Free/cheap Performance Tricks?

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I'll admit it. I like to speed. I even bought a radar detector. Late at night, when the roads are dry and the traffic is thin, I can usually be found careening down Connecticut highways.

I asked my gearhead friends for some tips on how to make my Bonneville a racing machine (not that I plan to race):
Colin: "I got a new car. 1997 Pontiac--"
Friend: "Sucks."
Colin: "--Bonneville--"
Friend: "Sucks."
Colin: "...well, it's the SE model."
Friend: "Sucks."
Colin: "Why?"
Friend: "Your body is way too heavy to be an effective speed demon, plus it's domestic, so it sucks."

That's the gist of what he said. And I'll admit, it feels a lot heavier than my old 1994 Mercury Sable (a rare Sable that actually went faster than 85, so I'm told). I trust his advice since he's got a pretty sick car.

It's currently a stock car, so I imagine some cheap things (like a quality air filter, better spark plugs or high-octane fuel plus a bottle of STP Octane Booster) would give it a few extra horses. Being a poor unemployed college student, free/cheap is my middle name. (Come to think of it, I've got a lot of middle names. :laughing:)

Are there any simple tricks to increase performance, or do I need to spend an arm and/or leg to get even simple speed boosts?

posted by  SignOfZeta

Using higher octane fuel will do nothing to increase power in a stock application. Go with Autolite Racing plugs gapped at .035", straight pipe your muffler, and get an electronic shift improver. You won't gain much in power but you'll be able to use it more effectively with the shift improver. I believe the Bonneville to be lighter than my car(mine is about 3800-3900lbs with me in it) and I've had it over is your car "too heavy to be an effective speed demon". The fact that your friend said your car is crap because it's a domestic proves he is incredibly biased and knows little of the world of domestic cars.

I guess the '87 Buick GNX, 'Vette ZR-1, late model Mustangs and Camaros, Z06 'Vettes, C6 'Vettes, Cadilac XLR's, CTS-V's, Vipers of all years, and Saleen S7's all suck. The list could be 4 times as long but I'm sure I've made my point. What does your friend drive and what makes it so "sick"?

posted by  Sick88Tbird

I did my homework, though after I started the topic. Apparently, it burns more cleanly, which could lead to higher temperatures, especially when you pump in octanes above 105. (Like I could afford 105 octane anyway, much less find it.)

Not exactly sure what you said, but it sounds cool. If I could find my spark plugs, I could probably change them myself. (I should really pick up a service manual.) As for the straight-piping and the electronic shift improver, that sounds beyond my range of expertise. I am willing to learn. Keep talking...

While driving it around, I noticed that it's a lot less responsive than my old Sable: when I hit the gas, my Sable went; this just kinda speeds up a bit. I also find it to be quite wide, especially in parking spaces. As for the speed, my car is governed at 108 MPH, so I won't really get the full effect of some mods until I reprogram the ECU.

Hey, he said it sucked. I like it. Too bad GM is stopping production of the Bonneville.

I don't know what model his is offhand; it's one of those Asian imports (coincidentally, so's he :laughing: ), moderately modded and with letters and numbers for a name, but I have seen pictures and heard stories.

Rear-wheel drive, though, so I should really challenge him to a race in the snow... not smart, but worth it :mrgreen:

posted by  SignOfZeta

Actually, lower octane fuel burns at higher temperatures, easier to ignite, but burns hotter. So, higher octane will actually hurt your motor than do it any good. Besides, it's loads cheaper to run lower octane.

Does the car have the 3800 motor? You may have to take off the cover for the motor to get at them. Just look down and you'll see the front 3 and feel around the back and you'll feel the other 3. If it's a 3800 motor, those are definately one of the best designed motors out there for a FWD vehicle, easy to work on, and they have so few problems.

Most modders don't go for top-end speed, they want acceleration, you'll never get it topped off so why bother? That's why so many Mustang owners put the 3.73 gears in the rear-end over the 2.73, better acceleration, but lower top-end speed.

Really? It's about time honestly, Pontiac's gone down hill badly in the past 10 years.. All their cars look the same, including the GTO :( Too bad too, I love Pontiac.

Haha, you'd own him, FWD rock on the snow and ice will all that weight over the drive-wheels, and better control. Do it. :mrgreen:

posted by  88GrandPrixSE

Not exactly an M5 by any means, but this Bonneville really doesn't have anything to be ashamed of for being a heavy domestic:

04 Pontiac Bonneville GXP

275hp Northstar 4.6L V8 (a detuned version of what Cadillac uses)
Good for 0-60 sprints in about 6.8 seconds.

