What cost excellence?

August 2, 2011 7 comments

So often with a project car we find ourselves asking if the next expenditure is really worth it.  At what point do you cork the flow, put a bandage on the bleeding, or otherwise stem the tide of rising project costs?  They say the happiest two days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it.  B.O.A.T. doesn’t stand for “bring out another thousand” just because its etymology comes from Proto-Indo-European “bheid”, which means “to break or split”.  No coincidence whatsoever.  So on to the project cars (which never break).


God, why do I keep pouring money in this thing?  (Yes, that’s me in the picture.)

Sound off in the comments; how much are you spending keeping your favorite transportation running?  If you had it to do over again, would you?  If you would, would you do it differently?  For me, the answer is ~$18,000, yes, and yes, respectively.  I bought my 2001 Audi S4 in May 2006 (Mother’s Day, actually), when it was bone-stock and had 50,000 miles on it.  It still had a certified pre-owned warranty good to 60,000 miles that the previous owner paid to transfer to my name, which restricted my modification for about nine months.  The warranty expired in January 2007, and on went the mods.  At first it was little stuff, mainly maintenance upgrades.  The big purchases have been ECU reprogramming, wheels and tires, turbo-back exhaust, and coil-over suspension.  Maintenance has been a biggie, with two timing belts, a dose of exhaust gas temperature sensors, primary oxygen sensors, and the auto-dimming rearview mirror (hundreds of dollars; I kid you not).  At first my attitude was to keep it perfect; let no quasi-failing part be allowed to live.  I preemptively replaced several engine sensors and components to keep the car at 104%.  The next step, as you have seen in previous posts, is to upsize the turbos.  This is where the nova question comes in.  “No va”, Spanish for “it doesn’t go”: do I continue to spend big dollars on this vehicle, now ten years old and with 125,000 miles (and counting, quickly), or do I start to save for my next automotive victim?  In short, is it worth putting more money into this big blue quattro bucket?  Is it worth it?  Well, that’s the question I asked the rest of you at the beginning.

(Nova Schin; for pregnant bitches that just can’t quit.  Why does she appear to be handing it to the viewer?  I’m not drinking that shit.)

The answer is: depends.  As I alluded, I would have done things differently.  The big change in my private life since May 2006 is that I had two kids.  Let me tell you, that hurt.  Man should not have children; that is woman’s work.  Puns aside, the loss of my wife’s income and the increase in domestic expenses put a cramp on my mod budget.  The loss of time control that comes from having children?  Tolerable.  The loss of income from the stay-at-home mom?  Planned for.  The increase in health care insurance premiums?  Highway robbery.  Double-digit percentage premium increases every year, and work does not subsidize dependent coverage.  My advice?  If you’re going to have children, move to Europe or Canada.  Kids complicate the modification justification equation (aka modification accounting justification equation complication consternation, or majecc).

Majecc, pronounced \’ma-jik\, is what it’s all about.  (Can you believe I make this shit up?  Isn’t linguistics fun?)  You “majecc-ly” find time and money to continue you hobby.  Usually this involves either living vicariously through your single or DINKY friends or teaming up with similarly-encumbered SITCOM friends.  The majecc continues, but so does the magic that got us into the hobby in the first place.  So bring out another thousand; excellence is made in leaps (of the wallet).

(500 AWHP?  Well sure, if you’re asking.)

P.S.  What would I do differently?  Here’s your bonus advice: if you have a range of modification expenses (assuming the cost of the upgrade is directly proportional to the value of the upgrade), save up and get the most expensive stuff first.  If that means saving $5000 for a turbo kit, at least when you’re two years into it and change your mind or move on, you can move on knowing you haven’t already committed big dollars to a stalled project.  That’s what I would do differently; I’d trade the $5k I’ve spread out over the car and focus that into the big $5k single upgrade.  Sure you can take bites at the project and it’s fun to do a small upgrade each year instead of nothing for four years or whatever, but I’m just saying that if your plans call for a $5,000 upgrade sometime in the future and $5,000 in other distributed upgrades, get the big one out of the way first.  The others will still be there.

