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The Right Tools
FeaturesSaturday Morning Car Tune!

The right tool will make all the difference in the world

The famous road-trip novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, made the simple act of keeping machines running seem all fine and dandy, a worthy pursuit that teaches life lessons as much as practical problem-solving. But just as anyone who regularly wrenches on cars or bikes will admit, I have undoubtedly experienced some of my most frustrated moments while covered in grit and grease, knuckles bloodied and hands shaking, stuck in a bizarre stew of furious exhaustion.

The logistics of actually riding classic motorcycles over long distances forced the semi-autobiographical author Robert M. Persig to pack light on a Honda Super Hawk, but the realities of working on multiple makes and models of cars and motorcycles over the past decade-plus of my life all combined to teach me one very simple rule.

The right tool makes all the difference.

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The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

(Editor’s note: Keep an eye out for the all-star tools that saved Michael’s ass! We’ll drop them in a final shopping list down below. Happy reading, and happy shopping.)

A master’s degree in absolute amateurism

Like most backyard or driveway mechanics, I started working on a high-mileage 2001 Audi TT I bought, hoping to teach myself to master a manual transmission by commuting in a beater with a clutch pedal. I wore out my right arm and left quad driving that stick shift through stop-and-go LA traffic for four hours once on the way back from Palm Springs, slid around on snow and ice in Mammoth, and ripped through every local canyon as fast as the Haldex-based Quattro AWD allowed. I loved the squat little pill car, though the relative heft inspired some light modifications over two years in the form of a Stage 1 REVO tune and a thicker H&R rear sway bar.

I installed that uprated rear sway bar myself on my back in a cold garage while doing my absolute best to keep the rest of the suspension at least serviceable. Over even a relatively brief ownership period, I quickly realized that I needed to do the smaller jobs myself. Otherwise, the TT would have happily eaten me out of house and home as the electronics increasingly went on the fritz.

While an Audi served as solid practice, by the time my stick shift skillz felt solid enough, I similarly felt confident enough in my own wrenching abilities to trade up into a 2001 Porsche 911 Carrera 4—back before values skyrocketed, obviously, after I sunk so much capital into the TT. The 911 was also my first true performance car, so I wanted to get it truly dialed in with refreshed suspension, additional cooling to help prevent oil starvation (the real 996 engine killer that nobody talks about amid the IMS bearing fiasco), and an el cheapo Amazon short shift kit I purposefully marred to add a bit more weight to the throw. 

The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

But I still needed to do all the oil changes, filter replacements, and random other minor jobs to save up in case anything serious went wrong—and to help combat the Porsche parts tax, a known quantity. Next up, a pair of pandemic purchases: a 2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo that I built up for mild overlanding and ski season storm chasing, plus a 1971 Porsche 914 that I bought as a disassembled project. (Please don’t ask, I am entirely beyond saving.)

That Cayenne sold recently and the 914 still lives in a shipping container next to a rebuilt engine and transaxle on tables. In reality, as the pandemic travel restrictions have steadily lifted and automotive journalism picked up in pace, I now spend most of my wrench time doing mostly smaller jobs on the two cars I actually daily drive and off-road regularly: a 1998 Mitsubishi Montero and a 1997 Pajero Evolution.

Close scrapes in tight spaces

I’ve revisited all of the above only to serve as a bit of background, establishing my relative bonafides as a total nerd bordering on insolvency who pours money and time I objectively do not have into passion projects that make no sense. So when the going gets tough, and the prospect of sending one of my cars to a professional mechanic crops up because of some mistake I’ve made, the frustration begins building…

The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

The latest close scrape occurred not while working on one of my babies but instead while helping a fellow Pajero Evo owner prepare to refresh his front suspension and steering. Dan, a similarly insane former Aston Martin product manager who still owns two Astons despite professionally knowing better (not to mention a Ferrari and the PajEvo), showed up with tie rod ends, ball joints, both the idler and pitman arms, sway bar end links and bushings, and even front struts. A big list for a single day, to be sure, but one that came to a grinding halt when we reached the point of pulling off what sure looked like the original pitman arm.

Luckily, the project ended with only minor injuries—and the need for a new set of just about every bearing and ball joint puller currently for sale on the planet.

As we proceeded first to loosen the sway bar end links, then inner and outer tie rods, I sprayed the pitman arm with WD-40 penetrating oil a few times. By the time the final steering ball joint (the pitman arm’s own) popped out using the smaller of our two ball joint pullers, the pitman arm’s connection to the steering box looked absolutely drenched. And yet, using a 36-millimeter socket for the massive retaining nut—that just happened to measure the same diameter as a Volkswagen Bus axle nut—even a three-foot cheater bar required a ton of effort to break the rust loose.

