My year

Posted on December 7th, 2014 in Aerodynamics,AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion,Economy,electric,Honda,Hybrid Power,Intercooling,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Well, it’s nearly the end of the year, and I have been reflecting on my busy car modification 12 months.

All the modifications I have done have been to my little Honda Insight.

Fitting a turbo, water/air intercooler and making and fitting a new airbox. Installing a MoTeC M400 ECU, and then doing all the engine mapping on the road. Fitting a MoTeC CDL3 dash, and then upgrading to an ADL3 dash.

It’s been a huge amount of fun turning the all-alloy, two-seater Honda hybrid into a fuel-efficient turbo with about 70 per cent more power than standard from its 1 litre, 3-cylinder engine.

None of these mods was cheap, but all gave the results I’d been hoping for.

And in the last few weeks I have been playing with the suspension. And, so far, this has been cheap! I calculated the required specs for new springs front and back, sourced them at near zero cost, then installed them. That step was very successful, so then I fitted a new rear antiroll bar – this time, for a cost of less than fifty bucks.

The car is absolutely transformed in both ride and handling – and I am yet to fit the new dampers, which at the time of writing, are on their way from the US.

Sitting in the corner is the next Insight modification – a Tritium Wavesculptor200 high voltage electric motor controller. It will be used to run the Honda’s standard 10kW electric motor, although not always at only 10kW. Given the nature of electric motors, I should be able to over-rate it for short periods, gaining perhaps 20kW for huge short-term torque.

I plan on controlling the Wavescluptor200 using outputs from the MoTeC ADL3 dash. The dash – really, a digital control system that happens to have a display – has a full range of programmable maths functions and can use 3D look-up tables.

The new high voltage battery pack and battery monitoring system? I am yet to decide on these things.

I don’t know if I will achieve my final aim of 0-100 km/h in the Sixes and fuel economy in the high Twos (litres/100km), but the challenge is enormously exciting and rewarding.

In the meantime, we’re off to the United States for five weeks. We’ll be concentrating on the eastern side of the country, and have on our itinerary a long list of technical and automotive sights – and sites. We hope to next year bring you a series in AutoSpeed that describes some of what we see.

Finally, I also published another three books this year – if you are interested, search on Amazon under my name.

Have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year, and remember: for fun and challenge, nothing beats modifying your car!

A new dash

Posted on October 14th, 2014 in Economy,testing,tools by Julian Edgar

I’ve always enjoyed having lots of gauges in a modified car. Even in my first car – an air-cooled, 2 cylinder Honda Z – I fitted an oil temperature gauge. Subsequent cars have had gauges that show everything from exhaust gas temperature through to air filter restriction.

So it’s not surprising that I have been enjoying the MoTeC CDL3 digital dash that I have fitted to my Honda Insight.

What has surprised me, though, is how much my enjoyment of the car revolves around the dash. These days, where driving fast means that you get locked up, having the ability to be entertained by the dash rather than by just the driving is a major advantage. And being able to program the dash to show the parameters you want adds another layer of enjoyment.

So I have the dash displaying on the main screen:

– Engine rpm (bar graph)
– Speed (derived from the dash’s GPS input)
– Gear (worked out by the dash based on road speed and revs)
– Fuel level (using the standard Honda fuel tank sensor, with the result calibrated in per cent)
– Engine temp
– Lambda number (showing mixture strength, where Lambda 1 = 14.7:1 AFR)

Then, on the bottom line of the screen and able to be scrolled through by pressing the standard Honda FCD button on the dash, I can further bring up:

– Manifold pressure
– Inlet air temp
– Fuel injector duty cycle
– Engine oil pressure
– Engine oil temperature
– Ignition advance
– EGR valve duty cycle
– Water/air intercooler pump duty cycle
– VTEC on/off
– Lambda short term trim
– Lambda long term trim

The dash is also able to be configured to display different text-based warnings. I currently have warnings displayed for:

– Seatbelt
– Door open
– Engine hot
– Engine cold
– Oil pressure
– Lean
– Battery level
– Inlet air temp
– Fuel level
– Change up
– Change down
– ECU hot
– Dash hot

These warnings are all ‘smart’ – eg the seatbelt warning shows only when the car exceeds 5 km/h with the seatbelt off, and the ‘change up’ warning shows only when a certain combination of throttle position, gear, manifold pressure and road speed occurs.