Yeah, so BOAFT.

 – Jeff, internet profit…prophet…whatever

Categories: Cars, Jeff

Ess Ewe Vee: May I have “more than adequate”?

July 13, 2011 2 comments

We on MM pride ourselves on enjoying driving.  But what if real-world considerations impact your ability to pursue this pleasure?  I’m not talking about having to work too much or having to spend your mod dollars on baby formula, but big problems, like not driving your performance vehicle on the occasions you do find yourself behind the wheel?  Mediocre Steve drives a lowered, turbo, two-seater with race buckets so tight you barely need to wear a seatbelt.  No chance of getting a car seat strapped in that (and in Steve’s case, this is a positive).  For the family men like Alex and myself, it’s not so much the kids we have to satisfy as the wives.  There is no right answer to “how is that going to work?” when you’re trying to convince her that you’re the first person to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a 951 is a practical car and the backseat was actually designed for children.  So that brings us to the reasonable solution: a minivan.


Vinyl wood siding and wire wheel hubcaps.  So much promised, so little delivered.

Fortunately, my wife does not like the idea of driving a minivan.  I must be rubbing off on her (hehe).  So we went the SUV route.  Driving a German performance sedan, I knew better than to buy another German car, and American cars were out of the question, so that left the Japanese and Koreans.  First we needed to sell the wife’s Jetta (another case against buying a German car), and we figured our family of four just needed a small SUV.  At this point I wanted something she could get in and out of the garage with the mirrors attached and for as small of an outlay of cash as possible. 

We started with the Honda CRV.  This was an entirely adequate transportation appliance.  It did exactly what it was supposed to, nothing more and nothing less.  You want acceleration?  We have 180 adequate horses to do that.  You want interior electronics and accessories?  We have what would be considered premium ten years ago as standard.  Overall I thought it was the right car for us, because there was nothing on it that I would bother tinkering with.  Then I was lured behind the curtain by Kia.  They promised value, as in I could get more for my money.  More-than-adequate is where I operate, so we test-drove a Sportage and a Sorento.  The Sportage had the turbo, which was fun (much more than adequate torque), but the build-quality was questionable.  Everything fit while the vehicle was in the showroom, but I nearly ripped the rear door off the car when I opened it.  The hinges are attached to the stamped metal, not the b-pillar structure, so the whole thing twists when the door is swung open too far by the inattentive.  Overall I liked that car better than the CRV, excluding the question of longevity (basically, it was turbo and turbo=good).  Then I wanted to look at the Sorento.  Third row seating!  Wow; I never thought I would be interested in a spare row of seating that I had no use for, but knowing you could use it ties right into my more-than-adequate attitude.  The Sorentos were bigger, but they were the same price as the turbo Sportage!  Value!  Wait a minute.  The teaser BS you see on TV where the Kias are starting at $17,988 is not anywhere near what you will pay.  Partly through disclosure and partly through the fact you want power window, you will price yourself above $30,000 for these cars.  They had loaded Sorentos at $40,000!  For a Kia!  Fook that, we’re going to Japan. 

Now I was hooked on the third-row seat “utility,” though so we went to Toyota to check out the RAV-4 and the Highlander.  The former was now considered too small, but the latter was nice, so we started negotiation.  We asked what they could give us on trade for our Jetta.  This is where they pissed me off.  They took the dealer trade-in value on the Jetta and then subtracted from that their costs to refurbish the car.  Thanks.  That’s not how Blue Book works, but I appreciate the insult.  You must think I am A) desperate, B) an idiot, or C) required by my wife to buy this vehicle.  Guessing C will not give you the right answer.  I told them forget it and took the fam to McDonalds (in the Jetta). 


I was sorry to see the Jetta go, but red just attracted too much attention.