The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

And that was just for the nut. Next up came multiple attempts to pull the pitman arm itself off the splined shaft coming down from the steering box. The smaller of our two-ball joint pullers had a narrow mouth and minimal travel for the lever arm, but even the bigger couldn’t split the wide splined shaft. Time to get a legit bearing puller out. No luck on the first try, which seemed to strain the puller immensely with the full torque of the cheater bar once again in use.

Time to dig deep into the realm of heating and hammering. I torched, Dan sledged, and vice versa. We torched and sledged a bit together and then luckily realized fairly quickly that maybe heating and hammering just below the steering box might be a bad idea. Back to square one: more penetrating oil. We let the pitman arm sit for a bit and focused on other parts of the job to let the penetrating oil, you know, penetrate.

The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Back at it with a larger puller, aligned perfectly and cheater bar at a max stretch, we still saw no movement. I scraped away with a pick, trying to clear out any crud, then put more muscle into the puller, which gave up the goose and broke off at the neck. And this is for an American-made piece of Craftsman history!

At this point, we needed to start reassembly so that Dan could get home before midnight, so we gave up, too, and hastily threw the new tie rod ends and sway bar components back on. Driving home, he reported how much of a difference even those new parts made in the suspension and steering feel—lending a sense of purpose and pride to the mission thus far.

Stop, drop, and eat dinner

The next day, deciding wisdom was the better part of valor, I did a few more odd jobs on my own PajEvo, including swapping on a new set of upper front ball joints. But I left the pitman arm untouched. I’d already installed new tie rod ends, new sway bar end links, and a new idler arm, but the new upper front ball joints tightened up the steering better than even replacing my torn-up tie rod ends. Very interesting, the result being a piqued curiosity on how much of a difference a new pitman arm might make along with my new lower ball joints.

The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

And so, the next weekend, I set out to do just that—albeit now armed with the beefiest set of pullers ever amassed in history, as well as a new penetrating oil that promised even better rust removal according to reviews online. I measured my Montero’s pitman arm since the PajEvo generally shares steering components with the Gen 2.5. But I still felt a bit of trepidation as I loosened my new tie rods and hinged down my new sway bar end links to make room around the pitman arm again.

This time, knowing I didn’t want to use the torch or sledgehammer, I sprayed the Moovit liberally all over the pitman arm splines in advance. The pitman arm’s ball joint popped off, no problemo, and my nut required much less effort than the one on Dan’s truck (the benefits of a slightly less corroded underbelly, Dan’s having lived a few years in the UK before he bought it off CollectingCars.com). Applying more Moovit, I scraped away at any gunk beneath the pitman arm and saw plenty of rusty dust flowing off. Time to give these new pullers a go.

The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

At first, I struggled to get the bigger jaws aligned since my sway bar now blocked some access. But then the big, beefy Harbor Freight (Pittsburgh) puller seemed to grip well, and I started applying some arm strength with the breaker bar. No luck. I loosened up that puller and tried a couple of the even larger versions, one of which proceeded to bend dramatically at the neck. And yet, still no movement, hmmmm.

More Moovit and maybe time to slip on the cheater. Sure enough, with a bit more juice, more length, and the Harbor Freight puller back in place, maybe flexing just a bit, the pitman slammed down off the splines with a loud crack. Not broken, but this time, I had left the large nut in place, hoping to prevent parts from flying everywhere—a lesson learned best by Dan the previous weekend when we almost broke his finger in carelessness.

I scrubbed away at the pitman arm splines and began reassembly, but not before spending a few hours trying to replace my lower front ball joints—all in vain, since the Mitsubishi engineers who completely redesigned the lower A-arms to house the same Gen-2.5 lower ball joints in a position that looked better for quick removal on a homologated racecar, in fact, only made removal harder. And in my haste, frustration building and darkness falling as I hoped to avoid a seemingly inevitable full hub removal, I began to tear an unobtanium CV axle boot. Time to stop for dinner and reassess in the morning.

The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Next time, I’ll be a pro

That night, at least I rested reassured that Dan’s pitman arm job could be completed with the right tools—a beefier puller and, in this case, “tools” also referring to the hardcore penetrating oil. “Next time I do this job, I’ll be a pro,” I always tell myself. The next morning, I reassembled my front end without the new lower ball joints and went for a test drive, with the steering a bit tighter but a newfound clunk on the right front where I’d struggled for hours the previous night. So, the next test of willpower, problem-solving, and patience will definitely be that front hub removal. Of course, that begs the question of what new tools might I need then.

Now, I’m lucky. I work on my own cars in front of my tiny apartment and in the back alley, out on off-roading trails, and stopped on the side of a highway. But I also have access to all my dad’s tools, and he’s a former contractor with just about everything known to man on hand. That 36-mm socket? He probably bought it in 1969. I’ve unwrapped brand-new tools from the 1970s. Hell, we even have Whitworth tools. So thanks, Dad, if you’re reading this. Of course, the convenience of internet research, quick modern shipping, and local Harbor Freight stores also help a ton.

