When I told my friends I was going to a ‘Hot Import Nights’ show, they all had the same response: “That’s still a thing?!” Yes. For those of you who may have thought that the world of underglow, enormous spoilers, and ornate tuner car engine decoration had disappeared completely, you’ve been missing out. HIN is alive and well, and it’s still a great time. Here’s a little walkthrough with some commentary about what one of these shows is like now and how it compares to import tuner events from the mid-2000s when this vibe was at its mainstream peak.

This is not a full history of import tuning or shows. But as an elder millennial and a huge fan of import cars, as perhaps many of you are too, revisiting this scene was fun… and interesting.

Most normies associate tuner cars with the “Fast and Furious” movies. Those flicks didn’t create the scene or the look, but they did vault it into mainstream culture. Once the first movie was a hit and started building momentum with sequels, essentially throughout the 2000s, you started seeing tuner car toys, tuner car video games, ect. ect.

In fact, tuner car shows exploded in popularity. Even where I grew up in a lace-curtain corner of Massachusetts, about as far as you could get (geographically and culturally) from Southern California where this stuff originated, my friends and I found plenty of shows to go to and gawk at cars while yelling to each other over house music.

Hot Import Nights was kind of the king of the calendar — it was huge, and I vividly remember walking around it absolutely bug-eyed circa 2005 dreaming about making my salvage-title base-model Integra look like a show car. There were DJs, models, light shows, everything I thought was cool and awesome as a teen.

But eventually, the scene lost that mainstream steam. Casual fans moved on. And I have to admit, even as a tuner fan, I lost interest in these loud, lit-up, rave-style car shows and lost track of them. It seems I wasn’t the only one — I wasn’t kidding when I said all my car-loving friends were surprised HIN was still happening when I told them I was going to check out the LA show in June.

Cursory research reveals that these shows never really went away, though. And honestly, from the length of the line to get into HIN LA 2021, I would say they’re still going pretty damn strong. That was my first big surprise — HIN is pretty bad at social media (its Instagram account is barely updated, same for YouTube and Twitter) so scanning those channels had me thinking it was going to be pretty dead.

Nope — My wife and I waited in line for about half an hour to get in, and it was even moving very swiftly! At least we accidentally picked a good time to roll up, as the sun went down the car lighting got sweeter to see.

My main takeaway, besides the fact that HIN is clearly a lot more popular than it appears to be online, was a reminder that these extreme show cars occupy a unique niche in the automotive world. Some of them have a lot of horsepower, but they’re not really all about going fast or optimizing performance. They are a performance themselves. HIN cars are almost like caricatures, decorated and customized to extremes, showcases for creativity, ingenuity, and individuality.

That right there is what makes this scene so cool. It’s not like a classic car show where everybody’s obsessed with conforming to period-correct this or authentic-OEM that, and it’s not like a SEMA show where everything is just a rolling billboard trying to get you to buy stuff. HIN cars, at least most of the ones I saw, are built with love and artistic energy. And that is something I can be stoked to support.

I had considered applying for media credentials, but the list of requirements including complicated asks like “arriving at a certain time” and attending some kind of “meeting,” hah, as if a big-shot blogger with dozens of followers like me would have time for such trivialities! Jokes aside, I actually just wanted to chill out and enjoy the show without thinking about blogs but I saw so much cool stuff that I wanted to share that I just couldn’t help but do a little Instagram story.

Then I realized, well shucks, I wish I’d made a real video from the show after all… so I saved my IG story and essentially narrated it to create this somewhat unusual video tour format. It looks like it was beamed in from the outer reaches of the solar system because my video rig is a Doc Brownian hodgepodge of broken equipment previous employers threw in the garbage. We’ll, uh, be working on that for future productions.

All that said, I hope anyone who’s interested in what a HIN show is like in 2021 has their curiosity satisfied. And for those who are unclear on the context of this vein of car culture, I do spend the first 90 seconds of the video laying down some background.