The logical next step would be to sell the Jetta privately for as much as possible in order to establish our new vehicle purchase budget.  So that’s what I did.  I sold the Jetta in three days on Craig’s list for 2.75 times as much as I was offered on trade, and only $200 less than my asking price.  With cash in hand, we were much more comfortable talking to dealers.  I used a program through my credit union to “pre-negotiate” a deal with local dealers.  Most “no hassle/no haggle” programs are actually advantageous to the dealer, because he has no risk in setting a price.  You must understand two fundamentals in negotiation: 1) they are better at it than you are, because they do it all day every day and you have a real job, and 2) you should not negotiate with people who are better at it than you.  We ended up selecting a dealer who had fair pricing but minimum dealer-installed accessories (which are big money-makers for the dealer) and went to visit.  How do you know what “fair pricing” is?  Do not look at MSRP, and you can ask for the dealer invoice, but unless you know how to read it, they will use it against you.  You should bone up on this excellent site for tips and advice.  http://carbuyingtips.com/  Know what you want before you go, in terms of price, options, etc., and avoid impulse or pressure deviations.  If you feel like you’ve lost control of the negotiation or you aren’t getting what you want, walk away.  We got a decent deal, and using the car buying tips’ real price spreadsheet, I think I overpaid by about $200, but they didn’t really take advantage of me.

So what did we end up with?  A nice white SUV.  The only dealer options were wheel locks (which they insisted cost $40 to install; see what I mean about them ripping you off?) and a trim kit that I could have done without but the wife was okay with.  I installed the running boards myself and saved $500.

They see me rollin’; they ignore me.

This article is not me bragging.  It’s really the story of how I got back to where I started (Honda), having explored other options, and opting for the “adequate” choice.  See the front of the Pilot?  No projector headlamps.  See the engine?  3.5L six-cylinder with adequate mileage and just 250 hp.  I have more than that at all four wheels in the Audi.  Bottom line: you don’t get an ounce more than “adequate” with the Honda, but you do get what you need.

– Jeff, Jeff, Jeff of the Suburban Jungle

Categories: Cars, Jeff

Poly motor mounts

May 24, 2011 1 comment

“Wow! Wow! Wow!” That was me during my 15 minute blast around Duvall after finishing up my two-week project to replace my motor mounts and other maintenance items. Three of the four polyurethane motor mounts are in – the really nasty rear roll stopper remains – and I was able to fix (hopefully) the leaking breather plug on the transfer case, fix the exhaust leak behind the downpipe (I just used two gaskets), fix the suspension creaking by lubricating both ends of the rear adjustable control arms, and installing a new timing belt. A pretty productive stint of downtime!

One of the choices that came up in an image search for “wow.” My wife and I love this guy, so it seemed appropriate.

I rarely do an upgrade that is a night-and-day difference, but even with just the three mounts installed, I can easily say this is one of them. Shifts are way crisper, accelerator shock at stomp and let up is minimal, and the drivetrain just feels much more planted. I didn’t even see the motor move when I had the car idling in the garage for five minutes and gave it revs from the engine bay. Previously I was able to see it torque in there. And as an added bonus, the additional vibration is really not that noticeable [anymore]. It was when I had just the passenger side mount in, but either I’ve gotten used to it or the engine is more balanced on multiple poly mounts instead of just one… maybe both.

The dreaded rear roll stopper.

Oh, and also, here’s what became of the solution (a piece of wood-like material with a clamp) I put in place to attempt to fix the exhaust rattling… which I did hear once during my drive, but only once. Previously it was all the god damn time. I had to remove the downpipe to get the front roll stopper out and I think it’s settled into a better place now. The downpipe was much easier to install than before and the exhaust mounts aren’t stretched anymore. Either way, I do still hear that rattle every now and again so I’ll need to have another go at fixing it.

WP_000152 What’s left of a hack to fix the exhaust rattle. It didn’t work.