The Right Tools
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

But Dad also bears a lot of the blame for many of the messes I get myself into and (usually) out of. He probably sparked the obsession with cars and motorcycles in me at a young age and spends plenty of his own time wrenching on his two Monteros, two 1967 Volvo Amazons, and an E36 M3. Hence, from a young age, his incessant proselytizing about the right tool made all the difference. This guy would rather drive to the store than spend time struggling—and he’s spent a lifetime learning that lesson building homes for wealthy celebrities in West LA.

Lessons for the often uncoachable

Dad also spent much of my childhood jokingly referring to me as “uncoachable” (my many teachers, as well as football and lacrosse coaches, all agreed, I can admit.) As a case in point, I recently replaced the O2 sensors on my Montero in the street in front of the apartment. With tight spaces and no leverage, I couldn’t use my smallest socket because it needed to fit around the sensor wires. Multiple bloody knuckles and a torrent of swearing later, I drove to Harbor Freight and picked up an O2 sensor wrench. The job required all of five minutes, no injuries, and zero four-letter words once armed with the right tool. 

Have I learned? Maybe. Every job well done brings a certain sense of satisfaction, making the car or motorcycle more fun to drive. (Bonus: the new addition of working on motorcycles requires a whole new set of unknown tools!) But a bunch of random helpful tools have become indispensable along the way. It is not just a set of every socket extension length possible but also two different torque wrenches for larger and smaller projects. I use a multimeter all the time on these old trucks. I have oil filter wrenches in the proper size for each vehicle I own (and a few more that fit Dad’s available if I need them). Ratcheting box wrenches in metric and imperial save arm muscles by the end of the day. Hex drivers, in addition to hex wrenches, truly help on bicycles, cars, and motorbikes alike. A box for figuring out threads on screws and bolts saves a ton of time flipping through random boxes on the shelf at the hardware store. And a good circlip pick also makes all the difference while effectively doubling as a rust scraper on a stuck pitman arm when required.

Getting the job done sometimes requires making modifications to the tools on hand. Like one time, I needed to shave down a box wrench to squeeze in and loosen a control arm nut for the 996’s rear suspension. Other times, though, Murphy’s Law simply reigns supreme. And even when armed with every tool in the known universe, when things go wrong, the old stomach-churning frustration still bubbles up. 

Tricks I’ve noticed that can help to stave off the strings of curse words: Always eat a full meal before starting a project and take plenty of water or snack breaks. Try not to have a time crunch and plan stop-start decision points in any workflow process before reaching points of no return. Do the research in advance and ask for advice from more knowledgeable friends—in the cases of the Montero and Pajero, I find plenty of support from a helpful community on forums and social media. We’ve all been there, after all, since we’re all the type that buys Monteros hoping to save a few bucks versus a Toyota Land Cruiser, knowing full well (or soon discovering) that problem-solving experience comes with the truck, too.

And always, always, always, safety first. Use jack stands and/or chock blocks anytime you go under a car. Gloves prevent cuts, broken nails, and broken fingers. Eye protection might seem silly, but you never know when it might save your vision.

My biggest and best tool yet? One time, as I drove by my Audi/Porsche mechanic’s shop—in a running car that needed nothing, please note—I spied the car lifts being replaced with new Bendpaks. I swung in to say hi, and he said that if I saved him the hassle of making more trips to the dump, I could take one home in pieces. Of course, having a lift is only possible if you have the space and budget, but this one tool truly changes everything, making life easier, safer, and quicker all at the same time.  

Even while using a lift, the hilarious number of tools I sometimes need to finish even small jobs downright blows my mind. But tools last a lifetime, and the lessons we learn while using those tools last a lifetime, too.

Tools that saved Michael from certain doom:

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – on paperback for $13

There is no tool. Go read a book.

JD-Hi-Five Porsche 996/986/987 short shifter – what do you have to lose for $90

Do you trust an $89.99 Amazon short shifter? Michael did, and he turned out fine. I think. Real talk, perhaps this is what that budget junker Porsche project needs to have a little extra flair without obliterating the bank.

WD-40 Specialist Penetrant – good ol’ reliable for $10

You already know what’s up. Treat yourself to some of that good stuff now with a flexible metal straw.

Stalye Thread Checker kit – never make a wrong guess for $51

Didn’t even know they made such a thing, and now this editor needs one more than anything.

NEIKO Hex Bit Socket Set – for those dastardly hex screws; $17

Plenty of tuner car hardware kits feature hex heads, so don’t be caught lacking at the next friend group garage hangout.

TEKTON 6-piece Long Flex Head 12-Point Ratcheting Box End Wrench Set – a simple necessity for $165

For home or garage, it’s nice to have a proper wrench set always at the ready. You’ll never know when IKEA or that Pic-A-Part find will betray you.

