INTERVIEW WITH A CRITIC: DID I TURN OVER TO THE DARK SIDE?

Q. Hi Baraza. Tell me a story. What’s new for 2016?

Listen here. They are everywhere. You can see them, but even worse, you can hear them. Big roads, small roads, trunk roads, access roads, parking lots, pavements… they are simply everywhere. Their presence is unmistakable: it starts off with a loud noise, followed by a flash of blue and gold and then more noise. More often than not, this is usually accompanied by acts of varying social acceptability as far as traffic regulations are concerned. They do not respect clocks: be it dawn or dusk or the darkest hours of damnation when mortal men are asleep and the demons roam in search of a lonely soul weakened by uncertainty and lack of faith, they will still be themselves: raucous and ready to rip the social fibre apart at the seams. They are a tight-knit clique- the force of brotherhood is strong in this demographic- but part of the larger community detests them with a passion reserved for the devil and are not above condemning them to whichever fate will compel them to see the error of their ways.

I have seen several close mates degenerate into this abyss of possession by psychopathic tendency. This is how you too can become one of them: it usually starts off early: you are one of the children that in primary school glorified that one village resident – a young, single man in his late twenties or early thirties – who steadfastly and blatantly defied all nuptial exhortations from parents, uncles, grandparents, the local pastor and those of his neighbors who had post-pubescent but still highly impressionable daughters best described as “comely”. The reason this young man stood out was because his source of income was “indeterminate” and he had more energy than any normal human being had a right to. He was everywhere, and you could hear him because of his car. He either drove a Peugeot 504 saloon, a Datsun or a pickup of sorts. Invariably, this car had tasteless adornments: several antennae poking skywards along the bonnet, roof and boot. Myriad spot-lamps weighing down the front bumper. Mudguards the size of curtains, either in red or bright orange. Tiny alloy rims on equally tiny (but very wide) tyres, mounted on a widened track. Chrome fender flares. Tinted windows. Gaudily colored decals and vinyls all over, some of which say “Turbo” (the 504 was not turbocharged locally) or “3000” (neither did it have a 3.0 litre engine). The look he was going for was possibly a rally car, but the result was just a little bit too campy to be called that.

He was a fan of the rally, and since you thought he was such a cool dude, you became a rally anorak too. In light of his preferences, the young man would want his 504/Datsun to sound like a rally car, so he would poke a hole in the exhaust and install a self-fabricated muffler tip four inches in diameter. This would sap power from the engine, but that was largely irrelevant because in his mind, it sounded right and it looked right. Fathers of aforementioned daughters would hate him and tell their precious girls to stay away from him. The girls simply couldn’t. They would attend the Safari Rally with him, and one day you would tag along with your “hero”, and that one day was the day you saw the late Colin McRae catch air in his 555 Benson & Hedges fire-breathing, supposedly ground-hugging rocket car; land hard, wipe out spectacularly, recover with superhuman effort and proceed to win the rally championship. You were awed. The name “Subaru Impreza Turbo” then etched itself into your mind, overwriting the file previously labeled “Peugeot 504 GL with a ‘3000’ decal on the fenders”.

This is how, two decades later, you find yourself pedaling an unabashedly vocal clown car that subjects you to levels of derision and vilification unseen since the original release of Hitler’s Mein Kampf; a biting treatise urging Aryans to exterminate Jews; not unlike female opinion shapers (read bloggers) urging their compatriots not to date any male spotted at the helm of a blue car with gold wheels; an impertinent observation I must add.  We petrolheads know better. We know exactly what those cars are and what they are capable of. 80% of the rest of the world doesn’t. Sometimes, I think, it is hard being a Subaru driver. Not only are they the recipients of shade from all quarters, but in a large number of cases, they quickly discover that what McRae was driving and what they are driving are not necessarily the same thing, despite the similarities in appearance. Understeer becomes their friend, as do bent con-rods. Many have fallen by the wayside along the bumpy road that is Subaru ownership, and I do mean fallen by the wayside quite literally. What was a favorite toy yesterday could very easily be a tree wrapping tomorrow or a bas-relief metallic sculpture mounted in a ditch the day after.

Let’s get one thing clear, Subaru fans; I am not one of you. Yes, I respect the drivetrain layout; and yes, I like the sound of an unmolested flat four revving at 5500rpm coupled to the angry hiss of an aftermarket HKS blow-off valve venting excess or unwanted boost into the atmosphere when I lift, but I will not speak in your terms. I will not tear the tarmac to shreds when toddlers are trying to sleep, and I will not overtake Premios on the pavement. I will not say: “I’m running 1.8 on my TD04 and making 380 at the wheels at about 6k”…. what is THAT?

(For those not in the know, this is the translation: “My TD04 model of turbocharger is developing turbo boost pressure of 1.8 bars and the result is 380 wheel horsepower at 6000rpm”).

For one, I am not going to “mod” (tune) my Subaru  and it is very unlikely that I will ever put it on a dynamometer. I will not paint it funny colors, nor will I install vast mud-flaps; and I think the current exhaust pipe is big enough for my amusement without making my neighbors consider writing a letter to the village headman complaining about the noise.

Q. Wait, what? Let’s take it back one step. Did you just say “my Subaru”?

Yes, in fact I did. My darling “Mazdalago LP111-2”, the venerable Demio Sport with its 5-speed manual transmission, alloy rims, factory body kit complete with rear wing, tastefully tinted windows and 1500cc 4-cylinder engine found a new home a mere 96 hours after I put it up for sale. In its place is…. (it’s really hard to write this)… a Subaru: turbocharged plus intercooler; rear spoiler, side skirts and with a big exhaust pipe. And it’s blue. Feel free to say “Njoki Chege Express”, but DO NOT EVER SAY THAT TO MY FACE!

