We’re not sure why, but for whatever reason, Chicago isn’t often thought of as a hotbed of car culture. Windy? Yes. A great place to score a delicious deep-dish pizza? Absolutely. But home to some of the most highly modified street cars in the country? Probably not the first place that comes to mind. But thanks to Mike Braeuner and Nick dela Rosa, it’s pretty clear there’s a lot more going on in Chi-town than Risky Devil drift sleds and Alpha Omega GT-Rs.
Not too surprisingly, for both Evo Mike (Braeuner) and STI Nick (dela Rosa), their love affair with Japanese sport compacts started at an early age. According to Mike, “When I was young, my parents traveled a lot, so they would always leave me with a close family friend, Frank, to watch over me. He inspired me a lot when I was a kid. His creative graphic design work for a local newspaper inspired me to become a graphic designer myself, and his joy of driving his ’92 Honda Prelude got me hooked on cars, too.”
As for Nick, his father was responsible for his early introduction to the joy of modding. “My dad was a big Toyota guy back in the ’80s, so I grew up seeing him hunched over the fender of his Celica. As time went on and I eventually became of age to have my own car, I never felt there was any option but to mod it. My dad’s car was always an extension of his own consciousness, and so I strived for that oneness for myself.”
Evo Mike’s first real project, a white ’01 Acura Integra GS-R, was actually featured in Honda Tuning back in June 2006. So you might say he’s a veteran to the modified car scene. And like a lot of vets, he needed a new challenge, so he sold his DC2 and bought a brand-new ’05 Subaru Impreza STI. As Mike explained, “I had nothing but problems from the start and didn’t even begin to modify it. Once I fixed all the initial problems, I decided to mod it a little—and then came more problems with the car. I really felt that it was cursed and not for me. So after being fed up with fixing it, I decided to switch to the dark side and picked up a new ’08 Evo X GSR.”
Nick, on the other hand, doesn’t have any other magazine-quality builds on his résumé, but he did roll through quite a few budget builds before landing a great deal on this ’08 STI. First he built a ’95 Celica (a choice no doubt influenced by his dad), then a ’91 MR2, followed by a couple of Hondas. As Nick told us, “Growing up, I had to do everything myself since my dad was a single father raising two troublesome boys. So I didn’t have a lot of money or time to put into my cars. Over the course of 10 years, I built a series of low-end to mediocre daily drivers with little more than some ill-fitting wheels and basic bolt-ons. After getting married and having a child on the way, I felt that I had accomplished a lot of my life goals and it was finally time to dive into a serious project car and do it right, with no compromises.”
As for how these two Chi-town car guys met and influenced each other’s builds, according to Nick, “It’s kind of weird that we didn’t meet years earlier. We hang out with all the same people and have done so for many years, but we were introduced by a mutual friend only a few years ago. Being friends with Mike hasn’t been kind to my bank account, though, as he’s really good at getting into my head and planting all kinds of seeds, but it works both ways. Whenever we hang out, new plans are hatched and we bounce ideas around until we’re just confused enough to do something crazy. We motivate each other, and I’m proud of what we’ve both done these last few years.”
Mike is actually the one to blame for perhaps the craziest of their ideas, the Varis widebody kits that now call both cars home. As he explained, “When I first began modding the exterior of the Evo, I rocked the original ’09 non-widebody Varis kit back in 2010. I really thought I was set, but soon Varis started to build a widebody for the Evo X. My eyes were glued to the forums every week to see how it was progressing, and I made countless phone calls in the winter of 2011 to Jason, Kris, and Ben over at Bulletproof [Automotive] for updates.”
As luck would have it, because Mike’s Evo was running the ’09 standard-body Varis kit at a very early stage, it was getting a lot of love on Facebook and web blogs. In fact, Varis Japan even began posting pics of Mike’s X on its own Facebook page, which led to Mike befriending some of the people at Varis. And since Ben and the crew at Bulletproof Automotive knew how interested he was in the widebody kit, they helped paved the way for a partial sponsorship from Varis during a business trip to the ’12 Tokyo Auto Salon.
According to Mike, “Just two widebody kits were sent to America after TAS, one to Kaizen [cover car for our July ’13 issue] and one to me. I remember that day so well, struggling to figure out if I should do it or not. Jason [from Bulletproof Automotive] was set to throw in $1,000 of his own money just to see this kit on my car. Paying for it wasn’t the issue with me, though, it was mostly thinking of cutting up panels on the car. I finally gave in.”
