for some VW owners there's no such thing as too much....
Novidem also produces a kit to boost your Z4 to 394 bhp and a Renault Clio V6 to 355 bhp, because, let's face it, they aren't wild enough as it is.
Carlsson led the way for Mercedes with its interpretation of the SLK, providing healthy doses of power according to your budget, right up to a 480 bhp beast that tears to 60 mph in 4.1 sec. It also has a 560-bhp version of the E55 AMG, which would make the left lane of the autobahnen your own private high-speed route to wherever you could ever wish to be.
The 0-to-60-mph time for this tank of a saloon car is now a ludicrous 4.5 sec., and it has retained most of the Mercedes refinement. At its top end speed of 200 mph, you could probably maintain a conversation and sip Champagne--but only a little.
Two Aston Martins made it to the show as well, with Royal Excellence demonstrating its Vanquish with 498 bhp, 409 lb-ft (555 Nm) of torque and 191-mph top end. A carbon-fiber underbody hints at serious aerodynamic work, and an extra 48 bhp was liberated with a combination of exhaust and engine.
Giugiaro may be a design legend, but its Aston concept on display looked like it had been finished with the cannibalized parts of a refrigerator. As a piece of conceptual art it's fine, but what this machine told us about the future of car design we can only wonder.
That other "British"' icon, the MINI Cooper S, is turning up in outrageous states of tune all over Europe now, too. RMS's 276-bhp Kompressor-powered example with full Konigseder bodykit was perhaps the wildest, but the Austrian company was far from alone in its attempts to take the new MINI to new lengths. All the major BMW tuners have taken the MINI under their wing, and now they are competing for bragging rights. Quite how far the power should be taken on a front-drive machine is a moot point, as torque steer is going to come in at some point.
By far the weirdest cars appeared in the private halls, though, where local car clubs congregated to compete for a number of prizes and generally join in the fun. Some of the cosmetic jobs were a touch much, and somebody needs to tell these kids that cars on a Playstation are harmless fun; Playstations in cars, however, are a no-no.
The dedication of these youngsters to their creations, including a 1,654-lb (750kg) MkI Golf that revs to 10,900 rpm and other such oddities, was hard to fault. There is a thriving interest in the aftermarket industry in Germany, even when it is heavily legislated and every wing, engine mod and exhaust needs a separate license.
They may have rolling hills and chocolate box houses, but they certainly wake up to the smell of petrol in these here parts.
Friedrichshafen Tuning Show
Rinspeed Viewing Bubble
Suljemani BMW Z4
Breyton BMW 5 Series
Breyton BMW Z4
Techart Porsches and employees
MTM Audi A8
Abt VW Golf IV
Carlsson Mercedes-Benz SLK
Royal Excellence Aston Martin Vanquish
Giugiaro Aston Martin design concept