Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Note on Exhausts and Shoddy Work

In a matter of 1 month, two different Lotus have come into the shop that had serious exhaust related issues that frankly, pissed us off!  We are writing this article to just raise some awareness.

Most people do not view their exhaust as a maintenance item, but it is, especially if you run the car hard. Packing material can break down (this is accelerated with poor tunes and track use) and the metal can fatigue and crack from heat cycles and vibration. If you are shooting flames from your exhaust, it is only a matter of time before your exhaust breaks and/or your car catches on fire. 

Exhausts can break under normal conditions, but when you have a low quality exhaust or a low quality installation, wear and damage can happen relatively quickly. This is important as not only does it make your car sound bad and affect performance but it is a huge safety hazard. Exhaust gasses are HOT. We have seen these cars catch fire from only from two things, fuel related modifications and exhaust system failure.  

Case #1: Lotus Elise
Poor install and repair attempt :(
A customer recently brought his Elise in for a SMOOTHoperator install.  He complained that his exhaust seemed rather loud. We thought this complaint was odd because even though he had an aftermarket muffler, the can was pretty large and this is usually an indication of a quiet system. However, a quick inspection revealed the reason for the sound. The bracket that was welded to the side of the can had broken off leaving a large hole in the side. Looking inside the muffler we could see that much of the packing material had blown out through this hole. The entire system was loose and spewing hot exhaust gas out this hole. This failure can probably be traced to a less than ideal installation. The aftermarket cat pipe was cut (poorly), then some sort of adapter piece and muffler tape as used to attach the can to the cat pipe. There is also evidence of an extremely poor attempt to re-weld the hanger to the can. It is hard to say what came first or caused the failure but the point is that this exhaust was poorly installed and should have been replaced a long time ago. We were glad to get this customer setup with a Larini GT3 (formerly known as 8" side exit). He was happy to have a quiet car, yet still sporty and we were happy he had a safe car.

Case #2: Lotus Evora
Halloween is quickly approaching but it came early for us here.  We found something scary under an Evora we are working on for the first time - it came here from the SouthEast. This car spends most of it's time at the track so it has been stripped of interior and has a cage and race seats installed. It has received some "interesting" work during its life that we are finding and fixing as we go. 

One of these interesting things is the 'custom' exhaust and hanger. This car has a muffler delete system with some custom work done to it. It looks like a sheet metal hanger originally was fixed to a rivet nut in the subframe but that rivet nut loosened up. The previous shop's solution was to stick a bracket from a safety harness in one of the holes of the subframe and tie the exhaust to that with some bailing wire. We do not recommend this as a way to attach anything to any part of your vehicle. This is probably the most ghetto fix we have ever seen!  This type of "fix" belongs on a jeep stuck 20 miles out in the woods, not something that will be run on track. I am sure this was meant as a temporary fix, but it was obviously run like this for longer than was necessary.

The horror! 
Fixes that may happen in the middle of a race can be sketchy but are meant to last the duration of the race.  Most of us are not racing so it is important to take the time to fix the problem correctly.  We have a great network of reputable Dealers around the country.  Mistakes can happen but please inspect your cars - especially track driven cars - regularly.  Be safe out there!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Lotus Rear Inner Toe Links

The Lotus Elise and Exige have a few unique items that should be addressed by anyone pushing the limits of their car, especially on the track. One of these items is the often talked about rear toe link. Some of these cars are over 10 years old now but there are still those who do not know about this or may not know the full story. This blog will attempt to explain the issue as well as what we do about it.

The inner toe link is on the left side of this image.

The Problem:

OE inner toe link
The inner rear toe link on these cars is a ball joint similar to other cars with a key difference. Most ball joints are a tapered fit to eliminate any relative movement in the joint. Lotus could not use a tapered fit here because the balljoint pulls double duty as the pivot for the lower control arm. That means the balljoint shaft is more like a bolt. This bolt (especially on early cars) has a tendency to loosen slightly. This allows excessive movement and fretting between the balljoint and subframe. Once this happens, the balljoint gets a notch worn in it and the strength is severely reduced. Failure of the joint usually happens when the link is loaded (going around a corner), this is an exceptionally bad time for one of your rear tires to have a severe and rapid toe change. 

The Solution(s):

Lotus had a few solutions to this problem, the first was to increase the torque spec on the nut on this joint. This seems to be fine for those who have not driven on a loose joint and do not push their cars particularly hard. The other solution they came up with was replacing these ball joints with rod ends and putting a cross brace between the two to bolts to increase the rigidity of the joints and help stabilize the bolts. 

