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Updated on January 31, 2011

What kind of car do you drive? What kind of car would you like to drive? Perhaps you are a family-guy struggling to make ends meet. Perhaps because of this, and the fact that you also need to transport the wife and kids, you drive an 'econo-car' to save on gas, and also to accommodate said wife and kids. But perhaps, as with many of us, you'd prefer to be driving a two-seater high-performance sports-car - a Porsche Boxer, perhaps. If this scenario applies to you, then do not despair, perhaps you could 'eat your cake and still have it', as the saying goes..

So how does one achieve such a feat? Well, there are 'family-cars' on this planet which will easily put such rides as the Porsche Boxer to shame, in performance. Drivers of even Porsche 911's and Ferraris shudder at their sight, and even at the mere mention of their names.

The Subaru WRX STi (Imprezza) and Mitsubishi Evolution (Lancer) are the standard-bearers of this genre of super-cars. But there are others, and the ultimate is, arguably, the Nissan GT-R (formerly known, also, as Skyline). However, though these cars are 'reasonably' priced in comparison to those they will annihilate, such cars as the Evos and WRX STi's are still relatively expensive, from the perspective of our struggling family-guy. Prices start at around $33k, and GT-R’s are even further out of reach with prices above eighty-grand.

Still I say; do not despair! Why? Well, that's because it's entirely possible to modify what you already have. These modifications could be done in stages, thus making the process even easier on the pocket. But first, let's look at what we have, to begin with, and where we could take it in the mods-process, and even why.

Let's consider that you'd eschewed V8's to drive a small 4-cylinder compact-car for economic and others reasons, as indicated above. Let's say you drive a '00 Honda Civic, a typical example of the genre (certainly, this process could also be applied to V8's, and virtually any other vehicle). Now, apart from your cravings for style and higher-performance, why modify? The answer could be provided with one word; SAFETY!


Paradoxically, everything done to a car to improve its performance also makes it safer, if properly conceived, executed, and utilized. For instance, if that Civic were mine, the first thing I'd do is to tune the suspension. I'd install firmer shock-absorbers and springs which also lower the ride-height. This facilitates better / safer handling at speed, even in a straight line. [Adjustable shocks, with comfort/high-performance settings, could be an option worth investigating]. In cornering, the firmer springs /shocks combined with the lowered centre of gravity (caused by the lower ride-height) expands the envelope of safe cornering. Suffice it to say that, partly due to its lowerer/flatter stance, the vehicle is now more stable and more firmly planted thru the corners - it is SAFER at a higher cornering-speed than it was in standard trim.

The next mod would be better (lighter/bigger/wider) wheels to accommodate wider / stiff-walled / low-profile tires. The lightness of the rims serves to decrease un-sprung weight, which also increases the performance/efficiency of the shocks/springs combo. The bigger (in diameter) wheel-rims serve to accommodate the lower-profile tires without altering the overall circumference of the combination. Wider rims facilitate the proper installation of wider high-performance tires. These wide tires increase the area of the four contact-patches on the road, thereby increasing grip. Also increasing grip are the special compounds of the better high-performance tires which literally stick like glue to the road, when sufficiently heated. The stiff walls of these better low-profile tires facilitate sharper handing, quicker and more accurate steering-response, and more stable performance thru corners. Moreover, evasive (and possibly life-saving) slalom-like maveuvers in avoiding an obstacle, for example, are now much less dramatic, and more likely to succeed in saving your skin, at high-way speeds.

If we stopped at this stage, we'd have a car that surely looks the business. Just the lowered stance and wider wheels will have transformed its looks from the mundane to the 'WICKID'. But it'd also be much better handling, and safer because of it. If I were to go further, I'd swap the front seats for body-hugging competition-types, the steering-wheel would also be swapped for a small-rimmed competition type. By just enhancing the contact-points between machine and driver, the whole driving experience is enhanced. You feel like Lewis Hamilton in a Formula 1 McLaren race-car while you cruise down to the supermarket to pick up the groceries. However, with the better handling and increased cornering speeds, those seats are definitely needed to hold your assets in place against the increased lateral G-forces. I'd also consider competition harnesses, for occasional use, and for the same purpose.


Furthermore, though this is not widely popular for street-use, I'd seriously consider the installation of a full roll-cage. This also improves the handling of the car, believe it or not. By tying together the four shock-towers, a roll-cage stiffens the chassis and presents a firmer platform from which the suspension operates much more effectively. Body-flex is drastically reduced, and the car feels utterly transformed - like it's carved from a solid chunk of titanium. But its greatest benefit is the fact that it may some day save your life in an accident. We've become used to seeing rally and race-car drivers walking away from horrific crashes without a scratch. This is because of the safety provided by full harnesses, helmets, AND full roll-cages. The cage acts as a safety-cell so that even as the car disintegrates around you, in a crash, that cell and your own cellular/molecular-structure remain intact.