EPAuto 1/2-inch-drive 150 ft lb. Click Torque Wrench – torque it tight and torque it right for $55

For engines, suspension hardware, or wheel lug nuts, always be prepared with one of these suckers. Torque it right the first time and never worry or second guess.

Captain Phab MOOVIT High-Performance Penetrating Lubricant – “high performance” anything often means something; $22

WD-40 not cutting it? Some extra penetrating power should do the trick. 

EMPI 5770 Gland Nut / Axle Nut Socket 36mm with ½-inch Drive – apparently not just for classic Volkswagens; $19

Apparently, these are the move if you especially own an old air-cooled Vee-Dub. But as Amazon reviewers and Michael have learned, it matters little what the car is. If it fits, it sits, right?

OEMTOOLS 74mm 14 Flute Oil Filter Wrench – underrated here for $8

I, myself, can’t stress enough how nice it is to have one of these, especially after some bastard dunce who last did the oil change (me) decided to torque down the last oil filter with the hand of God.

7-Function Digital Multimeter – feel like a genius for $10 (in-store only)

Are electrical gremlins running you up the wall? Something like this will make you feel like a real hero. Or at least look like one to friends and neighbors.

Pittsburgh Automotive ⅜-inch Offset Oxygen Sensor Wrench – make a simple job simpler for $9

I’ve never had many issues with removing oxygen sensors on exhaust systems. Good for me. Let’s keep it that way with one of these. Try one for yourself and see how something so simple can make a big difference.

Pittsburgh Automotive Tie Rod and Pitman Arm Puller – honestly, might as well just snag one if it’s $16

Has a slim fit for tight spots while still being able to withstand the forces of a big, tough hunk like you yoinking on your steering hardware.

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Subaru BRZ & Toyota Supra
FeaturesSaturday Morning Car Tune!

Here is how a flex fuel kit works and why it’d be super cool if you get one

This is a psyop. Go buy flex fuel.

But wait, how does this crap even work? Isn’t this just alcoholic corn juice? Isn’t a high alcohol content bad for engines? Well, I have the answers: Works well enough. Yes, it’s just corn. And kinda-sorta-maybe, but not really.

Frankly, I’ve been a skeptic about high-ethanol-blended gas after hearing debates about its usefulness and possible detriments throughout high school auto shop classes. But more and more over the years, I see people preach its gospel, highlighting a niche where high-ethanol fuels shine: high performance. Or, more specifically, high horsepower! 

I recently purchased a track-built Subaru BRZ (more on the car itself below!) from an old work friend with the intent of “finishing” the build and attending more HPDE events. Friends, colleagues, and YouTubers alike have all incessantly hammered on the benefits of ethanol, like sleeper agent brainwashing. And now that I actually have a popular candidate for such a modification, why not give it a try? So, I am. Starting with installing the hardware itself. 

But first! Some nerdery to help folks better understand what any of these doohickeys even are.

Flex fuel and E85 explained

E85 is basically a higher-ethanol-blended variant of regular gasoline. E stands for ethanol, while the numeric value after it represents the percentage mix of ethanol, typically made by fermenting and distilling starchy crops. While barley and wheat can be used, the most common ingredient in the U.S. is corn. Yes, like the kind best served on the COBB. See what I did there? The blend can vary, but the most commonly used blend in performance applications is E85 or 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

Flex fuel simply refers to a fuel system that runs on both standard gasoline and high-ethanol fuels, capable of adjusting its tune on the fly and adapting to the ethanol percentage. Nowadays, swathes of vehicles feature flex fuel from the factory, known as flexible fuel vehicles (FFV), from rugged work trucks to million-dollar hypercars. My dad’s old F-150 with the Triton V8 was flex fuel, as do many GM pickups and SUVs. Perhaps most prominently are Koenigsegg hypercars, who advertise their very best power and performance figures on E85.

Subaru BRZ
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

How flex fuel and E85 work

The physical form of flex fuel in modern cars is nothing more than a sensor system attached to the car’s fuel system. In the case of my BRZ, it’s a mere sensor half the size of a credit card that mounts to the strut tower, plus some fuel lines to redirect fuel into the sensor and a Bluetooth module for feeding ethanol readings to a companion phone app. Generally speaking, for all kits, the sensor reads the ethanol content of the car’s fuel and adjusts the ECU’s tuning to compensate for more or less ethanol. It typically does so on the fly, meaning you fill the car up and go without the need to bust out ye ol’ laptop or Accessport to change tune files like some troglodyte (i.e. me, I have no Bluetooth tuner or phone app).