And we’re glad he did, because the end result is an Evo X street car with broad enough shoulders to bully an R35 GT-R right into the ditch. With the stance set by KW V3 coilovers and an aggressively offset (+15) set of 18-inch Volk TE37SLs wrapped in beefy Dunlop Star Specs, the JDM bad boy exterior package was completed by front and rear Project Mµ big brake kits.
There are some seriously sweet JDM goodies in the cabin and under the hood, too, including choice pieces from elite brands like Takata, Tomei, ARC, and Colt Speed. As Mike told us, “No knock-off parts were used in this build. Finding the best genuine parts was a big part of the motivation to get things done. One of my main goals was to build a car that I envisioned seeing at the Tokyo Auto Salon show. With most pieces in place now, I will be tearing down the motor this winter to build something more robust.”
Mike may have done the widebody first, but Nick has already gone big under the hood of his STI. As he explained, “My goal is to build the best Subaru that anyone has ever seen on the street. I want my STI to have a great balance between aesthetics and power. I try to keep the car’s appearance and performance in line with one another, as that is the way that I envision a complete car. ‘Form follows function’ is a really appropriate way to describe my philosophy. Everything has a function, from the aero to the seats to the surge tank to the steering wheel. I don’t race the car often, but I feel that the true essence of ‘legit’ means ‘track capable.’”
And since race cars tend to have a lot of power, especially widebody ones with massive 305/30R19 Bridgestone RE-11s on Volk TE37s and with big StopTech brakes, it should come as no surprise that Nick’s STI is making a dyno-proven 609 whp at 30 psi. It was built around an MPS sleeved “de-stroker” block, Apex Engineering race ported heads, and an ETS rotated turbo kit. Nick has made a best pass of 10.65 at 131 mph at Great Lakes Dragway.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Nick, though. “During tuning, we learned the hard way that APR head studs are only rated to 30 psi. We were attempting to tune up to 35 psi of boost when the heads began to separate from the block and damage was done. Solid gaskets and new, stronger head studs were installed.” With plans to retune for 35 psi on VP Racing C85, he’s expecting to see more than 700 whp and e.t.’s deep into the 10s. Clearly this isn’t just another widebody show car.
But it does have show car build quality thanks to the installation work by Six Star Motorsports. And just like Mike’s Evo, Nick has used only high-quality, genuine parts throughout the build. From the first GRB Varis widebody kit in the country (also secured with the help of Bulletproof Automotive) and Fortune Auto coilovers with Swift springs to Defi gauges and Bride seats, Nick’s build sheet features the “Who’s who” from the Japanese tuner world, rather than the “Who’s that?” from the offshore knock-off world.
As for whether or not these two widebody owners are locked in some sort of endless game of JDM one-upmanship, Mike put it this way: “From my perspective, it wasn’t anything about competition between Nick and I, but more that our builds were happening at right about the same time. It was more of a motivation factor that we could both pull off together. It’s also probably one of the first times two Varis widebodies inhabited the same city anywhere outside Japan, a feat made even rarer when you consider how new these kits are.”
Specs & Details
2008 Mitsubishi Evolution X GSR
Owner Michael Braeuner
Engine 2.0L 4B11T turbocharged inline-four
Engine Modifications ARC intake box, burnt titanium plated intake pipe, BOV pipe, FMIC and rad cap; Blitz piping stoppers, AMS downpipe, ETS test pipe, Tomei titanium exhaust, Monster Sport carbon rad shroud, Colt Speed strut bar (f), hood dampers, and Limited Blue Super Taichyu ’09 Championship engine cover
Engine Management Cobb AccessPort
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Volk TE37SL 18x10.5’’ +15 wheels, Dunlop Direzza 275/35R18 Star Spec tires, Project Mµ 6-piston (f) and 4-piston (r) big brake kits
Suspension KW V3 coilovers, Swift springs, Umbrella Cup kit system
Interior Takata Race 4 harnesses, Key’s Racing D-shape steering wheel, Works Bell QR and short hub; ARC burnt titanium shift knob, Pioneer Z110BT head unit
Exterior Varis Japan Full Kit D widebody with front bumper, front VSDC diffuser, side skirts with carbon underboards, front fender kit, rear fender kit, cool bonnet hood, and 1650mm GT wing with carbon stands; Craft Square TCA-RF carbon sideview mirrors, Ralliart taillights
