In a world where cars steer, brake, and even park themselves, the Scion FR-S begs to be tossed at apexes with reckless abandon...and it won't buzz at you if you drift out of your lane. The balance and styling of the car are world-class, but be ready for a chorus of crickets when you jump on the gas.
Everett, Washington's Jason Helmick doesn't care for crickets and admits his Hot Lava Red '15 FR-S was more doomed than most, because it sports a power-robbing, soul-stealing automatic transmission. "Everybody says these cars are a little underpowered when stock, like 160 to 170 hp to the wheels," Jason says. "I drove an automatic and a manual, and I liked the automatic better. I preferred the paddle shift. I just felt the shift response was a lot better. But I have to say it's pretty much a dog on the highway. There is no torque, and unless it's wound up in third gear, the car just doesn't have enough balls to pass another car. I have to work up to it."
Jason admits he had zero plans to build the FR-S; it was just going to be a daily driver. "But a friend of mine wrecked his BRZ," he explains. "It was supercharged...I saw an opportunity and jumped at it. From there, it just grew organically. Before long, I was going to shows. The car's won the last four shows it's been in."
The supercharger was Edelbrock's E-Force, which features an Eaton TVS 1320 roots-style blower. Jason collected every last piece of the kit and trekked south about 55 miles to The Dyno Station at Drift-Office in Auburn. "Drift-Office," as it's commonly known, is the region's go-to tuning shop for all things FA20. The shop installed the first production Edelbrock unit and has bolted on no less than 25 others since 2016. The crew is quick to point out that Edelbrock has really done its homework from a tuning standpoint, providing a healthy base tune that passes CARB certification, but the shop prefers dropping its own tune on the kit's EcuTek tuning software.
Mass Air Mayhem
Drift-Office's Bill Lee says one of the good things about the design, and Edelbrock's approach in general, is knowing the challenges installers/tuners face. "The mass airflow (MAF) sensor housing is a perfect example of this," Bill says. "Since the kit replaces the intake completely, they had to come up with a very smart design to fit the housing in a very compact space without sacrificing how it flows. Flow around the sensor is key because any time you change those things, and if they're not engineered properly, you'll get turbulence or poor flow, which causes big tuning headaches."
"Edelbrock has done very nicely designing the cross sections in front of the sensor to straighten out the airflow and minimize any of those turbulence issues. Since the mass airflow sensor is so different from factory, we had to scale it optimally and tune it to produce the proper air/fuel ratios under boost."
Tuning An Automatic
Traditionally, automatics have been bears to tune, as they tend to kick down a gear on the dyno, whereas a manual can be run from low rpm to redline. "Jason's car, because it's an automatic," Bill says, "had to be tuned with a specific focus on lugging at low rpm and keeping the engine from struggling for too long. So, we focused on the response and its transition into usable power. Beyond the obvious driveability issues, we were concerned the ECU would learn and equate that lugging with knock and eventually kill the performance by defaulting to limp mode. To avoid this scenario, we recommended E85, because we're able to run more timing, which really opened the door to incredibly fast response and greatly helped with the overall performance of the car."
Ethanol E85 is all about pushing the detonation threshold. A blend that's 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, E85 makes its impact in two ways. Its first claim to fame is octane, compliments of its alcohol content. Depending on the actual blend, E85 is rated from 100 to 105 octane. The second way is E85's ability to burn cool, technically known as having a high latent heat of vaporization. This translates into an ability to absorb heat and lower combustion chamber temperatures, which resists detonation (spontaneous combustion that occurs after spark ignition but before the flame front is fully formed) and pre-ignition (combustion before the ignition spark is initiated, usually caused by hot spots in the chamber). E85's ability to fight detonation is a huge win, because it allows tuners to dial in aggressive timing and big boost in high-compression engines like the 12.5:1 FA20.
But E85 is not all roses and rainbows. As with anything having to do with engine performance, there are compromises at work. One of E85's is fuel demand. With a stoichiometric mixture of 9.8:1 versus gasoline's 14.7:1, it's easy to see how more flow is in the cards. E85 uses about 27 percent more fuel by volume to generate the same horsepower as conventional gasoline. So, flex fuel systems require both bigger injectors to make the power and, in some cases, bigger fuel tanks to keep cruising range reasonable.
High-output applications can create more injection challenges, demanding an injector that has the flow muscle at wide-open throttle on E85 while also possessing the finesse to handle idling and light throttle tip-in on gasoline. In the '90s, this was a problem, but modern injectors have tighter tolerances in manufacturing and significantly lighter moving internals, so they can be the two-faced wonders today's tuners need. Once flow is fully figured out, the transition to and from E85 becomes the prime concern. Enter the Moto-East flex fuel kit.
Drift-Office says this kit is ahead of the curve and points to its completeness...its use of AN fittings, braided ethanol-compatible hose, a Zeitronix ECA (Ethanol Content Analyzer) sensor, and a fully plug-and-play ECU harness. "The beauty of the setup is its seamlessness," Bill says. "There's usually no map switching, so there's no need for high- or low-octane mapping. The ECU accesses a lookup table and then bases the engine's operating parameters on the ethanol content. Then we'll program how much fuel to apply and how much ignition timing to dial-in."
Fuel the Fire
The FA20's combination of conventional port injection and direct injection poses a unique set of challenges when it comes to fueling a combination that looks to push power output into a new dimension. Drift-Office's Bob W. is quick to point to the Internet as a place where whimsy and misinformation can outshine logic and proven results. He has developed a recipe that works, and in the sea of online conspiracies, he keeps it close to the vest. In Jason's case, Drift-Office spec'd out specific injectors that have well-documented and accurate characterization, offset, and flow data. Bob says this is key, as the injectors serve as the basis of the entire fuel calibration, and when working with E85, an alternative fuel with a different specific weight gravity, precision here ensures there will be no issues when blending the flex-fuel table.
Spinning the Rollers
Drift-Office programed a base tune, scaled the injectors, and then fired its DynoJet chassis dyno to life. Pulls made before the blower install netted 166 whp, with a measly 133 lb-ft of torque. At the end of the session, Drift-Office had nearly doubled down on Jason's Scion, as the FA20 eagerly belted out 314 whp on E85. That's a whopping 148-whp gain, with boost remaining at the stock 10 psi. Torque jumped by more than 100 lb-ft, to 237. In true tuner fashion, Bob could only look at what was left on the table. "I feel like there was more to be gained, but at this point the torque converter showed signs of weakness, and an expensive valvebody upgrade would be necessary to sustain more. But I'm game if Jason fortifies the tranny."
Ethanol is a win-win. It adds both power potential and reliability. The big drawback of E85 is availability. Despite indications that the number of E85 stations would dramatically increase in the early '00s, there is not enough station density to support running strictly E85 full time. Luckily, the seamless nature of the Moto-East flex system means you don't have to sweat it. You can tap into the good stuff for special occasions. Since Jason lives 10 minutes from his E85 supply and has 314 horses at the end of the nozzle, every day is a special occasion.