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The aftermarket tuning legends

Buckle up buttercup, we’re getting stuck into the history of some of the biggest and most legendary aftermarket tuners that have left an unforgettable mark on the automotive world. These are renowned tuners that have put a spin on the engineering of some of the biggest auto manufacturers in the world.

We should get started and begin peeling back the layers and introduce you to a small handful of big names such as Brabus, RUF, Hennessey, Alpina, and a few more that have brought high-performance dreams into reality. If you are new to the concept of modifying cars and you are asking “What is tuning?” These are the fundamentals of large-scale aftermarket tuners if you like.

Let’s start with the butchest of the bunch.

BRABUS 900 Rocket Edition G63 G Wagon
© BRABUS - 900 Rocket Edition

Brabus

Our first pit stop takes us to Bottrop, Germany, where Brabus has been weaving magic on Mercedes-Benz cars since 1977. Founded by Bodo Buschmann and Klaus Brackman, Brabus is renowned for transforming already impressive Mercedes-Benz vehicles into jaw-dropping, high-performance brutes.

The journey began with a simple vision – take luxury cars and inject them with steroids, giving them a dumpload of power, style, and exclusivity. You’ll find a tuned engine, gorgeous interior upgrades, flared body panels and wheels that are both aggressive and elegant. Brabus has become synonymous with pushing existing vehicles on the market that bit further to make them extra special. They are best known for their pumped-up Mercedes-Benz AMG tuned vehicles, but they’ve juiced up some other vehicles too. You can buy two modified Porsches, a Range Rover and a Rolls Royce with the Brabus treatment unleashed upon them.

The beauty of Brabus, is they add all the finer details that make a car extra special. Something manufacturers might not have done for the mass market. That’s not to say manufacturers don’t add beautiful details, but it’s the uniqueness and exclusivity of particular additions that sets a Brabus apart from the original design.

Some of the designs aren’t to everyone’s liking, but that’s exactly the point. They certainly have bulbous designs, which would be refreshing to see if you live in a city like Vancouver where you see luxury vehicles like Mercedes-Benz G-wagons every day. I’d say it’s likely to be one of those “you either love them or you don’t” kinds of things.

RUF CTR Anniversary Yellow
© RUF Automobile - CTR Anniversary

RUF

Shifting to a different style of modifying. Something a little more subtle. Another German tuner started in Pfaffenhausen, where RUF, the master Porsche aftermarket tuner, has been crafting automotive symphonies since 1939. What started as an unassuming repair shop for farming equipment, quickly became a powerhouse for Porsche modifications after gaining a reputation for everyday Porsche maintenance.

Alois Ruf Sr. laid the foundation, but it was Alois Ruf Jr. who took the reins and turned RUF into a globally recognized name. RUF has redefined what it means to be a Porsche, creating machines that blur the lines between factory and fantasy.
While they have worked on various Porsche models, their true pièce de résistance has been the 911 platform. RUF doesn’t simply enhance the iconic sports cars; they redefine them, instilling a perfect blend of power, precision, and craftsmanship.
The iconic Yellowbird, a modified Porsche 911, set the benchmark for speed in the ’80s and solidified RUF’s status as a force to be reckoned with. Their vehicles were designed to be more driver-focused, removing creature comforts, fitting stiffer suspension and a roll cage.

After gaining their reputation for high-quality workmanship, Porsche agreed to sell unregistered chassis to RUF, known as “body in white”. This allowed RUF to transition from a vehicle tuner into a vehicle manufacturer, producing vehicles with various components from the Porsche parts bin. RUF’s BTR was the first factory car to surpass 300 kilometres per hour, faster than the two heaviest hitters at the time; the Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach. In the ’90s, they trumped almost all of the other manufacturers again with the RUF CTR2, reaching a top speed of 217 mph. They were however second to only one vehicle. The McLaren F1. I wouldn’t disappointed about being second to a car that held the world record for fastest production car for 24 years.

Today, RUF produces vehicles using bespoke parts, no longer relying on the Porsche parts catalogue.
The CTR anniversary (pictured above) pays tribute to the legendary “Yellow Bird,” which gripped the automotive world of super sports cars thirty years ago. Equipped with a carbon fibre monocoque meticulously crafted and produced in-house, the modernised CTR is a whole different beast, utilising modern technology to enhance the performance and driving experience with the aesthetics of both a classic and legendary sports car. Maybe it is possible to have the best of everything.



