Went to a nice little event this past Sunday here in Okinawa at Kadena Marina. The Black Onyx Pacesetters (Okinawa Chapter) in conjunction with The Kandi Girls were running a charity bike and car wash, with proceeds going to a local Okinawan orphanage. It was a very well run event, with food and refreshments for [...]
Top 10 Tips for Upgrading your Evo I-III/DSM
Like many, you probably thought that once you bought your early Evo/DSM that it would be the end of money spent on it. Sure, maintenance would have to be done but the car was pretty quick from the off and you surely wouldn’t want it to go quicker. And then you upgrade one part and you can feel the difference it makes. Your mindset then changes to one of “I’ll just get this one upgrade, and then I’ll be happy with the power/handling” and before you realise it, you’ve spend the GDP of a small country on the car.
But there are a multitude of upgrades available and knowing what to choose can sometimes be a daunting prospect. I’d like to think I have done pretty well with my car (a mid 11s car in the 1/4 mile and full daily driver) and so wanted to give you my top 10 tips for upgrading your Evo I-III/DSM.
- Have a plan. Before you make any real upgrades you should decide what you want out of the car and therefore the areas you need to look at. For example, a car made purely for drag racing is going to have different requirements for power and handling to a car made for touge or gymkhana. A lot of people just throw money at the car trying to buy every upgrade they can. While this car give you a nice looking car which performs well, it might be a jack-of-all trades and master of none. At this time, also determine if the car will also be a daily driver or whether it will be a weekend/race car only. If the latter then you’ll be able to strip out the interior to save weight, but you’ll be losing a lot of home comforts.
- Maintenance. Upgrading your car usually means pushing stock components past their normal operating limits. In order to keep reliability high you’ll want to make sure a full service is done for the car (including timing belt change, if not done in the past 5 years, and balancer belt if you still have balance shafts). Also, do a full fluid change for the car, which means engine oil, gearbox oil, transfer box and rear diff, brake fluid, clutch fluid and coolant. That means everything is fresh and you know what time your service intervals start at. I will talk about service intervals for your car in a future post.
- Get some air in your lungs. One of the first things you should look to do is change the restrictive air filter that your stock Evo is equipped with. A lot of people will go for the HKS Super Power Flow Induction Kit, and indeed I did have that on my car for around 18 months. However, the foam filters do get dirty easily and the cleaning qualities of the HKS filter is not good, as shown by this set of reviews. Plus I have read of the foam filters getting sucked into the turbos of some cars (not an issue with the standard MAF on the Evos but still something to consider). I currently have the Apexi Power Intake (see right) and can highly recommend it. Its filtering is excellent, offers a very nice increase in low and mid-range power, and does not have to be replaced unlike the foam elements in the HKS kit. It costs a little more but works out cheaper after around a year of use. The Apexi filter also comes with a nice heat shield to keep some of the engine bay heat (which does get pretty high in a bay containing a 4G63 engine) away from the intake.
- Adding fuel to the fire. A car needs 2 basic things to function: oxygen and fuel. We have helped the former immensely by getting a new air filter (and possibly intake pipe), but a steady supply of fuel is vital to keep the engine performing when you put the foot down. A Walbro 255l/hr fuel pump is a very popular upgrade, and with good reason as it will support the power requirements for all but the most potent Evos. Do be wary when you get the Walbro though, and especially if you buy from Ebay. There are quite a few Chinese knock-off Walbros being sold as genuine at the moment, and fuelling is something you do not want to sacrifice on just to save a few pennies. The last thing you want is the fuel pump packing up just as you’re flying down the drag strip, starving your engine of fuel and potentially causing serious damage. One thing to be aware of though is that the new fuel pump (especially with a “fuel pump rewire) can cause too much fuel to flow through and it might overrun the stock fuel pressure regulator. I can highly recommend a Sard fuel pressure regulator and fuel pressure meter. The Sard can handle the most pressure and is the best performing of the bunch, and will ensure just enough fuel gets to the engine.
