Do tuners know better?
Tweaked Audi R8 driven
Ten or 20 years ago, it was Subaru Imprezas and Mitsubishi Evos. For the past decade or so, it has been the Nissan GT-R. So where will the UK tuning scene go next? According to powertrain specialist Ricky Elder, European supercars are set to be the next big thing. “Over the last two years, I’ve really felt it change,” says Elder, founder of Swindon-based RE Performance. “The GT-R has been the king of the UK tuning scene for a long time, but now we’re starting to see the rise of the supercar – Audi R8s, Lamborghinis, Mclarens and even Ferraris.”
In North America, modifiers have been switched on to supercars for a long time already and, according to Elder, the UK is ready to follow suit. “US companies like Dallas Performance and Underground take European supercars and turn them into the fastest cars in the world, some developing 2000bhp. Those cars are terrifying. In the UK, we’re terrified of voiding our warranties, so we don’t have a tuning scene like they do, but it’s getting there.”
As R8s, Lamborghini Gallardos and Huracáns slip out of their manufacturer warranty periods and drop in value, a growing number of people are beginning to explore their tuning potential. The movement is being driven by those who have
owned highly tuned GT-RS and now want to switch into something more exotic. “Lots of guys are getting out of tuned GT-RS, buying real supercars and finding them dog slow, because they’re used to 900bhp,” says Elder.
R8s are particularly popular, not least because they’re relatively common and earlier V8 models can now be picked up for around £40,000. And in the case of the V10 versions, non-plus models can be uprated to Plus power outputs with a simple remap. They’re exactly the same engines, after all.
And if you want really big power? Twin-turbocharging is the way to go. Elder, who worked as a technical specialist for the Volkswagen Group for eight years before starting RE Performance 18 months ago, is quickly establishing himself as a leading authority on turbo upgrades for R8s and Lamborghinis.
He says: “Those engines will do 850bhp with just a twin-turbo kit and not much else – stock engine, clutch, gearbox and electronics. You’re talking £25,000, plus the donor car. That’s hypercar performance for a tenth of the price.
“We’ve just built an R8 GT, which was a £70,000 bill. That had a rebuilt gearbox and engine with aftermarket rods and pistons, head work and so on. The owner wants 1400bhp so that’s what we’ve built the car to do.
“I think we’re going to get a big Mclaren wave. I’m seeing more and more as they drift out of warranty. They’re very tunable because they’re already turbocharged. They are immensely fast and we can make them faster.
“We also did a 488 GTB the other week. Ferrari ECUS are so easy to get into. You can tune them with an abacus and a bit of tin foil. The electronics aren’t protected like on other brands. Just give the ECU a tickle and all of a sudden you’ve got horsepower.”
As fascinating as it all sounds, I’m left with a number of questions. For one thing, I can’t help but wonder why you’d take an R8 – one of the last remaining normally aspirated supercars – and turbocharge it. But mostly, I just want to know what on earth a 900bhp R8 V10 feels like. Happily, Elder’s first-generation demo car is warmed up and ready for a test drive.
“It’s got a stock engine, stock clutch, stock fuel system and so on,” Elder says. “It’s only running 0.4 bar of boost. I wanted to show what we can achieve with just a twin-turbo conversion and without having to spend another £50,000 on rebuilding the engine and transmission. Even so, the car is bloody intimidating!”
Driving through the outskirts of Swindon, it’s only the completely distorted soundtrack that gives away this car’s big power upgrade – the bassy, noisy idle and the whooshes and hisses as boost is built up and dumped. Otherwise, though, the car is every bit as civilised as a factoryspecification R8.
That all changes when we find some clear country roads. I tentatively prod the throttle pedal in one of the higher gears first, just to ease myself in. Eventually, I find the courage to shift down to second gear and press the accelerator all the way to the floor. Almost immediately, I lift right off again. The surge of acceleration through the mid-range is so intense that my unthinking instinct is to make it stop.
In third gear, the car accelerates with a crazed, unrelenting force, firing itself towards the horizon like a stone flung from a slingshot. Only once in a solid half day of driving did I manage to keep my foot f lat in
Prosser finds it hard to keep the tuned R8’s throttle pinned
Elder tells our man about a 1400bhp R8