We’ve all been there. You’re young, naïve, full of hopes and dreams.
You know, the ones you have before you run headfirst into the concrete wall that is life & the numerous responsibilities you didn’t sign up for as an adult member of the human race.
In my case, one of them included having a vehicle that could use all of 400 horsepower, or more. Doing the 0-100 km/h sprint in about 4 seconds would be nice too. But mostly it was about that number. It had to match what the WRC cars could deliver, or better it. 300 brake horsepower sounded like a lot back then. Today, it really isn’t.
In 2015, I thought that dream was going to end up with me cramming a 7-liter V8 into the engine bay of a then 9-year old Japanese wagon. This didn’t happen. What did happen is that in 2017, I sold the sensible station wagon bought a lemon of a car.
Like all interesting project cars, at first glance, they don’t look like much. There’s usually a lot to fix.
For most Kenyans, anything with 4-wheels and an engine is an appliance. Does it start? Will it burn a hole in my pocket? Can my usual mechanic fix whatever problems crop up without ripping me off? Oh, and I have to look good in it.
That’s the typical checklist here, and it explains why we end up with so many underpowered, shoddily maintained BMWs and Mercedes on our roads. Because image, or our perception of it, comes first. Who needs maintenance when you’re driving an underpowered tub of German lard? A project car requires a different mentality. It’s a borderline obsession with creating something fantastic out of something sub-par. It’s you saying no, when everyone else says, yes.
Which inevitably means starting with something that has a million problems to fix. The 6-speed dual-clutch transmissions in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xs hada curious flaw – especially for a German firm. The mechanism that would shift it into 4th gear had about as much integrity as a Kenyan politician .It wasn’t long before they failed.
But that wasn’t a deal breaker. The engine and gearbox were going to be fully rebuilt anyway, so all the old stuff had to come out. This, I thought, would be a short project. 2 months of disassembly, rebuilding, and I can finally get behind the wheel of something potent before I turn 30.
Life, had other ideas.
In the same way that an army marches on its stomach, project success is heavily reliant on logistics. When you’re trying to source 300 plus kilograms of parts from continents away, all kinds of things can – and do - go wrong. I ended up with an extra pair of camshafts, for instance, because the initial set ordered was ‘misplaced’, and then ‘found’, months later.
After being so agonizingly close to finishing the engine re-assembly, the cam cap snapped. This is a relatively small, but vital block of forged aluminum that cradles one end of your camshafts and keeps them in place when you’re revving out to 8000 rpm. Between ordering a replacement, and getting it into the block, at least 4 months had passed.
What I thought was going to be a 2-month project stretched into a 13-month slog, fighting one issue after another. The flip side, however, is that this little 4-door sedan taught me things about people, myself, and talent, which I didn’t know. I found local talent in precision machining & fabrication which I didn’t know about. Friendships were built around this vehicle and all her tantrums. Friends who said yes to working on this crazy project, and proceeded to build it come rain, or shine. In the process, a side-hustle was born.
The biggest lessons, however, were in being patient, and facing ideas that seem too large, or too complicated to pull off. If you told my then 10-year-old self, watching Collin McRae fly through rally stages in a Mica Blue Subaru Impreza, that I would own, much less daily-drive something with more power than that vehicle had 20-yearslater, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
I certainly wasn’t the target audience Mitsubishi had in mind when Tommi Makinen & Collin McRae were fighting epic battles for the World Rally Championship. But here I am, decades later, buying one of the last of a dying breed of stupidly rapid, capable, all-wheel-drive rally replicas.
Mjolnir, as she’s known, finally got back on the road 14-months after she rolled into a makeshift workshop.
She has her quirks. At slow speeds over rough roads, she can be a bit of handful, to put it mildly. I adore the stock bucket seats, but – from passenger feedback – they were certainly not built to cater for curvaceous women. Like all of her predecessors, she has a horrifically bad turning circle. If I’ve ever held you up in a parking lot as I do a 10-point turn where everyone else would do a 3-pointer, I apologize. If I eke out 250 km between top ups, I consider that a good run…especially when you have 2-bar of boost under your right foot, and fuel injectors which may as well be a firehose dumping fuel into the cylinders every time I tickle the throttle.
Was it all worth it? Absolutely.
Especially if it creates the next generation of car enthusiasts.