It all started in 1985 with a silver logo and a red Maserati Bi Turbo serving as a cover car. Whenever I find myself talking about the premier issue I always seem to use the phrase, "the magazine has fared better than the car." I thought it would be cool to run some images from the past and divulge some behind-the-scenes details of the circumstances surrounding the car, its owner, etc The problem is Turbo has a very limited archive because a good deal of it was lost during the 1999 acquisition of Turbo by McMullen Argus. I have been editor of Turbo magazine since 1992 and since I am writing all of this off the top of my head some facts, especially the dates of some of the events, may not be as precise but the names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent.
The June 1997 "Flaming Turbo Issue" is one of the most recognizable covers in the history of Turbo magazine. To this day people still want to know, how did you do that? Some are quick to point a finger at computer enhancement and that's when I bust out the whoopin' stick. The only computer enhancement on the cover was the addition of the SPI boost gauge.
I had been wanting to put something other than just a car on the cover for some time. We were doing an article on Rick Head's 9.05-second big block 'Vette that used a huge "Big Thumper" turbo from Turbonetics. The crew at Turbonetics went on and on about how big it was and I said, "if it's that big send me one so I can shoot it for the story."
It just so happened we were also planning an article on basic upgrades to turbo-powered vehicles. The story would outline the benefits of upgraded exhausts, high-flow intakes, boost controllers as well as the importance of fuel enrichment. The turbo was all it was pumped up to be. It weighed 48 pounds, was 9.75 in diameter on the compressor side and had a whopping five-inch inlet. The tumblers had aligned-use the turbo upgrade story as an excuse to shoot the turbo for the cover. But how do you shoot it? When I told publisher Kipp Kington about my plans to put a turbo on the cover I was met with skepticism. I assured him we had a car cover in the can and told him I wanted to take a shot at it.
I knew I needed color and contrast. I wanted action too. Action meant long exposures, which axed our basic studio lights. I set up a table with black background paper in the shipping area. The shipping area had a sliding door that happened to be in line with the arc of the sun. The door could act as a shutter, regulating the amount of light in the shot. The time of day would determine what kind of light, direct or diffused, would hit the turbo. Color was added to the compressor housing by taping yellow construction paper to a dolly and positioning it just off camera. The dolly's red handles also added color to the shot. The red glow in the inlet and on the compressor wheel is from a "police sized" Maglite that was a Christmas gift from the previous year. The flashlight had a red filter taped to the lens.
What about spinning the compressor wheel, you ask? Can you say ShopVac. We had an industrial sized ShopVac and I cupped my hands between the nozzle and the turbine discharge and turned the vacuum on. It worked. It worked real good.
To get it all together in our makeshift studio we cut a hole in the background paper directly behind the turbo and ran the vacuum hose to the turbine discharge. As it turned out a Big Gulp cup had the exact step-up we needed to mate the vacuum and the turbo. A couple windings of duct tape and we were good to go. Carl Calvert was on the ShopVac, Michael Ferrara was on the Maglite. We were shooting with my old-school Pentax 6x7 and fired off a few rolls with varying amounts of light.
At this point the set-up of the shot had taken three days with a nay-saying publisher and other Doubting Thomases jokingly belittling us every step of the way. Undaunted, we continued. We had a vision.
During the initial photo sessions were impressed with how much air the turbo was moving. Somewhere, someone compared the Big Thumper to a rocket engine. Somewhere, somehow the idea of adding fire to the mix was born. Being tech editor, Michael was moved to pyrotechnic engineer, Carl was moved to flashlight duty and Shaun Carlson was called into action throttling the ShopVac. We experimented with mineral spirits, gasoline and lacquer thinner before settling on acetone. Paper towels were used as wicks and we discovered the folding of the towel was a key element in the process.
Day four was spent perfecting our technique and keeping an eye out for the fire marshal. We were excited, we knew we were on to something. When Kipp began giving tours of the "pyrotechnics lab" I knew we really turned a corner. I never did tell him there was no car-oriented cover shot waiting in the wings. I was on a mission and working without a net was pretty much the norm in those days.
The rocket engine analogy proved quite accurate. Once the wick was lit and inserted in the compressor volute there was a warm up time of about 5 or 6 seconds. Then Shaun brought the 'Vac up to speed slowly. Once at full throttle the turbo would hiss like a rocket and shoot out a stream of flame exactly like a rocket. This would last 20 to 45 seconds. Then the thing would do what we called a "flameout" where the rocket effect gave way to a traditional flame like in a campfire.
Shortly after this was "ejection" where the turbo would spit out the remnants of the towel, which had to be hurriedly pushed to the floor and extinguished. We didn't care about the fire alarms, we pushed it to the floor to keep it out of the shot. The trick was timing the exposure to encompass the correct mixture of rocket flame and traditional flame.
A shot used on the Table of Contents shows a rocket flame and the wick after the turbo suffered a premature ejection. There was a lot of pressure to make this shot work, we had to overcome the adversity of those in the company but I remember how well we worked as a team and after all playing with fire is fun.
Hopefully people now know the truth and our hands-on creativity and photographic skill will no longer be written off as piddly computer-generated graphics.
This Sentra SE-R was built by Shaun Carlson of Nuformz/Mopar drag racing fame. In 1997 and 1998 I was lucky, or was it unlucky, to share an office with Shaun. He was staffer at Turbo in those days and a strong photographer who approached his craft with the same attention to detail that can be seen in his custom car work. (I should be getting some kick-back cash for this Carlson!)
Anyway, the truth of the matter is that I have come across few fabricators with the natural, god-given gifts that Shaun possesses. I remember when he asked me about leaving Turbo to start up Nuformz and he was surprised when I told him, in so many words, to get the hell out!
