RING OF FORTUNE
Ethan Eaton’s 455bhp Astra ‘Burg has helped him through good times and bad, both on and off the asphalt…
Ethan Eaton’s 455bhp Astra ‘Burg has helped him through good times and bad, both on and off the asphalt.
Modifying cars is great fun, but with today’s tuning tech making seriously big bhp possible from Vauxhall’s line of turbocharged two-litre engines, the chance of mechanical failure as a consequence of pushing a C20LET, Z20LET, Z20LEH or even an A20NFT to its limit is high. And when things go wrong, they tend to go badly wrong. Just ask Ethan Eaton, the owner of Astra VXR Nürburgring Edition #348.
“I was driving flat-out along my local bypass when the car’s engine decided to dump its oil,” he sighs. The loss of a Vauxhall’s lifeblood is bad no matter when it occurs, but as if to add insult to injury, Ethan’s ‘Burg decided to give up the ghost a short while after being on the receiving end of a fresh engine build. “I discovered one of the bolts on the oil filter sandwich plate had come loose,” he groans. “I’ve fixed the fault, installed a new filter and flushed through with fresh oil. My hope is there hasn’t been any damage done. Only time will tell.”
Ah, yes. Time. That most frustrating of factors when it comes to working on cars. You’re either unable to find enough hours in the day to crack on with even the smallest of jobs, or you think you’ve got an age to play with, only for fate to throw a discouraging curveball your way in the lead up to a deadline that can’t be shifted. “I’m supposed to be readying the car for PVS,” says Ethan, nervously. “Worrying about the state of the engine is troubling enough, but I joined some mates at a meet yesterday, only for the car’s colour-coded Kuro Carbon carbon-fibre lower bumper to disintegrate when it came into contact with a bump in the road!” Clearly, Lady Luck hasn’t been not on his side.
If Ethan was less determined, this series of errors might stimulate thoughts of throwing in the towel, but ‘Burg #348 is more than just a car to the VXR fan from Whitchurch. “My better half has been very ill,” he tells us. “She’s spent a lot
of the recent past laid up in hospital. It’s been a challenging time. Working on my Astra has provided me with a much-needed release to relieve stress. It might sound strange to some, but this car has helped me to cope through tough times. I won’t be giving up on it,” he says, solemnly.
His previous spells of Griffin ownership have seen him in charge of a variety of Corsas, including a Corsa C he was playing with whilst working as an apprentice bricklayer. Sadly, his low wage ensured saving for the Z20LET, tuning equipment and big brakes he’d set his heart on was a difficult pursuit. “One of my colleagues was selling a Mk6 Fiesta Zetec S Anniversary Edition,” he says. “Buying it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I immediately regretted my decision. The Ford drove appallingly and rattled worse than any car I’ve ever sat in. I ended up selling the Blue Oval in favour of a Corsa D, but tempted by the lure of an Impreza, I left Vauxhall ownership all over again. Predictably, I was met with disappointment. Again!” he laughs, before outlining how poor the saucy Subaru proved itself to be. “Put simply, I hated it!”
The completion of his apprenticeship and status as being self-employed finally brought in a decent amount of dosh each month, enabling the purchase of the ‘Burg he owns today. “It was a completely standard car when I bought it three years ago,” he says. It didn’t stay that way for long. 320bhp arrived fast thanks to a Rabbid remap and airflow upgrades, including an EDS inlet manifold the car continues to make use of. Moderately modified, the VXR’s power output remained unchanged for a year until Ethan “went Garrett” in the hunt for the 455bhp his car is presently producing.
A cylinder head, crankshaft and C20XE block (deemed to be stronger than the Z20LEH part) was handed to Phil Nicholls at Flintshire Performance Engines with an instruction to build a powerplant capable of comfortably generating 500bhp. Before long, Wössner pistons, PEC connecting rods, Piper valve springs, Newman camshafts and RnD Motorsport timing pulleys were being fitted, along with porting and polishing work intended to promote unrestricted airflow. Ethan bought the Owen Developments GT3076HTA M-spec turbocharger formerly used to extract ponies from Charlie Gaskin’s 533bhp Astra VXR Arctic Edition, a car we featured in the August-September 2016 edition of
Performance Vauxhall (order a back issue at bit.ly/issuespv). “Charlie was breaking his car and I was only too happy to relieve him of the turbo!” smiles Ethan. He was also pleased to invest in high-flow fuel equipment, including 1000cc fuel injectors, twin fuel pumps (an ASNU 330lph pump and a Bosch 044 unit) and a swirl pot, along with supporting equipment for the turbo, not limited to a Turbosmart wastegate, a recirculating valve from the same manufacturer, an Airtec Stage 2 intercooler and a return to Rabbid for mapping after the installation of a custom tubular exhaust manifold fabricated by Nikky Davies at ND
“A FULL THREE-INCH EXHAUST COUPLED WITH A RETURN TO RABBID IS ON THE CARDS”
Performance & Fabrication. “Phil and Nikky share a unit in Wrexham, so it made perfect sense to take advantage of the services being offered under one roof,” reasons Ethan. Being handy with a set of spanners ensured he was able to fit the new hardware in his garage at home. He’d already installed a Wavetrac limited-slip differential, KW coilovers and a rear beam equipped with Powerflex polybushes, and little more than a month after handing the Red Top bottom end to Phil, the car was up and running with an extra 135bhp and a generous amount of additional torque.
“Richard at Rabbid added ‘boost by gear’ functionality as part of his Rabbid ROM remap offering,” says Ethan after we ask how noticeable the impact of the mechanical work and mapping has been to the performance and driveability of his VXR. “Power is transferred to the road better than ever. I’m really happy with how the car performs in all driving conditions,” he adds.
A Helix six-paddle clutch has been added to the standard M32 six-speed gearbox, and KSport eight-piston brakes have bolstered stopping power. More obvious is the addition of a CM Composites front splitter, carbon canards and eighteen-inch Bola B1 wheels painted Candy Blue, a colour continued inside the car, where a custom multi-point bolt-in roll cage painted the same shade wraps itself around Corbeau Pro Series buckets seats and a flatbottomed steering wheel.
Rally-esque anti-glare flock covers the dashboard, a panel which supports an AEM water/methanol injection system controller. The kit’s core components are located in the stripped rear end, close to the spare wheel well where the uprated fuel equipment lives. “I’ve
always wanted to have a bash at track days. The roll cage and meth gear are a reflection of my intention to get plenty of seat time at circuits. My only hope is the engine holds out after it drained itself of oil!” remarks Ethan.
Obviously, the condition of the C20XE-bottomed engine and the purchase of a replacement lower front bumper are his priorities, especially with such a short period of time between now and the car’s planned appearance at PVS. Even so, he’s already outlining the next round of updates. “A full three-inch exhaust system coupled with a return to Rabbid is on the cards,” he announces. Some might think continuing to alter the make-up of his modified motor is asking for trouble, and we have no doubt his recent streak of bad luck wouldn’t inspire confidence in softer souls, but Ethan’s made of stern stuff. Besides, he’s not prepared to dismiss the brilliant ‘Burg which has helped him to cope with difficult times in his personal life. We can’t wait to see the car at the show!
Let’s hope the engine isn’t suffering damage after sudden oil loss!
KSports peeking out from behind Bolas
Caged cabin signals Ethans intention to experience plenty of track time