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Mod­ern cars are ruled by elec­tron­ics, but you still have plenty of op­tions to add some mus­cle, says Stu­art Martin.

IN THE good old days, en­thu­si­asts look­ing to add mus­cle to their ma­chines got their hands dirty. Refin­ish­ing and pol­ish­ing the cylin­der head, free­ing up the ex­haust flow with head­ers and a big­ger-bore pipe, play­ing with the fuel-air mix through the carby and adopt­ing a more ag­gres­sive valve tim­ing and lift to cram more fuel into the com­bus­tion cham­ber.

While some of that is still part of a course of au­to­mo­tive steroids, the mod­ern en­gine man­age­ment sys­tems con­trol­ling most as­pects of an en­gine is where ex­tra mus­cle can be found.

With lower fuel con­sump­tion, re­duced tailpipe emis­sions and bet­ter per­for­mance all de­sir­able, af­ter­mar­ket work­shops have had to be­come more tech­ni­cally equipped.

Re­pro­gram­ming (or ‘‘chip­ping’’) an en­gine man­age­ment sys­tem can pro­duce worth­while re­sults.

Ade­laide af­ter­mar­ket work­shop KPM Motorsport’s David Roscio says most of the com­pany’s work now in­volves less in­ter­nal en­gine work, al­though gains from me­chan­i­cal mod­i­fi­ca­tions can be fur­ther am­pli­fied with elec­tronic changes.

‘‘We up­grade the in­take, ex­haust and the elec­tronic side of things in the en­gines,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s much less about new camshaft or crankshafts - the en­gines them­selves in­ter­nally are much bet­ter than they used to be.

‘‘That sort of work on cylin­der heads and things like that isn’t re­ally re­quired now.’’

Adding mus­cle re­spon­si­bly to your pride and joy should also in­clude up­grades to the un­der­pin­nings.

Brakes are the most ob­vi­ous place to start, with en­thu­si­asts quickly able to im­prove the stop­ping power.

Larger discs of­fer a big­ger area to grip, pro­vided the wheels al­low for the ex­tra di­am­e­ter; big­ger calipers and tougher brake pads will pro­vide more stop­ping force.

The brakes’ abil­ity to re­peat hard stops will be im­proved with bet­ter ven­ti­la­tion - cross-drilled and grooved discs im­prove heat dis­si­pa­tion for bet­ter stop­ping power more of­ten.

The sus­pen­sion is an area of­ten ne­glected by car own­ers in gen­eral, with dampers left un­changed far be­yond their nor­mal use­ful life of less than a decade.

Af­ter­mar­ket add-ons for a more mus­cu­lar sus­pen­sion will de­pend on the type of sus­pen­sion.

Firmer dampers and springs can re­duce the ride height and the amount of body roll (where the car leans) in cor­ners, some­thing also helped by thicker anti-roll bars.

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