Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pure Carbonium

We have a new 3M carbon fiber-look wrap material that we're selling. It's not really carbon fiber, but it looks very convincing. Unlike carbon fiber, it bends around tight corners and, with the application of a little heat, can stretch and cover convoluted surfaces. It's self-adhesive and pretty easy to apply. (There are other carbon-look materials that are fabric-based and require spray adhesive to put on. This is a lot easier.)

I took a couple of hours and applied the material to the dash of our WRX STI. For an amateur, I think I did a pretty decent job. I popped the silver dash inserts free of the dash, and wrapped them each in the carbon-look material.  I trimmed out the vent openings so the "open" and "closed" indicators show. I also removed and wrapped the steering wheel button inserts to match. Tools used: Heat gun (a hair dryer would do), Exacto knife.

Subaru makes a "carbon look" dash kit for the older WRX cars, although they don't make one for the current generation. I think this is far more convincing than any previous faux carbon I've seen.

Several customers have asked me about doing the roof of the car in this. It won't last forever (3M says 3-4 years in exterior application, and that's in a vertical mounting), but it should look pretty good. We can cut a large enough piece for that, too.

So far I've received mostly positive feedback about this particularly modification to the car, although a few have decried the fact that this is strictly cosmetic, and has no useful function. Well, that's true, but I'm in good company; I've seen similar dash treatments -- and this is factory-issue, not applied by the consumer -- on high-end Mercedes and BMW cars recently. What do you think, readers?

Friday, December 11, 2009

US Market Gets a Special Edition STI!

We're used to seeing the Japanese home-market special edition WRX STI models. There's been the S202, S203, S204, WRX STI Spec C, and even a WRX STI Spec C Type RA-R. All of those cars are factory hot rods, with all kinds of cool goodies like stiffer suspensions, different (usually larger) wheels and tires, better brakes, and more power. What do we ever get? Well...there was the "Limited" model that one year, that came with leather and a sunroof.

Perhaps there's been some kind of change in philosophy in Spring Hill, because Subaru has announced a special edition that sounds pretty good to me. Named (wait for it...) "WRX STI Special Edition," the car will gain some features and lose some. Gained: Revised suspension with stiffer front springs, stiffer rear shocks, stiffer rear subframe bushings, and a fatter rear sway bar; and special wheels from the Japan-market Spec C car that MUST be lighter than the 27-pound standard US wheels.

Lost: Six of the ten speakers, and five of the six CD slots in the stereo; HID headlamps; turn indicators on the side mirrors; auto climate control; and $2000 of price, bringing the MSRP down to $32,995 plus delivery fee.

The grumpy Subaru forum denizens didn't seem too thrilled about this car ("Give us the Spec C!"), but I like it. It's slightly lighter, I assume it handles better, and it's quite a bit cheaper. In fact, I'd like to see Subaru go FARTHER in this direction. I'd continue the de-contenting and remove the entire SI-Drive system, switch to 17" wheels and tires, and swap the spare tire for a can of flat-fixer. (I'm trying to think of what else you could remove, but I'm out of ideas.)

The other thing that would make a special edition car a little more special would be a few more horsepower. Call it ten more for a total of 315, and maybe 100 pounds off the standard car, getting the weight down to maybe 3150. Sounds like a fun ride to me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

PLX Gauges and the STI Windshield Pod

The windshield pod we mentioned some time back is now in production and on the shelf. We put a couple of PLX DM-100 gauges in a customer car and they turned out great. We were pleased with the Mach V splash screen, but it's the rest of the programmable functions of the gauges that's the cool part. You can choose between about six different data display modes, each of which is customizable by color. (Note that I was still playing around with colors in the second picture, below.) You can also upload custom wallpaper or gauge styles for each gauge.

If you have more sensors than you have gauges, you can change what sensor is displayed on what gauge using the wired remote control. Or you can display four different data channels in text form on one gauge.

The gauges are just about 1" thick, so mounting is really easy. They'll fit in any standard gauge mount (which is what we did), or you can just surface mount them or put them on a simple stand or L-bracket. They come in 52mm and 60mm sizes.

Reconfigurable and programmable gauge displays are the future of gauge technology. Some of the latest cars have gauges like this -- the Lamborghini Reventon is one that I can think of. Recent airplanes have this approach, too, with LCD screens that display the appropriate data at the right time, rather than just fixed gauges that may or may not be useful all the time. As the technology gets less expensive, more and more original-equipment automotive gauge displays will eventually look like this. But for the time being, it's up to us in the aftermarket to lead the way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Uncorking the Power!

