It wasn't long after the first D1GP came to the U.S. four years ago that everyone stateside began catching the drifting bug. This trend has continued upward with the emergence - and dominance - of the U.S.-based FormulaD Professional Drift series, which is currently tearing across the country. It even has its own 'feeder' series similar to what AAA baseball is to the major leagues. During this time, the Nissan 240SX has transitioned from a 'truck-motor' car that no one wanted into what is arguably the most popular car in the sport. The likely reasons: it has rear-wheel-drive; packs a potent, torquey engine in the KA24DE; and gladly accepts the Japanese-spec SR20DET under its hood.
It's no secret why we decided to resurrect our old 1996 240SX, happily pulling it out of the stable to add some performance upgrades and show you, loyal reader, some of the possibilities that exist with this platform.
As it sits, our 240 already has an aftermarket intake, header and exhaust. Given that our 'stock' baseline will be higher than normal with these existing parts, we contacted the crew at AEM for help with extracting even more than the KA motor's current combination offers. AEM designs and manufactures bolt-on and electronic products that have been outperforming the competition since 1987. In 2004, AEM acquired DC Sports (a company that became legendary from its headers and exhausts for Hondas), allowing it to combine the best engine breathing solutions from air filter to exhaust tip. For this first installment, we're adding an AEM Short Ram intake, a DC Sports 4-2-1 race header and an AEM Plug & Play programmable engine management system.
AEM Short Ram Intake
The first thing we noticed when we popped the hood was an old dirty filter that had run its course. In its place, AEM provided us with a new Short Ram intake (part number 22-441), featuring the company's DRYFLOW Synthetic filter (more on this new filter below). AEM claims that generally its Cold Air intakes will perform better than any other intake system. However, some engines do not respond as well as others because of the longer runners (like the KA), so in these cases AEM makes a Short Ram only. Because each system is individually tuned, AEM is able to determine the proper length and diameter of each system during development so you get the best performing part.
AEM's new lifetime DRYFLOW air filter is a non-woven polyester element filtering out 98.6% of airborne dust in initial efficiency (up to 99.4% cumulative or average efficiency), and filters down to one micron of particulate - which is almost twice as fine a particle as other aftermarket filters. This means longer engine life because it traps more dirt, and, as you know, dirt can eat your engine's rings and seals. Although it traps more dirt, it flows incredibly well (a five-inch filter with 3.5-inch base flows 950 CFM clean).
Have you ever twisted your air filter while installing it and damaged the pleats? We have too, and it sucks because it makes the filter look like crapola and can actually damage the filter media. That's not a concern with the DRYFLOW because AEM pre-pleats the material and reinforces the element with a lightweight cage that maintains the element's structural integrity and eliminates the chance of it collapsing from flow demands. It also reduces the filter's overall weight, and in racing every ounce counts.
The best part about the DRYFLOW is that you never have to oil it, and with the ever-growing list of dealers denying warranties for having an oiled filter on a MAF-equipped vehicle, the DRYFLOW eliminates warranty concerns because it eliminates the chance of oil traveling up the inlet path and damaging the MAF sensor. It's also easy to clean; and since you don't have to oil it after cleaning and wait for the oil to wick, service time goes from a day to about an hour compared to oiled filter servicing.
After replacing the tired filter with an AEM Short Ram, we contacted R&D Dyno in Gardena, California, to get a baseline on the 240 using R&D's Dynojet dyno, which spun the rollers to 138.4 hp and 138.4 lb-ft of torque at 5750 rpm. Since the vehicle was not stock to begin with, we used this dyno as our starting point. For comparison, the factory rates the 1996 240 at 155 hp and 160 lb-ft of torque at the crank, which translates to approximately 124 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque at the wheels.
DC Sports 4-2-1 Race Header
The next step in our build-up was to remove the existing aftermarket header to replace it with a DC Sports 4-2-1 race header (part number NHR4205). DC Sports claims that its headers are dyno tested to outperform all comparable header systems on the market. We've toured their facility, and they do indeed test everything. They also use cutting-edge manufacturing equipment including CNC mandrel benders, and non-contact digitizing scanners for accurate blueprinting. DC Sports CNC-machines its flanges; machine-grinds the flange mating surface to ensure a leak-free seal; and uses robotic welders to attach the flange to the header pipes - ensuring superior strength and perfect fitment with every header system. The company's headers are available in 100% 304-stainless steel (flanges included), and in mild steel with a proprietary temperature- and corrosion-resistant ceramic coating.
The 4-2-1 header design typically increases mid-range power. However, unlike traditional DC Sports headers that are 50-state legal and carry CARB-EO numbers, the race header is for off-road use only due to the elimination of the catalytic converter. Eliminating the catalytic converter allowed DC Sports to design the header with longer primary runners - a design that delivers in both the mid-range and the top-end. This gain in power comes with a cost: this header is not street legal. Without going off on a tangent about which header design will work the best for your ride, check out the article "Which Header is Best for my Car?" in the May 2006 issue of Turbo for an in-depth look at performance header systems.
With the DC Sports race header installed, we strapped the vehicle back down for some dyno runs. The power gains were impressive throughout the entire rpm band, showing an increase in horsepower of 2.5-8.5 and an increase in torque of 3.4-10.2 lb-ft. The largest gain over stock was 8.5 hp at 4750 rpm and 10.2 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm; and overall peak numbers climbed to 145.6 hp at 5500 rpm and 156.0 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm - a full 7 hp and 17.4 lb-ft of torque over the intake alone.
AEM Plug & Play Engine Management System
The next test in the process was to install AEM's Plug & Play Engine Management System with a built-in UEGO controller into our 240 (part number 30-1611U). AEM's EMS plugs directly into a vehicle's factory ECU harness and requires no additional wiring or hardware. It uses Windows software, and includes an integrated tuning wizard that allows users to create a base map specifically for a car's configuration - regardless of what type of injectors, sensors, coils or other changes have been made. This same software ran the retired world-record setting AEM Racing RWD Civic; and runs the current AEM Racing S2000 and 350Z - along with many other racing vehicles in drag, drift SCCA, rally, Bonneville and other race series.
Since our 240 modifications up to this point were light, we didn't expect a dramatic increase in horsepower over the factory ECU. However, since the DC Sports Race header eliminated the factory cat, we thought some tuning would maximize the power increase of these parts. Considering we only added two bolt-on mods, power gains with AEM's EMS were impressive - increasing horsepower 1.9-5.5 and torque 3.9-7.2 across the rpm range. The largest gain of 5.5 hp occurred at 4000 rpm, and we gained an additional 7.2 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Overall peak numbers jumped up to 149.6 hp at 5500 rpm and 160.9 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm.
Thanks to AEM's Short Ram and EMS, and DC Sports' race header, our 240 is well on its way back to glory. In upcoming issues we will install more aftermarket pieces to our drift 240 project vehicle, including some more engine and suspension modifications, culminating in a test session with one of drifting's premier racers. Stay tuned.