Cheap, Fast, Reliable; you can only choose two. We’ve all heard this saying a thousand times. It’s as old as the combustion engine and as true now as it was then. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anyone who has slayed this three-headed monster, but for years I’ve wanted to tackle this goal. With enough experience, connections and resources, I’ve finally said to myself, “it really can’t be that hard. Right?” Now is the moment in life, where I try the impossible.
But that’s not all! Since I’ve already agreed to do the impossible, I figured I’d make it extra hard. Not only am I trying to accomplish the above trifecta, I am doing the next impossible thing; making a car that is both a good daily driver AND a good track car, all while staying within a pandemic ravaged budget.
By sheer power of will and a lot of dumb luck, I finally have a true follow-up to the My Girlfriend’s Miata saga. Let the story begin.
I thought I had found the follow-up for My Girlfriend’s Miata in a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata Turbo, but something about that car didn’t sit right for me. I had purchased the cheapest, clean title Mazdaspeed I could find, from a retiree in Florida no less, but it wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. I sold that and then purchased a 2006 Honda S2000. I found one within my budget in California and flew out to find it was dramatically misrepresented and uncared for. No matter, I bought it despite its issues. I drove it home, did my best to revitalize the car and about the time I was making it presentable, another 2006 S2000 became available locally for an even better price and it was damned near perfect! Sadly, it was too perfect. It was way too clean to turn into a track car and the wife never used it. It had to go as well. Three red convertibles had come and gone, with a decent amount of work done behind the scenes, but nothing compelled me to write and track again. By some miracle I came out ahead financially on all transactions and the search was renewed again.
Whilst cruising Craigslist, STILL the best place to find a used car, I stumbled upon a $10k 2008 Evo X MR. Yeah, the Evo with the most delicate dual clutch transmission on the planet. It was in Houston, TX; one of the most flood prone cities and full of scammers selling clean looking cars to bamboozled buyers. I convinced the wife to spend our anniversary flying across the country to buy a car, sight unseen, with a drivetrain literally known to fail while turned off. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
When we arrived, we met the nicest twenty something dude you could imagine and the Evo, which had around 135k miles on it, looked pretty decent sitting out front. It may have had mismatched wheels and no front lip, but all the body panels were original and it had a clean interior and engine bay. Perfect! A quick test drive confirmed one scary sound coming from the back. I wasn’t sure what it was initially and I couldn’t use it to my advantage as the seller wouldn’t budge on the price. I looked lovingly at my trusting wife and she already knew I was just gonna send it. We threw the money at the dude and crossed our fingers; how close could we make it to Indiana before the car would die and we’d have to call AAA?
We hit the road and turned on our noise cancelling headphones to try and ignore the terrible noise and extra loud hot boi exhaust. A few miles in, I heard the noise coming and going. I quickly realized I could control the noise based on the steering wheel angle. Turn one way, the noise would get louder. Turn the other way, the noise would get quieter. Ladies and gentlemen, ye olde wheel bearing was failing and sounded worse than any wheel bearing I had ever heard in my life. The previous owner said the sound had been around for over a year and no one knew how to fix it. This was both excellent and frightening news, considering the journey we had ahead of ourselves.
A search of the Houston area did not turn up any locations with a wheel bearing in stock that could repair it that day. With caution thrown squarely to the wind, we headed north, praying the bearing would last until home.
Did it last? Of course it lasted! Dumb luck had worked in my favor yet again. On that trip, I was reminded why I loved my original Evo VII so much (this VII was questionably imported to the states, before I promptly crashed it at Road Atlanta). The steering was so direct, the brakes powerful, and of course it had that willing, turbocharged engine. Yes the Evo X is portly, but it’s worth it for the cruise control! Mitsubishi took a surgeon’s knife and turned it into a damned good cleaver. Maybe it can’t be thrown around like its older siblings, but it can still dance and be reasonable at road tripping at the same time!
That terrible bearing noise knocked at least $5k off of what this Evo X was worth and was repaired in a few hours in the driveway of the Professional Awesome garage. Well, a few hours squared. I initially replaced the wrong wheel bearing. I know I’m not the first to misdiagnose which bearing had failed and I won’t be the last. I consider the extra bearing replacement preventative maintenance. Aside from that noise, the car performed flawlessly and now the fun could begin.
