The following post is something I wrote for another site, that site has become defunked and I want to make sure I save it so here it is:
Modifying your car has long been a mainstay of Americans. From Model Ts to the muscle car revolution to the import craze of the late nineties, many Americans have never been satisfied with their automobiles straight from the dealership. Styling, performance, a desire to be unique, all are reasons why people decided to invest large amounts of money into already expensive investments.
Though many people are engaged in the practice, few are doing it well. Our goal today is to learn how to do it from scratch, starting with how to pick the car to what to do once the car is home. Most of us do not have unlimited funds so the first thing to do is set a budget. For purposes of this project we will set a 15,000 dollar budget for the car and the parts. This does not include labor, which varies widely. Since most people make the mistake initially by buying the wrong car, we will give two comparisons so that you can see where this mistake is made.
A few terms will be used in this article that you may be unfamiliar with. The two most important are horsepower and torque. Horsepower is the amount of power than an engine produces, torque is the amount of force that is produced. The amount of horsepower a car produces is largely meaningless without a high amount of torque to get that power to the wheels and the car moving. Remember horsepower is for show and torque is for go. Torque wins races.
One final note before we start: There are certain things that should NEVER be done to a car. The biggest one that will hurt performance and your wallet is called the "Turbonator" (also goes by names such as Tornado or Spiralmax). They claim to increase horsepower and gas mileage, it has been proven however that THEY DO NOT WORK. Anyone with basic automotive knowledge will tell you this. Please, please, do not go down this road.
Step one: The car
This is the most important part. Certain cars will never be as fast as others. Unfortunately, many make this mistake right off the bat. The cars that I have picked for my example are both from the year 2000, were both priced as having 70,000 miles and the same options, and both are modification friendly, in that that both have many products for them.
The first car that we will use is one of the most popular to young car modifiers. It is popular due to its perceived affordability and reliability. This car is a Honda Civic Si. The Civic is a popular vehicle for many reasons, reliability, initial affordability, ability to hold value (which is a negative when buying used), and gas mileage. Unfortunately many people believe that this is a performance car, pre-2006, it is not. Beginning with 169 horsepower and a measly 111 foot pounds of torque it takes the Civic 7.2 seconds to reach 60 mph (and remember this is the performance Civic). Additionally the Civic is pricey weighing in at a hefty $12,495 according to Kelly Blue Book. This only leaves us 2505 dollars for modifications, a paltry amount from where we are starting power wise.
Our second car is less popular, but mainly because it is largely overlooked. Slightly harder on gas but it makes up for in price and power. The car is a Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. I can hear what you are saying right now, "my mom drives a Grand Prix," maybe so, but she sure as hell does not drive this Grand Prix. The GTP is a wolf in sheep's clothing. With 240 horsepower and 280 foot pounds of torque the GTP is a full half second quicker 0-60 at 6.7 seconds and three quarters of a second faster in the quarter mile. This performance would make one think that the GTP should carry a heftier price. In reality the GTP is much more affordable at $9,625 dollars. This leaves us with $5375 for our mods; over twice the amount available for the Civic.
Some will make the argument that the Civic is a more reliable car and therefore is cheaper than the GTP over the long haul. The Civic's better reliability is most likely a myth, any car that is properly maintained will be just as reliable, additionally the GM Series II 3800 engine, the base of the GTP is arguably one of the most reliable engines ever produced. One more thing to consider is that the GTP is built to be a performance car, it will be able to take the abuse that as a racer you will throw at it, the Civic, though fortified in the Si does not come from this performance car heritage.. The Perceptions of reliability are frequently just that, perceptions.
Remaining money: $2505 for the Civic and $5375 for the GTP.
Step two: Basic Modifications
There are a few things that should be done immediately for any car the first thing is to replace the stock paper air filter, which is highly constricting, with a high flow filter such as a K & N. The filters run about 50 dollars, have little impact on performance, but better quality parts are essential. Next, make sure that oil changes are up to date and you have adequate tires. If you are attempting to put a large amount of horsepower to the road, tires are essential to getting it there.
