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Performance Modifications - The Best Things Since Sliced Bread

Ten Innovations That Changed The Import Scene

Super Street Staff
Nov 10, 2006
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COILOVER SUSPENSION
Back in the good ol' days, when people walked to school, in the snow, for four miles, blindfolded and barefoot, we also lowered our cars by the simplest of means. Either you lowered them with springs or cut the stock springs, resulting in ultimate or not-so-ultimate handling. Shocks with adjustable damping to match were an added bonus but often came at a cost that didn't agree with many pocketbooks. And like magic, suspension companies started to produce the coilover, which integrated a threaded perch on the shock body that allowed for adjustability of the spring height. What it offered at first was the ability to drive around at heights that were safe and law-abiding yet could be slammed with a few twists or turns of a coilover wrench. Adjustable damping was also incorporated, giving road racers plenty of options when it came to game time. Today, companies like Tein www.tein.com and Tanabe www.tanabe-usa.com offer electronically controlled coilovers, which let you set the damping at the touch of a button. Alternatives also include the coilover sleeve, a pseudo-coilover that allows you to use a shock of your choice but still lets you raise or lower a car at will.

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BALL BEARING TURBO
Turbocharging is no new science but the ball-bearing turbo certainly pushed our engines to new limits. A turbo works by using the exhaust flow from an engine to spin a turbine, which then acts like an air pump, forcing air out through the compressor side and back into your engine allowing it to burn more air and fuel. Most traditional turbos rely on a "fluid bearing" to support the turbine shaft, which entails a thin layer of oil constantly being pumped around the shaft, cooling it and reducing friction. However, you can increase the efficiency of a turbo by equipping it with ball bearings instead, which will allow you to use a smaller, lighter turbine shaft and ultimately lets the turbo accelerate more quickly, reducing turbo lag to a minimum. Companies like Garrett www.turbobygarrett.com, HKS www.hksusa.com or GReddy www.greddy.com offer a variety of ball-bearing turbochargers for different ranges of power.


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FRONT WHEEL DRIVE WHEELIE BAR
When brothers Ron and Ed Bergenholtz www.nittochampion.com pulled up to the lights at the March '99 Battle of the Imports, everyone said that it wouldn't work. "It," of course, was a wheelie bar. For a front-wheel drive drag car it shouldn't have worked, seeing how only RWDs were using them with proven success. But a Honda? What most people didn't realize was the wheelie bar actually helped to keep the load on the front wheels, giving the best traction results anyone had seen up until that point. This allowed Ed to drive his CRX to consistent low-10s and a long-running streak as the fastest full-chassis Honda in the world. For the next Battle, everyone and their mothers came with a wheelie bar, but Ed was the only one who ran a 9.78. The rest, as they say, is history.

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ADJUSTABLE CAM GEARS
After adding basic bolt-ons to any engine, you can always extract more power by using electronics. Sometimes there's hidden horsepower and if you know where to look, you can use that to your advantage, too. Look at your valve cover-now, we know you can't physically "see" your cam(s), but if you could, that's where all that untapped power sits waiting to be extracted. By advancing or retarding cam timing, you can put that power into play, but since the factory cam gears are set to one setting only, it's pretty hard to pull that off. With an adjustable cam gear and a dyno, you can make these fine adjustments on the fly with precision tuning.

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COLD AIR INTAKE
For those of you who are just joining us today you're in luck. Pick up any magazine on the newsstand and what will you usually see? Dozens of cold air intakes for sale at a decent price. This wasn't always the case, though. From the dawn of time up until '95, all one could do was slap on a K&N www.knairfilters.comair filter (or drop-in replacement) attached to their stock rubber intake hose and call it a day.

Sai Akimoto www.racingsportsakimoto.com came up with a brilliant alternative, crafting the first cold air intake system, a piece of aluminum piping that, when matched to a filter design using a funnel ram, could produce more horsepower and torque. This type of intake would be redesigned many times over and today companies like Fujita Air www.f5fujita.com and AEM www.aempower.com have developed improved systems that keep out water without sacrificing power.