- Power is nothing without control. “What are you talking about brakes for? I just wanna go fast!” is a common phrase from people who are starting out on the upgrade path, but is something that needs addressing. After all, it is more important to be able to stop when you need to than to be able to go. The Evos brakes are not too bad to start with, although on a circuit they will experience brake fade pretty quickly. Put in some DOT 4 brake fluid, along with a set of decent brake pads (I use Project Mu B-Spec pads front and rear, and you can see them to the right) and your driving will feel much more assured. If you want to go one step further then look at a set of braided brake lines (HEL and Goodridge seem to have the best deals for the Evo I-III) and a Cusco Brake Stopper and you’ll be more confident, meaning later braking into the corners and a much safer drive.
- Show your support. Support and stability for the car are vital when you start upgrading, very much so when you are planning to throw the car around the corners but even for straightline drag racing too. Tower strut bars can be picked up relatievly cheaply and you should get front and rear, upper and lower if you have the budget for it. They stiffen the chassis up and once again will have you cornering with confidence.
- Extreme logging. Am sure you’re getting frustrated and want to get to the bits that will make us go faster, but bear with me. My tips are done in this way for a reason. One of the reasons I have had relative success with my tuning and upgrades so far is that everything has been done in a balanced way, with close monitoring of my car’s health. Boost and oil pressure gauges are pretty much a must at this point, and a wideband will help you in the future as you increase the boost and start tuning. Alongside the standard gauges though you should really consider a datalogging device. The best one I have seen for the early Evo is Pocketlogger, and it can be combined with a dirt cheap but compatible PDA from Ebay. This little device plugs into your car’s OBDI diagnostic port and is able to log a number of variables, from rpm to ignition timing to the all important engine knock levels. You can then view these logs on the PDA itself (see left) or download to your PC and analyse them there. This provides an invaluable tool for monitoring your engine’s health as you do any testing.
- Breathe in… breathe out. What goes into your car must go out, and old adage is certainly true when we talk about gases. The stock Evo exhaust system can be a little restrictive and money spent on a cat-back exhaust system (that is, one running from the catalytic converter back to the muffler) will result in a much more powerful sound coming from your car as well as an increase in performance. I would go one step further and recommend that, if you can, you should replace the catalytic converter with a straight pipe, which is exactly what it sounds like. I should note though that this modification may be illegal in your country, and I would recommend checking with the local authorities before removing the catalytic converter. It could also cause you to fail the emissions test in your country.
- Boooooooooooost! Yes, we’re almost at the point where we can turn up the boost. But how do you do it? The answer is a boost controller. There are 2 main types of boost controller, a simple manual controller or a more complex electronic boost controller. The former are cheaper and have a strong following in the DSM community, where the Hallman Boost Controller gets some excellent reviews. I opted for the extra features of the Blitz Dual SBC Spec S boost controller and haven’t looked back. Four different boost settings, a boost warning if it gets too high, and very accurate control of your boost has made it a no-brainer for me. The Spec S is also reasonably priced and is currently holding around 1.6bar of boost on my car without any problems.
- Baby steps. Now is the moment you’ve been waiting for. You’ll be able to increase the boost from the stock 0.7bar levels to around 0.8 or 0.9 bar and, providing your gauges and logger are not showing up any big problems, should be feeling a much quicker car. But take things very slowly and don’t assume because you had no problems going to 0.9bar that you can immediately crank up the boost to 1.9 bar as things don’t work like that. Keep things conservative, especially if the car is a daily driver. You should be aiming for zero knock.
Obviously, this is an initial guide and I haven’t even started to talk about fuel controllers, blow off valves, standalone engine management systems etc. But hopefully it’s given you a thing or two to think about. Do you have any more tips you’d offer people starting on the road to tuning nirvana?
Should also add that if you’re looking to get hold of Japanese parts for your car then let me know. Some of the prices that UK import companies charge for parts is extortionate compared to what they can be picked up for here (and example would be the Blitz Dual SBC Spec S boost controller: costs around ₤300 in the UK but only ₤170 in Japan). I can get most JDM parts and would be more than happy to help you out in these days of a bad economy.
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