Take one 518bhp R8 V10, apply two turbos and specialist knowledge and voilà: a hypercar chaser for a £25,000 upgrade
17 September 2017

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 wned 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 factory-specification 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 flat in second gear all the way to the redline. It actually felt uncomfortably accelerative. I’m not sure I’d have had any spare brain capacity to deal with anything unforeseen happening. In fact, it was all I could do to grip the steering wheel and tell my right ankle to stay at full extension. I’m certain this car feels more accelerative than
a McLaren P1, otherwise the fastest car I’ve driven. 

It isn’t just a laggy, awkward drag-strip refugee, though. The turbos start boosting at around 3000rpm and, with the rev limiter well beyond 8000rpm, there’s a very wide operating window. You’re never off boost. And throttle response is very good for an aftermarket turbo conversion, with only a fractional delay between the throttle being opened and boost arriving. It helps, of course, that even before the turbos spool up you have 5.2 litres and 10 cylinders behind you. Being four-wheel drive, the R8 also gets the huge power down without too much fuss. 

Perhaps the most impressive thing, though, is that Elder has managed 
to retain the basic character of the V10 engine. Rather than being flat and lifeless like lots of modern turbo engines, it still feels linear throughout the rev range and you still want to chase the 8500rpm redline. The soundtrack remains, too, a wailing, high-pitched exhaust note underscored by the manic wind rush of the turbos and blow-off valves. 

Of course, you simply cannot
 use this amount of power on the road beyond fleeting bursts of acceleration, unless you’re prepared to take wild risks. You’d need a track or a runway to tap into the fullness of the car’s overall performance capability. But any reservations I had about turbocharging a normally aspirated supercar have been completely and irreversibly blown away. And I absolutely understand why somebody would be attracted to a car like this: it’s so exciting and completely intimidating, too. 

Driving just doesn’t get any more thrilling. I’ve never met the person who designed the garish graphics on this R8’s side blades, so I’m impressed he or she knew exactly what facial expression I would pull every time the rev counter swept towards 8000rpm in second gear. 

One of the highlights of Ricky Elder’s eight years with the VW Group was building a car to take on Bonneville Speed Week in 2011. “Skoda wanted to do something special to celebrate 10 years of vRS,” he says. “It decided to try and do 300km/h [186mph] in an Octavia vRS at Bonneville. 

“We took a brand-new car, put a ridiculous roll cage in it and gave it massive power. We uprated the rods, did a little bit of head work and put a dirty great big turbo on it. With nearly 700bhp, the car did 227mph. The class record still stands six years on.” 

Should you but a modified car? 

If tuning a car can be a cost-effective way of achieving the big power outputs of a much more exotic and expensive machine, 
as with this twin-turbo Audi R8, buying an already tuned car can be more cost-effective still. After all, modified cars hardly ever recoup the money that has been spent on them. 

But is it sensible to buy a car that has already been tuned? After all, you can’t always be sure how well the car has been modified, who
it has been modified by or what parts were used. The key is to buy
a car that has been modified by a reputable tuning company. Most professional outfits should be happy to discuss a particular car’s past with you and they will know exactly what has been done to it. 

Buying a modified car with a unclear past, though? Be very careful indeed. 

Tuner fishing: hook a modded used car, from £22K 

NISSAN GT-R 

Year 2013 Price £62,495 Power 720bhp 

Not all modified GT-Rs are 1000bhp monsters, although this 720bhp one
 isn’t short of poke. It’s a Litchfield-built
car, based on a 2014-model-year Track
Pack model. According to the advert, the car cost £86,000 new and a further £10,000 has been spent on the Litchfield stage 4.5 upgrade and £7000 on a rebuilt transmission. On the outside, the car looks completely standard, so you wouldn’t know it was so heavily uprated until it ripped off into the distance. 

NISSAN GT-R 

Year 2008 Price £65,000 Power 1000bhp 

Aside from the forged 20in wheels
and carbonfibre skirts, this car
looks very close to a standard
one, unlike like so many other
tuned GT-Rs. And that’s despite it developing a massive 1000bhp. There is something very cool about a near-stock-looking GT-R with a four-figure power output. It has apparently recorded a 0-100mph time of 5.4sec, making it faster off the line than a Bugatti Veyron. Not bad considering that it’ll cost you about one twentieth of a Veyron’s price. 