"Track Pack" toe link brace and ball joint

A visual representation of double shear (top)
vs single shear (bottom)
We enjoy the ability to come up with solutions to problems - especially since we don't have the same cost constraints that the Lotus engineers must manage.

We attack the problem in two ways. The first is to prevent the bolt from loosening up. We do this by using a Top Lock nut, this nut has threads that are not exactly round, they are a bit distorted so they really grip the bolt once tightened. We also use special lock washers called Nord-Locks, these fancy things actually tighten as they loosen up which makes it extremely difficult for the joint to loosen on its own. Watch the video below to show how these washers stack up against other methods of bolt retention.

The second thing we do is to put the joint in double shear, this makes the joint less likely to loosen as well because it eliminates the bending force that would tend to "rock" the bolt in its joint and cause it to loosen up. Creating a double shear joint also greatly increases the strength.

Nord Lock Demo 

We have 4 different kits that solve these toe link issues to meet a wide range of needs.  Our first rear toe link brace was introduced in 2006!

TLUkit- This kit is for cars with the factory "Track Pack" brace. It retains the factory brace but replaces the expensive factory rod ends with our own high quality units. The factory rod ends do not last very long. This video below shows the movement in one of these rod ends after 25K California street miles.

DSbrace - Our most popular and economical solution. This kit replaces the factory ball joint with a strong bolt and rod end. The whole system is put into double shear (hence the DS), by using two sheet metal brackets that bolt to existing holes in the frame. We ran this solution for a long time on several race cars with slicks and aero, this solution is plenty strong and up to the task of street or track use. 

RTDbrace - This brace uses the same rod ends as the above solutions and uses a brace similar to the factory track pack. The key difference with this setup is that our brace also attaches to where the transmission mounts. This creates a very strong joint and has the added benefit of stiffening up the subframe a bit. This setup is acceptable for both street and track use. We introduced this is in Aug 2006 and it has been the gold standard in the North American market.

RTD2brace - The ultimate solution. This kit includes everything in the RTDbrace with the addition of Nitron's S99 outboard rod ends. This replaces the outer toe link ball joint with a high strength rod end for reduced deflection and toe change under load. We recommend this as a track only solution. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tuning, Testing, and More Testing

We work hard to bring new products to market for our customers, but at times, keeping an existing product on the shelf can be a challenge. Suppliers throw us curve balls ocassionally which make us re-evaluate our current approach. Such has been the case with the Lotus Cup Air Box. We originally spec'd this box in both the Katana2+ kit and our Stage 1 Tune for the Elise/Exige. We liked this air box because being an OEM piece gives us several advantages when it comes to reliability and performance. Another benefit of this air box is that it flows more air than stock but maintains a stock MAF signal since the MAF housing is unchanged.

Well, as happens sometimes (and probably more often moving forward), the Cup Box is becoming hard to source and may not available in the foreseeable future. This means we either needed to stop selling our extremely popular supercharger kit, or come up with an alternative. Our idea was to partner with our friends at K&N to see how a drop in filter in the stock air box compared to the Cup Box and OEM air filter. We do not just push things to market and call it good, we test and validate everything we sell. Being an engine part, it was especially critical to actually track test the effect of switching the K&N drop in solution.

The White Rascal (Art Car v2), already had a Larini race Exhaust Pipe, Cup Box, and Stage 1 Tune. So we needed to get a baseline number from this known good setup. We used an AiM  EVO4 for data logging, and an AEM wideband in place of the second 02 sensor to see how the air fuel ratios were doing. All testing was done at Spring Mountain on their 1.5 mile track.

To analyze the data, we picked the back straight away of the track and focused on the AFR readings between 6400 and 7700 RPM. When we ran the naturally aspirated setup the readings were as follows:
Cup Box = 13.5-12.3
K&N = 13.5-12.36
Screen shot of some of the data collected.

Since we verified our hypothesis that the K&N would flow similarly to the Cup Box, we were ready to put in the Katana with the K&N and go track test it. On the same part of the track in the same RPM range we saw the AFR go from 13.1 to 12.3. This track testing allowed us to verify the numbers but also put some miles on the car so the ECU could do some learning before the dyno test.

