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Plan of Attack

This Whiteline Suspension and MRT Performance-fettled Subaru is a rolling catalogue of bolt-on upgrades for the new-shape WRX.

By Glenn Torrens

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At the risk of sounding like a cola commercial, it's the first of a new generation. It's one of AutoSpeed's first fiddled new-shape WRXs and it won't be our last! This MY02 - or Series VII, depending on your accent - Subaru WRX is chock-a-block with aftermarket gear to make it go, stop and handle with far more authority than the factory stocker. Sure, it's not going to win any World Rally Championship rounds, or take home the trophy as the fastest street-registered drag car on the planet but look beyond the sign writing (see sidebar) and this bright yellow zonker is a rolling demonstration vehicle for what an enthusiastic owner can buy and bolt on when the time - and finance - comes to start playing with a S7 WRX.

This car was build co-ordinated by Brett Middleton of MRT Performance. Brett's the talking head of the family-run MRT (Middleton Rally Team), a high-performance specialist based in Sydney. Brett began rallying Datsun 1600s (the '60s 510 series cars) years ago and has tinkered with and successfully rallied several other marques, most notably Daihatsu and Honda, in Australia and overseas. In the past five years, MRT's attention has focussed on the WRX - both in the bush and in the workshop.

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The VII's engine is an evolution of the EJ20 engine that has laid throbbing between the front legs of the WRX ever since its launch in 1994. Thanks to Subaru's flat-four engine architecture, an enduring feature of the WRX has been the top-mount intercooler that sits above and just behind the engine. The original design intercooler was praised for its logical location - its layout leading to shorter intake plumbing for better throttle response - and relatively large size compared to many other turbo cars of the era, however, there's always room for improvement. The MRT Performance unit fitted to this car is definitely an improvement, having a fatter and wider core for greater heat-shedding ability. The intercooler's end tanks are hand built from sheet alloy and with a bar and plate core, according to MRT it's ideal for supporting a modest increase in boost and power on an internally-standard WRX without the compromises of plumbing a full front-mount intercooler into the car. Which, of course, MRT Performance is also happy to do to any WRX that warrants it.

Bolt-On Brawn

So you own a new-ish WRX, but the new car smell has worn off and your car's straight-line squirt doesn't quite get your eyes bulging or your butt clenching as much as it did. Time to inject some excitement! We asked MRT's Brett Middleton what would be his recommendation for a step-by-step, piece-by-piece bolt-on engine upgrade programme for a Subaru WRX such as this one:

"Performance wise and in order of value I would do the air filter, electronic boost control, exhaust system - we can supply a rear muffler initially that bolts-up to the factory system and allows the remainder of the exhaust to be upgraded later - and then after that you'd do the intercooler.

"If you're in the middle of summer, you'd consider doing the intercooler sooner, because you'd get better benefit. But the electronic boost controller has a water spray with it that helps the standard intercooler out - very much so. The standard intercooler needs all the help it can get!

That's about as far as you can go with an internally standard engine. Beyond that, you start getting into the world of big turbos, front-mount intercoolers, stroker cranks and more 'monster' stuff!

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An MRT Performance TMS3 closed-loop boost control kit, as well as doing what you'd expect, sprays water over the bigger intercooler. MRT has a range of boost control boxes that also offer a wide range of additional functions such as turbo timing and controlling water spray onto the intercooler. As anybody who has ever stepped out of a swimming pool on a windy day will vouch, evaporating water sucks the heat out of your skin. In the case of an intercooler, the evaporating water from the spray soaks the heat from the fins of the alloy intercooler and ultimately the turbo-heated intake air within it. The TMS3 is MRT's top-lin boost controller and can be configured to spray water according to a variety of user-chooser conditions with thermo couple /boost and water temp inputs as well as featuring a turbo timer function to prevent cooked bearings, boost readout - including peak boost recall memory - and a rich/lean exhaust mixture indicator.

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The intake system of the car gulps plenty of air through a Unifilter foam pod filter that sits where the original air box used to be. Now, some of us might be cool (!) on the idea of a pod filter breathing hot air from within the engine bay, but MRT doesn't see this as a problem. It's a much better situation than the engine having to draw air through its factory-fitted snail shell of induction resonance-tuned intake plastic pipe tucked into the offside wheelhouse. Besides, it's blown upon by the standard cold-air intake duct that channels cold air from below the bonnet lip and drains it, like a water works fun slide, for the Unifilter to inhale.