For good tires, a K & N filter, and an oil change you will probably spend about $450 for the GTP and $400 for the Civic.
Remaining money: $2105 for the Civic and $4925 for the GTP.
Step three: Air, the essence of life
To perform to its fullest a performance car must breathe and the best way to achieve this is through an cold air intake system and a full exhaust system from downpipe to catalytic converter to muffler to tip. It has recently become popular to simply replace the muffler and tip resulting in a loud (obnoxiously in most cases) sound but little performance gain.
Some of the most popular and best designed cold air intakes for the Civic are made by AEM. Prices range from 206 dollars and up. The gains for this are minimal giving only 2.8 horsepower and 1.4 ft-lbs torque.
Additionally AEM also offers a full stainless steel exhaust that has demonstrated horsepower gains of two horsepower and between 4 and 6 ft-lbs of torque. This slight gain will cost $699 but because of the stainless steel, you will never need another exhaust again.
The last, and most important part, of your exhaust system that needs to be taken care of is your downpipe. With a DC Sports four into one Header you will see gains of up to 6 horsepower and 3 ft-lbs of torque for $360.
So for $1265 you will experience a gain of up to 10.8 horsepower and 10.4 ft-lbs torque.
The cold air intake possibilities for the GTP are extensive. A popular option is the SLP Cold-Air Induction package. This package will gain you up to 10 horsepower for $199. Though there would be a torque increase, because it is not documented it will not be included.
SLP also offers a full stainless steel catback exhaust. You can count on this exhaust gaining you ten horsepower for $549, there will also be a significant torque gain, however, because it is not documented it will not be included.
As for headers, on a otherwise completely stock GTP you can expect to add 18 horsepower and 16 ft-lbs of torque via "The Other Guys" Exhaust Headers for $750. On a car with other performance increases this will be amplified even more.
The total for the GTP in this area is slightly higher than Civic (though you can out do the 10 horsepower and torque that you get for $1265 for $750), the performance gains for the GTP are huge. The total cost of $1498 you will gain a total of 38 horsepower and at minimum (and most likely significantly more, due to the lack of SLP claims) of 16 ft-lbs of torque.
Power: Civic 179.8 horsepower and 121.4 ft-lbs torque
GTP: 278 horsepower and 296 ft-lbs torque
Remaining money: Civic- $840 GTP- $3427
Step four: Turbo or Supercharging
The Civic is a normally aspirated engine, which means that it is not turbo or supercharged. These modifications create huge gains in horsepower. However, the price for this modification is generally in the range of $2,500, so you cannot afford it. In any case the horsepower gains would not get you to equal a GTP.
The GTP comes supercharged from the factory, part of which gives the huge advantages here. Additionally for $65 you can purchase a Pulley Boys supercharger pulley and up your horsepower an additional 25-30. At this point this also dose not matter. Your opposition is bankrupt and you can go forever. It appears, that this race may be over.
There will be excuses thrown by many in the "import" community. These claims will state that their cars are better in terms of gas mileage perhaps stock, but as soon as you start to modify your car, OR DRIVE IT IN RACES, this gain is eliminated. The claim will be made that they are more reliable as said before this is false due to the fact that reliability is determined by maintenance, additionally performance GTP parts are frequently cheaper than original Honda parts. The claim will be made that insurance is cheaper, but in the four door model this will probably not be much different, and if it is, I am sure that $3427 dollars in savings will make up for it. The claim will be made that the Civic weighs less and therefore will be faster if you have been reading this article you know that the GTP starts off faster and makes more gains in upgrades, weight isn't an issue.
In closing, you can make your Civic fast, in comparison to other Civics or other imports, in comparison to muscle cars, or cars breed in the muscle car spirit, you will never have a car as fast as they are or as can be. Fast and Furious is a movie, ten second cars are few and far between, and unless you plan on replacing the engine your Civic will never be one. The GTP, on the other hand, has true potential to make that journey into the mythical ten second quater mile.