Q. Oooh boy, so you got an Impreza STi?

Actually, no. What I got is a twin-turbo BH5 Subaru Legacy GT-B E-Tune II estate, what the English would call a station wagon. It has many similarities with the recently sold Mazda: both are blue, both are 5-door wagons, both have tinted windows, both have 5-speed manual transmissions. But where one is fast, the other is ridiculously fast. Where one was practical, the other has the carrying capacity of a pickup. Where one had two radios, the other only has one, but it comes with the aural gravity of a 100,000-strong rock concert. Incidentally, both cost the same amount of money: what I got for the Mazda is what I paid for the Leggy.

Q. Twin-turbo BH5 Subaru Legacy GT-B E-Tune II… that’s quite a name. But aren’t you the same person who in Car Clinic claimed the twin-turbo mill in the GT is unreliable?

Yes I am.

Q. And…?

And what? Many are the times I have said: Do as I say, not as I do. I know how to find my way around cars that I’d normally not recommend to others. You are paying attention to someone who once operated a Peugeot 405 SR for close to two years, so go figure. I have a career as a motoring columnist: not only will I sling “regular” and highly desirable vehicles (Toyota Starlet, Mazda Demio); once in a while I will leap head-first into the murky deep end and indulge in a decision that may initially not appear very sound. Plus, I wanted a bigger, faster car; and that is exactly what I have now.

Q. What will you do when the engine goes bang?

I’ll probably buy another engine. But first, I’ll do my best to avoid that eventuality. For starters, one has to watch out for the fuel quality. The twin-turbo engine is factory-tuned to run on 98 RON fuel, while our best V Power here hovers around the 95 RON mark. So safe mode and engine knocks will be my lot if I do not take some pre-emptive measures. Just to be clear: the GT is not exactly unreliable; it’s just that it’s not meant to run on our class of fuel. In addition, the zenki versions of the BH5 with automatic gearboxes had some complications with the transmission. Mine is a kouki version – the Revision D, E-Tune; and anyway, it is a three-pedal car, so no worries on that end.

(*Zenki: first or early generation. Kouki: second or later generation)

Q. So what measures are these?

I’ll get a custom ECU map. An ECU map is the programming within the engine management computer. I’ll “tell” the engine (via the custom map) that the fuel going into the tank is similar in composition to the bone soup normally sold outside estate butcheries, and to therefore adjust the ignition timing and injector pulses accordingly. From there, I’ll be free to rev all the way to 7500 rpm (I hope) without nervously listening for a noise like an earthquake in a cutlery warehouse and watching for valves dancing around on top of the bonnet. I may even increase boost pressure in the turbos by a notch or two.

Q. ECU mapping… tweaking the turbos… that sounds like “modding”

Shut up.

Q. How do you like the car so far?

Not bad actually. I noticed some “things” which reminded me that I had in fact bought a turbocharged wagon for a lot less than it would normally go for. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable but apparently there is a blackout in that estate. The previous owner preferred to hug the steering wheel while I prefer sitting a bit farther back. For now I’m hugging the wheel since the seat won’t move. That needs checking. The interior is shockingly intact for a car of this vintage and price, as is the bodywork. The engine pulls cleanly and surely, though until I get the ECU map, I’m limiting myself to 4000-4500 rpm. I may stray to 5000 on V Power, but only on short bursts until the map is installed. The exhaust has a lovely rumble: not too loud, but as stated earlier, loud enough to make me smile. The clutch pedal is a little heavier than I was used to, and the sharp-ish biting point causes a mousetrap-type of engagement, but nothing I haven’t seen before (in other Subarus). It calls for a deftness of the left foot, and deftness is what I have, if nothing else. The car is HUGE: I just came off a tiny hatchback and I’m now in a lengthy (real) estate. Oh, and the car threw a check engine light briefly…

Q. Uh-oh…

No cause for alarm. One of the injector nozzles is over-delivering fuel into its cylinder/the car is running rich, but that can easily be sorted. A quick shakedown of the car reveals that the rest of the vehicle is as good as almost new. I think I may have landed myself the deal of the year.

Q. That’s what you said about the Mazdalago, and now the E-Tune. How do you do it?

With the Mazda it was about knowing the right people (trusty colleagues who won’t fleece you) at the right time (when they’re upgrading to a bigger car). With the Subaru… I did say that I have a very efficient and effective Facebook group, didn’t I? Well, the car showed up in Zuckerberg’s bedroom and I wasted no time. And in good time too; many were the punters keen to relieve the previous owner of his dark chariot. Sadly for them, I got there first.

Q. Wow. Can I get a ride in it?

No.

___________________

This “interview” has been written in its entirety at the side of the road in the dead of the night. You will have to excuse me now: I have a car with one mission, two turbochargers, three pedals, four cylinders, five-on-the-floor, and an empty bypass lies ahead of me until six in the morning. JoaquÍn Guzmán is not my name, but you can call me El Turbo. The E-Tune is my b— and I’m going to spank it…

Mazda

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One thought on “INTERVIEW WITH A CRITIC: DID I TURN OVER TO THE DARK SIDE?

  1. Today you cracked me up: “Njoki Chege Express”….
    Tell you what if we ever meet and it slips of my mouth I am here asking for forgiveness. ( and hope you’ll leave my jaw intact)

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