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Suggest a Project Car

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First off I'd like to thank Ben for taking the time to reply to my Facebook message regarding this. I'm really glad I stumbled across your website and I've learnt more in the last month than I thought possible.

What I really need is a project car to start to apply what I am learning. What I would like to ask the group is their opinions on suitable cars. Would it be better to start with something NA and progress to turbo charging? Are there cars that are suitable to start NA and turbo later? Are there engines that are less susceptible to knock or easier to not make big mistakes? To give you some background, I live in the UK and not rolling in cash so probably looking for something 10-15 years old (read as cheaper) and rear or awd,

Look forward to your suggestions.

Hi and thanks for your comments.

From my own personal progression with tuning, I would recommend starting out with something naturally aspirated while you are learning. Of course the principles remain the same for N/A or forced induction, however with turbo engines everything can happen quite quickly. An N/A engine on the other hand will usually take quite a bit of punishment to actually be damaged (it's still possible, but they are much more tolerant).

In this part of the world I would be looking at something from with the honda or toyota family. They both make cars that are well supported in the aftermarket with easy ECU support. If you do happen to break an engine, they are also cheap to replace. I would be thinking of the honda B-series or Toyota 4AGE for example.

In the UK I imagine access to these cars might not be so easy but an early BMW such as an E30 320 or similar is another great place to start.

Hopefully that gives you some direction.

The b series is getting a bit rare here in the UK, I'd look into getting an EP3 type-R, that way you can learn about variable cams etc.

Try and get friendly with the guys at TDI in Thurrock, they have their own tuning course which you get real dyno time with and Sam is a fountain of knowledge, who's also happy to answer any question long after the course is finished. Not to mention they hire out their hub dyno ;-)

Yes, the EP3 is another great option although I imagine the entry price is a little steeper? While the K20's variable cam control is a great addition, you do become a little more limited on ECU options if you want to retain integration with the rest of the car electronics. Hondata is probably the most obvious solution and is very effective but also can't strictly be live tuned. There are a hand full of plug-in options though so it is definitely a viable option.

Probably the cheapest engine to build around here, is the K20A. Put that in an older Lotus Elise and this makes an absolute fun box.

A friend of mine just did that a couple months ago.

That way you'll have the ability to get cheap engine parts, build your own wiring loom and control it with a standalone. This all combined in a light chassis, that's easy to service.

If you don't want the hassle of fitting an engine, I'd probably go with any older BMW. Maybe already E36, because some E30's are getting a bit pricy (as a LHD model at least).

Thanks for your replies, I really appreciate them. The idea of fitting an engine, mounting sensors and building a wiring loom (after purchasing the wiring fundamentals course obviously :-) is what really appeals to me. I like the prospect of thinking through all the variables and building the tune to address them.

What are your experiences with the NA Subaru EJ 2.0 engines? I'm not initially looking to build a track weapon while I'm learning. I've got a young family so building a Daddy Wagon kind of appeals.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer. I will continue to read and learn from you all.

I'm actually getting my first N/A Subaru to tune this weekend, I've tuned countless turbo'd ones. They use as much fuel as a turbo model, if not more so I'm guessing they run terribly rich, no doubt a safety margin built into the map. I'll let you know how I get on after the weekend.

Thanks Chris, I'd be interested to find out how you get on.

The EJ engines can be a bit fragile if you are on a budget.

Pretty easy to spin bearings if you start lifting rev limits and such.

I found OBD1 model Hondas/Acura's to be the best for practice. I cannot count the hours I have racked up on our dyno just playing around with stuff on these. They make very little hp, but are very strong cars! Bets thing is...Honda's can be found for cheap, and there are a ton of different tuning p;platforms with Hondas. I have used Hondata, Crome, Neptune, EcTune and AEM all on the same car to learn how each system operates.

Hi guys and gals,

Sorry to drag up an old post but I thought I'd keep my random ramblings in one place. Life distracted me for a while but I'm ready to start my project now. I plan to buy a cheap NB MX5/Miata, use the initial engine as a platform to learn and experiment on. Stage two would be to do a K20a or k24a engine swap. Stage three would be going FI.

My question to the group is, is there a ECU that you'd suggest that would have the features that could take me from the Mazda engine through to a turbo'd K series?

I'm not sure if there is any plug and play options available for the NB, I know there is OBII for the NC and mega squirt for the NA.

You'd probably be looking at wiring in a full standalone, in which case most will do so long as the chassis doesn't use CANBUS for it's internal controls, if it does you'd need to workout the signals and program the ECU to replace them.

Could you not pick up a late model NA, go for the MS ECU and turbo the standard engine when your ready?