In with the good, out with the bad
First on the list was replacing the god-awful exhaust that was on the car. I am officially old, so a nice, quiet, yet high-flowing exhaust would take its place. Having worked with Extreme Turbo Systems on the Pro Awe Time Attack Evo, I knew their quality and workmanship was top notch. In an effort to remain fully transparent, ETS provided yours truly with a discount, but no free parts.
The car also came without a catalytic converter, which was not cool. If you know me, you know I insist on minimizing being an asshole to others, as well as the planet, so I installed the best high flow cat I could find. ETS offers a GESI cat option, which is a big step above the rest of the aftermarket catalytic converter competition. Their cats are 2016 or 2017 OBD 2 compliant and come with +1 karma points.
Along with the ETS exhaust, I went with a 3” ETS intercooler. When the car was purchased, it already had a full ETS intake and hardpipe kit. I thought it wise to keep it in the family and use parts Professional Awesome was confident in. All silicone couplers used Turbosmart constant tension clamps for an even distribution of load, which helps keep intercooler pipes from bursting off.
Speaking of Turbosmart, I replaced the factory bypass valve with a Smart Port Dual Port Blow-Off/Bypass valve. Turbosmart and Professional Awesome go way back and we utilize a plethora of Turbosmart parts on the time attack Evo without issue. The reason to switch from OEM to Turbosmart for the BOV is both performance and reliability related. Evo X’s are known for bypass valve flutter, which may be related to compressor surge. This is very tough on the turbo’s bearings and having an adjustable bypass valve allowed this issue to be tuned out, but more on that in the future. Turbosmart did provide me with parts pro-bono, but I would have gone with them no matter what. The dual port valve was used in a single port setup, with all air recirculated back within the intake system, post mass airflow sensor.
Let’s make it a daily
With the intake and exhaust squared away, it was time to start working towards daily driver perfection. First on the list was to polish the pitted headlights. Mother’s supports the Pro Awe team with cleaning goodies and I swiped a Mother’s NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit from the garage when the teammates weren’t looking. I used the kit to turn the milky lenses into reasonably clear, usable lights. I’m not the most patient polisher, so better can likely be achieved, but it’s good enough for who it’s for, at least for now.
The car also came with a single key and no fob. Ladies and gentlemen, this was a fancy-ass car in its day with both keyless entry and start. Without a fob, these features wouldn’t work. Unacceptable. That being said, if it’s not obvious from the amount of parts I grifted from our partners, getting a new fob from Mitsubishi wasn’t in the financial cards. Enter Amazon. They have OEM looking key fobs that are said to work without issue. I purchased a pair of fobs, took them to Mitsubishi and they promptly bricked them, citing that they were un-programmable. They wouldn’t refund my money, told me they marked the Evo as “modified” in the car’s history and told me to go fly a kite. Screw that dealership in particular.
Back to Amazon, I purchased a scan tool compatible with the Evo X that promised I could program fobs. I got to work and with a little learning, I sure as hell programmed the “un-programmable” keys that Mitsubishi struggled with. The scan tool was sold after use for what I had in it and my cheap-ass fix for the fobs was complete.
Let’s make it reliable
Next, the Evo X is known for a few weak areas, aside from the SST, that should be addressed. The early model Evo X’s have a timing chain that is known to stretch and with nearly 140k miles on the clock, I thought I’d get ahead of the game and install the later model chain. Along with the chain, I purchased metal idler pulleys intended for Hyundais that fix an issue of the OEM plastic pulleys failing and causing the Evo to kick off its serpentine belt. All work was done by Professional Awesome team mechanic, Grant Davis. He is also the owner of PA Motorsports and if you find yourself in Indiana, needing the best work possible accomplished, give him a ring. I know what you’re thinking, although I am cheap, I did pay for all of his time, so suck it.
While Grant was working on everything, we swapped out the Garrett GTX3076R Gen 1 turbocharger that came on the car. Why would I remove this? I had/have intentions of time-attacking this car in Gridlife’s Street class category, which requires a turbo original to Evos. A new to me OEM Evo X turbo was remarkably cheap and selling the GTX3076R would help my bank account in the process.