E85 has become favorable among tuners and weekend warriors for its ability to yield higher horsepower ratings without forcing you to shell out big time on normal race gas. In fact, the E85 actually has a higher octane rating, equal to anywhere between 100 and 105, and features a faster, more efficient burn and flame propagation. E85’s traits carry a whole heap of performance buffs, such as burning cooler, reducing engine temperatures to mitigate knock (premature detonation), allowing compression ratios to be increased thanks to the lessened likelihood of knock, and allowing turbocharged cars to spool marginally faster due to faster burns creating exhaust gases sooner.

All that jargon sounds like a win, win, win! And it should, theoretically, be a win for those running E85. Or at least on dyno days, like the videos embedded at the end.

Debunking flex fuel myths and explaining real cons

Yes, it was very much a concern that E85 was bad for fuel systems, and it’s very much the truth that it’s not the most practical fuel out there for a number of reasons. So, let’s take a quick dive into what’s actually wrong with E85 and what old-timey myths we can dispel to irrelevancy.

First, the real cons:

  • It’s not as widespread at gas stations. Yes, you’re right. Not every gas station has it, and E85 is more common in some states and cities than others. In some places, it’s as easy as traveling to a nearby pump, whereas in others, it’s probably better to buy what you need and store it as you probably won’t find another E85 pump after that. Speaking of storing it.
  • It’s hard to store long-term, as ethanol can attract water, not only diluting the fuel but posing serious risks of rust and water vapors damaging fuel system components if left to sit. J.D. Power also notes that E85 can sit for anywhere between one to three months due to the fuel being likely to oxidize and lose combustibility over time. Compare that to three to six months for regular gasoline and roughly a year or more for diesel.
  • Old cars don’t really like it. There’s a reason some gas stations, such as Maverick, offer totally pure, ethanol-free gasoline. It’s friendlier to classic rides. Ethanol, being an alcohol, is an anti-lubricant and can dry out and damage materials in older fuel systems. On top of all that, they’re trickier to tune for E85 if the car is carbureted, as the carb has to be rejetted every time you swap fuel types.
  • While it’s a cleaner, cooler burning fuel, it’s actually not as power-dense as gasoline, meaning you need to use more of it to make meaningful gains. Sources range from 10% to 33% loss in power density, meaning your fuel economy dips down just as much to compensate since your ECU will adjust to expend more fuel. Colleagues who ran flex fuel in their tuned Scion FR-Ss and Toyota 86s did indeed see power gains at the expense of 3 to 4 mpg during regular driving. 

Now, the myths: 

Perhaps this is one big overarching myth. The notion that E85 is a dangerously corrosive and volatile fuel is a load of crap. Sort of. The alcohol content can dry out suboptimal materials in older or ill-equipped cars and leave a varnish on metal components, but it’s not going to eat away at your fuel system, cause it to blow up, or suddenly chew a hole in your tank. High-ethanol fuel is frequently confused with ethanol race fuels, which can have corrosive additives in them, relegating them to only short-term uses such as racing, or methanol, which actually is far more corrosive than ethanol.

While ethanol may not have been as safe in older vehicles, it’s widely regarded that most modern cars are more than capable of handling higher-ethanol blends. There’s at least a 10% blend of ethanol in regular pump gas, anyway. The high alcohol content can even function as a fuel cleaner, clearing out deposits from lines and injectors, similar to SeaFoam, which also has a high alcohol content. Now, that doesn’t mean go run E85 in your car right now, as you still need a tune for your computer to know what to do with the higher octane rating.

Make sure your car is tuned. Make sure your vehicle is equipped to handle it with the right sensors and modern, resilient components. And if you’re still concerned, the popular safeguard for peace of mind is typically one or two tanks of regular, top-quality pump gas a month.

Another fun fact. It’s also been noted that OEM flex fuel systems are less than stellar at running on E85. Introducing flex fuel into their mainstream cars was a bit of an afterthought and a way for manufacturers to get federal credits following the passage of the Alternative Motor Fuels Act in 1988. Interestingly, it’s akin to how late 2000s and early 2010s EVs were nothing more than mere “compliance cars” whose sole purpose of existing was to literally just exist for the company’s benefit in the wake of strict regional emissions and fuel economy laws.

Installing the hardware

After a quick stop at a speed shop I used to work at to snag a flex fuel kit for a bargain, I was on my way to meet a friend, who reassuringly performed these installs numerous times before. It was my off day over an extended New Year’s holiday weekend. I was on my merry way to see a friend for a quick garage hangout/install job. What could go wrong?

See, I can say that because it already happened. So there’s nothing to jinx. Right?

Thankfully, the BRZ/GR86 platform is as spacious inside as ever, with a wide-open engine bay allowing for easy access for damn near anything (except spark plugs). As my mechanic friend explained to me, all the work needed for the hardware would take place solely near the driver-side shock tower. So, as for what the installation entails.