In that never-ending quest for more horsepower, we've been experimenting with some different parts on the STI. But as I've mentioned before, paying customer work has a way of coming before our own shop car. The good news is, this customer wanted to put almost the exact same modifications on his 2010 STI, as we have on our 2008 model. (Despite being different model years, the cars are mechanically identical.) We wrenched for a few days, then strapped the customer's STI up to the trusty Dynojet dynomometer for some testing. Would it surpass the Mach V STI?

Here's what we put on the car that's the same as the Mach V STI:

Here's what's different from our car:

One extra note about my tuning this car: It's a 2010 model, and at this point in time Cobb Tuning's wonderful AccessPort is not compatible with the brand-new ECU. The only way to tune this car for now is Open Source software available on the Web.

I don't usually use this approach for a several reasons. The first is that the results of my tuning can (in theory) be easily read by someone else, where the AccessPort gives me some amount of rights management over the ECU tune I create. The second is that the Open Source stuff does not allow "real time" tuning. For each change you make, you have to re-flash the ECU, which has traditionally been pretty time-consuming. (Early systems from four years ago would take 20 or 30 minutes for each re-flash.) The final reason is that the software has often been a little half-baked. I tried an early version a couple of years ago and there were some major bugs.

Things have come a long way since I last tried this stuff out. Although I still worry about my intellectual property a little, the speed of the re-flash has advanced to where it takes less than a minute to shoot a change to the ECU. And the software was stable during the whole tuning session, with no obvious bugs or problems. It still takes me a bit longer than the AccessPort system, because I'm using several different pieces of software and having to switch and move data between them. But most of the gripes I previously had with the Open Source stuff have been addressed.

This customer wants to use his car for track day use at road racing courses. That means the car will see very hard use, with high heat loads and much longer times on-throttle than any street car will ever see. I planned to be conservative with boost, fuel and timing.

Despite those guidelines, the car still made great power. The chart at left shows our own Mach V car (green lines) on a run where the boost and timing were similar, graphed against the 2010 car. Since there are some substantial breathing differences -- the headers, induction pipe, and the TGV deletes -- I can't say whether or not the turbocharger is responsible for all that additional power. But this combination of parts certainly woke the car up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall New Goodies Edition

Yep, it's fall! Leaves are falling, the temperature keeps lurching from 40 degrees F to 76 and back, and...hey, there are new goodies for the STI in the inbox!

We have been hounding our friends at Kartboy for some rear endlinks for the 2008+ STI. Kartboy makes our favorite endlinks for the older WRX, but until now they haven't made one for the new rear suspension design.

For those of you new to this kind of thing, the endlink is a little connection piece that transmits force back and forth between the suspension and the sway bar. The factory ones are rather spindly and aren't really up to the punishment delivered by fatter aftermarket sway bars and/or autocross or road race use.

The Kartboy ones, on the other hand, look super-stout! These are going on our car at the next opportunity. We've got more to sell, too, so you can get some too. Kartboy Endlinks.

We've also been involved in the development of a gauge pod that fits neatly on the windshield above the rear view mirror. It's ALMOST in production. Here is a little peek at what this will look like.

I like this design because it keeps the gauges off the A-pillar. A-pillar mounting is just a little too look-at-me boy-racer for my tastes. This windshield mount is hidden behind the screen and tinting at the top of the windscreen, so it's nearly invisible from outside the car.

Watch an update about product pricing and availability soon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More Dyno Time

We did get the STI back on the dyno, and temps were much cooler than during the summer. But still the STI wouldn't make any more power than before. I tried some different approaches -- lower boost with more ignition timing, for example -- but didn't have any luck. I was comparing the dyno results with a recent STI I tuned that featured a 20G turbo. (The Tomei ARMS M7760 is similarly-sized to a Mitsubishi 20G.) The Tomei turbo spools significantly faster, but seems to have less top-end. Is the turbo holding our car back? Or is something else going on? We're going to find out.

I also managed to take some video of the car on the dyno. There's not a whole lot to see, but you can get some idea of the noise and of the car straining against the straps. Off the left side of the screen are two high-velocity fans, which make a lot of noise on their own.