The CDL3 dash is now part of the old range of MoTeC dashes that use a B&W LCD (rather than the newer models’ colour displays) and cannot be configured with anywhere near the versatility of the current stuff. However, the major advantage from my perspective is that the old dash shape fits perfectly into the Honda’s instrument binnacle.

So what can’t the CDL3 do, things that I’d really like? The answer is not what I would have thought before buying it: more than anything else, I’d like the dash to be able to perform maths functions. For example, to be able to show trip fuel economy, where fuel used is divided by distance travelled. And I’d also like it to be able to show maxima and minima of all readings, and….

In fact, the CDL3 has been such a success that I am upgrading to the ADL3 dash – same footprint and display, but the ability to do maths functions… and a whole lot else. Luckily, like the original CDL3 dash, I have found one second-hand – as I write, it’s on its way.

Tuning programmable management on the road

Posted on September 23rd, 2014 in Driving Emotion,Electric vehicles,Engine Management,Hybrid Power,testing,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Never have I had such fun when playing with a car! So what am I excited about?

Tuning programmable management on the road.

Regular readers will be aware of our Honda Insight series. As you’d expect, the publication of the articles in that series lags well behind where I am actually up to with the car. (I don’t want to run into a problem and have a big gap in the middle of the series, so it’s best from a publishing perspective that I take this approach.)

So I am around three months ahead of the series in what I am actually doing – so explaining my recent tuning of the MoTeC M400.

In the last month I’ve been tuning crank and start, fuel, ignition, idle speed control, turbo boost, exhaust gas recirculation, acceleration enrichment, wide-band closed loop feedback and lots of others.

All has been done in my shed, driveway or on the road.

It has been an immense learning curve – I’ve never before tuned a programmable management system – with some problems to overcome along the way.

But what I have found so rewarding is the degree of control that you can have over how the car drives. Tuning an interceptor (that I have previously done) or making minor tweaks to factory ECU inputs and outputs allows you to do lots of things, but tuning programmable management allows you to do so much more. (The same would also apply to factory ECUs where the software has been cracked – not the case with the Insight.)

Having so much control means that you can stuff things up absolutely mightily. I am not talking about blowing the engine (though that of course isn’t difficult with wrong timing or fuel figures) but how the car can be made to drive so badly, so easily.

Or, more positively, you can tweak and tweak and tweak until you achieve things that appear initially impossible.

The Insight is running without its hybrid electric assist at this stage, so the bottom-end torque normally provided by the electric motor is missing. With just a 1 litre engine, very high gearing (especially in first and second) and 4800 rpm peak torque, getting the car tractable around town has been no mean feat.

That’s especially the case when no ‘start-up’ map exists for this car – the MoTeC has had to be programmed literally from scratch.

The excitement of activating and then mapping exhaust gas recirc that boosted part-throttle low-rpm torque to a major degree was sensational; getting acceleration fuel enrichment sorted so the turbo boosts much more quickly after a throttle movement was fun; mapping the control of the water/air intercooler pump so that the pump works only when needed was intriguing; and designing the boost table in three dimensions to give exactly the boost behaviour I want was exciting.

I can now see better why a friend of mine years ago talked about driving to work each day, laptop on the passenger seat and making tuning tweaks at every set of traffic lights! With literally thousands of data points able to changed, and often interacting with each other in the driving, getting the perfect tune could be a lifetime pursuit.

But in the mean time, it’s a helluva lot of fun.

Bits from all around the world

Posted on August 16th, 2014 in Materials,Opinion,Suspension,Technologies,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

I’ve written before about the enormous range of automotive parts now available through eBay, but until I have been working on my little Honda, I’d never realised how well developed such a part-sourcing network it now is.

As I write this morning, I am watching the tracking on my DHL express package that contains the stainless steel gasket set for my turbo. The package, in the last three days, has been through five countries. It started off in Latvia, went then to Lithuania before reaching Germany. Then it travelled to Heathrow airport in London, before arriving (this morning at 2.20 am) in Sydney. Out in country New South Wales, I reckon I’ll get it in the next few days.

And the exhaust gaskets are not alone in having travelled far.

