'do right & fear no one"
How to plan a big project build (if you are not an expert, yourself)
If it is ever possible to be finished with a project like mine, then I’m about 80% finished with my CUTN EDG build. I thought I would share some things that I learned from my own experience as we plan our next round of mods.
Who do you listen to?
Let's start off by stipulating that I am not a technical expert or authority, which is why I rely heavily on people who are. I consider myself nothing more than a knowledgeable general contractor and that really is the chief focus of this article. Unless you are a technician yourself, I recommend you adopt what I’ll call a “general contractor” mindset and remain focused on the big picture. Almost everything you need is right here on IWSTI.com. I know that because it has been the largest single source information for me in the two years since I've been a member. Benefit from the fact that the old heads in here have made most of your mistakes for you, so pay attention to them. There is a distinction between those who know what they are talking about and those who are just repeating something they read or heard. When the folks who actually know what they are talking about are only repeating something they might have read or heard, they will usually tell you so. They won't try to pass it off as firsthand information. Most of the vendors you will need can be found right here, too. I have found them to be very knowledgeable. Support them. They deserve it.
Everyone thinks their own setup is the best. I know I do. Don't listen to them (or me). Many people will promote, what they may honestly believe to be, the fruit of their own genius. Take every endorsement that is made by someone during that initial high we all get from a purchase with a healthy degree of skepticism.
Reading the boards and visiting vendor websites to peruse products is half the fun, but you can easily end up trying to micromanage some elements which are best left to someone else. Let your tuner offer advice about injectors and other tuning components, which will be based on his experience and comfort. Your tuner is your orchestra conductor and it is hard to create a symphony out of mismatched instruments. Go out and find one of the many great tuners who are doing big turbo project cars and follow him around like he's your "husband de jour" in the penitentiary (sure, he may sell you to his cellmate for a couple of cigarettes but, what were you doing in prison without a good left hook, anyway?). Most of the big tuners are represented here and post regularly over on NASIOC. I found out about Phil Grabow at Element Tuning when I was looking into standalone engine management; in his case Hydra Nemesis. Hydra can be interfaced with the Aquamist Water Injection System. Phil has his own big rotated turbo kit, which is already tried and proven on his own time attack race car. Bingo. For a schmuck like me it was a complete no-brainer. I just cloned the Element Time Attack motor and went one step better with my Cobb 2.6L"big bore" shortblock.
What is daily life with my car going to be like when I’m done?
There are facts of mod life that deserve consideration before you order part one. For one thing, forget your warranty. Warranty? What warranty? Exactly. Actually, it’s not quite that simple. Auto warranties are covered by federal law. Read the law and know what your rights are before you approach the dealer on a repair. Bring it with you. Don’t expect them to make it easy on you and don’t take no for an answer unless they can show a connection between the mod you made to the car and the warranty issue at hand in writing. But let’s face it, the more systems you alter the easier it is for them to connect the dots. If you start with the mindset that you could very well lose warranty coverage and you are ok with that, you can’t go wrong.
Maintenance will become a way of life and that is no exaggeration. My car is on the lift every 800-1000 miles like religion to make sure the suspension hasn't come apart from the beating I give it every day. Fluids, brakes, you name it. It's important when the car is stock; it is critical when it operates at these power levels. Subaru went to great lengths and made a lot of compromises to make the STi civilized and you will be going to equally great lengths to undue their efforts. You need to have a realistic appraisal of what that will mean to your daily driving experience. Unless you absolutely love loud noises and foul smells of every description, including the cacophony of sound that is your gear box and vibrations from every corner of your car, leave your car alone. Just say no. Your fuel mileage will drop; I just got 180 miles on a tank. Also, give serious consideration to the fact you will never get anywhere near the money you put in to it out of it. In fact, on paper you will be detracting from your cars value as you begin to make changes to the stock configuration. Do not complain. Do not whine.
How big is big?
All the wide body kits on earth do not a big project build make. By my definition a big project build is not just throwing in lots of power. The project we reference here is the entire package. It should be in every respect coherent; artful, even.
Two years ago, you could not have started your STi project with engine mods. There weren't any. The first performance mods we were able to make were limited mainly to suspension, bracing, brakes and tires and the choices were pretty puny. None of the tuners had cracked the stock ecu yet and we really couldn't do much more until they did. Of, course, that didn’t prevent some determined people from trying to upgrade intake and exhaust components without the proper tuning. Then all of a sudden the tuners caught up and so did everything else. The turbo selection and tuning knowledge you have access to now is incredible. Now, you can plan a project from start to finish, providing you have the time and money, that is.
The one good thing about being initially limited to suspension and brake upgrades is that we were forced to make it handle and stop before we could make it go faster. It was a blessing in disguise, especially for those who weren't naturally inclined to bother themselves with little details like handling and stopping. If that approach sounds as goofy to you as it does to me, given your current freedom to concentrate on your motor to the exclusion of the other, you are going to have to impose some level of discipline on yourself, or at least factor in the suspension, braking and bracing issues into your big project plan before you start.
Unless you have a ton of cash on hand you will probably work your plan in steps or stages. Most people, like me, didn't set out to do a big project. We just slid down that slippery slope over time. If you plan to do your project in stages over a long period of time, or even if you don't know if you will slide down that slope with me at all, make sure you allow enough room to grow with your component choices. For example, I got a Cobb Turbo Back Exhaust, which is a fine TBE, except that it narrows to 2.5” and it had to go when I decided to go big sometime later. It made sense to buy it at the time because Cobb tuned their Accessport Stage 2 to it and I really didn't plan on going bigger. The good news is, someone else is now enjoying it and I was able to recoup some of what I spent on it by selling it. That notwithstanding, if I knew everything I know now and I was certain that another vendor's TBE would have done just as fine a job AND I had it to do over, I would have gone straight to the 3" straight-through Billy Boat Exhaust I now own. I made the same miscalculation when I decided to install pinks and tops before eventually switching to my KW Variant 3 coilovers. Unfortunately, false starts and changes in direction happen when you do a project in stages.