For higher performance from the engine-compartment, there are several options. And what you do is also dependent on how much of a power-increase you're seeking. One of the easier engine-mods nowadays is chip-tuning, where you get a technician to swap-out your car's engine-management computer-chip or module for one that elicits more power from the engine, or he could manipulate the settings of the standard module, in some cases. The power-gains may not be great, but it does make a difference. Likewise, small gains could be had from the installation of a free-flow exhaust system. A higher-flow carburettion, or fuel-injection, system would also be of benefit. Low-boost turbo or super-charging would garner significant gains in power. Nitros-oxide injection is an option offering a more significant boost in power, for short bursts (in overtaking, for example). Other gains could come from dismantling the engine to install lighter, stronger or bigger parts such as crank-shaft, con-rods, intake/exhaust-valves, and high-compression pistons (or low-compression pistons if you plan to turbo/super-charge with a high level of boost - at the cost of fuel-efficiency). The cam-shafts could also be swapped for high-performance units. But why bother with all the hassles, and risks, of dismantling your engine?

Short of the race-track, I really don't consider complete engine rebuilds as necessary for road-cars, unless you're seeking the maximum power from a particular engine. Let's say your car had 100 - 120 brake-horse-power to begin with; exhaust and chip-tuning (along with bigger fuel-injectors with, or without, throttle-bodies) could perhaps increase that to somewhere around 150 bhp. Low-boost turbo/super-charging could add even more, perhaps 30-50 horses, especially if you add an inter-cooler to cool the air and make the mixture even more efficient at generating power. That's nearly 200 prancing horses - a significant amount of power for a small, light car.

For me, though, I'd consider a simple engine-swap. There are alternative power-units for for most cars within their manufacturers' lines (and even from other sources, with some degree of application, on the part of the owner). Rear-wheel driven cars, such as BMWs and all American 'muscle-cars', are even more conducive to outrageous engine-swaps, bye the way. However, since there are several engines/transmissions suitable for our Civic-example, I'd simply install one of the best of these - a 197bhp, 1.8 litre, V-Tech power-plant from a 1995 to '00 Integra R, for instance. With nearly two-hundred horses so easily obtained, I'd be off to the races, so to speak (just a figure of speech - don't worry). Only then, if that's not enough, would I consider low to medium-boost turbo-charging and nitros-oxide injection. By such a route, power levels approaching, or even exceeding, 300 bhp are relatively easily attainable - that's Evo/STi territory, if you please. And only if all this power proves insufficient would I, now, consider dismantling the engine, as outlined above, to facilitate even more power. [However, by this time I may well have been properly certified and commited to the nearest asylum - as any such maniac should be].

The extra power - prudently utilized - can, and does, contribute to safety by facilitating quicker overtaking on a two-lane black-top, for instance. Other evasive maneuvers also require the judicious application of power, instead of the intuitive application of the brakes to which most drivers are prone, to their detriment, in some cases. But we all know power and speed can also ruin your day, if abused - so do drive responsibly!

Last, but certainly not least, I'd install bigger/better brakes to cope with the potential for increased pace. No scrimping on cost here either, it's disc-brakes all-around, the best and biggest (at the front) that the wheels can accommodate. The wide sticky tires previously mentioned are also crucial for generating such stopping power to the road. Keep in mind that the power to stop safely is even more important than the power to move swiftly. Please do not entertain compromise in this department.

THE RESULTING SUPER-CAR - and the benefits of comfortable seats.

Only after addressing the above would I consider the cosmetics - perhaps a custom paint-job, eventually. Of course, a killer sound-system is also mandatory, subwoofers and all, DVD too. But, for now, we've only scratched the surface to give an overview of the possibilities. Perhaps we could delve into detail some other time.

The result of all this attention, and minimum expenditure, could be a totally awesome super-car of your own. A car that will go like stink, corner like a roller-coaster rail-car, and stop like your life depended on it. You'll be envied by Boxer drivers who'll now cringe at your approach. Your car will now make that Boxer seem like 'Ladies-Wheels', to you. You'll be looking for every excuse to drive it. And since there are many who will appreciate the work that went into it, you may stand to benefit, by recouping much of your expense, when you eventually decide to sell it.

In the meantime, when the wife discovers the withdrawl you'd made from that account, be 'frank', put your foot down! Just tell her you fixed the car for her own safety, and that of the kids. If that doesn't work, then tell her how much you love her - be 'earnest'. If that still doesn't work (don't blame 'frank' and 'earnest') just be grateful that your new car-seats are, probably, more comfortable than your couch - make sure you'd installed seats that recline, though - and don't forget your pillow, and a warm blanket.

Pleasant dreams - and do drive safely (if you get the chance).  WAJ.

Copyright 2011



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