We dyno'd the car a few days later and made 222 WHP . The dyno operator told us his dyno is reading about 5% low vs others but we will take the 222 number. For reference, this car made 187whp on the same dyno when it had the Stage 1 package and our engineer's stock car with the same miles made 177whp. So the Katana is netting about 45 WHP vs a stock car.
Dyno Graph of Katana 

Monday, August 8, 2016

White Rascal/Art Car v2 Testing 8/4-5/16

Last week we took our shop car to the track for some testing. We had a few things on the slate to test out:

  1. Replacement caliper seals and titanium bolts
  2. Our new prototype shifter
  3. Larini valved muffler
  4. Intake and tuning changes
We headed out to our favorite test track, Spring Mountain Motor Resort. After arriving late Thursday, we drove the car around the paddock and ran an autocross course that was setup just to give the car a little shake down and put some additional miles on it before we really got to it on Friday. 

Everything went smoothly Thursday evening so early Friday morning we were on the track when it went hot at 7am. After 150 total miles were run, the track went cold and we went home for some cold ones. 


It is amazing what a good set of pads and some weight reduction does to the braking performance of this car. While braking at the end of a long straight, you appreciate the fact that the shoulder harnesses are keeping your face out of the steering wheel. There was no sign of leakage or degradation from the brakes all day. The replacement seals we have acquired come from a manufacture that is well versed in making similar products so we had no doubt they would function as advertised, but we felt that running them in 100F weather on the track was a good way to verify they were up to our standards. Shinoo had tested these seals in the car a couple of weeks ago at SMMR.  Additional heat/cold cycling stresses parts and after multiple days of track use you can see if a part will hold up.  We are happy with the results.  Expect to see these available soon. 

The new shifter is very promising. The engagement and function feels much more positive compared to the standard setup. You know which gear you are selecting and it slides into place with a gentle push from your palm or pull of your finger tips. We definitely have some changes to make but the functionality of this first version is excellent. Track testing confirmed that the action was a true upgrade.  We've had several clients try out the shifter since we installed it and everyone agrees that it is an excellent improvement.

Valved Muffler
This new Group N muffler brings the same valve technology used in the Evora system to your Elise or Exige. When the valve is closed, the car is very quiet but when open, you are presented with a wicked sound. There are several ways to activate the valve. We tested the car with the valve closed, open, and connected to the stock actuator that opens the flap in the air box. 

Intake and Tuning
This car has our de-cat and cup airbox tune on it. We decided to play with some intake changes and log the results. We used an AiM Evo4 logger and a wideband in the de-cat pipe to log several parameters including Speed, RPM, AFR, TPS, MAF, IAT, ECT, ABC, 123... We gathered some good data and are continuing work on some new things. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Brake Preventative Maintenance and Caliper Rebuilding

It goes without saying that the brakes are probably the most important system in your car, but often times they seem to receive little attention (until they do not work of course!). Most people know that fresh fluid is always a good idea but often times we pull fluid from brake systems that looks like this.
Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs moisture from the air. This moisture combined with repeated heating and cooling cycles breaks down the fluid. This contaminated fluid will boil much sooner than fresh fluid and also tends to eat away at the brake system components. We recommend bleeding your brakes before every track event and doing a complete flush at least once a year Motul RBF600 is our favorite fluid and Torque RT700 is recommended for those who see extreme brake fluid temperatures.

In addition to keeping your fluid fresh, it is also necessary to realize how old some of your brake components are. Most critical are any bits made of rubber or synthetic rubbers like your stock brake lines and caliper seals. With most Lotus Elise/Exiges now at over 10 years old, replacing brake lines with stainless versions like our innovative QWKbleed lines is not a bad idea from just a safety perspective alone. There are also rubber parts inside the calipers themselves, the piston seals. These little rubber rings are the critical bit that lets you transfer force from the brake pedal to the pad. We are currently track testing our replacements to ensure they are of sufficient quality to survive track abuse. We worked with a manufacture that makes seals for many applications (including Lotus) but we strive to do our own testing and validation, especially for safety critical items.

We have also rebuilt several calipers here in the last few months and are exploring the possibility of offering it as a service. I bought some nasty black calipers for my own Elise, stripped, painted, and rebuilt them with new hardware. 

Another interesting thing we have tried is cleaning calipers cryogenically. This is similar to sand blasting, but rather than sand, frozen CO2 (dry ice) is used. You can see the results below. These calipers had 52,000 miles on them. 
Before Cyro
After Cryo
Art Car v2 caliper with Ti Bolts
  Another interesting thing we are looking at is Titanium caliper bolts. We are currently track testing these to see how they hold up but they are certainly cool looking and are worth about 0.36lbs of unsprung weight.
Ti Bolts vs Stock

Monday, August 1, 2016

Battery Tenders and You (and your sports car)

The reality for many people is that they do not get to drive their sports car every day. One of the issues that arises from lack of driving (other than self loathing) is that the battery in your pride and joy slowly drains away every day it sits idle. Lotus cars are particularly brutal on the battery as the electrical system has a rather strong drain while the car is off. When you add a light weight battery, you also decrease the amount of time the battery can sit idle before it is completely drained. This constant draining shortens battery life and puts unnecessary stress on your alternator when you do finally drive the car again. If you allow the battery to go completely flat, irreversible damage can result from chemical reactions inside the battery and the best case scenario is that battery life is severely shortened.