Finally, something more blog-related than car-related: The FTC has released guidelines about disclosure in online media. Specifically, it's trying to give a little more clarity to bloggers their relationship with advertisers or sponsors. I thought I'd use this opportunity to talk about the sponsors of this blog.

Basically there's only one sponsor: Mach V Motorsports, my company. At least as of this point, all the parts featured here were purchased by the company. None were donated by other companies. We sometimes get some discounts on parts that are intended for the shop car -- I think the hood shipping was discounted, for example. But aside from that, every part was bought and paid for, and none of my suppliers knew I would be discussing the product on this blog.

In the future, assuming the popularity of Mach V STI Blog suddenly shoots up, companies may fight for the right to give us free goodies to review. (Oh please, oh please.) When that happens, I'll be as clear as I can about parts that were given rather than purchased by us.

I do hope that this blog prompts people to go to our web site --, remember! -- and buy things. That's the whole idea of the blog.

Monday, October 5, 2009

STI Carbon - Gentleman's Express

I know, there's always some excuse for me not coming back here with 400 whp from my trusty STI. So here's the latest: I dislocated my right shoulder, and am just a week back from surgery to repair it. One of the many downsides of shoulder surgery is that I can't row a manual transmission for a while. So the STI (and my Mini Cooper S) have been sitting at the shop while I borrow a friend's Scion TC automatic. (Thanks, Larry!)

Just so I'm not ending this post with my medical history, I thought I'd comment a little on the latest Japanese-market special edition STI, the STI Carbon. It's basically like your regular STI, but it's got a carbon fiber roof (like the BMW M3 and M6 cars) for reduced weight up high, where the weight reduction does the most good in lowering the car's center of gravity. Sounds fine, but there's more! There' automatic transmission??? Oh, and some suede seats and dash, but whatever. Autoblog, among others, said it "...doesn't make sense."

Here in the U.S. the transmission choice seems downright bizarre in a car of this type, but there's some precedent for this kind of thing in Japan. Of course, the current-model Mitsubishi Evolution X is available with a twin-clutch auto-manual gearbox, but back in 2002 Mitsubishi produced the Evolution VII GT-A, which had a regular slushbox automatic transmission, plus more sound deadening than the regular Evo. It was termed a "gentleman's express" car, something a little more civilized than the normal boy-racer Evo.

Indeed, in Japan you'll see "salarymen" business-suit-wearing drivers on the highway in all sorts of high-performance cars, many of them modified. It's FAR more expensive and difficult to own and maintain multiple cars there, so most of these are their drivers' only cars. That means they have to do double-duty, sometimes as track cars and daily commuters. There are lots more wagons there -- if you're going to have to live with only one car, a wagon is quite useful -- and many of those are heavily modified. (As a former Legacy GT wagon owner, I go nuts over the huge quantity of modified Legacies I see in Japan.)

So in that context, the dichotomy of the performance-enhancing carbon roof against the performance-sapping (but maybe utility- or comfort-adding) automatic transmission makes some sort of sense. The STI hatchback layout has high utility -- it's a decent alternative to a full-on wagon in terms of cargo space. But maybe the businessman would like something just a little more relaxing during that long Tokyo commute. We'll see. Remind me next year and I'll report back whether it was a sales success or not.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One of the problems I have with running a small business is that it's hard to set limits on how much time you spend on it. There's always more work to do! I say that because I've been finding it hard to make time to put my own project car on the dyno when I have a steady stream of customers asking for tuning. (It's a good problem to have.) So we've seen a lot of cars on the dyno lately, but my white car hasn't been one. On the plus side, the weather has been cooler, so when it finally does get back on there the ambient temps should be a little lower.

I can't make a post without a photo, so here's one of the car with a new Subaru World Rally Team sunshade I got from my online friend Subie Gal.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tuning Half-Done...

Cobb Tuning looked at our slightly funky ECU (see previous blog post), did a collective shrug ("Weird, we've never seen that before."), and reflashed it back to its initial state. Then when the ECU came back I realized that my AccessPort was still "married" to the ECU in its previous state -- so I couldn't use the AccessPort until THAT was also reflashed. Anyway, a couple of weeks and several postal shipments later, the electronics were all ready to go, and we strapped the car to the dyno on a very hot and humid July day. Initial results were promising, but I was having some trouble making the car reach my desired boost level. I realized that the newest Subaru ECUs have several temperature compensation tables related to boost levels.