My Bosch fuel pressure regulator came from the US, the fuel rail adaptor from the UK. Also from the UK came carbon fibre sheet for making a new dash panel, and replacement ignition coils. Other stuff direct from the US has included oil temperature and pressure sensors, the boost control solenoid and a water/air intercooler pump.

From China there has been a host of parts – the front-mount radiator for the water/air intercooling system, fittings, hose clamps, hose joiners and rubber grommets. On its way now from China are a thermocouple adaptor board, a weld-on bung for the thermocouple, and the thermocouple itself.

And of course I have bought plenty of parts locally.

With the fast availability of parts, cheaper than ever before, from all around the world, there’s never been a better time to be modifying cars…

Wrecking yards are better than ever!

Posted on August 8th, 2014 in Engine Management,Materials,Opinion,Suspension,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

I’ve always loved going to car wreckers, looking at the bits and pieces available so cheaply and wondering how I can integrate them into my car.

I started visiting wreckers when I had my first car – a 1973 Honda Z. That was way back in the early Eighties. I remember looking through the field of dismembered wrecks, finding dash parts from Honda Civics that I could shoehorn into the Z. I even integrated the high beam flash stalk from a Datsun 260Z into the little Honda.

Time passed, and I was then looking at wreckers importing Japanese engines and transmissions…. That led to a turbo 660cc 3-cylinder engine going into my Daihatsu Handi, and later an RB20DET turbo six going into a C210 Skyline.

I have been musing over this because in the last month I’ve been spending a lot of time back in wrecking yards.

I’m lucky enough to have discovered a wrecker of the old school, one that lets you wander around the yard of cars, spanner and pliers in hand, able to take off whatever parts you want and then take them to the front counter to have them priced.

But the big difference now is this: with modern hi-tech cars having been around for literally decades, the sheer variety of the parts that you can buy is amazing.

Need an idle speed control valve (as I did the other day)? Well, at this yard you can chose between Bosch (three types), Nissan, Toyota, Holden, Ford, Mazda – basically, every car in the yard has an idle speed control valve!

After half an hour of browsing, I walked out with a Bosch idle speed control valve from a BMW, complete with plug and a short section of loom. Cost? AUD$33.

Need a factory bracket on which to mount a GM MAP sensor? Sure – look under the bonnets of not only GM cars but also Daewoos. Cost? In this case, I was charged nothing!

Want some direct fire ignition coils? Would you like those coil-on-plug or remote-mounted? After a long look, I decided instead to go brand new with some Bosch coils – but the browse through the yard showed some very interesting approaches.

Need some 19mm hoses, preformed with bends to plumb a turbo blow-off valve? An hour later I walked out with no less than nine of them – all different lengths and bend radii. Cost? AUD$11. Oh yes, and that also included a rubber mount for the idle speed control valve that I’d forgotten to get earlier!

If you’ve not been to a wrecking yard for a long time, find a good one and have a long look around. You might be as surprised as I was.


Water/air intercooling

Posted on July 1st, 2014 in Intercooling,testing,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

We will be covering in a later issue of AutoSpeed what I am about to write about – so this is just a quick heads-up.

If you are developing a custom water/air intercooling system, here are some critical questions for you.

1. How can you bleed all air out of the system? Nearly all commercially available aftermarket water/air heat exchangers don’t have bleed fittings. If you are mounting these heat exchangers conventionally, eg horizontally, about one-third of the internal volume will stay full of air – not water!

2. How are you measuring pump flow? If your answer is to pull off a hose and direct it into a bucket, then almost certainly the amount you measure will not be correct. Why? Because pumps will often work differently when they are part of a closed system versus an open system.

3. Finally, is the pump flowing effectively – or is it cavitating? Of the three pumps I tried in my system, only one was effective in circulating water without any apparent cavitation.

Looking around the web at pics of custom water/air intercooling systems, I’d guess that many (most?) of these systems are operating below par because of these issues.


Getting enough clearance

Posted on May 30th, 2014 in Driving Emotion,Safety,Suspension,testing by Julian Edgar

When is enough clearance sufficient?

If you’ve modified a lot on cars, you’ll have come across this question. It might be the clearance between the exhaust the bodywork, clearance of a driveshaft at full suspension bump with a chassis member or subframe, or even clearance between a large turbo and bodywork.