I kid you not. It was as quick as letting the fuel system sit so it could depressurize a bit, opening the lines so we could install the new lines from the kit, and feeding those new lines into the flex fuel sensor that sat nice and pretty beneath the base of the strut tower brace.

Subaru BRZ E85 flex fuel install
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Bam. Easy. And we only spilled a little bit of fuel after impatiently starting before the system could depressurize further. Oh, and when removing the strut tower brace to install the flex fuel sensor beneath it, we may have dropped a piece of hardware that braces against the master cylinder to keep it from moving under hard braking. It doesn’t thread into anything. It simply sits atop a threaded stud, and the pressure of threading the stud into the strut tower brace pins it against the master cylinder. When you relieve the pressure to remove the brace, it simply falls into the abyss of the engine bay, never to escape because there’s a skid plate underneath from the factory.

Subaru BRZ E85 flex fuel install
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Thank you, Cusco, and thank you, Subaru. Very cool. So now what would’ve been a 20-minute install extended to nearly 45 as we busted out ye ol’ jack and a magnet tool to fish for this piece of the Cusco master cylinder brace from under and on top of the car. It was a humorously stupid and frustrating endeavor that finally ended in success after shaking a car a bunch, then jacking up one side with the wheel cranked to full lock so we could reach from inside the wheel well. 

Hey, we did it, didn’t we? And in the end, we installed the kit. Er, actually, my friend did. Thanks, Kaleb. A Bluetooth module included with the kit mounts near the firewall and lets me read the current ethanol level via a phone app, which, on pump gas, was a whopping, dyno-breaking, tire-shredding…

7%. I’ll take it!

Tune coming soon!

No. There’s no tune at the time of writing. But there will be! And you bet I’ll be back to report on my findings once I get this sucker all pumped up with corn juice. Most tuners expect gains of anywhere between 20 to 30 horsepower on this FA24 flat-four engine with E85 alone, and there are plenty of dyno videos that can back those claims. Will I count myself lucky? We shall see.

Knowing my luck, I wouldn’t be surprised if a piano falls on this car a day after the tune file comes in my email inbox. But fingers crossed. May the Car Gods, please, for the love of all that’s internally combustible, bless me with the same power gains these lucky lads below have experienced.

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Ford Mustang GT, Veloster N, V6 Mustang Subaru BRZ
FeaturesSaturday Morning Car Tune!

You should daily drive your track car

Welcome! Tune in to your Saturday Morning Car Tune to read about the raddest yet dumbest and least practical thing I’ve ever purchased. You know all those awesome vloggers and auto journos who chronologize their lives behind the wheel of their muscle car restoration project or high-horsepower tuner build? Yeah, you know that most of those folks also have regular-ass daily drivers behind the scenes, right?

The Gears & Gasoline Bens have pickup trucks and a reasonably-built WRX STI to shuttle them around when they’re not grenading transmissions or setting lap records. David Patterson, a.k.a. ThatDudeInBlue, has a Ford F-150 for his regular grunt work. Matt Farah has a Mustang Mach-E and a Vespa, and Jason Cammisa has a Volkswagen e-Golf. Remember those things? And I have… A lowered Subaru BRZ with a silly wing and no catalytic converters.

I bought a thingy

modified Subaru BRZ
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

As you can see, the weight of my genius hurts sometimes. 

But alas! I have… Reasons. Probably not smart ones. But I didn’t start this new features section to discuss moneywise consumer advice. 

Say hello to the latest notch in my belt, a modified 2022 Subaru BRZ that I bought off an old coworker from my speed shop days, who himself bought it off the shop as it was a former shop car. Akin to the press BRZ I drove to GRIDLIFE in the fall, it’s a Limited trim, which means alcantara and leather upholstery throughout, heated seats, and a fairly banging sound system. It has wired Apple CarPlay as standard, as well as cornering headlights and a digital gauge cluster. Oh, and it’s a manual, too. Huzzah!

It has also been modified to high heaven, as this car had previously served as a work friend’s track car, having accumulated 3,200 miles over some mostly highway commutes and three track days, one of which Larry Chen photographed the car. Keen to always sign up for the next event but also deeply religious about a proper break-in, the BRZ has undergone one diff fluid change and five oil changes. And then there’s the laundry list of mods, including, ahem:

  • 200TW Hankook RSV4 tires (245/40/17) on 17-inch WedsSport TC105X wheels
  • Obnoxiously squeaky track brake pads that are surprisingly usable in daily driving and all weather
  • Zebulon swan neck wing
  • Artisan Spirits front lip with a barely-livable splitter extension
  • Catless full exhaust with equal-length headers and an A’PEXi catback
  • Ecutek programming kit with a custom 91-octane tune
  • Jackson Racing oil cooler
  • Antigravity battery
  • SPL adjustable rear control arms
  • Vorshlag camber plates
  • Cusco strut tower brace
  • Motion Control Suspension (MCS) coilovers, the exact model of which I still need to figure out

There’s probably a bunch I’m forgetting. And I’m still learning the exact details of what exactly each model of part is in the event I ever need to repair or replace them. Among spare things that aren’t installed, I still have an oil catch can, various chassis doo-dads, and the all-important oil pan baffle. If you’re even remotely familiar with the BRZ/GR86 platform, you’ll know these things are… Finicky, to say the least. But I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. But how does it rip? Well, let me tell you.