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CUSTOM WHEEL OFFSETS
There's nothing worse than going online or walking into your local shop, eyeing a set of wheels you know will look fresh on your whatever-it-is-that-you-drive and being told that it won't fit right or clear without rubbing. Blame it on lack of offset or the engineers who designed your car for equipping it with a 5x100 bolt pattern instead of the 4x100, but either way it screams SOL for you. All is not lost, however, because while not every wheel is going to be at your disposal that doesn't mean you don't have options. Early on, HRE www.hrewheels.com started to produce wheels that could be had in any size, bolt pattern or offset-and great-looking stuff, but not cheap. Supreme wheel supplier Rays Engineering www.mackinindustries.com does do a custom Volk for limited applications, like if you're a D1 driver or have money to burn, but getting anything rare from these guys is like picking up a pair of sought-after Dunk SBs. But the money conscious consumer can thank J-Line www.jlinewheels.com for finally releasing candy coated, deep dished-basically any way you can customize a wheel-wheels. If you can think it up, they can get it to you.

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INTERCOOLER NITROUS SPRAY
When drag racing exploded during the mid '90s, racers were always looking for that extra edge and sometimes that came in the form of a little squeeze. But for those who boldly claimed "no nitrous," meaning literally no use of NO2 as a means of forced induction, they had to resort to alternative methods, i.e., forcing your buddy to dash in front of said staged vehicle and douse the front mount with a hit of nitrous. Now as you may or may not know, spraying nitrous oxide onto an intercooler does a very important job: it seriously drops your air intake temperatures, and turbo/supercharged engines love as much cold air as they can get. Why? For more power, of course. But you can't always have someone running out in front of a race car. This is why nitrous companies like Nitrous Express www.nitrousexpress.com have produced nitrous spray bars (NX offers the N-tercooler), which gives the driver control of when, how often and how much nitrous should be sprayed onto the intercooler. This product not only comes in handy for drag racing, but road racing and drifting as well.

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AFTER MARKET ELECTRONICS
As the demand increased to make power in cars which were originally supposed to be plain commuters, the technology had to improve to continue to push this evolution.

Engines that were stroked, made to rev higher or boosted needed electronics to govern air, fuel, variable valve train timing or boost, respectively; some needed additional hardware with computer programming to further operate and fine-tune these functions. This is when we began to see the rise of the turbo timers, electronic boost controllers, and VTEC controllers (check A'PEXi's VAFC; www.apexi.com-all reasonably priced gear that helped street and track tuners tremendously. Pricey standalone engine management first took off during the rise of drag racing when Accel's DFI, used heavily in domestic tuning, was adapted to work in many Hondas. This was also partly responsible for some of the high horsepower produced during that time. The Japanese companies followed suit with products like GReddy's e-Manage and HKS' F-CON V Pro but for those with an even lower budget, Hondata produced a highly tunable ECU for the B and K-series engines www.hondata.com. A lot of computer savvy yet underground street guys also found ways to reprogram or mirror chips originally produced by Mugen or Spoon and sold them through various online avenues, including JDMHondaparts.com.


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BOLT-ON EXHAUST
There's nothing more boring or aggravating than having to wake up early on a Saturday, roll over to the closest muffler shop to have them crush bend piping, cut and weld a make-do exhaust system with a universal muffler and a resonator to keep the sound down. That was pretty much the only way you could get that tin can whine until Japan's HKS and Trust (GReddy) started producing exhaust kits that were flanged, sectionalized to match your factory exhaust layout and a perfect replacement to add more power at a nominal cost-making the hard part easy. American companies soon caught on and began offering bolt-on kits of their own. In fact, Borla www.borla.com even has the trademark on the name "cat-back exhaust."

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BOLT-ON TURBO KIT
When many Hondas started breaking past the 13- and 12-second barriers, the majority of these racers were piecing custom turbo kits together using hybrid T3/T4 turbos and intercooler cores from Mitsubishi Starions and fabricating all the piping to work. It would be hard to say that any two kits are alike when they were all pretty unique in their own ways. A company called DRAG www.dragturbokits.com out of Monterey Park, California started whipping up production bolt-on turbo kits for the second-gen Integra and third-gen Civic with an optional intercooler to boot. Myles Bautista, one of the early pioneers of Honda drag racing, also brought his knowledge of turbocharging to the game by releasing turbo manifolds and kits under the label of the Valley company Rev Hard www.revhard.com, supplying the likes of Lisa Kubo, Kenny Tran and JoJo Callos early in their careers. HKS did offer a bolt-on turbo kit for the first CRX, as did Cartech, but it wasn't until Hondas really took off in popularity that the bolt-on turbo kit start making waves.

By Super Street Staff
149 Articles

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