CTEK Smart Charger
The solution to all this doom and gloom is to use a battery tender. This sweet little device keeps the battery voltage topped up to optimal levels so it is ready to go at 100% when ever you require a little throttle therapy. We choose to carry the CTEK Smart Charger as it is a bit more sophisticated than most chargers and can really extend the useful life of your battery. Using the charger is pretty simple, you can either use the provided clips to temporarily secure it to the battery or use the provided pigtail with ring terminals. The Alfa 4C happens to have extra posts on the battery terminals that make adding charger lead a pretty simple affair.

Alfa 4C ground terminals. The positive post has a similar setup.
Note the two spare studs, perfect for trickle charger leads.

Light weight battery systems are one of the cheapest ways to shed serious pounds on your light weight car. On the Lotus Elise and Exige, our Xtender bracket and raceBATTERY will save 10 lbs on the back of the car while in the Alfa 4C our BB4Cpack will save a substantial 20 lbs of dead weight.
Light weight battery bracket for Alfa 4C

Friday, July 8, 2016

Secure Your Hips in Your 4C!

We've come up with a simple way hold a person in their Alfa 4C seat.  Though we are big proponents of race harnesses, we know that some people don't race their cars on track or frankly don't want to add a harness bar and belts.  Our idea is a half step that does make a difference.  

This should only be done in conjunction with the stock 3pt belts.

We have installed our BLBmount kit and the waist belts from our Schroth 4pt Profi II belts.  This solution can be clicked in before you place the stock 3pt.

Step 1: click in the race waist belt first
Step 2: Click in the factory 3pt belt over the race waist belts

This should only be done in conjunction with the stock 3pt belts.

I ran our 4C with this exact set up on a recent canyon run with a few other Alfas. It was a simple and quick way to keep me better anchored in the seat.

This should only be done in conjunction with the stock 3pt belts.  We can't stress this enough!!!!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

White Rascal Update #8: ArtCar v2

Our little White Rascal has a new moniker: ArtCar v2.  ManoirArt has finished our Elise and we unveiled it at the Secret CarClub in Rancho Santa Fe last weekend.  I'm very happy with the result.  Unlike our first Art Car, this one sports an especially vibrant paint livery.  You won't miss this car, coming or going.  The finish is hand painted so the brush marks and textures are all apparent.  This is not a show-car finish that is glassy smooth, it looks like paint on a canvas.  Ever since I saw the BMW Art Cars, I knew that one day, I would commission something similar.  Sector111 have now completed two art cars and I could not be more stoked...  

Neil spent 28 days working on this car, painting it by hand.  See our FaceBook album for more details pictures of his process: HERE.  He is available for commissions if you have a car you would like to paint.  Please also check out his art work - it is for sale.  If you like modern art, he's doing some really cool work.  Check out his website and contact him directly: HERE
photographer Nate King
We will be taking the ArtCar v2 to SMMR soon.  Our prototype shifter is coming together in the next two weeks and will go into this car.  We can then run it hard to see how it works.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lifting Your Evora onto Floor Stands

Mid-engined cars usually require the rear of the car to be lifted to conduct typical maintenance like oil changes.  If you don't have a lift, then reversing the car onto ramps is the technique many people utilize.  This of course is a sketchy proposition.  We have come up with a simple and safe way for you to lift your Evora and place it onto floor stands.

Suggested tools:

Step 1: Place the niftyLIFTY onto your floor jack

Step 2: Position the rubber pads of the niftyLIFTY at the seam between the rear difusser & undertray

Step 3: Lift car until higher than flatJACKS

Step 4: Place flatJACKS in one of two positions:
  • Position1: under the niftyLIFTY as shown below

  • Position 2: under the chassis where the lower control arms attach to the chassis

We like this position best
note location carefully

We like the Position 2 best as it gives you full access to the rear diffuser if you plan to remove it.  This make muffler changes or inspections a much easier process.  Of course sometimes Position1 is best if you simply need to pull the wheels, etc.

Lifting a car is dangerous - especially if you plan to work under it.  We assume you understand the basics of floor stand placement and use.  Working on your car can be rewarding - just use the right tools to ensure you don't get hurt.  

Watch our video below to see us lift an Elise and the an Evora: