Do you grin from ear to ear from the enjoyment of driving your sports car? Do you simply laugh your ass off every time you mash the gas pedal? That describes my experience with Project M3 after it received the ultimate tuning from Active Autowerke. My car's new turbo kit reflects perfectly AA's "Come Play With Power" slogan--in fact, in this case, it's a gross understatement. With the previous setup, consisting of Schrick cams, evosport pulleys and Supersprint exhaust and headers, Project M3 was magnificent. The power was increased throughout the rev range with enough juice to outrun a good portion of the high-performance V8s on the market--with only 3 liters of displacement.
Project M3's next step in the power department logically could have been the fairly common supercharger approach. I've spent time in a handful of supercharged M3s from different tuners and was very impressed by the kits driveability and power. But, having just had the camshaft installed in the car, I desired something a little more effortless, a system that didn't require me to rev the car to 7000 rpm every time I wanted to fully experience the motor's power. In addition, I wanted the power to be easily adjustable.
In the fall of 1997, I crossed paths with Active Autowerke while living in Miami. AA cofounder Karl Hugh took me out in some of his project cars, and until that time I had never felt torque and horsepower in as scary a combination as what was packed under their hoods--I was immediately hooked. Sure, back then the kits were relatively new and still needed a bit of R&D, but I knew I had to have one in the future.
Now, more than 4 years later, AA's turbo kits have enjoyed great success, with more than 120 sold in the U.S, and it was time to graduate Project M3 into supercar performance status. I was confident Karl's experience with turbocharged M3s would lead to trouble-free performance. For those of you interested in a turbo kit for your '96 or later E36 M3, AA also has a kit utilizing the 3.2's OBD-II computer (see ec 06-01).
An AA turbo M3 can make a tremendous amount of power, and an AA Turbo M3 in the wrong hands can wreak havoc. Realizing this, Active Autowerke will not sell a turbo kit to anyone under the age of 21 without consent. In addition, AA will make the purchaser sign a form promising to install a big-brake kit onto the car and go to at least one driving school. I signed the forms, sent off a check, and a couple of big boxes showed up at the office a few days later.
Fortunately, as seen in previous parts of this series, Project M3 already had some important upgrades installed, including a Stoptech big-brake kit, Ground Control/Advance Design coilovers (which drastically reduced squat and dive from the torque and braking power), and Active Autowerke's high-performance clutch system.
evosport had expertly installed almost everything for this car so far, save for the brake kit, so it was a no-brainer to contact its experts once again. I've come to trust the company's top-notch technicians and employees and their experience with high-performance supercharger, turbocharger and normally aspirated upgrades--not to mention their wonderful custom fabrication that you'll learn about in subsequent issues.
Unfortunately, there was some trouble with the clarity of AA's instruction booklet. After a call to Mike Hugh about clarification of certain install procedures, he admitted they've got to work on the instructions. "You know, the problem is we know these kits and the installation process like the back of our hands," he said, "and we sometimes forget that other mechanics haven't had the experience with our particular kits. It's something we're definitely working on."
An AA turbo kit install is not a simple process. Plan for over 24 hours of labor. The Stage 2 third-generation system required lifting the cylinder head for installation of the much thicker copper head gasket to reduce compression. Project M3's compression went down from an unusually high 220 psi to a much lower 155 psi in all six cylinders (stock M3s usually see between 200 to 210 psi).
The kit also requires removal of the factory headers to make way for the AA exhaust manifold, a few more hours to the job. And because Project M3 was running Schrick camshafts, the stock ones were swapped back. According to Karl, the Schrick cams don't work well with the turbo application. "For turbocharged engines, you shoot for higher lift but not much more duration, unlike for a normally aspirated engine." (Stay tuned; I may play with some turbo-specific cams in the future.)
The car retained the evosport pulleys featured in Part 6 for the turbo application. Because I had not upgraded the crankshaft pulley, it was safe to use these pulleys with the turbo as well as the AA lightweight flywheel featured in Part 3.
