HRM: OK, Steve, where did it begin?
SC: I worked on a Top Fuel team called “The Gas House Gang.”
I was seven. Actually, I lived across the street and gravitated
to that slinky car, so they let me go to Lions with them. When I
was in high school (1972), I had a 421 inch small block in my early
Nova. That car ran 10s, and I drove it every day. I wound up with
a prototype intake manifold (it later became the Pro Ram) I got
from Vic Edelbrock Sr., who was very interested in my big inch small
block. When the engine was wounded on the dyno, Bobby Meeks let
me keep the manifold. It had 660-cfm carbs with 850 double pumper
base plates. During my college days, I worked on the SR71 spy plane
project and was in charge of writing a computer program for a sophisticated
welder control design. Despite the high-tech deal, I kept my interest
in street cars.
HRM: No drag racing, just street cars?
SC: No drags then, but I was going to The (Colorado) River a lot
in those days, too, and got hooked up with a blown gasoline flat
bottom; the boat was called “Kaleidoscope.” It held
world records for blown gas flat bottoms. I was doing stuff out
of my garage then, and when my friends kept busting my chops about
not having a shop, I told them I’d have one in a month. That
was in ’81. I leased some space to work on specialty stuff
and through (the defunct) BAE Turbo. I became involved in turbo
charging. I was prototype builder for BAE, and this work naturally
segued into the field of electronic fuel injection. Robert Bosch
specifically. I had this idea that I could make the factory EFI
do things it wasn’t designed to do.
HRM: So what was the key experience that
got you where you are today?
SC: I managed to source some little-known technical works that I
called the Scared Books. After I read them all my electronics background
came together, and I began to see the big picture and what I would
be doing in the future. The PC was just becoming available. In the
mid- ‘80s I brought in people who knew a lot more about this
stuff then I did. That was key, to learn from the best talent available.
In ’88-’89 I got hooked up with someone who was supposed
to be the after market guru. Turned out I knew more than he did.
Like a dope, I gave him the knowledge that I had developed (all
tuning was done with 87 octane gas), and he tried to screw me with
it. I set out on my goal again and hired some smart people to help
HRM: So how does computer tuning actually
SC: It’s still a matter of air in, air out. A plumber taught
me that with pipes of equal diameter, long and strait verses long
and twisted will not flow the same. Those 45 and 90 degree angles
means that the air must go around a corner and therefore encounter
resistance. Also, a difference of up to 4 inches in pipe length
in an “equal length” system will not impede output.
In all, you must tune the entire package, as it will be in the car,
not on the dyno. I can tune a turbo engine on a dyno to a high degree,
but I know it will not run the same when it’s in the car.
The computer codes are actually tables, grids of numbers and letters,
and to ascertain the table, I use a scan tool and lots of intuition.
When you jet a carb, you usually begin somewhere in the ballpark
and then make your changes from there. In kind, the microprocessor
becomes the jets. Think of the computer as a jigsaw puzzle; when
one piece fits, it shows where the next two pieces go. I map the
original spark and fule tables, and then I create a table of my
own that’s specific to the equipment on the car.
HRM: What else in involved?
SC: Though some will disagree, I’ve found that an air/fuel
ratio of 12.8:1 (against the stoichiometric ideal of 14.7:1) will
produce the most peak horsepower. It’s better to err on the
side of richness so I begin with that ratio as the guideline and
then wiggle the rest from there. Then there’s what’s
called “octane creep.” As the engine accumulates wear
it wants more octane (or the ability to resist detonation). To reduce
the tendency to rattle, I program a few degrees of spark retard.
HRM: What do you see in the crystal ball?
SC: The tuning process has recently become more difficult because
the OE software guys are laying more traps for criminal types like
me. They are actually putting in way to much information, which
is bad because I’ll have to spend just that much more time
deciding what’s useful and what’s smoke.
HRM: Is it a precursor to OBD-III?
SC: No, that’s the Bog Brother scenario where the car talks
to the authorities about what you’ve been doing with it. We’ve
got a ways to go before that happens, and by that time, we’ll
probably be to old to care.