My new car – factory supercharged and DOHC!

Posted on July 18th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Australiais becoming bizarre. Yep, ‘bizarre’. The other day I bought a car – it’s a good condition 1988 model, with an immaculate interior and a very good body. It’s six-cylinder, rear-wheel drive, DOHC and supercharged.

Yes, factory supercharged.

Oh, and it’s also got climate control, electric everything and brilliant NVH suppression.

OK, currently it isn’t perfect. One of the internal climate control actuators makes a ‘click, click’ noise when that function is selected, all the hubcaps are missing, and also not present are two external trims – one on the top of the door and another on the lower panel of (another) door. But these are minor things, able to either be relatively easily fixed, sourced or ignored.

You want to know the price I paid for the car? Two thousand, two hundred Australian dollars. Yep, AUD$2,200.

Click for larger image

The car’s a grey-market import Toyota Crown, a moderately ugly sedan that has a genetic relationship to the locally-delivered Crowns, although sharing no panels with those cars. It was imported and ADR’d a few years ago and until very recently would have commanded a price of about AUD$6,000. (In fact, as I write, there is a Mitsubishi equivalent – is it a Debonair? – supercharged sedan for sale in a yard near where I live for $6,000.) But with the slow increase in the price of new cars, and with people being (rightly, I think) suspicious of the history and parts costs of grey-market imports, with a bit of digging you can now buy older used imports astonishingly cheaply.

I bought it because (a) I simply love buying and driving different cars, and (b) it will make a good vehicle for developing various modifications that can be covered in AutoSpeed.

Abut 18 months ago I bought another orphan Japanese import – a 1988 Nissan Maxima V6 Turbo. Since then I have written about installing an intercooler, two different intercooler fans, cheaply upgrading the sound system, altering the front aerodynamics to improve heat exchanger (ie radiator and intercooler) airflow, swapping-in a radiator from another car, building an airbox, doing an ultra-cheap cat-back exhaust – and lots of other stories. The fact that the Maxima was used as the guinea pig for these mods is almost incidental to the AutoSpeed stories – the technique and technologies are applicable to a very wide range of cars.

But what I didn’t expect when I bought the Maxima was how much I would enjoy driving it, and how cheap ownership would prove to be. Perhaps I have been lucky (and hell, I hope that the same luck applies to the Crown!) but apart from having the cam-belt replaced as a precaution, and normal oil and filter changes, the only money that I have had to spend is on a new set of plug leads (which, incidentally, were sourced through a normal Nissan dealer). Sure, in my ownership the car hasn’t done a lot of kilometres, but lots of those kilometres have been at full throttle!

I freely admit that both the Maxima and the Crown aren’t svelte, attractive coupes that will make you the envy of your peer group. But they are technologically sophisticated cars that are extraordinarily easy to modify on a budget and also have the potential to actually go pretty hard.

(I was going to insert ‘for their time’ before the line about mechanical sophistication, but even today they are pretty good. The number of factory supercharged cars available in Australia can be counted on the fingers of one hand and there aren’t many turbo cars around.)

And the Maxima? I still have it – in fact right now it is running nearly all of the performance automotive electronics kits that I have developed with Silicon Chip magazine. So it’s got a kit that automatically selects power or economy modes of the auto trans (the selection depends on how hard you’re driving the car), another module operating the intercooler fan, the Digital Fuel Adjuster retrimming mixtures to allow a twin airfilter system (one filter completely bypasses the airflow meter, more than halving intake flow restriction), a unique load-based electronic boost control – and lots of others.

However the Maxima is starting to rust. In the hot, moist climate of South-East Queensland the brown patches are appearing around the rear wheel arches, in addition to the right-hand C-pillar where I think that a bodgy repair probably occurred shortly after it arrived on these shores. It’s still quite repairable – and since that process would make a good DIY series for AutoSpeed, I may do just that.

And the Crown? Well, as I write this I have only taken it for a test drive and paid the deposit – I pick it up tomorrow. (And I’m genuinely excited about that – it will be my first supercharged car and the second cheapest car I have ever bought!) I also think that it will lend itself to lots of interesting, broadly applicable modifications. A good, cost-effective and up-to-date water injection system, for example. Or perhaps the change-of-state intercooler that I have written about in the past as an interesting technical idea. Or maybe even a rolling fuel-cut traction control system. Or perhaps the oxygen injection system that I keep revisiting in idea every couple of years.

After all, I can afford to be relatively daring with the mods. While I want to see the Crown live a long and enjoyable life, the reality is that a car with a purchase price of only $2,200 doesn’t give much to lose if something goes radically wrong…

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