Hennessey Venom F5 black
© Hennessey Performance - Venom F5

Hennessey

Ready for a slice of ‘Murcia? If you haven’t seen their wild Frankenstein cars already, let me introduce you to Hennessey Performance Engineering, hailing from Sealy, Texas. Founded by John Hennessey in 1991, this aftermarket tuning legend has been turning heads and burning rubber ever since. What sets Hennessey apart is its relentless pursuit of power.

Hennessey’s specialisation lies in extracting colossal horsepower from an array of vehicles, particularly those embellished with the iconic American emblem. From muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger to high-performance sports cars like the Ford GT and hypercars like the Venom GT.

Their portfolio extends to SUVs and trucks, with modified versions of vehicles such as the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Raptor, and the RAM TRX. But Hennessey did something remarkable, especially for a tuning company. They build a Venom F5 from the ground up, with the goal of being the fastest road car on earth. They built a car capable of over 300mph. So, does that mean they’re not just an automotive tuning company anymore? They’ve entered the playground with the big boys. They’re an auto manufacturer now.

The first Hennessey car I laid eyes on was based on a Lotus Exige, a stretched one at that. You may know the car I’m talking about was the Venom GT, which briefly held the title of the world’s fastest production car. Hennessey has a penchant for making engines roar louder and push the limits further. From the Venom F5 to the insane Hennessey Mammoth 1000, they’ve proven that in Texas, everything is bigger – especially the number of horsepower.

© ALPINA Automobiles - B5 GT

Alpina

Heading back over to Germany once again, more specifically Buchloe, where Alpina, a name synonymous with refined performance, has been crafting exclusive BMWs since 1965. Founded by Burkard Bovensiepen, Alpina found its niche in taking BMW’s elegance and adding a dash of horsepower to create a harmonious blend of luxury and speed.

Like some of the other aftermarket tuners, Alpina has the distinction of being officially recognized as an automobile manufacturer, a testament to their commitment to quality and excellence. The Alpina B7, based on the BMW 7 Series, stands as a pinnacle of their work – a luxurious sedan that can outpace many sports cars. Alpina have an interesting recipe for their vehicles. They are more subtle than BMW M cars in ways, but they have some very unique wheel designs that certainly stand out. Don’t underestimate an Alpina if you spot one on the autobahns of Germany. They are blisteringly fast for a car that could pass as a travelling salesman’s motorway mile-muncher.

As of January 1st, 2026, Alpina will become a part of the BMW Group, once their long-standing partnership comes to an end. I’m looking forward to what the future holds for Alpina. I can only hope it doesn’t become a diluted version of the formula Alpina has stuck to for the last 60 or so years.

© Gordon Murray Automotive - T.50s Niki Lauda

Cosworth

Founded in 1958 by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth to develop racing engines, Cosworth became a powerhouse in the world of high-performance engineering. Initially gaining fame for their dominant Formula One engines, Cosworth’s expertise extends to road cars, leaving a deep-seated mark on the automotive industry. Unlike many other automotive tuning companies, Cosworth started in motorsport and later collaborated with manufacturers to produce some of the highest-performing engines in the world. With a relentless pursuit of precision and performance, Cosworth has been the force behind iconic vehicles like the legendary Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and Escort RS Cosworth. More recently they produced the most incredible naturally aspirated engine known to man. Cosworth developed the 3.9L V12 for GMA (Gordon Murray Automotive), currently in the T.33 and T.50 (pictured above).

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that Cosworth is best known for being an automotive engineering company. But I decided they still needed to be included in this article, not just because they put their spin on a few production vehicles, but because of the aftermarket tuning parts they produce for performance road cars.

I feel like I’m underselling the capabilities of Cosworth, when they have such a rich history within the world of Motorsport. Their commitment to pushing boundaries and engineering excellence makes them a respected name among tuners and enthusiasts alike, proving that the spirit of innovation continues to drive the legacy of aftermarket tuning.

To conclude

You have been brought up to speed with some of the most iconic names in the world of automotive aftermarket tuning. These tuning companies are a necessity for any car enthusiast to know about. Each company has its own history and is different from the next and you will have your favourites based on your style and which corner of the automotive industry you favour. From Germany to Texas, these tuners have left an indelible mark on the automotive industry, regardless of whether you love tuner cars or not.

Each person has their journey within the automotive space, just like every company does. None of these automotive tuners became an overnight success. It was the passion, dedication, and innovation these tuners brought to the table that got them to where they are today. The world of tuning is as diverse and exciting as the cars themselves.



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