“I’ve always been intrigued by cars, ever since I was a little kid,” explains Tyler Saunders of Ellsworth, ME. “My dad, Gary Saunders, was always into muscle cars like Camaros, Novas, Chevelles and Rat Rods. However, I didn’t follow in his path — I love tuner cars. There’s just something about getting 300-plus hp out of a 2.0-liter engine that absolutely astounds me.”
Tyler, a senior at Ellsworth High School, said during his sophomore and junior year, he attend the local technical high school where he excelled in the automotive program. In his junior year, Tyler was one of two selected to compete in the (state) Ford/AAA Auto Skills competition.
“My partner, Matthew Gillis, and I won the competition for the state of Maine. We were the only juniors at the competition, as well as the only team to finish with a perfect car,” he said.
After winning more than $60,000 in combined scholarships, the duo were sent to Dearborn, MI, to compete nationally. “We spent just about every day training and honing our skills. I’m sad to say that we didn’t place very well, but we had a great time doing it.”
Tyler said working on cars helps him relax. “It’s just something about cars that calms me down. I love working on them, customizing them and making them stand out from the crowd.”
Tyler’s first car was a 1995 Eagle Talon that he bought during his freshman year in high school, before he even had a permit to drive. “I bought the car with the intention of making it into a movie clone — the Green Eclipse — from movie ‘The Fast and The Furious,’” he said.
“I spent a little more than a year working on it in my garage. My dad and I did all of the work to it right in the garage, including bodywork and paint. This car was my pride and joy.”
Tyler said when that project was complete, he was itching for another one. Unfortunately, in October 2008, his grandfather passed away.
“He was a car salesmen for more than 30 years,” Tyler said of his grandfather. “So when he died, he left me $10,000. I figured that it was only fitting to buy a car with the money and build it in his honor.”
With the money Tyler received, he bought a 2004 Mazda RX-8 that had been totaled in an accident. “I got it for almost half of the Blue Book value,” he said, adding, “As I tore down the car, I started to realize that I might be in for more then I had originally thought.”
But the young modifier persevered and after sending the car out for some professional framework, he began the cosmetic bodywork. “I added a Mazdaspeed front body kit, a Seibon carbon fiber hood, TEIN lowering springs, Greddy exhaust, Lamborghini-style door hinges as well as a K&N air intake.”
The RX-8 was finished in as little as six months.
Currently, Tyler drives his 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged.
“This has been more of a ‘tinker toy’ then a full blown project,” he said, adding, “I have only done a few modifications to the car such as a cold air intake as well as Lamborghini-style door hinges.”
But the Colbalt still keeps him busy while the RX-8 is in storage for the winter. In fact, he even customized the Colbalt’s headlights by baking them in the oven. “I was able to pull the headlight assembly apart and paint the bezel black, and I also wired in white LEDs around the parking lights.”
Tyler plans to continue his education and follow his passion. Most recently, Tyler received his acceptance letter to attend the University of Northwestern Ohio’s High Performance Automotive Program. He will begin classes at the Lima, OH-based technical school in August.