Proof that yes, even a Bonneville can be set up to perform respectably.

Nothing that I can think of will get your SE there for cheap or free though. It's a car. Get through college, get a decent job, and buy yourself an SSEi or the aforementioned GXP (that is if you really still want a Bonneville). For the money you could get yourself some nice domestics though.

posted by  Gothicaleigh

Higher octane will NOT hurt your engine, but you will gain no performance...if you're lucky maybe it will help clean the back sides of your valves and your chambers. As for the electronic shift improver...disconnect the trans control harness and put it between the connectors...done and done. The 4T60E trannies are pretty good. Straight piping the muffler...cut the muffler off with a saw-z-all and put a straight piece of pipe where the muffler once resided. Loud while providing marginal power gains, but easy and almost free.

posted by  Sick88Tbird

Not trying to come off rude but I figured I should say something before he actually does this:

Higher octane, as its been said, will do nothing to benefit you if you don't need it. Because the aromatics used can not provide energy, going too much above the required octane may actually cost you negligible power. The octane rating is purely a knock resistance rating.

Also, contrary to popular belief premium gasoline will not burn cleaner nor will it do any better at cleaning your internal parts. The detergent used and "cleanliness" of the fuel is regulated by the EPA. Some companies just choose to advertise it more relying on the consumers misunderstanding.

posted by  DrJay

Good job on insulting me on your first post...let me take you to school little buddy.

OEM's use rather large gaps now because it helps to "un-shroud" the spark and we now have high output ignition systems(compared to the 60's) that can fire across a 0.060" gap. Autolite Racing plugs, of which you have obviously no knowledge, have the ground electrodes cut back to help promote better "flame propigation". Stock replacement plugs have the center electrode shrouded like hell compared to the AR plugs. Autolite Racing plugs aren't meant to be re-gapped anyway and are usually set at approximately 0.035". These plugs are run in the SSO class in engines pushing 1200-1400hp+ applications. These plugs have also been dyno tested and proven to add horsepower/torque/throttle response in stock and street/strip applications.

As for your flame propogation speeds, that's on a standard plug, not one with a cut back ground electrode. So, don't bullshit me. OEM's apparently don't use racing plugs so things will change.

Another thing, straight piping the muffler will help free up a little power. I never said it sounded good. It would take a drastic increase in exhaust pipe size(throughout the entire system) to cause a loss of any measurable type. I guess that putting a dual 2.5" exhaust system w/o catalytic convertors on a vehicle originally equipped with a dual 2.25" system with 4 catalytic convertors will hurt performance, huh?

Wrong, perfect example...the Mustang...of almost any year between '79-'04. I've seen gains in performance at the track...dropping 2-4 tenths off of ET's depending on mods.

posted by  Sick88Tbird

OK guys let's get the Octane thingy into perspective. A higher octane fuel tends to burn slower than a lower rated fuel in the same engine. What it allows you to do is adjust things like your timing or CR so that you get a more complete and even burn, resulting in a better BMEP or if you like IMEP.

Increasing the octane level allows a uniform burn/flame/explosion front. When I say uniform I mean the moleculer heat release rate increases uniformly with time.

If however the octane level is too low the flame front moves more rapidly than the region in front of it and will behave like a sea wave colliding a sea wall and the velocity will rapidly decrease resulting in temperature, pressure, entropy and density increases. The region behind the wave will typically have random exothermic (heat release) reactions, so a serrated set of waves occur. Things start to get even worse when the region in front of the wave are rebounding shockwaves, causing great big collisions. This paragraph is dedicated to a thing called detonation or if you are old like me pinking (as in serrated pinking scissors).

Things like squish or quench regions on heads are designed to get the fuel air mixture moving very fast to avert flame fronts being greeted with a stagnant region.

posted by  Wally

wow i don't think I've ever learned so much about octane...

hmmmm if you're willing to spend like 5 bucks to the gallon, which i doubt you are, loud your beast with some nitromethane....that'll DEFINETLY give it some power...drags cars use it so why cant you!?


Man that was some serious to be him.... :clap:

posted by  PeteBobJoe

What the hell was that???...All I have to say is, that whole rant...NO. Nitromethane will deteriorate any standard piece of rubber it comes in contact with. If you want to do that to your fuel system, then by all means jackass, go ahead.

posted by  Sick88Tbird

Wow somebody got a little angry...

