IMAGINE the scene. It’s 2042 and you’re at a track day, about to put your third-generation Tesla Model S into the latest version of the company’s ‘Ludicrous’ mode, the factory-installed go-faster setting. You’re about to whoosh past everything else taking part, and then – BAM! – you’re embarrassed from the off by a Nissan LEAF that’s been chipped by some lads at a nearby garage.
This, of course, is the all-electric equivalent of the sort of performance car giant-killing that’s been going on for years. Anyone who grew up with tuned-up Ford Sierras pulling away from Porsches at the lights will know exactly what I’m on about, but under new proposals put forward by the Department for Transport, it looks like this is about to be consigned to the history books.
The thoroughly unexciting-sounding Future of Transport Regulatory Review, which has been under consultation for the past month, has all sorts of bold and noble plans for how to make the nation’s roads cleaner and safer in years to come – but it’s the bid to ban what it calls ‘vehicle tampering’ that’s raised my eyebrows most. Essentially, the DfT plans to make it an offence to change, bypass or remove a vehicle system, or to advertise a service offering to do so.
The good news is that the powers-that-be, in all likelihood, aren’t going apply this retrospectively, so your old car with electronic ignition or a different engine should be fine as it is. Nope, the bit that saddens me is that at a stroke it’ll stop decades of enterprising chaps mucking about with motors, even if in future the motors in question will be electric rather than internal combustion ones.
The basics make sense. If Britain’s going to be lunging itself into an era of autonomous Audis that drive themselves to the shops, it makes sense that there aren’t any rogue cars playing by their own self-driving rules. It probably isn’t a good idea having blokes in boiler suits being electrocuted because they’re trying to join eight Tesla motors together with a Philips screwdriver and some gaffer tape, either.
But tweaking a car shouldn’t be something consigned to the internal combustion age, and nor should it simply be about making something faster. What if a firm in Formby could make a LEAF go further on a charge than Nissan can, or if some engineers in Ormskirk were able to make a Tesla stop and steer better? This is the sort of thing tuners up and down the land have been doing for decades – and it makes sense that this would continue with all-electric cars too.
Why should what the manufacturer offers us be as good as something’s allowed to be? The roads of the future will still have rules – and any car, whether it’s bog-standard or breathed-on by a tuning company – will still have to play by them, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.
A Corsa-E that can drive itself to the track day, embarrass a Porsche Cayman on account of its under-the-bonnet upgrades, and then silently glide home again? I’m up for that…
David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly