The partnership between Toyota and Subaru that forged the FR-S and BRZ has been a resounding success. The Toyobaru has been a hot commodity in the tuning scene since it dropped in 2013. The car is a marvel of balanced agility. Critics raved at its handling, enthusiasts decried its lack of power, turbo kit makers mashed their hands in anticipation.
The owner of this gem, John Sanderson, says he was in the market for a used STi or Evo back in 2012, before the BRZ/FR-S was released. “I was pretty hesitant on buying anything used that could have been abused,” says Sanderson, “since this car would be my daily, so I was keeping my options open. My friend told me about the BRZ/FR-S, so I looked them up. Honestly, I thought they were pretty ugly in stock form. I really didn’t care for the wheels or the front/rear end, but I knew it could be changed. After taking a BRZ for a test drive, I knew I had to have one. I felt like I was in a jet cockpit. The car just felt so balanced, and everything is right where you’d want it to be. I ended up buying the BRZ the same day I test drove it since it was pretty hard to a find a World Rally Blue BRZ at the time. I’m a pretty big Subaru fanboy, so I had to have World Rally Blue.”
When it came to modding the beast there was no hesitation. “I’ve always been into really making things ‘mine.’ I’m an engineer so I’m always wanting to tear things apart and learn how they work, and how I can improve them. I knew the day I bought this car that it would turn into a project. The first mod I did was bolt on a Perrin three-inch cat-back exhaust. After that, I was hooked on modding the car. Now it’s a game of balance, understanding how the next mod will complement the others.”
Tuning savvy can’t just absorbed via a Vulcan mind meld, it has to be earned. Sometimes it’s earned in the wake of broken parts, other times meeting the right people at the right time can mean learning the lessons without the catastrophic price tag. “I hadn’t really worked on cars before owning this. It’s been a challenge, but I’m pretty good at wielding a wrench now thanks to a friend who has helped me build the car. The lack of experience kind of ties in with the other hurdles that I’ve had to overcome, such as installing my turbo. The install itself really wasn’t that bad; however, I’ve since had to remove the kit once to address some hardware issues.”
“Unfortunately, during this removal process my jack slipped at the front end and smashed my radiator and AC condenser. Luckily I wasn’t under the car, so I wasn’t hurt. I took this as an opportunity to upgrade to a Mishimoto radiator. As fate would have it, during that weekend there was also a windstorm. I wasn’t able to finish all of the work in one day, so I left the car outside overnight. Unfortunately I didn’t have my hood strapped down, and the locking lever was removed. When I came back the next day, I found my hood was all dinged up from the wind smacking it around on the windshield. I took this also as the perfect opportunity to get a VIS Racing AMS carbon fiber hood. I was planning on getting one anyway to help with engine bay temps since it’s vented, but really not in this chain of events.”
My favorite mod is definitely the turbo which has really transformed the BRZ into the car it should have been, at least in my opinion. It still has a factory feel. It’s a pretty small turbo, so there isn’t much lag, and the power delivery is very smooth and linear. Not to mention turbo noises. Who doesn’t love turbo noises? Big thanks to my tuner Bob W. at Drift-Office for nailing the tune.”
The FA20 is pressurized by a Speed By Design (SBD) turbo kit that features a Mitsubishi TD05-20G turbo, turbo header, piping, FMIC, blow-off valve, and all necessary supporting hardware. Bob W. says he has found many of the SBD and other similar kits experience boost creep where pressure slowly builds to 10 psi in the upper rev range instead of reaching 10 psi and stabilizing throughout acceleration.
Boost creep is a byproduct of the smaller ports on internally gated turbos that tend to not hold boost accurately because exhaust gases are not properly diverted and hence boost pressure creeps at higher RPM. Bob W. says opening them up via porting can help, but the best solution to overcome the issue is adding a larger, external wastegate such as the TiAL found on the Hexon RR350 turbo kit. “That unfortunately adds cost to the overall product,” says Bob W., “and most profit conscious companies don’t really care to do this. Their job is to put as many of these kits out to people as possible, and not to really worry about whether these kits work for a larger market. After all, if they don’t sell consumers one, their competition will.”
“The other issue is octane. Again, being a high compression 12.5:1 motor, we’re often subjected to use ACN 91 Octane (sometimes less!) and with that fuel, we’re limited to about 7 psi of boost out of a turbo before we see knock. You could in theory, dial back the ignition timing tables until it doesn’t knock, and that’s what a majority of E-tuners do, but the flip-side of that equation is that with lower grade octane and less ignition timing, comes higher EGT temperatures, thereby producing more heat. Now couple that with an “8 PSI Actuator” on these SBD, GReddy, and Zage kits that creep to about 10 -11 psi at redline and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.”
