Forget programmable management on the road

Posted on November 5th, 2006 in Engine Management,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Colleague Michael Knowling and I have a standing joke. If we’re photographing a modified car and the car starts with a whir-whir-whir-brmmmm!, we know it’s got programmable management. If it starts with a whir-brmmmm!, we know it’s got factory management. Perhaps it’s modified factory management, but factory management all the same. It may not be impossible to give a car good starting in all conditions with programmable management, but the reality is that this very rarely occurs.

And it’s the same with many other characteristics of factory engine management systems – aftermarket programmable management systems are simply out of their depth in providing stuff fitted to pretty well all current cars, even the cheapies. What stuff, then? Well, things like electronic throttle control, traction control, stability control, auto trans control, variable camshaft timing control, changeover intake manifold control… Sure, there are programmable management systems around that can perform some of these functions (electronic throttle control for example) but the bottom line is that they do so only in a far cruder way than factory systems. Basically, they don’t have the required number of software maps or the development those entail.

I said all of this four years ago – yes, four bloody years ago! – in The Re-Invention of Engine Management Modification and now some of the formerly greatest advocates of programmable engine management systems are starting to see the light. Simon Gischus of Melbourne workshop Nizpro was the most enthusiastic fan of MoTeC engine management systems I have ever seen… bar of course MoTeC itself. Mr Gischus would have nothing to do with factory management tweaking, describing such an approach as being massively inferior to his beloved MoTeC systems. Being geographically located close to MoTeC and having excellent chassis and engine dyno equipment, he was also instrumental in pushing MoTeC forwards in programmable engine management features.

But – and this is just as I said in 2002 – the advent of the turbo BA Falcon changed that. The VL Turbo that Nizpro once specialised in was by then becoming geriatric; the BA Falcon offered a whole new parade of tuning work that would stretch ahead at least ten years. But there was no way Nizpro could compete with other Falcon tuners by putting MoTeC on the cars. Not in cost and, as it turned out, not in results either. (Mr Gischus once took us for a ride in a MoTeC-equipped BA turbo – he wouldn’t let us drive it. The car idled badly and its performance was nothing wonderful.)

Nizpro then tried the ChipTorque-produced Xede interceptor but in the car we drove, achieved dreadful results. (See Cobra Kitted XR6T.) About that three things must be said. Firstly, we’ve driven ChipTorque’s own Xede-equipped BA Turbo and it was fine. Secondly, the APS turbo Falcons we’ve driven drove perfectly, despite using the Unichip interceptor. Finally, Nizpro’s tuning experience had previously all been with programmable management systems: tuning an interceptor (which is basically fooling the ECU into adopting change) can be a very different thing.