PORSCHE 911 TURBO (996) 

Year 2003 Price £54,995 Power 650bhp 

It takes a special sort of person to
 drive any breed of 911 Turbo and
 conclude that it needs more power.
 They’re already fantastically quick
 just as they roll out of the factory. However, this example has been uprated with Nine Excellence’s 9e30 kit, which lifts its power output to well beyond 600bhp. Receipts for the engine work add up to more than £20,000, and the suspension, brake and styling tweaks are “likely to have cost the same”, according to the advert. 

PORSCHE 911 TURBO (964)

Year 1991
 Price £135,000 Power 800bhp 

This 964-generation 911 Turbo
with the Flachbau — or ‘flat nose’
— conversion was built by CTR
Developments with receipts totalling £250,000. The engine is a 993-gen GT2 Evo motor with twin Borg Warner K27 turbos and is apparently good for 800bhp — an absurd amount of power for an air-cooled 911. The advert says the car has recorded 212mph but can still be used for long drives in “reasonable comfort”. Chassis upgrades include KW Clubsport coil-overs and “big red” 993 Turbo brakes. 

AUDI RS6 AVANT 

Year 2008 Price £22,000 Power 770bhp 

The better part of 800bhp for the
 price of a mid-range Ford Focus looks 
like very good value indeed. The
previous-generation RS6 was never as
good to drive as the current model but, at £22,000, you could probably forgive this one its wooden steering and inert handling. Anyway, this car is all about its twin-turbocharged V10 engine, which produces more than 800lb ft to go with its 770bhp. The car also looks completely standard from the outside, making it perfect for baiting Ferrari drivers. 

FORD MUSTANG 

Year 2011 
Price £48,000 Power 1200bhp 

Comfortably the most powerful car 
we found, this previous-generation 
Mustang is proudly known as the
‘Widow Maker’. The 5.4-litre V8
has been upgraded with a Whipple
supercharger, forged internals, polished and ported heads and full-race cams. The motor has also been balanced and blueprinted. It’s difficult to imagine what the resultant 1200bhp might feel like, especially being deployed through the rear wheels alone, but that ‘Widow Maker’ moniker probably isn’t far from the truth. 

PORSCHE 911 GT2 (997) 

Year 2008 Price £145,000 Power 829bhp 

If there’s one thing the 911 GT2
 does not need, it’s more power.
 Nonetheless, the owner of this 
particular example has spent a huge
 amount money upgrading the twin-turbocharged flat six engine to lift its power beyond 800bhp, all of which is sent to the rear wheels only, via a manual gearbox. Sounds like it might be a bit of a handful, to put it mildly. The car has recorded a 0-186mph time of just 22.5sec, which is a cool 10sec quicker than a Lamborghini Huracán manages. 

FORD FOCUS RS 

Year 2010 Price £23,999 Power 400bhp 

When the second-generation Focus
 RS was new, way back in 2009,
 nobody could quite believe that Ford
 would build a front-wheel-drive car
 with almost 300bhp. That’s par for the hot hatch course these days, but it was a staggering amount of power eight years ago. This heavily uprated car restores some of that sense of lunacy, its turbocharged five-cylinder engine delivering some 400bhp through the front wheels. Extensive exhaust and intake mods, plus a remap, liberate the additional power. 

RE Performance Audi R8 V10 Twin-Turbo versus Audi R8 V10 MK1

Price £25,000 plus donor car vs £50,000 (used)

Engine 
V10, 5204cc, twin-turbo, petrol vs V10, 5204cc, petrol


Power 906bhp at 7000rpm
 vs 518bhp at 8000rpm

Torque 650lb ft at 4000-7500rpm vs 391lb ft at 6500rpm

Gearbox 6-spd automatic or 6-spd manual or 7-spd dual-clutch automatic vs 6-spd automatic or 6-spd manual or 7-spd dual-clutch automatic

Kerb weight 1635kg vs 1635kg


Top speed 
210mph (est)
 vs 196mph

0-60mph 3.0sec (est) vs 
3.7sec


Economy 

na vs 19.2mpg

CO2 emissions 
na vs 351g/km 

Related stories: 

Audi R8 V10 review 

Nissan GT-R review 

Mitsubishi Evo review 

Our Verdict

The second generation Audi R8

Audi sends its mid-engined flagship in search of supercar scalps

Join the debate

Comments
6

17 September 2017

Never mind tuned/chipped exotica...