Basically, after the intake temperature exceeds 104 degrees F, the boost targets and duty
cycles are all reduced, and the hotter the intake temps get, the lower the boost targets get. According to my logs the ambient temperature at the dyno was 102 F, and the intake temperature on our car was exceeding 135 degrees F -- that would explain why the car was seeking 19 psi instead of 21 psi. The only way I could keep tuning at my target boost levels was to zero out all the temperature-triggered safety features, but I felt it best to leave those in place. I decided to continue the tuning process in the morning when the ambient temperature was below 102.

Here are my initial results from the first half of the tuning process. Since the turbo is larger than stock, there is some spool penalty -- note how the red power line is above the blue line between 2600 and around 3500. But where the stock turbo is reaching its peak torque, the larger Tomei turbo is just getting started, and the torque and power exceed the stock numbers from that point on.

Once the air temps are cooler and I can depend on the car making the boost pressures I specify, I'll get back to work
-- I hope to be able to show some additional power on my next update.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Progress

We successfully installed the TurboXS FMIC kit, the Tomei turbo, and a TurboXS turbo-back exhaust. I hooked up the laptop computer to the ECU for some dyno tuning, and found that I could not reflash the ECU, although other tuning functions were working normally. Weird. We parked the STI in the Mach V showroom and sent the ECU off for some diagnostic investigation.

While the bumper was off I swapped in some blue-er HID bulbs for the headlamps -- the stock ones always looked a little to yellow to me. And then to round out the HID blue lighting up front, we also popped in an HID 9006 kit for the fogs.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Surgery Underway

I finally managed to push the paying customers aside (sorry, everybody!) to get the Mach V STI on the lift for some extensive surgery. The tasks include replacement of the turbocharger with the Tomei ARMS model; installation of the TurboXS FMIC kit (see previous post); removal of the stock exhaust system in favor of a full TurboXS turbo-back exhaust; and replacement of the fog lamp bulbs with HID units.

So far the turbo is in place, and the bumper is off in preparation for fitting of the FMIC plumbing and core. The core is a generously-sized bar-and-plate unit. Bar-and-plate is known for efficient heat transfer and low pressure drop compared to cheaper tube-and-fin designs.

The exhaust is a full 3" mandrel-bent system. Although the STI has a dual-outlet muffler in stock form, this new system is only a single-outlet. If I was in full-on marketing mode, I'd say that was for weight savings. The truth is that TurboXS hasn't yet relased their dual-outlet STI system, so for now we're going to make do with the single-outlet that fits the WRX hatchback. But hey, we are saving weight...

I also popped in some cool color-changing turn signal bulbs for the front corners of the car. The stock turn signals double as side markers. I wanted those to be pure white, but you can't have white turn signals. These bulbs solve that by being pure LED-white while they're behaving as marker lights, but when they do their blinking turn-singal duty, they turn orange! It's very cool. I took a video:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FMIC and Harness Bar In the STIzzle

FMIC stands for "Front Mounted Intercooler," for those not in the know. All turbo Subaru models have their intercoolers up on the top of the engine -- that's why there's the big hood scoop. That top-mounted location means a very short pipe routing for the charge air, but it's not ideal for cooling. For that, the front of the car is perfect. Cooler intake temperatures mean more horsepower, and that's what we're after.

We chose the TurboXS front-mounted intercooler kit because we like the guys at TurboXS and we've done business with them for a long time. They make nice intercooler kits, with proper high-strength T-bolt clamps, multi-layer silicone couplers, and polished aluminum tubing. The extra-huge intercooler core should work nicely with the larger turbo we'll be fitting.

One interesting note about this kit is that it includes TWO different piping options, so it'll fit both the 2008+ WRX as well as the 2008+ WRX STI. The STI still uses the old-style aluminum manifold, with the turbo and stock intercooler separated by some piping. The WRX uses the newer plastic intake manifold, with the turbo outlet dumping directly into the stock intercooler. You'd need different plumbing for either option, so TurboXS thoughtfully included both with the kit.

Our kit is in a box in the showroom in front of our car. As soon as we can get some spare shop hours we'll be fitting it up. Stay tuned. In the mean time, I took one last picture of the car before the surgery...

