Pro Touring: Meant to Be Driven

Pro Touring: Meant to Be Driven

Pro TouringStory by Stefanie Galeano-Zalutko

Pro Touring—“We’ll liken it to that fuzzy distinction that divides hot rods and street rods; it’s damn near impossible to create a requisite modification or parts list, but we know it when we see it,” said Christopher Campbell of HOT ROD Network. “The basic concept champions a car that can accelerate, brake, turn corners, and complete a cross-country road trip with equal aplomb,” continued Campbell. A proper set-up can run a road course in record time, and it will hit the highway with ease and comfort.

Over the years, we’ve come to know Pro Touring through the eyes of veteran automotive journalist Jeff Smith and living legend Mark Stielow, an Engineering Group Manager of Vehicle Dynamics at General Motors, and pro-touring expert whose ’69 Camaro, known as Tri-Tip, helped an emerging genre gain its footing in the competitive area of hardcore performance.

Smith and Stielow’s reputations within the niche space allowed credible forums like to help define the movement. “A classic or late-model car with upgraded and updated suspension components, brake system, drivetrain, aesthetics, and new car creature comforts built to function as well or better than some of today’s best performance cars. Pro-touring cars are built to be driven; driven on the street, on the race track, on the drag strip, through cones at an auto-cross. No matter the setting, pro-touring cars are meant to be driven.”

But it’s Canadian-born shops like Speedtech Performance in St. George, Utah that are really at Heaven’s Gate of pro-touring success. It takes one to know one and as gearheads themselves, Speedtech Performance saw an opportunity to relocate its American-based performance business outside of Vancouver, Canada and expand company operations across the border.

Today, their parts are selling like wild fire across the Middle East and Australia. “Pro Touring has pushed manufacturers [like ourselves] to develop parts that make the car all around more useful, safe, and fun to drive. My pro-touring car is now just about as fast as my drag car, but it handles well, brakes well, gets better gas mileage, and cruises comfortably on long road trips. What more could you want?” said Creative Director Ben Meissner.

The icing on the cake, Speedtech Performance applies the same quality craftsmanship to its custom builds as it does its product development. “People just don’t seem to be afraid to ship their car all the way across the country,” laughed shop owner Blake Foster. If that’s not a testament to the brand they’ve built throughout the years, then we’re not sure what is. In the interview below, Foster talks about the natural progression of the pro-touring movement, important brands and products, as well as future market insight.


Pro TouringMCP: What separates this segment from the rest?

BF: “I think mostly it’s the suspension upgrades; it’s the technical side of it that guys are starting to understand like suspension geometry, and I think a lot of it is the actual style of the build. There’s obviously a big difference between a ‘69 Camaro that’s built drag race style, or pro street style, or pro-touring style. Different amenities, different emphasis.”

MCP: Talk about understanding your core competency and best serving your customer.

BF: “Our prime focus is really manufacturing the parts, designing the chassis, building the parts, and selling both retail and wholesale on the parts side. The car builds just seem to stem from that [because people trust the quality of the name behind the parts]. People are building cars and phoning looking for parts, and they get the conversation going about ‘Oh I need this installed’ and well, we have an install facility.”

MCP: How big is the North American market?

BF: “Man, it’s big and it’s getting bigger. We always sit around and try to conjure up the numbers on the Ouija board. You figure, there’s probably an honest 20 recognized players in the pro-touring market when you’re talking DSC, TCI, Art Morrison, us, etc. We’ve kinda figured the math for those 20 companies; it might be $180,000,000 – $250,000,000 a year in sales. Maybe? So, it’s a big market. And that doesn’t include all the crossover stuff—like our products work in drag racing and hot rod, so it’s a BIG market.”

MCP: In a healthy market, what’s being underserved and where’s the opportunity for growth?

BF: “There were about 7,000 cars at a recent car show, and I’ll bet you no more than five percent of the ones that I saw had any suspension on them aside from stock. So, how much potential is there still out there? When only—let’s be generous—15 percent of the cars have any suspension work done to them, and it’s a 120-150 million dollar a year business model, then there’s a lot of potential left out there.”

Pro TouringMCP: How has the game changed overall?

BF: “It’s become an expensive hobby and the players definitely have deep pockets. It’s gone from ballers, to brakes and parts… on the race track. We just had a customer who drove from Washington down to Montana for an Optima event. Had a beautiful 77-78 Trans Am that he built with all our suspension on it. This is a full-on $150,000 car and he’s out racing the thing, catches it on fire, and burns the back half of the car off. For no good reason, other than to just go and hang out with the guys and have some fun,” said Foster.

MCP: How has Pro Touring evolved for Speedtech Performance?

BF: “When we first started Speedtech, we’d get excited when a customer would order a set of upper and lower control arms at the same time. And now, I’ll bet you our average ticket is $10,000. They just want everything. And a lot of times, when these guys are building the cars, they’ve realized that ‘If I just get everything from one place, then I only have to deal with one place. They know what I need.’ We know what brakes work with our suspensions, what wheels fit the brakes, what tires fit the car, and what radiator works with the motor. So, we end up selling them everything: wheels, tires, brakes, exhaust, the cooling system, and everything underneath the car. We just put it all together and it just shows up at their door.”

MCP: What are the most popular vehicles Speedtech Performance is working on regularly?

BF: “The ‘69 Camaro, or really Camaros in general. After that, I think the next car would be the Chevelle or Nova. But by far the Camaro seems to be the most popular car out there. You would think that GM was still making them. The supply never seems to end.”

Pro TouringMCP: What are the trends influencing the segment and where do you see Pro Touring heading in the future?

BF: “The big focus now seems to be Pro Touring that started out with a ‘69 Camaro and some 18- and 20-in. chrome wheels on it—parked at SEMA with a really nice paint job. Now, it has  really morphed into Pro RACE Touring, so to speak. You’ve got Good Guys Auto Cross, the Optima Ultimate Street Car deal, and you’ve got all these different events that you can go and actually race the car at—auto cross and road racing and slalom and speed stop and stuff like that. It’s going the exact same path that Pro Street followed 25 years ago, where it went from really big tires and lots of chrome to the street-legal race cars that we see on TV and Yellow Bullet Nationals and the Street Car Nationals. It’s just morphing into that same deal. [Another thing], a market push more in the performance direction and less in the car show side, especially in Pro Touring. You’re seeing guys do a more serious, purpose-built car…almost building race cars instead of pro-touring cars. They’re barely street legal and not super fancy on the outside. And they’re just wanting to go beat on them. It’s just that trend.”

MCP: What is the team working on right now?

BF: “We just finished designing a new chassis with all of our suspension for a local customer’s ‘53-54 Ford pickup. We did a brand new LT4 Corvette motor with an 8-speed automatic for a ‘69 Camaro; it’s a high-end build meant for open road courses.”

Entering the Pro Touring club is a far-fetched reality for many, but hey—we can dream. In the meantime, let’s live vicariously through professionals like Speedtech Performance.

Categories: Features, Muscle Car Plus