Special Thanks My girlfriend, Farrah, Mom, Pop and the rest of my family for the support. Jason Rangsipat, Kris Friberg, Brian Sinkledam, Ken Egan, Justin Woyner, my Emotion Crew, JDMChicago.com, Judson Bryan aka Original JDMEgo, Kiet Hong, Justin Rivera, Anthony Pallela, Patrick Sayaphoum, Ginash George, Jason Kiang, Johan Lee, Brian Fox, and to all my sponsors, including Bulletproof Automotive, Varis Japan, Takata Racing USA, VP Race Gas, Fizz Autosports, Touge Factory, Project X, Umbrella Auto Design, A&L Autobody Shop, LOS Garage
Specs & Details
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Owner Nick dela Rosa
Engine 2.5L EJ257 turbocharged flat-4
Engine Modifications MPS sleeved “de-stroker” (9,50-rpm redline) block with JE 102.3mm bore 9:1 compression pistons, custom 4mm extended “long” rods, ACL race bearings, Benson’s Machine Shop installed Darton sleeves, EJ205 crankshaft, balanced, shimmed, and modified oil pump; Tomei Kevlar-reinforced timing belt and timing belt guide; Apex Engineering Race Port heads, Kelford 220 camshafts (272/11.3mm lift), Supertech 1mm oversized stainless steel intake valves, Inconel exhaust valves, dual valvesprings, and titanium retainers; Six Star TGV delete service, Subaru Forester OEM 2.5i intake manifold, Killer B Motorsports oil pan, pickup, and baffle; Mishimoto oil cooler, aluminum rad and upper rad pipe; DEI Ti heat-wrapped header and downpipe, ETS rotated turbo kit, up-pipe, downpipe, and optional FMIC upgrade; Tial MVR 44mm external wastegate and Q BOV; Moroso oil catch and air-oil separator unit, Agency Power equal length header and fuel rail kit with stainless lines; HKS Legamax after-cat exhaust, APR carbon-fiber cooling plate, Injector Dynamics 2000cc injectors, Aeromotive FPR and 340 in-tank fuel pump; Integrated Engineering surge tank, dual Bosch 044 external fuel pumps, Cusco engine and trans mounts; Beatrush forged pitch stop
Engine Management Cobb AccessPort
Drivetrain Exedy Hyper Triple clutch kit, Kartboy short shift lever, TIC Holy Shift bushing kit
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Volk Racing TE37SL 19x11’’ +23 wheels, Bridgestone RE11 305/30R19 tires, Stoptech Stage 2 brake upgrade kit
Suspension Fortune Auto 510 Coilovers with Swift springs and camber plate options; Cusco camber adjustable rear lower control arms and Type OS strut bar (f)
Interior Nardi 330mm deep corn steering wheel, SMY gauge cluster hood with dual gauge pods, MBR dual vent pod, Defi Red Racer oil pressure and fuel pressure gauges; AEM UEGO wideband and boost gauges; Bride x Cusco Zeta III+C Type-XL seats, JP Coachworks leather shift boot and e-brake boot; Takata Drift III harnesses, Kenwood DNX6140 head unit with navi, MB Quart RCM 216 components, RKM 116 Coaxials, Reference RLP 254 10-inch subwoofer, and RM740.5 5-channel amp
Exterior Varis GRB widebody aero kit with ’09 front bumper, custom carbon double-canards, dry carbon front underbody diffuser, CFRP vented aero hood, 35mm front widebody fenders, side air dams, ’09 side skirts with carbon side splitter boards, 38mm rear over-fenders, half-carbon rear underbody diffuser with optional side splitter fins, and v2 spoiler
Special Thanks First and foremost, to God and my family for all their love and support, especially my wife, Wina, and our daughter, Kaitlyn. Bulletproof Automotive and Varis Japan for all their help and involvement in this build. Maxxsonics and MB Quart for the king kong in the trunk and all the high-fidelity sounds. Takata Racing and VP Racing Fuels for helping my car feel like the race car I imagine it to be. Bulletproof Ben and Evo Mike (my twin) for convincing me against my better judgment to go wiiiiiide. Sammy, Dewey, Swav, Chase, Gangster, and Sean the deaf guy from the Six Star Motorsports crew for being the best damn Subaru shop in the Midwest. Fizz Autosports, Touge Factory, and Project X customs for all the work they’ve done and for their counsel, support, and advice. South Side Customs, Stacy K’s Audio Emporium, and Szabado’s hand car wash for the last-minute help and all the late nights spent. Thirdshift. 3 straws. Aficionado Crew for being such a great group of guys (and gals). And last but not least to my second family Four Star Society for being my brain trust and for keeping me grounded when my head got too far up in the clouds, for helping to keep my chin up when I was getting frustrated, and being the best crew in Chicago