If nitromethane would rip his rubber apart then buy some better tires, shit it aint rocket science...

posted by  PeteBobJoe

Wow, you really are just that stupid. Nitromethane has nothing to do with're such an idiot. I really don't know where you came up with that. I was referring to o-ring seals in the fuel system you E-tard. If you don't know what you're talkin about then don't post...remember....

THINK, TYPE, SUBMIT, not just submit.

posted by  Sick88Tbird

So nitromethane will not work in a normal engine? Why not, isnt it just methonal and extra oxygen? Why would it damage a normal engine anyway?

So the higher compression ratio is in an engine, the higher the octanin right?

posted by  CarEXPERT

You won't want to run methanol/nitromethane through a stock need, no sense in it. Methanol requires different seals. Even if you were to add a methanol injection system(becoming very common on supercharged/turbo'ed stangs) it is a self sufficient system with it's own reservoir, pump, hoses, and jets. The methanol/water injecton system is used to help lower intake temps which allow you to run more boost in forced induction applications, similar to nitrous oxide but to a much lesser extent. A methanol/water injection system could be used on a naturally aspirated car but it's gains would be marginal compared to on a forced induction application.

posted by  Sick88Tbird

lol...that's funny, you getting mad over what? Rubber! :mrgreen:

Dude seriously take a chill pill and RELAX...

Typically when you say RUBBER you naturslly think of tires, you know the things with RUBBER all aroudn them...Yeah go figure I thought of RUBBER and TIRE...

And just to piss you off...


posted by  PeteBobJoe

"Nitromethane will deteriorate any standard piece of rubber it comes in contact with. If you want to do that to your fuel system..."

Let's break this down for a minute. You spoke of putting nitromethane in your car(read: dump in gas tank). In which case, how in the hell would it come in contact with the tires? HMMM...anyone with .1% of a brain could have figured that out. Then I even said that if you wanted to do that to your fuel system(read: run nitro through it) to go ahead...I believe I used the word jackass...quite fitting. Fuel systems contain rubber o-rings somewhere along the, how easy was that. Apparently you know nothing of cars except maybe that they look "cool".

posted by  Sick88Tbird

Wow, Sick88Tbird i thought you had left for good. Glad to see you changed your mind(?) and came back to help people, or try to explain. Should i say, Welcome back or are you not planning on staying? Either way, Welcome back! :thumbs:

posted by  car_crazy89

For the record, you canNOT run Methanol in a standard production fuel system either. Any alcohol based fuel will eat any standard O-ring it comes into contact with. There are certain cars that you can run Methanol in, take the Flex Fuel Ford Taurus for instance. Its entire fuel system is designed to run on Methanol if necessary. If you wanted to run Methanol in your car, you can pick up the fuel pump out of the FF Taurus. Then change all of the O-rings in your fuel system to Viton and remove all possible aluminum from the fuel system (Methanol/Ethanol will eat aluminum eventually).

posted by  Bino

Well, I can't think of any CHEAP way to dramatically increase a car's performance in a straight line, but I do know of a way to improve handling in the corners for free in a FWD car. Increase front tire pressure by 2-4 psi over the rears. This does help a bit, I've tried it in my car. It's not anything dramatic, but it does help.

posted by  hondaman

hahahaha!!This is why I love car forums, some dude asks about cheap performance upgrades and by the end of the thread I have learned about proper " flame propigation"

Good times.

but, anyhow, if you want cheap upgrages in performance, it all depends pn how much your willing to sacrifice in the means of comfort. that is to say, my advice is weight reduction.

Start buy removing the carpet in your trunk, your spare tire, you know easy stuff.

the next step is taking out your carpet inside, your backseats and interior panneling.

then remove your passenger seat, A/C condensor, dash (but leave the gage cluster for obvious reasons), and anything else you find unnecesary such as the shift bezzel.

If you want to go all out, you'll need to chop off your roof, replace your driver seat with a milk crate, remove all body panels and go on a diet.

Then: BOOM! you got a 6 second car. :laughing:

posted by  Zalight

Lmao, thats the best, and cheapest idea i've heard. It would be kinda of time consuming but other then that you could end up making money by selling the parts. Your a smart guy. :laughing:

posted by  car_crazy89

They mix a lot of fuel with ethanol over here now. It's not ethanol based, but I think you can get up to about 10% or something.

posted by  windsonian

My friend was running 5% methanol in a VW with no problems besides launching the baffle out of the stinger exhaust.

posted by  x1/9-rally

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