In other news, we developed a harness bar for the 2008+ WRX/STI. This will allow you to mount four- and five-point harnesses in your car without having a full roll cage. We built and delivered the prototype bar to a happy customer during our Mother's Day Meltdown Spring Open House event, and should be building some production bars in the next couple of weeks. This isn't some slapped-together kludge part, either. Just to name one detail of this thing, we machined custom spacers to allow the proper freedom of movement of the factory shoulder belt even with the harness bar installed. Sure, it might have been easier to just throw some washers in there, but that's not the way we do things. Check our web site soon for pricing and availability.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mwah Hah Hah! The Power Mods Begin

Okay, it's a small start, but we installed some Deatschwerks 750cc fuel injectors on the STI. These are a new type that use an OEM-style Denso core. I expected that they'd act a lot like stock injectors, but larger, and I wasn't disappointed. I plugged the laptop computer in and drove around the neighborhood with the computer data logging for me. A few adjustments to the "injector scale" constant, and the car was behaving just like it did before, just with lower injector duty cycles. The car is now ready for a bigger turbo.

Sharp-eyed blog readers will notice that previously I said I'd use 850cc injectors. relatively mild power plans don't really merit that large of a fuel injector, and I'm always preaching to MY customers how they should use only as much fuel injector as their power goals require, and not larger. So I thought I'd practice what I preach.

In general, the larger the fuel injector, the tougher it is to tune low-load and idle fueling. Cars equipped with very large injectors sometimes can't trim the injector flow low enough at idle, so they'll idle very rich, smelling of extra fuel out the tailpipe.

While I'm going back on previous blog promises, you know when I said the exterior of the car was done? Well...maybe not. Besides a front lip, which I wrote about before, I think I'm going to up-size the rear wing. Stay tuned.

The photo above doesn't really have anything to do with today's topic, but I liked it. I took it at sunset back on January 28, 2009.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Power Plans, and MPG

At this point our STI is pretty nicely set up in the handling department, what with the upgraded wheels and tires, Cusco coilovers, and Whiteline sway bars. And the car is looking pretty good, too. But the horsepower is still pretty close to stock -- the only power modification we've done is a Cobb AccessPort.

Part of the reason I haven't bolted a bunch of power-increasing parts on the car has to do with the engine failures we've witnessed among our customer base. (See my notes and pics below regarding that subject.) I confess I'm not very excited to think about having to pull the block out of the car to replace the pistons. Even if the likelihood of a failure is low, the expense (in both money and time) is pretty high.

Another contributing factor is that our service business has been growing and it's been a little hard to schedule work on our own car when we're full up with paying work. (That's not a bad problem to have!) The final factor is that like many of us considering the economic downturn, I'm a little leery of spending cash that I might need if the economic climate continues to worsen.

That said, I didn't buy this car to keep in bone-stock. The reason for having is to showcase what we sell and provide some first-hand insights about the parts and how they work. So here is our plan for power production on the car:

This should give a healthy amount of power (figure around 350 awhp on our Dynojet dyno) but still leave the car relatively civilized for daily-driver duties.

On a completely different note, I've been noticing that the STI's miles per gallon is still improving. I noticed this looking at me from the dash the other day...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Exterior Almost Done

The Seibon hood is now painted white. We left the vents in the natural carbon fiber just to give it some variety and to reveal what the hood is made of.

Some more details about installation on the hood: It uses the factory hinges and hood struts. Ideally, we'd find some weaker struts, because the original stru
ts are very strong in comparison to the new lighter hood. The hood has holes for the stock windshield squirters, although the holes weren't quite bit enough, so we hogged them out a bit to fit. The original hood latch is bonded into the fiberglass, so it should be secure for the life of the hood, although if I was going to race this car I'd use hood pins in addition.

We also added Subaru's rear exhaust garnish trim, which are metal bits that surround where the tailpipes exit the car. I like the look of them, although not everyone is positive about 'em.

The exterior of the car is just about done. We're debating adding a front lip. It would enhance the look and improve the aerodynamics, but it would also make the car a little harder to use in the real world -- and who likes cracking a fancy custom front lip trying to get into some driveway?

In other news, we expanded the Mach V Media Empire with the addition of a Facebook page. (I think you'll have to log in to Facebook to view it.) Check it out, write on the "wall" if you want. Is this what we do now instead of watching TV? Collecting friends on facebook has a little of the feeling of collecting the Franklin Mint Fifty States Collector Plates or something. But what do I know...