I don’t know all that much. In the 800 miles I’ve logged in the last two weeks, I haven’t really pushed it hard at all, not even in the local canyons since seasonal traffic is high and road temps are cold. But that’s okay. My friend built it for the track. And to the track, it’ll return to show me just how much I’ve grown (or devolved) since my time ripping around canyon roads and road courses in my trusty old V6 Mustang. But I can tell you what it’s like to live with and how you can replicate such an experience, should you dare. 

Daily driving a BRZ track car isn’t the worst idea I’ve had

This little tike, for all its track-focused intentions and intimidating looks, is actually a bang-on daily driver. No, I didn’t take that much copium today. I mean it! It’s usable, and it’s comfortable. Ish. Or at least it’s a comfortable-ish daily if you haven’t experienced a new Toyota Prius lately.

The MCS coilovers ride remarkably well despite being adjusted to a stiffer dampening setting by the previous owner. Hell, I’d say it rides close to, if not the same as, the stock suspension setup, albeit with slightly more noticeable jitters over high-frequency bumps. And when I mean slightly, I mean you just feel them a little more than stock, and it’s never harsh. Large road imperfections like asphalt patches, dips, and potholes are nonissue, which is fantastic to hear about in a track-built car. It means you have the compliance to attack apexes without upsetting the chassis, and you have the comfort of not shattering your spine on the drive home.

It’s a testament to the quality of the coilovers and proof that, and say this with me, you don’t need to ride like shit to have a great handling car. Porsches and Corvettes prove this. This does, too. Color me impressed. Get yourself some quality coils or adjust your dampers to find that happy middle ground, people. It exists, and I promise you it’s not maximum stiff.

Subaru BRZ
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

What isn’t so hot is this goddamn splitter. Getting into my family’s driveway is now a learning curve. And speedbumps near my friend’s house are now a practice session for autocross. It’s tolerable, but only barely. Normally, you’d be able to not scrape on most crap on the road. But now I actually have to be paying attention, whereas a stock BRZ may as well be a rally car in comparison, billygoating over dips and inclines.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Stance scene folks are laughing and envious at my comparatively truckish ground clearance. Again, it works for now. I’ll live, even if it means putting a few scuffs in concrete driveways here and there.

Video credit: Jeric Jaleco, Sean Grey

Fuel economy? Okay. I lauded the stock BRZ press loaner for handily beating the EPA estimates with hardly any effort, easily eclipsing 32 to 35 mpg on most freeways. Now, I have to try to hit 30. I should be lucky to even be averaging 24 in mixed driving. As it turns out, things like bigger, stickier tires and fat aero parts that produce a lot of drag end up producing a lot of drag. Who would’ve guessed? Fuel economy is still okay. Better than my V6 Mustang. But the small tank means fill-ups are just as, if not more, frequent.

If there’s anything to truly take solace in besides the commendable ride, it’d have to be that my friend left the interior mostly intact. No goofy rear seat deletion or removal of any carpeting or insulation to cut weight. He daily drove this car, too, and he’s more sensible than most. Or at least he’s sensible enough not to completely ape the livability of a car when it still has to drive to and from the track.

The OEM heated seats are still here and still get lovably scorching in our bitter desert winter. The stock sound system is still a banger, too. The only hints of modification inside are the custom steering wheel upholstery and a shift knob. The trunk liner has been removed to allow for access to the rear shock towers where the dampening adjustment lies, but if that’s had any effect on NVH, I haven’t noticed. If anything, it just made more room for groceries. Totally important in a car like this.

The exhaust is annoy-the-neighbors loud on startup but becomes smooth, balanced, and mature when warmed up, producing no drone whatsoever. In the cabin, it sounds as though the car was fitted with a somewhat tame catback and nothing more; that’s to say, it’s quiet when you want it to be. Great for dates. Or if you have tinnitus. Or if you and your date both have tinnitus. 

Daily your track car. Who’s gonna stop you?

So. Driving someone else’s former track toy. Not bad. Not bad at all. It could do with a milder splitter or no splitter at all. And the catless exhaust means that CARB reps will shoot me on sight the instant I cross the state line to buy a lotto ticket. But not bad at all. At least it’s done right, which is the defining line between versatile track cars you can use daily and hyper-focused track cars you’d rather trailer.