While doing this work, Grant spotted an oil leak that turned out to be a poor sealing job on the oil pan. Whoever worked on the car had used quality parts, but was blessed with sub-par ability. Grant noted that they just didn’t seem to know what they were doing. A few missing parts here, a few loose bolts there, etc… etc… No matter, Grant squared everything away in the process.
My list for Grant did not just include getting the engine back up to snuff, he would also install some parts to try to keep the transmission alive. First order of business was a Dodson SST Oil Sump. This sump adds additional oil capacity and taps into the OEM radiator coolant circuit. This allows the transmission fluid to warm up more quickly than stock, reducing the amount of OEM integrated clutch slip designed to warm up the transmission, as well as allow for some modest cooling action by transferring heat from the gear oil into the radiator. This likely will not be enough to keep the transmission cool on track, but it is a good first start.
While doing the install, of course the OEM transmission filter was replaced, along with the oil. Don’t talk to SST guys about transmission oil though, because you will be bullied beyond belief. The best in the business say to only use the OEM Mitsubishi Diaqueen oil. There is talk that Castrol Transmax fluid is the same as OEM, but it’s not available directly in the USA. The Evo uses a Getrag DCT470 transaxle and by looking up the technical service information manual, you can see BOT 341 transmission fluid is recommended. This is available under Ford, Volvo and Mitsubishi part numbers, with the Ford fluid dramatically cheaper than the other two. I went with the Ford DCT fluid, so Mitsu SST guys, feel free to flame me now. The car was previously using Motul DCTF and again, was nearing 140k miles without issue. Take from that what you will.
Finally, I had Grant install a Fluidampr to replace the OEM engine crank pulley. Why did I include the Fluidampr under the transmission reliability section? These transmissions are known for gear positioning magnets falling off inside the case. With the magnets off, the transmission doesn’t know what gear it is in. These magnets are held in place by adhesive and two things that make adhesive fail are heat and vibrations. The heat will be held in check with the Dodson sump, but the engine can generate a healthy amount of vibrations and the goal for me is to utilize the Fluidampr to keep these vibrations in check.
Mass dampers are mind-blowingly good at reducing peak loading, be it keeping buildings from falling down during earthquakes or steadying aerodynamic components in Formula 1. In F1, they worked so well, they were banned and I thought I’d share an example that showcased a mass damper in a cool way. #9 in the video below exhibits how Renault used mass dampers quite effectively!
By reducing vibrations within the engine, these loads will be minimized as they pass through the transmission and hopefully, keep the delicate magnets in place. The other important task to do is replacing transmission oil regularly and we will most certainly be doing that as well.
Back to the engine
I may have failed to mention one, seemingly minor detail when driving the car back to Indiana. On cold start up, the car would misfire on cylinder 3, but would clear up extremely quickly and drive smoothly the rest of the day. Grant theorized that perhaps I had a leaky injector that was flooding that cylinder on cold starts. When the OEM turbo was installed, OEM injectors were installed as well, but the issue persisted. Swapping coils made no difference and new plugs didn’t solve the problem either, so Grant decided to do a compression test. We had 1 cylinder putting up great numbers, 1 doing ok, 1 kind of scary and then a 4th looking really bad. Grant then did a leakdown test and found 2 cylinders at nearly 100% loss. That was the kind of moment that gives you night terrors the rest of your life.
What didn’t make sense was how the car would run so well after being warmed up. Turns out, the wrong valve shims had been installed for our camshafts and a few of the intake valves were being held open just the tiniest amount. Perhaps the car had aftermarket camshafts at some point or perhaps whoever didn’t know what they were doing on the other parts of the car also didn’t know what they were doing on the top end. What really sucked was Grant had already completed all the timing chain work before this issue was discovered. Undeterred, Grant got to work swapping in the proper shims, buttoned up the car, and all issues were solved. The car now worked perfectly cold or warm, with great compression numbers across all cylinders. Major crisis averted.
What do now?
With the Evo pretty well sorted, I’ll continue working on fixing small details here and there. For example it came without rear head rests and the side skirts are a little beat up, but everything will be done with the tightest of pursestrings. I have my eyes set on competing on track this summer, but reliability is the number one concern as a $5,000+ transmission failure looms frighteningly on the horizon. Will this truly become an impossible Evo? A cheap (with the help of partners!), reliable, fast, daily driver, that is also competitive on track? Stick around and we will find out together!