Years ago I read an excellent book written by an automotive suspension engineer working in the 1950s. In it he made the (almost throwaway) line that there’s no need to provide tyre clearance at full suspension bump AND full steering lock – the idea being that this situation almost never occurs, and if contact did in fact occur in that situation, the car would be moving so slowly that it wouldn’t matter much anyway.

These thoughts are intruding because at the moment I am massaging a turbo dump pipe so that it clears a steering tie-rod, with the greatest potential conflict occurring at full suspension droop and with full right-hand steering lock.

At full droop but with the wheels pointing straightahead – no problem. And at full steering lock and with the wheels at normal ride height – again no problem.

It’s just at that particular combination – one that again is very unlikely to ever occur – that I have the issue.

I am concerned because if the car has to undergo full engineering approval, I can just imagine an engineer saying something along the lines that conflict should not be able to occur at ANY combination of lock and suspension movement….

And even if clearance is achieved, how much clearance is enough? If I were ornery enough to throw in maximum engine torque reaction movement at just that moment, perhaps another 10mm of clearance would be needed.

But hold on! How could the engine be developing maximum torque if the suspension is at full droop? After all, in that situation there’s very little – next to none in fact – of the car’s weight on the tyre… so how could it transmit the torque anyway? No torque transmission means no transverse engine rocking!

Hmm, what about if the car has an LSD, and a very stiff front anti-roll bar, and is cornering hard enough (at full lock!) to lift a wheel? Then I suppose one could imagine a situation where something like contact could occur.


Picking gauges

Posted on April 2nd, 2014 in Economy,Honda,Hybrid Power,testing by Julian Edgar

It’s not often that you get a clean slate in terms of designing an instrument panel.

With my Honda Insight project, where the standard instrument panel is being ditched and replaced with (primarily) a MoTeC CDL3 digital dash, to some extent the type of display becomes obvious – it’ll be dominated by the MoTeC unit.

But what about the factory-fitted warning lights – things like ABS, EPS (electric power steering) and airbag malfunction indicators? And how will high beam, low beam and the action of the indicators be shown? And will there be data that I will want to be able to see but the MoTeC dash won’t easily show?

Despite the dash not likely to be installed for many months, I’ve been mulling over these ideas.

At this stage – and things may well change – this is what I am thinking I’ll need:

Warning lights for:

 – high beam

 – low beam

 – left indicator

 – right indicator

 – EPS

 – ABS

 – airbag

 – handbrake / braking system fail


Small backlit numerical LCDs for:

 – high voltage battery voltage

 – electric motor current flow


MoTeC dash display of:

 – engine rpm

 – coolant temp

 – fuel level

 – road speed

 – manifold pressure

 – intake air temp

 – gear

 – oil pressure

 – oil temperature

 – turbo exhaust back-pressure

 – water/air intercooler pump drive voltage

 – 12V battery voltage

Some of these MoTeC-displayed parameters (eg intake air temp and rpm) will be communicated via the CAN bus from the M400 ECU.

One parameter (selected gear) will be internally calculated in the dash, while other parameters (like oil temp and pressure) will require dedicated sensors.

Note that the MoTec dash allows different data to be displayed depending on the mode selected – so not all of these things will be available all at once!

On the list above there are a couple of unusual ones.

I want to be able to see turbo exhaust back-pressure because, in order to provide low rpm torque, the turbo that is being used is small. However, if as a result of its small size, the exhaust back-pressure is overly high, then fuel economy will suffer. It’ll be good to be able to see this figure.

So why show the water/air intercooler pump drive voltage? The pump will be varied in speed by the ECU. This is needed because I want to control the intake air temp, rather than just keep it as low as possible. For much of the time, I would expect that the pump will be operating at less than full speed. Displaying pump drive voltage will allow me to see at what speed the pump is being driven. Not only will this be interesting in itself, it will also allow me to assess how effective the control strategies are that are being used to operate the pump.

As I said, all still a long way off, but I need to start sourcing bits and installing sensors right now.

Hybrid taxis

Posted on March 30th, 2014 in Hybrid Power,testing,Toyota by Julian Edgar

I recently spent some days in Darwin teaching people in government how to write clearly. It’s a long time since I’ve been in Darwin, and the growth and increasing affluence of the city was plain to see.