– Alex “It’s a never ending battle” Gregorio

Categories: Alex, Cars

The new turbos, part 2: Electric Bugaloo

April 4, 2011 1 comment

When we last spoke, I left you re-directing your browser to Chris Ostberg’s fantastic B5 S4 resource site, http://www.nogaroblue.com, saying he was selling something interesting.  I was on Quattroworld checking the classified when I saw a post from Chris.  Chris was selling his K04-K16 hybrids.  Holy S(4)!  His description was optimistic, that the turbos were serviceable but he personally would rebuild them before installing them (see last time’s discussion on installing used parts), and I knew I could rebuild a K04 for between $300 and $400, so we made each other offers we couldn’t refuse, and the turbos became mine.

(All the bad things we talked about last time – owner abuse (did you watch any of his videos? How about them Nurbergrings?), shaft play, foreign object damage)

What is a K04-K16 hybrid you ask?  Well, a hybrid turbo is when a company that doesn’t manufacture a certain turbo thinks they’re smarter than the company that does manufacture said turbo, and decides they’ve come up with a superior combination to what the silly engineers could.  In this case, we have a K04 (from the European hot-rod of the S4, the RS4), modified to accept a Porsche 911 Turbo (996) compressor wheel.  Why would you want to do this?  Because Porsche Turbos are fast?  Yes.  Why are they fast you ask?  Well, it’s obvious (from Chris’s site):

(Quite the obvious visual statement)

K16 is big.  Now they’re doing hybrids with 911 Turbo (997) wheels, but before the 997s came out, 996 was what it was all about.  The first thing you notice is the K16 is bigger.  Yes.  The second thing you notice is that it has more blades (12) than the Audi wheels (8).  This is important.  Size matters, but the extra blades make the K16 more efficient.  Basically, the extra blades get a better grip on the air and increase the flow rate of the wheel at a given speed.  The lower the speed, the “faster” the spool (because you’re targeting a lower speed), and the happier the bearings in the turbo.  We’re talking about speeds in excess of 150,000 rpm, so lowering that is a good idea.

Why not just put a K16 in there?  It won’t fit.  The whole point of the hybrid in my case is to accommodate the very confined engine compartment (not a lot of room to redirect the plumbing of the turbo-we can’t even fit a physically larger unit in there), while having something better than a plain-jane (PJ) K04.

Next question: why not put a couple of GT25s in there?  Yeah, about that.

From Chris’s site – I’m tired of my dirty pictures.  Well, not those dirty pictures, the pictures of my dirty unit.  Well, not that dirty unit, the filthy turbos.  Yeah.  Nailed it.

See that funky flange?  That’s where the turbo connects to the exhaust manifold.  The downpipe flange is also unique (to everyone but VW, Audi, and Porsche).  Changing all that to get a Garrett in there is not worth it (because now I need headers and a new turbo-back exhaust system?  Why?  I thought I was upgrading the turbos?), so most guys make do with K04s, hybrids, RS6s, weird “eliminator” combos that advertise a Garrett cold side on a Borg Warner/KKK hot side, and now the new Frankenturbos (which is what Chris was trading up to).  Anything that’s not BW/KKK will have fitment (and potentially quality issues as have been reported on the forums), so I wanted to stay with the tried-and-true (even if it is tired-and-true) K04-based system.  RS6s are a safe choice, but they cost more, and they start to border on a selection too large for my platform.  Too large you say?  How do you know?  Well, because of the turbo sizing calculations I did of course.  Oh, you don’t know how to do that?  Why didn’t you say so?

– Jeff knows all about how to blow bigger…

Categories: Cars, Jeff

Birthday wishes

March 31, 2011 5 comments

Today is my birthday. While I don’t personally care too much about birthdays, I do recognize that people like to celebrate their (or others) successful entry into the world so I’ve decided to break out of my drought of posting to give a little wave to the world.

(Hello world)

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Mediocre has been a little slow since the middle of Februrararary and if it weren’t for Jeff’s post about turbos (see Tuesday’s post, and the incoming conclusional post on Monday) we’d still be a little quiet. I’m sure you’re asking yourself “Why so few posts recently?’ and here’s the quick answer: “We’ve all been busy, and winter sucks around here.”

