Putting together a list of the top Japanese tuning houses is one of the toughest things I’ve ever written. It’s a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, and lists, by and large, are polarizing. I’m sure to piss off a friend or two for leaving their shop off the list. Judging becomes more confounding when there are no real metrics to measure the candidates by. Sure, some lists are conclusive. Take basketball and racing for instance. There’s no denying that Phil Jackson as an NBA coach or Ferrari as a Formula One constructor would come out on top in their respective arenas, but how do you measure what makes a great tuning shop?
That was the challenge. What ingredients do I choose to decide what makes an important and reputable shop? Do you rank them by the number of builds or the quality of each? Are the number of former records important or do they have to be current? Is it the size of the shop or the scope of their work? . Had I written this list when I was building my Acura Integra during the mid ‘90s or when I started in automotive journalism eight years ago, it would have been totally different (R.I.P. JG Engine Dynamics and XS Engineering, respectively).
After much internal debate, here are the parameters I came up with: 1.) All of the above-mentioned things—history, builds, quality, achievements—come into account, along with the shop’s relevance today. 2.) The garage has to be in currently business (duh). 3.) It has to be a shop where customers can drop off their import to be worked on in-house (race shops and individual tuners were excluded). 4.) For this specific list, the operation has to be based in the U.S. (sorry, Canada). If you don’t like this list, which you’re completely entitled to, feel free to rant in the comments about how I didn’t pick some random shop from Podunk, U.S.A. I’ve never heard about. When they blow your motor up six months down the line, don’t come crying to me. These are The 20 Best Import Tuner Shops in America.
Written by Carter Jung