I was heading home earlier this week when I heard the unmistakable sound of a coffee can muffler from the Chevy Cobalt in the parking lot next door. I may have judged the driver for his bee-on-steroids exhaust tone just a few years ago but as I get older I have learned to embrace his foolishness just like my own. The people who believe themselves to be true car enthusiasts may stare and laugh at the Cobalt kid while sitting in the drivers seat of their tastefully modified Corvette but little do they know they are just an older version of him. I started on my automotive path much like the Cobalt kid with gaudy modifications on my four cylinder econo-box and although that car is but a distant memory now, my foolishness is still at hand.
I received my learners permit just as The Fast and the Furious was released in 2001 and was ready to get my hands on any car to start the quarter mile life. I had to settle for driving my parents 1989 Pontiac Bonneville with one of them in the right seat for the first few months. As my sixteenth birthday was approaching my dad mentioned that he knew of a cheap Mitsubishi Diamante for sale that a client of his was looking to get rid of due to the leaky valve-stem seals. He offered to buy the car for me if I helped fix it. I jumped on the opportunity and once we got it in, it was repaired within a day. I was happy to have a car and happy to have a part in getting it back on the road although most of my assistance involved handing various tools and parts to my father.
I wasn’t happy that my sixteenth birthday fell on a Sunday as I couldn’t go right over to the DMV but I was in line with my mom as soon as their office opened the next day and ecstatically grabbed my freshly minted license from the clerk as soon as it was ready. I cleaned up the Diamante that Friday to prepare it for its inaugural cruise down Main Street. I met up with a friend who was already part of the scene and he introduced me to a few others. The Diamante joined the convoy behind a Protege and a chameleon painted Ford Probe but before we left the parking lot, my friend in the Protege suggested we remove the air filter as it would sound cooler. I put the car in park and started my journey into foolishness by popping the hood and removing the filter element. I hit the gas as we left the grocery story parking lot and was pleased with the induction noise. We cruised down Main Street and ended up at a church parking lot that was designated as a safe zone to meet up and show off our rides. I met many other budding car enthusiasts and happily shared that I was basically driving a 3000GT sedan because of the shared 6G72 3.0L engine.
I drove the Diamante for a few more months and met many other car enthusiasts but I longed for something that had a little more modification potential. My dad found a Mitsubishi Mirage with the 1.8L motor and I was quick to jump on it. We sold the Diamante and picked up the Mirage. I immediately jumped online and started searching eBay auctions for pieces that I could purchase with my grocery store paycheck. I found some Altezza style taillights and quickly exchanged a weeks worth of pay for them. I installed the taillights along with an aftermarket head unit in the car and thought I was on my way to becoming Dom Toretto. I window-shopped EVO motor swaps online but my meager paycheck and limited expertise would not allow such an experiment.
I quickly grew bored with the automatic transmission in that Mirage and went on the hunt for a manual model. I found a decent example in the local Wal-Mart parking lot with a for sale sign on it. I contacted the seller and we settled on the sum of $2800. I used $500 that I had saved up for a down payment and took out a loan for the rest. I signed up for every available shift that summer and used the overtime money to pay down the loan in a few months. Once I had the title in hand I started looking for new pieces to modify my ride. I looked back at my Diamante days and thought how foolish I was to remove the air filter but proceeded to order an air intake from China so I could get that induction noise again. I installed the air intake thinking that noise was equal to power but thinking back now I can see that all I was doing was pulling in warmer air from the engine bay. I went on to add some imported halo headlights along with a set of polished Motegi wheels that I had traded for. I still had the Altezza taillights from the first Mirage but I decided to paint them with some red model paint as the Altezza look was going out of style.
I started working alongside my dad fixing up and flipping cars and felt that I had matured to a point where the the Mirage was a little to tacky for me. I decided to find something that fit my style better and ended with a 2000 Subaru Legacy GT with a manual transmission. First order of business was to paint the wheels gold so it would be more like its rally-bred siblings. This time I decided that I was going to make tasteful modifications and use the car to compete when possible. I found a set of Tein coil-overs that had been shipped to the country in error and made a deal for them. They came with decals which i proceeded to apply on 3 sides of the vehicle so people would know I was serious. I lowered the car as low as possible without rubbing and went on to autocross it at a mediocre level. I felt like I was a true enthusiast now because I had grown out of the foolish lighting modifications on the Mirage to a serious suspension setup on this Legacy. I started piecing together a turbo kit from OEM WRX parts that I found on the forums but before I could finish I found a 2005 Legacy GT at one of the salvage auctions and decided to move up in the world.
I fixed up the cosmetic damage on the Legacy and got it running properly. I wasn’t going to be as foolish this time and run an expensive set of coil-overs on a set of inferior tires. This time I got some nice springs and set of wheels and decided to focus the rest of my funds on making more power. This time I removed the aftermarket air intake that was installed on the car and procured a stock airbox assembly as I knew that it was causing the car to run lean. I went on to install an uppipe and downpipe along with flashing an appropriate tune. The car was quick and enjoyable but I kept wanting more so a bigger turbo went on along with a new tune and fuel system. I decided to install a methanol injection kit so I could run a bit more timing. I installed a setup that was based on a boost activated Hobbs switch and decided to adjust the timing to a more aggressive point since I had a new safety blanket. The car ran well and I took it out to various autocross and drag racing events.
I started dating my wife in June 2010 and she enjoyed riding in the Subaru with me so we went for drives whenever we had the chance. I had taken the Legacy to a drag racing event on Labor Day weekend of that year. Unknown to me, the methanol pump in the tank had died and caused some detonation in the motor that day. I made it home that Sunday night without noticing any issues. The next morning, I picked my future wife and we headed down to Charlotte, NC for a day around the city. About 20 minutes into the trip I heard a bang which was followed by a blanket of white smoke behind the car. I tried to coast the car to a safe stopping point and diagnose the issue. After noticing the stench of oil I knew that I had a large issue on my hands. I called some of my friends and we got the car loaded up and transported back to my dads house. My big plan for an impressive day in Charlotte with my wife did not happen but her supportive reaction cemented our relationship further.
Once we got the motor out of the car and torn down I found that a ringland had broken on one of the pistons and scratched up the cylinder wall. I traced the problem out and found that the methanol pump had died which in turn caused the lean condition and the damage. I vowed not to be so foolish once the car was rebuilt and started working on building a new stronger motor. I put the car back together and ran it in a much safer manner but again I wanted more. I knew that building the motor to handle the kind of power I was looking for would require a large amount of money and figured it would be foolish to put all that money into it just to blow it up again. I decided that the best thing to do would be to sell off the motor and transmission and swap in an LS motor.
I started the hunt for the parts I needed by purchasing a Chevy Express van with an LQ4 6.0L and went on to use that block as the base for my new motor. I picked up a set of LS3 heads and an array of other components and started building the motor. In the meantime we also built and successfully installed an LS1 in my buddy’s Miata so confidence for my swap rose. I am still working on the project bit by bit but it has become an extended project due to buying a house and a few other responsibilities. I hope to have it running in the next year or so but in the meantime I will be looking for a fun daily driver to fill the gap. Many people will call me foolish for doing such a swap and ruining the dynamics of the vehicle and I will gladly agree with them and tell them how happy of a fool I am. I can look back at my evolution as a car enthusiast from my early days and see that I have made many foolish mistakes along the way but I know that even as I sit here with lots of experience and an advanced swap project on my hands I am still just an older foolish version of the Cobalt kid.
[Images © 2015 Hooniverse/Bozi Tatarevic]