(This is basically what we see here in Seattle for 9 months straight, except with less blue sky)

Now that’s not to say that we’re done with Mediocre or with working on/racing the cars, I’m just saying that constant rain and clouds takes a surprisingly large amount of energy out of you. What’s planned for the incoming months? Let’s take a look at the quick list for each of MY cars. Jeff and Alex might chime in later if I can convince them to contribute.

(Fix carb, full brake replacement, suspension overhaul, fix rusted floorpan, repair/rechrome bumpers/trim)

Check out the full “photoshoot” here: http://mydigislr.shutterfly.com/celica

(Motor mounts, oil cooler, maybe a new exhaust, maybe a retune…we’ll see)

Now, it’s my birthday so I get to keep the stage for a few more minutes. Who am I kidding, if you suckers read this far you’re going to keep reading anyway…suckers. While this little blog has had some ups and downs, periods of TONS of posts and periods of drought, we’ve always maintained a pretty good audience and some consistent readers. We’ve grown a lot (looking back at my first few posts, I’m a little ashamed at the quality) and we’ve still got a lot of growing left to do. In the end I just really wanted to thank everyone for their support, either in being a reader or being a contributor, and say that I really appreciate you guys taking time out of your days to read our little corner of the interbutts.

Now get off my website, I’ve got work to do.

– It’s Steve’s birthday and he’ll be sappy if he wants to

Categories: Random, Steve

The new turbos, part 1

March 29, 2011 2 comments

I got new turbos for the S4.  The B5 S4 (2000-2002) came stock with a 2.7L bi-turbo (that’s German for twin turbo) V6 engine rated at 250 hp and 258 ft-lbs of torque.  In typical European fashion, the “peak” torque is available over a wide RPM range, like from 1850 rpm to 5500 rpm.  This is accomplished by truncating the boost curve so that the manifold pressure stays constant over a wide RPM range.  Lost yet?  An engine makes torque by exerting a force on a rod that turns a crank.  The “force” is the expansion of combustion air, heating from the burning fuel, acting on the piston, pushing on the connecting rod, and turning the crank.  It’s pretty much what you see on an old-fashioned steam locomotive, except the on the train the crank is integral to the drive wheel.  If you want more torque, you need a bigger engine so more air is acting on the piston(s).  The airflow into the engine is directly proportional to manifold pressure on a forced-induction engine, and torque is directly proportional to airflow, so a flat boost curve makes a flat torque curve.  One of the easiest (and often first) modifications to an engine with this behavior is to remove the “artificial” limit on the manifold pressure by reprogramming the ECU (or removing the ECU control of waste gate duty cycle and putting a manual boost controller in its place if you are a caveman – Hi Alex!)

Technically not fair; Alex’s hair is spikey.

This procedure allows the turbo to provide a higher peak manifold pressure, with a natural increase and decrease on either side.  The ramp-up in manifold pressure comes from the time it takes for the compressor to spin up to a useful rpm (between 100,000 and 200,000 rpm – hey, these things take time!), which is usually mitigated as much as possible by reducing intake restriction and optimizing turbo sizing and construction, and the taper at higher RPMs is the result of the engine sucking in more air than the turbo can compress (the manifold pressure or boost is a pressure, which corresponds to a volume in our fixed-volume intake systems, and at higher rpms the engine is consuming more air than can be supplied by the turbo at that manifold pressure, thus pulling the manifold pressure down).  The spool-up and taper down usually come from the physical limitations of the turbo-engine combination, although some ECU programs control the taper to protect different components.

Here’s a before-and-after dyno (at the wheels) of my chip tuning.  Note that wheel HP on a stock S4 is registering at 171 on this dyno, which is 250 hp crank????