“Now, if you’re running 92 Octane, say like here in Washington, factor in our generally cooler ambient, and therefore intake temperatures during most of the year and you have options. The cool climate and bump in octane mean the boost creep can be taken into account in the calibration since the fuel can now handle 10 to 11 psi without knock and/or too much timing retard. Come summer, that 11 psi at redline will probably hurt the motor in the long run that’s how fine the edge is.”
“That brings us to the next issue with this style of turbo kit, they all have a metal shield over the turbo to mitigate heat. Key word being ‘mitigate’ since it doesn’t reduce heat, just delays the inevitable. When that eventuality comes, that heat shield itself will radiate heat, as with the rest of the motor, radiator, cooling fans, and even plain heat soak from sitting in grid-lock traffic. The charge air pipe is routed directly on top of the turbine housing, you couldn’t find a hotter place to put it. And since none of the components are insulated from the manufacturer (being built with profits in mind) the Intake Air Temps (IATs) then start going up and now you have the IATs compounding the aforementioned issues of boost creep and low octane and knock.”
“Add all three of them up, and you’ll basically have to ‘shield’ yourself from heat by insulating all the components as best as you can with turbo heat blankets, charge pipe insulation, FMIC insulation, and/or header wrap. While you can keep the multitudes of problems at bay, by this point you’re probably into your wallet more than other, better kits on the market.”
This dyno chart illustrates the substantial amount of power that is left on the table with an uninsulated setup. The blue line, uninsulated plot gives up 21.69 horsepower to the plot from Sanderson’s turbo-insulated tune. Further, look at the choppy curve of the blue graph compared to the smooth arc of Sanderson’s tune.
Sanderson’s BRZ arrived at Drift-Office with the base SBD tablet tune in place and he had added the turbine housing blanket and wrapped the pipes in gold, heat-reflective foil. The reduction of heat and above-mentioned Washington benefits allowed Bob to tune the curves on an EcuTek ECU and extract more power from the FA20. In a short time the BRZ’s max output increased from 249.29 horsepower to 265.88 horsepower, an impressive 16.59-horse improvement to the wheels. Note the boost output readings in the lower box and, as you can see, the boost does indeed creep to a max of more than 10 psi.
While boost is bliss, Sanderson is quick to point to his VIS carbon fiber hood as another game changer. “It has really transformed the look of the car, making it look way more aggressive,” says a prideful Sanderson. “It’s also really helped engine bay temps. It gets pretty hot under there with the top-mounted turbo. One of the major challenges with these cars seems to be temperatures, so I’ve been slowly working my way with cooling mods. I also have to give a shout-out to my Tom’s taillights. I fell in love with them the first time I saw them. They’ve really changed the look of the car. The candy red contrast looks so good with the car.”
Sanderson has learned a lot on his road to glory and is more than willing to pass along tidbits of advice to fellow first-timers. “Don’t cut corners. Trust me, I’ve tried, it’s not worth it. Do your research and plan your build out first. If you plan to go forced induction, don’t run base maps, get a proper tune and don’t look back. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Also, don’t under estimate the cost. It’s expensive, but if you love these cars, forced induction really gives them the boost (literally) that they need.”
“The experience is everything that I could’ve imagined. I’ve always wanted a tuner car, you know, blow-off noises, turbo spool noises, good handling and power, but also daily drivable, and solid.” Sanderson is happy but not content and when we asked him about the BRZ’s future there was a pause, contemplation, and a deep breath. “Oh man, there are a lot of plans. Short-term, I plan on getting a flex-fuel kit, bigger injectors, E85 tune, full 3” exhaust, clutch, coilovers, LCAs, strut tower bar, race brake pads, wider/better compound tires, and an oil cooler. Next summer I plan to start tracking the car, so I want to have all of this done by then. My one guilty pleasure is getting the Big County Labs “Atmosphere Demolisher” wing. It’s absolutely insane. It will happen in due time.” We tried to talk Sanderson off the rev-limiter but he was at peak efficiency … “Other aero enhancements as well, such as a functional front splitter and rear diffuser setup. I have thoughts on going wide-body, but that would be in the distant future. This car really means a lot to me though, it’s been my learning platform, and it really hasn’t given me that many issues. I plan on keeping it for a long time, eventually built engine, bigger turbo, etc. My goal is really to maintain a healthy balance between aesthetics and function. I want it to be a trackable street car, and part-time show car. It’s a hard balance to achieve, but that’s why I enjoy it, it’s challenging.”
After such a Tasmanian Devil rant we are sure the Northwest has not seen the last of John Sanderson.