But the thing that fascinated me more than anything else in Darwin was the proliferation of Toyota hybrid taxis. The Prius, Prius V and Camry hybrid just dominate the taxi fleet.

Watching the few non-hybrid taxis sit there in ranks, waiting for customers with the car engines running to keep the air-conditioned cabins cool, it struck me how Toyota hybrids have a clear fuel economy advantage in these conditions.

And what’s that? Well, they can have the air con compressors and cabin fans operating with the engine switched off – until the HV battery gets low in charge, anyway.

One Prius taxi I went in had a dash displayed fuel economy of 7.5 litres/100km (horrendous for a Prius) but with the car being driven abysmally, and with all that time stopped with the air on, that was probably a pretty good figure compared with a conventional drivetrain.

(Yes the HV juice that runs the air con still needs to come from the petrol, but an engine is less efficient at idle than when driving the car, so overall, the fuel economy would benefit with the hybrid approach. Not to mention the battery juice achieved through braking regen.)

When I was in Germany a few months ago, there were many Prius taxis in the ranks – oftentimes, as many of the hybrid Toyotas as there were Mercedes and Volkswagens. I don’t think that fuel economy in those cool German cities would be a stellar advantage to the hybrids over diesels, so that brings up another taxi advantage. The Prius driveline is basically bulletproof – the engine, power split converter and electronics give extraordinarily little trouble. (That’s not just lucky – Toyota went to enormous pains to ensure that hybrids wouldn’t get a bad reputation through poor reliability.)

Taxi operators are among the hardest economic heads operating vehicles – they will use a car only if there is an overall economic benefit. So compared with other manufacturers, the taxi purchase / maintenance cost equation must be highly competitive for the Prius.

Wouldn’t it be funny if one of the greatest advances in car technology in the last 80 years – hybrids – ended up entering the mainstream through the back door of taxi use?

Bloody brackets….

Posted on March 18th, 2014 in Hybrid Power,Materials,tools by Julian Edgar

I hate making brackets that hold things driven by belts.

The last, most horrible job that I performed in this area was installing a supercharger on a Toyota Prius. I wanted to get the little blower mounted in a position where it could be driven by a longer version of the standard serpentine belt. This required painstakingly accurate building of a heavy duty and rigid bracket. The only place to put the bracket was where the engine mount sat – so the new bracket also became a new engine mount.

In itself that wasn’t so difficult, but getting the pulley mounted in exactly the right plane was just so time consuming.

However, in the end, the belt drive system (including a new idler pulley) worked perfectly – pity the supercharger was so noisy that it all had to come off again.

Right now I am building the bracket to place an alternator on a 2001 Honda Insight. (The Insight doesn’t normally use an alternator.) I don’t know if it’s just me, but this darn bracket is taking me forever.

The alternator is being located between the engine and the firewall, with access possible from both top and bottom. But the bolts on which the mount can ‘pick up’ are few and far between, meaning the bracket has to be a complex, odd shape.

Furthermore, it needs to provide the mounts for two idler pulleys. Why two? Well, they are needed so that firstly, there’s enough belt wrap around the crank pulley; and secondly, so that the belt misses the engine mount.

The resulting alternator bracket needs to be stiff, able to be installed (more difficult than it sounds when the fastening bolts for the bracket are on the side of the block, the end of the block, and under the block), and of course needs to be able to be built.

So how long is this taking me?

Including making a mount on which the alternator can sit temporarily as it’s juggled into the correct position, positioning the two idlers, clearing the torsional vibration damper on the driveshaft at full suspension bump, nestling the alternator as close as possible to the engine block, moving things around so an off-the-shelf belt will fit – and then cutting and welding 8mm plate, positioning the alternator drive pulley and the two idler pulleys in exactly the right plane, straightening bracket distortion after welding… well I’m still going on the bracket, and I reckon so far it’s taken me three full days.

I know I am a pretty slow worker, but three bloody days!

Anyway, the good news is that the top part of the bracket is now in position, the alloy engine mount has been milled to allow the plate to be sandwiched between the engine mount and the block without then causing a host of clearance problems, and as I write this, I am waiting for a belt that I think is the right size – better to have a belt on hand before I drill the hole for the second idler pulley….