Turbocharging is a great way to extract power from small engines. Saab realised this in the 1970s when they first began working on their production unit. Many manufacturers have gone down this road since, often with fantastic results. Modifying your own vehicle with a turbo kit may seem like an easy option, but just how hard is it to do?
Before you start
To begin with, it should be stated that, although this article will guide you through how to install a turbo kit, the installation itself involves items that bring together fuel, electrics, extreme pressures and high temperatures. These can be a recipe for disaster if not dealt with correctly. Therefore, if you have any doubts at all about your skills, leave it to a professional. You will require a fairly extensive tool kit to tackle this task. A full range socket set, screwdrivers, spanners, a trolley jack, axle stands and possibly lifting equipment will all be needed. The kits themselves are available from a variety of companies. One of the bigger players in the market, with a particular bias towards Japanese cars, is Autolab. Many of their kits are based around the Garrett T04 turbo which is a relatively low-pressure unit that can be used without compression issues. At the very minimum, any kit you buy should contain the manifold (also called the turbo header), turbocharger, waste gate and a fitting kit. Trial fit all the parts before you proceed to avoid problems when you have your car in pieces.
Fitting the kit
The fitting of the kit itself is not complicated as long as you have purchased one specific to your model of car. The first thing to do is remove the original exhaust manifold (this may include the need to remove the down pipes). Replace these with the parts supplied in the kit ensuring that all the necessary gaskets and seals are in place. Now, you can attach the turbo to the manifold with its own gasket and bolt set. You should also have pipework for the modified air intake and waste gate. Now is the time to attach these parts. Depending on the car and kit, there may be a series of oil and/or water pipes to route and fit. This is a point where you might need to cut into original pipework on the car, so take great care to avoid costly errors.
What they don't tell you
Using a turbo increases the chance of detonation in the engine. To avoid this, you must use either a very low-pressure turbo, a water injection kit, or space the head with thicker gaskets and a spacer plate. Failure to do this may severely damage your engine.