One coherent plan at the onset is always better than a plan in progress.
Can your stock block handle all that power you are planning?
(Do you feel lucky punk...well...do you?)
There is one chief difference that distinguishes big project builds - those with built blocks and those without. The biggest problem with any big power project is reliability. If you are not willing to have your everyday car down for a very long time in the beginning (longer than you think, by the way) and from time to time thereafter, stick with a more modest build. It is perfectly ok. You just can't have it both ways. If you want to stay reasonably reliable on your stock block, you will want to stick with a mod plan that produces not much more than 400 whp and even then, you have no guarantees with your drivetrain or anything else. Even though there are stock blocks out there with 600 whp, you can consider any stock block at that power level disposable. 400 whp is a lot of power to maintain for years on our stock cast aluminum pistons. Exactly how long is anyone's guess because there are not that many high horsepower STi's with even moderate mileage on them, yet. We will know better in a year or two, but whatever you do, don't whine if it breaks.
Once I decided to go big on power, I didn't want to worry as much about reliability, so a built shortblock was at the core of my plan. Cobb Tuning sponsors the CUTN EDG Project Sti with one of its racing shortblocks (and headwork). Other companies like Axis, Cosworth and Gruppe S also sell built shortblocks in street and race versions. You can have a local shop build it for you but don't delude yourself, you can grenade any motor, no matter how much you spent for it, if you are stupid enough.
How big is your budget?
Let’s take your shortblock decision; you can add between 3,000. and $9,000. plus labor before you even start. Project a budget that considers everything. When you think you know what "everything" is, add even more money. If you are not a technician with access to a lift, etc., you will need to factor in labor and labor will cost much more than you think on a big project. Are you tempted to do something with those stock heads while you have them off the shortblock? How about a higher capacity radiator and gauges to protect your investment? The more complex the project, the more fabrication is required. A big engine build creates a lot of opportunities to squeeze more power out of that big air pump. Tumbler deletes, port matching the intake and exhaust sides (if you keep the stock manifold) and a clutch valve delete will cost time and money but will add significantly to the project. It sounds great to have 450 whp on tap. Does it seem as good an idea if you have to spend another grand on a clutch?
What turbo or turbo kit do you want? (or can afford?)
Stock location: if you are staying with a stock block within 400 whp or so, you probably want one of the larger-than-stock turbos mounted in the stock location. A good search on IWSTI and some homework on the turbos that are available will give you the pros and cons of each. If you stay at or under 400 whp you may be able to keep your stock clutch, depending on how you drive. There are other things to decide on like, whether to have a top mounted intercooler vs. a front mount. Of course, a front mount will require some cutting of the bumper cover and other fabrication to make it fit. I do not consider any project with a TMIC or internal wastegate to be in the "big project build" category.
Rotated mounts: now we're talking. If you make the leap to a rotated mount, you are definitely in the big power game. It is more money to begin with for the custom uppipe, downpipe, custom intercooler piping and external wastegate but here's the really cool thing; you can just swap out different turbos for different applications, assuming you have designed enough head room with your injectors, etc. into your plan and you have the proper tuning for it.
A good motor build bolts together and is reliable. A great motor build considers all the details.
What else should a big project build include besides a monster motor?
Suspension: To be kind, the stock springs suck. They are absolutely the first thing you should upgrade. The choice is between springs and hardened tops vs. coilovers. All the other supporting cast of suspension parts, like sways and upgraded endlinks, will work with either. If you have the money to spring for a quality suspension from the beginning, then go straight to the best coilovers you can afford. You have some really excellent choices. You've got choices among springs, too, but make no mistake, coilovers are the real deal and every serious big project build must have them eventually. Did I mention alignment and corner balancing? I raise my ride height in the winter and slam it in the summer, so I do a winter AND a summer alignment. What is wrong with me.
Bracing: Do you really want the force of 400 + ft lbs of torque twisting your frame and chassis every day without any extra subframe bracing or hardened mounts for that monster motor, tranny and rear differential? Not if you’re thinking. If you are heading to the drag strip and you end up somewhere deep in the 11's, you are going to need a 6 point roll cage before your next run. Add another 2,000. - 3,000. just for the custom cage before you add in a twin racing seat and harness set-up. You will need both seats set up exactly the same way if you plan to do a driver's school.
Brakes: Our stock brakes are great but they need upgraded pads, fluid and stainless steel brake lines at the minimum. There is plenty of money to spend here, especially if you want to reduce unsuspended weight.
Wheels/Tires: Personally, I am a huge fan of the stock rims and Protenzas but your other choices are abundant. The stock rims are about as light and durable as any wheel out there. I go through tires pretty quickly. When the alignment guy saw my camber specs he muttered, "he's NOT going to drive this every day...is he?"
Drivetrain: People with high hp aspirations on a stock clutch are asking for problems. If you decide to go big on power, be sure to get a clutch that can handle it and install it when you do the motor. If money for a clutch is a problem, you should probably consider a more modest project build. If you intend to do drag launches on a regular basis, it is not so much a question of whether something will break but what. In fact, as strange as it sounds, you want something to break before the tranny does (think axles).
Speaking of the tranny, does anyone have 10 grand to lend me for a PPG gear set?
High Performance Driver's School: I know what i'm going to do. You can decide for yourself.
Is it worth it?
Don’t feel sorry for me.