Subaru BRZ
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Any track-built car could pull shifts as a commuter. A car is a car. It’s all a matter of how it’s set up and the quality of the parts. Just know there will have to be compromises in how comfortable you can be or how hardcore you can build it. Frankly, if your idea of a track car is decent coilovers and sticky tires, you’re set! Hell, you’d clear more speed bumps than me. You’ll generally be fine if you leave ground clearance for larger floor jacks and attacking apex curbing and if you fervently believe the stiffest suspension setups aren’t always the best. Oh, and unless you’re entering time trials in the damn thing, don’t turn your interior into a scrap heap. Leave that to the dedicated race car builds. Your bum and your eardrums will thank you.

So there you go. Go ahead. Daily your track car, and live life like Ryosuke Takahashi except in suburban America and not urban Japan. And if your track car is a little more on the extreme side, Well, daily it anyway. It’ll be funny.

A new car for new adventures

So, if my last car was leagues more practical than this BRZ on a regular basis, why did I even bother with it? Simple.

I felt it was time to part ways with my prior car of six and a half years and wanted to level up. Simple as that. And while the Mustang could’ve definitely been its own track star with more money thrown at it, it was time to try a different platform and expand my palette a bit. So, when the opportunity came to snag my friend’s BRZ and depart from my 10-year-old, 114,000-mile trooper of a My-First-Sports-Car, the car I bought right after dropping out and shuttled me through a rebooted college career, a military enlistment, numerous road trips, getting absolutely lost as fuck in the Eldorado National Forest (beautiful place to get lost, by the way), and my first few jobs, I had to jump on it.

Think of the switch in Takumi and the Initial D story moving from the White Ghost of Akina arc to the Project D arc. And with it will (hopefully) come falling lap times, a more serious and mature take on driving, and, most importantly, all-new learning experiences I never had or bothered to pick up as a deadbeat college kid. But this is not to completely say goodbye to my little blue car. It was sold to a good friend, so it’s still in the social circle for me to witness its growth in new hands.

So far, ownership is looking like it’ll be a breeze despite the car’s livable shortcomings in the Suburban Errand Run GP. But can I fill in the shoes this car needs to topple my buddy’s lap records and move up a couple classes at HPDE days? There’s only one way to find out. But before then, there are those inherent oiling gremlins I must keep at bay first. Because #justsubiethings, apparently.

Ford Mustang GT, Veloster N, V6 Mustang Subaru BRZ
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

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FeaturesSaturday Morning Car Tune!

Check out your Saturday Morning Car Tune at Acceleramota

The traditional auto mag as we know it is slowly fading. Not out of existence but rather evolving to take on a new cultural landscape. Social media and video dominate, leaving room for written works to be more personal and experiential, almost like diaries of one’s trials and triumphs like some of the best publications have done and still do. It’s their way of further humanizing themselves in a sea of content farms and cookie-cutter formulas. Well, it’s time to get in on that action. Enter Saturday Morning Car Tune, your peek into the Acceleramota crew’s automotive exploits.

Come take a gander as we bring our passion away from the keyboard and into real-world experiences. In the garage or on the street. On the road or at the track. From how-to’s, track days, road trips, garage builds, car purchases, and more. Even if it’s a “bad” story, like perhaps a tale of a colossal screw-up we’ve had overcooking a corner on track or losing every 10-mil in our garage to The Great Void, it’s still a story worth telling.

WCCS car show
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Check in every so often to see me adapt to living with a track-built Subaru BRZ as my one and only car and if it’s still competent enough to conquer daily life (or just wait for me to tear the splitter off on a curb). Or read about Peter Nelson nursing an old B5 S4 back to life while taking to the race tracks to prove it’s the E82 BMW 128i that is made in God’s image, as previously documented at The Drive. Maybe Michael Van Runkle has some words to say about his colorful garage history dotted in Porsches and Monteros, or perhaps Nathan Meyer can walk you through the deets of South African car culture from his home in Port Elizabeth. I’m sure the cult of big turbo Volkswagen Rabbits down there have their own stories to tell.

Or, if you enjoy masochism, I’m sure our supreme ruler, Gabe Carey, has some colorful words to say about the wonderful world of Alfa Romeo ownership and his Guilia Quadrifoglio that just refuses to die. Perpetuating the stereotypes there, aren’t we, boss?

Kidding. Don’t shitcan me, please.

And who knows? We’ll likely spin this off into a social media-friendly video series as well, which you would most definitely see on our Instagram and TikTok. We’ll get there. Psst, give us a follow on there. Will ‘ya?

Think of this new corner of our site as a way to take a small step away from the SEO and the industry news, instead taking a day to focus on ourselves and what makes us who we are as members of the car community, dedicated to our hobby and bound by passion. It’s our contribution to the internet to show that we’re not mere content drones and that we’re real, real enthusiasts and real people with real experiences, and we can’t wait for you to tune in to read all about it.

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

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