Are there any downsides to raising the manifold pressure on an otherwise-stock engine?  Potentially, yes.  Like just about any other “performance” modification you can do to a car, modifying only one component in a system stresses out the other components in the system.  Removing the artificial cap on boost allows/commands the turbo to spin faster.  A good ECU program will prevent the turbo from rotating too fast and killing itself (and a manual boost controller may or may not, depending on how ham-fisted the guy setting it is – Hi again Alex!), but increasing the maximum speed of the turbo may cause it to wear out faster.  This brings me to the title of this article.  No, I didn’t blow my stock turbos, but I was concerned that I could, so when a cheap replacement came along, I picked it up.

K03 replacements: K03-16 and K03-17

These K03s are the stock size and reportedly have about 60,000 miles on them.  New they’re about $2000.00 for the pair, and I paid $300 shipped.  They have a little shaft play (heh heh) in the lateral and axial directions (heh heh…huh?)  Unfortunately, replacing turbos on the B5 S4 requires removing the engine.  This is nuts and bolts work, but it’s more than most owners will do in their garage.  So when the stock turbos die either through owner neglect, mis-use, foreign object damage (FOD), or otherwise, you start calling the shops and checking the forums.

Naturally, the forums are full of enthusiasts and they say “It’s going to cost you $1000-1800 to do the work, so why put the same-size turbos back in, and worse, why put used ones in?  The clock’s ticking on those things and you’ll just be pulling the motor in a year; don’t save a few bucks now just to have to go through the exercise again in a year or two.”  Point taken.

Like I said, I haven’t blown my stock turbos yet, so I set my new used K03s on my desk and didn’t think much about it, until I saw a post from this guy  www.nogaroblue.com.  He was selling something.  Tune in next time to find out what.

– Jeff, overlapping data with inuendo since 1932.

Categories: Cars, Jeff


February 15, 2011 4 comments

I’ve chosen – and purchased – a secondary car for daily driving duties. If you remember before I had mentioned that I was looking into a Porsche 911 (996) and then more recently, I had been looking at FC RX7s. Well, neither of those ended up being the car I chose and neither of those are anything like the end result. What did my travels, research, and emotional connections lead me to buy? A 1974 Toyota Celica ST of course!

(Betcha didn’t see that coming)

A little background to my choice. I’ve always loved the Celica line of cars and when I started doing some research into the ones that I knew the most about (5th, 6th, and 7th gens) I started to find little trails of intruique regarding the origins of the name and beginings of a long line of successful cars.

(It’s a Celestial Dragon, not a viking longship)

What started out as a clone of the very popular Mustangs of the time, the Celica eventually evolved into a smaller and faster coupe that would grow from its RWD roots, to an AWD rally destroying powerhouse, to a fun and sporty little FWD street tuner. The Celica line has seen many changes and while it has always retained a little 4cyl it has changed bodies, drivetrain layouts, and purposes throughout its history.

(Perhaps you’ve heard of my WRC dominance? …also we got caught cheating once…our bad)

Enough about the line of Celicas, let’s talk about my car. I’ve nicknamed the new old girl Project Terrier a bit as an homage to my little Boston Terrier puppy, Mila, and a lot of respect to the fact that the car is 37 years old and is still holding together beautifully. Sure there are little bits of rust and the engine needs some work, but all together this is a perfectly functioning car that is doggedly maintaining life with a tenacious – terrier like – attitude. Project Terrier just seemed to fit.

(That’s one pretty 37 year old lady)

The project isn’t going to be anything like Lil’ Dirty (the tC) and the car will undergo only the most basic of changes for the time being. Mainly, I’m going to be updating and replacing the braking hardware, giving the suspension a look over, and fitting a better carb (which needed to be replaced anyway), but that’s pretty much it. The car is going to go through a slow and methodical OEM/OEM+ upgrade path until the car is reliable to be driven daily. The end goal of course is to take the tC off the road as a DD and turn it into a fully dedicated track star. It’s still some time away for that to happen, but we’ll get there.

-Steve likes his new dragon boat badged car

Categories: Cars, Steve