Adding to the driving experience is a set of GFB (Go Fast Bits) engine drive pulleys. Larger diameter pulleys slow the speed of engine accessories (such as the alternator) down, reducing parasitic drag on the engine. In the same way a small, fast-spooling turbo gets up to speed quicker, lower pulley speeds leads to snappier throttle response, something you can really feel, according to MRT. Makes sense to us.. A GFB Hybrid blow-off valve is also fitted.

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So, Brett, how much power does all that good gear add up to? "I'd rather not quote power figures, actually," Brett diplomatically replied. "But the comment back from the company that owns this car was that they were amazed at the difference in performance and handling of the car after it was enhanced. And that's the truth. I know what the power is, but I don't quote power figures. Everybody just shops around for a power figure these days. Every car always varies. Let's just say that MRT gives a money-back guarantee on performance and we haven't needed to give too much back over the years!"

Still to come is an engine management system tweak that will enable MRT to further refine the car's tune. Available for all first-generation model WRXs, the tweaker is known as Ecutek and is undergoing final prototype testing for the S7 version. It will be on the streets by late 2002.

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Although the latest WRX is heavier than the first-generation 1-VI model Rexes, there's evidence of keeping costs down in the body shell construction. That's not a criticism of the WRX, per se, just a statement of how things are with car manufacturing these days. A floppy firewall and spirited driving leads to flexing of the brake master cylinder mount, allowing it to move when heavy pedal pressures are applied. Reducing this flex is an MRT brake booster bracket that is a bolt-on fit between the brake master cylinder and the strut tower to prevent it walking around. More push gets through to the brakes, making for a less spongy brake pedal. Looking international, MRT has engineered and made available a bracket for LHD cars, too.

MRT has formed an alliance with Australian aftermarket suspension specialist Whiteline - according to Brett Middleton, MRT is one of Whiteline's largest customers and is the master distributor of its products into the USA - to develop and market suspension packages from mild to monster.

Under the Pro Form MegaRex is a full complement of suspension pieces to get the Rex's new-found get-up-and-go to the ground without compromising, according to Whiteline, its day-to-day usability.

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The Rex's four coils are replaced with Whiteline springs that sit the car a little lower. Sway bars are another expected part of the package; in this case they're fatter 22mm front and rear and feature Whiteline's 'blade' adjustment system for fine-tuning of rates for less understeer - the WRX's natural tendency. The standard WRX sway bar links are plastic that are marginal; the replacement Whiteline units not only flex less adding to the effective rate of the sway bar, but are less likely to snap under the extra stress of a higher-rate bar.

Under the front, Whiteline installed one of its unique castor/anti-lift kits that tweaks the front suspension geometry. By lowering the front lower control arms' rear pivot in relation to the body, the front end gains more castor. It's a simple trick that has big benefits for steering feel, camber on turns and vehicle attitude when on and off the right pedal. All these components add up to what Whiteline markets as 'The Works Package' that for a little under $AUD 3000 fitted, skews the Rex's factory compromises in the enthusiast's direction.

Stopping the mega WRX is thanks to a set of MRT-exclusive, DBA-manufactured C-slot 'cool groove' front rotors spinning under the standard four-piston callipers (well, standard in Australia - US cars have to suffer inferior single-piston sliders) with upgraded MRT Sport pads. Under the rear is a set of DBA's own cross-drilled and slotted rotors.

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Inside, it's just about all factory-spec. And with the WRX's standard MOMO airbag wheel and grippy shoulder-holder seats, that isn't a bad thing.

The body of the S7 is enhanced with an MRT supplied body kit consisting of 22b replica rear wing, side skirt/pods, front chin extension and grille inserts. There's also a larger scoop - STi style - to blow a bit more atmosphere through the bigger cooler. The pieces (good quality fibreglass) are available individually (unpainted) or as a package from MRT - hold the dinky side pods, thanks...

Probably the best thing about this car apart from being a rolling demo vehicle for the Aussie aftermarket is - for Australian readers anyway - the fact someone is going to get given the keys for free!

Win This WRX!
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This particular WRX has been built as a promotional car for ProForm. Ohh, you didn't notice the writing on the sides? Pro Form is a range of automotive chemical additives such as injector cleaners and oil flushes, manufactured by Australian company AutoCleen. This WRX is one of Autocleen's front-line marketing tools to get the Pro Form name known in the Australian performance aftermarket. Wanna winnit? Yeah, we bet you do. Check for entry details when you buy Pro Form products. Sorry, but the competition is open to Australian residents only.

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