After a few headaches, the kit was finally installed and the car was ready to be turned on--the moment of truth. I was a little nervous and yet excited at the same time. Once I got the proper chip in, the car started and idled perfectly--no hesitations. I blipped the throttle and noticed the exhaust was exceptionally quiet, even though it was a much more free-flowing system.
Following Vadim Fedorovsky's advice, I took the car around the block several times with one of evosport's technicians to make sure there were no funny sounds. "Keep it off boost for now," Vadim said, "and then we'll put it on the dyno and check its air/fuel ratio."
Off boost the car drove beautifully, showing no signs of any under-hood upgrades--it was as smooth as the day I bought it. My right foot was shaking--I don't know if I was scared or anxious to mash the throttle--but I behaved. I was really concerned about possible hesitations or roughness with part-throttle acceleration, but the car was showing no signs of that.
Vadim Fedorovsky is the kind of father figure who will not let you leave his shop until he knows for sure your car is running properly. Several evenings were spent on the shop's dyno, tinkering with the turbo boost and balance levels to make sure the engine was getting enough fuel with the forced air and wasn't detonating with California's 91 octane non-race gas. Miami gets 93 octane, so AA had to retard the timing of the chip a bit.
With Vadim's chip burner on hand, we were able to try various levels of timing on the car. Karl would e-mail him a program, and he'd burn a chip in a matter of minutes to try out. In the end I saw an easy 378.2 hp at the wheels, with a few gallons of race fuel mixed into the equation (graphs are with 91 octane pump gas only; log on to www.europeancarweb.com for more illuminating graphs).
The second I rolled out of evosport's driveway, I was aching to ram the throttle into the floorboard. This turbo kit made me feel giddier than when I first bought either of the M3s I've owned. It felt like I was rolling away in a hundred-thousand-dollar exotic--but I still refrained from full-throttle acceleration.
Part-throttle acceleration was absolutely wonderful. The car felt exactly the way it did before the turbo kit was installed. With a little bit of boost, there was still no hesitation.
A few minutes later I rolled off a stoplight, shifted into second, crunched the accelerator, and...I don't know what happened after that. All I remember is getting pressed hard into the seat, sending my ribcage halfway into my lungs. The lightweight Fikse wheels and the grip of the Bridgestone S-03 tires put down all the torque without any wheelspin (wish me luck in the rain, though).
I started to play with the accelerator in the higher gears. This is where things got really fun. There's only one word to describe the acceleration at highway speeds--effortless. Step on the throttle in fourth gear at 80 mph, and in about 4 seconds you're seeing over 110 mph. Too much power? Just turn down the boost and knock off more than 100 lb-ft of torque, if you wish.
At the end of my first day with the car, there was a phrase that kept repeating itself in my mind: "Thank goodness for big brakes!" If you plan on installing a turbo kit like this without a big brake kit and good tires, you probably won't make it through the first week.
How scary is the ride? Just ask my mother, a 52-year-old, 100-percent-hot-blooded Italian. I gave her a ride one morning and in fun selected "high boost" on the Greddy Profec-B boost controller. I got onto our local two-lane highway and rolled off the line in second gear and then pressed the throttle all the way to the floor. Even before the tach needle reached 4k, I heard, "Hey, Pablo! Stop it! ENOUGH!" (I'll spare you the details of every word).
"But mom," I protested, "we're not even doing 55. Don't worry."
"I don't care!" she scolded. "I don't like it!"
I looked around, saw no cars, and said, "Well, heck, that's too bad...."
Yeah, Project M3 really does sound like Darth Vader's Tie-Fighter. I don't know if it's "The Force," but something out of the ordinary is definitely under the hood.
At the time of this writing, Project M3 has run about 4.5k miles with the turbo kit. So far there have been no cooling or drivetrain problems. I will report back periodically, however, with AA turbo updates within the project.
Next time--Project M3 undergoes a weight-loss program with some special fiber.
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