He suffered through Ford's ill-conceived engine program in his tube-frame Focus and since has been sailing high with Mopar all the way into the 7s in his Pro FWD Neon. Shaun was the first import driver to make the jump to the NHRA Powerade series, piloting a Mopar in Pro Stock at the Pomona season opener in 2004.
After early struggles Nuformz is doing well as a business. However, the October, 1998 cover car can make no such claims. For the past three to four years its severely crushed hulk has been used as a storage bin at Body Pros body shop. Someone apparently lost control and backed into a tree or pole (we heard it was a tree) at a pretty good rate of speed. I had seen the car a few times and the damage was so bad I thought it was a 200SX hatch. The red sticker on the intake and a re-examination of the car finally set off the light bulb.
Cover Date: Unknown ('93-'94)
Not sure of the cover date on this one. The Integra belongs to Edward Eng, who like a majority of staffers worked at Dynamic Autosports in Irvine before joining the Turbo magazine team.
The Acura was pretty fast in the day and ran solely on the spray. This was when NOS did not have a Honda part number so import enthusiasts were "converting" Mustang kits to work on the rides. It was also well before sticker tuning was in fashion.
We had this one sticker and it was NOT very pliable. There was a god-awful wave in the sticker so we took an equally terrifying helmet and covered it up. On The cover we ran a column of yellow over the hideousness, dropped in the car's e.t. and gave birth to the bottom line banner which was subsequently copied in Australia, the UK and here in the States. As part of our heritage, we still use a version of the banner today.
This sweet DSM was shot at the base of the Buttes Mountain range, supposedly the smallest mountain range in the country/world ... whatever. It is a quick drive out of Yuba City, California, my wife's hometown, and was close enough to hook up with Jason Lu, the car's owner. I love the road and the surrounding tall grass and the warm light that this place generates at sundown but haven't shot there since.
Jason, as I remember, was a naval officer having something to do with missile tracking. When I asked for specifics he looked into the shrubbery expecting to see the CIA camped out with recording gear before saying it was top-secret stuff that he couldn't talk about. Anyway, this car was well executed and ran like a scared wolf; one of those cars that was so awe-inspiring it made me want to go out and get a DSM myself.
(Pictured at Far Left) This was the first Turbo mag cover I ever shot. The car was a wicked Austin Healey with a twin-turbo Chevy V8 under the hood. The car belonged to John Davis, who owned an air conditioning repair business. The Healey was built by Harold Kunsman, who was hired by Davis to service the company's fleet of work trucks; but he really was there to build toys like this.
I was sent up to San Jose on short notice and told to come back with a cover. After checking out the car and taking some notes we decide to drive up into the foothills to find a photo location. The car was set up for track days and even to this day it was quite possibly the hardest riding car I have ever been in. It was truly a spine compressing experience. The thing was sick fast though.
As we climbed above the Pacific, the sun was marching quickly toward the horizon and things were getting tense. Then as we rounded a curve I saw a driveway with some crazy mustard plants growing. We pulled in and bribed the homeowners with a free subscription and the rest is history.
(Pictured at at top, 2nd from left) Top Fuel is known for its Honda gear but the company's initial foray into the American scene was with an 8-second Skyline RB26DETT-powered 300ZX. Driven by Top Fuel owner Yasuji Hirano. The Z clicked off numerous 8-second blasts with a best of 8.67 at 155 mph.
I vividly remember we had only about 30 seconds to get our cover shot as the car paused briefly between the LACR staging lanes and the burnout box. I was only able to fire off 4-5 frames with my Pentax 6x7, but as they say, it only takes one good one.
I have always thought that Hirano was influenced by the extreme popularity of the Honda scene in Southern California. He saw first-hand the power of Hondas at the Battle Of The Imports in 1996 (February, 1997 cover date)
He then came back on our May, 1998 cover with the Top Fuel CRX. I don't think there was a real Honda scene in Japan yet (if there was it was in its infancy).
The feature pictures for the Top Fuel CRX were provided by my friend, Masa Saito, editor of Japan's Option2 magazine. Masa would die later in the year testing a Honda built for top speed performance.
At this point in time Tony Fuchs' Integra was the quickest in the world at 10.61 with Top Fuel checking in at 10.67, a run made at a Japanese track.
During this time in Turbo's life we would super-size the December issue for the SEMA show. To look thicker for all the advertisers and to sell that issue to more advertisers based on the expanded distribution of the issue at the SEMA Show.
I liked to run an "Emerging Technology" article in this issue and slap a big inset photo of the item in the upper corner to drive home the fact that Turbo magazine was pushing the envelope. Two of the more memorable leading-edge technologies we explored were the Rotrex belt-driven turbocharger in 1996 and the vented valve concept in 1997.
The half turbo, half supercharger hybrid Rotrex was invented in Denmark by Scanpower Tuning ApS. The unit has a clutch-activated belt-driven 'hot side' connected to a T25, T3 or T4 family compressor housing/compressor wheel via a planetary gearbox.
Eight years later HKS would introduce a variation of the Rotrex at the Tokyo Auto Salon and SEMA. It is currently successfully boosting 350Zs and RX-8s with more applications to come.
In 1997 the company was Aero Tech and the concept was vented valves. The idea was to alleviate stacking, which is intake runner flow reversion caused by a high-pressure ridge behind and surrounding the valve stem and head of each intake valve as it prepares to accept a cycle of fresh air.
Stacking is believed to hurt fuel atomization and engine efficiency so by reducing the effect vented valves will/would increase the volumetric efficiency of the engine. This concept never made it to market but it was quite an interesting read.