What would be more interesting to most readers would be a comparison of “tuned” everyday cars against their standard counterparts.

I have a 2009 Corsa 1.3 Ecoflex, (75 bhp model), that I bought as I was doing a 50 mile daily commute and needed something economical. Nippy as it was as standard, I found it lacking on motorways and fast open roads, so decided to have it remapped, something over 12,000 miles in less than a year later I’m glad I had done.

Economy? I tend to drive quite hard, don’t hang about it traffic conditions allow it, and before the remap I’d average around 50 mpg, with it being the same on my regular 25 mile each way commute or a long distance motorway drive holding 80 mph much of the way - After? I struggle to get it below 60 mpg no matter how hard I drive it and a recent long fast motorway run gave me 68 mpg brim to brim, with this being despite my average journey times being faster since the remap too.

Performance? While it may not have been fast in standard 75 bhp tune, it certainly didn’t feel sluggish, (especially for what it was), it being quite capable of an easy, (if noisy), 80 mph motorway cruise), with the biggest frustration being it’s narrow power band causing it to quickly run out of breath when overtaking. Now? What can I say, it’s like a totally different car, pulling hard and cleanly in whatever gear as long as it’s got 2000 revs on the tacho all the way through to 4500 revs, with instant and strong acceleration even being available at 80 mph in 5th, it now feeling really nippy in a sporting way, with the only thing that seems to spoil it now being the gearing, me being confident that a wheel and tyre combination that would raise the overall by around half a gear would give even better improvements to both performance and economy.

NVH? Improvements here were a totally unexpected and welcome bonus, with the pronounced diesel knock of the original tune being almost banished, (I’ve even had passengers who should know better surprised when I’ve told them they are in a diesel), and the whole powertrain being far smoother, it now surging smoothly through to its 1000 rmp extended rev limit instead of sounding strained when asked to work as it did before. Cruise comfort is greatly improved too, with there being far less engine noise protrusion at a comfortable 80, (or even 90), mph motorway cruise than before when it was difficult to listen to the radio at that speed.

Emissions? No visible smoke, ever, and it’s just sailed through its MOT, so no problems emission wise it seems.

All this difference for less than £250 and the car being off the road for a couple of hours, best money I’ve ever spent on a car.I’m sure there are loads of readers out there who would love to see the difference spending a few hundred £’s on their current cars would make Autocar, why not make a feature of it?

Take say 5 popular 3 year old, (then out of warranty), vehicles and run and performance test them for a month, then, after having them professionally remapped, do the same thing again and the comparison is your feature?

Looking forward to reading it Autocar, with me currently wondering what to get and remap next…

17 September 2017

You Tube hosts numerous videos of 'supercar' owners who have lost control of their vehicles on public roads (and sometimes tracks) and more often than not simply because they have attempted to put full 'stock' power through the tyres. More is not always more.

17 September 2017
James Dene wrote:

You Tube hosts numerous videos of 'supercar' owners who have lost control of their vehicles on public roads (and sometimes tracks) and more often than not simply because they have attempted to put full 'stock' power through the tyres. More is not always more.

Maybe not, but here's the thing: often, it is.

17 September 2017

The most worrying part of this whole scene is not the cars - some are fascinating in their engineering - it's the cxnts that drive them.

17 September 2017

As i've got older i get increasingly annoyed by people, mostly young gents, driving irresponsibly in built-up areas. AMG E63s, Audi S3s seems to be the worst offenders in my neck of the woods. I have no idea how the 20-something year-olds afford them. I grew up dreaming about fast cars, spent my career in the car industry, so i'm a total petrolhead. But, there are a lot of tw*ts out there who seem to have access to 3-4-500hp cars and seem intent on driving like bell ends in towns. power is nothing without control. 

18 September 2017

Good cars to aspire to after you've had a proper racing driver course.

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