My encounter with the Stealth Beast
Last night I ventured cross county from West to East Berkshire to find out if the rumours about a certain black S3 could possibly live up to expectation. That certain black S3 is the property of BigAndy S3, and he calls it Stealth.
Stealth is a fair name for this bomber. When I pulled up on the drive and saw it's darkened snout pointing out of the garage, I could see it has been stealthily designed in a way that the average Porsche driver looking in their rear view mirror would have no idea that what they were seeing was anything more than a tidy black A3.
In the world of modifying you meet people from all walks of life, so you never quite know whether you are going to meet a millionaire, or a rich kid living at home with all his income disposable for cars. As Andy appeared on the doorstep of his Berkshire home to greet me, it was apparent he was a decent middle aged guy who lived well in all aspects of life, and didn't make the compromise of living in a sty to afford the luxury of '4 rings on the bonnet'.
Anyway, I'm not here to character profile Andy, some of you with either know him already, or probably meet him or see him in a magazine some time soon! Back to the Stealth.
Andy gifted me the opportunity of a quick tour round the engine bay before my test flight, and personal observations are immediately positive.
Although it has taken Andy a couple of iterations to get to this spec, the mods seem intelligently planned out. From talking with Andy it's immediately apparent that he has liaised with a wide range of tuning houses, suppliers and the general public to get a broad view of what is best. It has helped that he has been in a position to support his learnings with the financial backing to pay for all this, but as you peruse around the engine bay there are very well thought out mods which include some lovely touches (reworked gear linkages, induction heat wrap tape, prep for catch tank), all which add to the effect of maximising good gains. The S3 is now over 2 years old, but has not in the mainstream been modded to the extent that this car has. Along the way Andy is having to take advice, chances, and ride his luck a bit hoping that the labours of this project still deliver a luxury hatchback which is a great daily driver. Delivering a Jeckyl and Hyde split personality for the car is the clever bit, ensuring when taken up to the limit it is as comforatble performing the duites of 'Porsche eater'. It is an incredibly difficult balance to strike, as so often you can ruin a car completely by pushing things too far, and I am pleased to say that whilst there are still a few choice plans left in the wings (as much for insurance as for outright power), the car still feels well within itself. The capabilities of the chassis have not been overburdened by an overload of unusable power. I'm watching with interest about a certain ITG product we may see surfacing shortly.
Andy kindly offered to take me out on a blat round some of his local roads so I could appreciate how well the mods come together as a package. I gratefully strapped in, and despite the forboding burble I had heard from the engine on start up, in reality I was expecting something that maybe mildly exceeded the power rating of the S3 I had just turned up in. First big mistake!
Once warmed Andy opened the car up a little to show how well the Bilstein PSS10 suspension, and uprated ARB's worked in combination with the highly grippy intermediate styled Yoko Parada's. The absolute truth is that if I had attempted to replicate this drive in my car on the way back home I'd have been in hospital with an insurance claim pending. Andy has a very fluid driving style which means that he isn't hustling the car between landmarks so much as stroking it, but the effect was mind blowing as the car appeared to defy the general laws of physics. Although I have always rated the S3, I hadn't recognised it had such realisable potential, and as such was writing it off as our next car. The ride whilst firm, remained compliant enough that no visits to the chiropractor were necessary, and a set up like this makes you realise how commercially safe the OE S3 set up really is. Also adding to this mix of competence was a wisely chosen alloy wheel, chosen based on weight consideration rather than outright bling factor. Unsprung weight can be a real problem when setting up a cars suspension, so get this right and your car will feel far more nimble as you are shaving the weight of a set of lowering springs off each wheel (to quote Andy!).
Enough about the suspension; although good it paled into insignificance against the remorseless and unrelenting power of the engine. I may well have offended Andy with some of the 4 letter expletives I spouted in the car, but all were due to my shock as how fast this car actually is. I am rarely frightened by speed, purely because I love it. However this car is so fast it actually makes it FEEL properly fast. Because so many fast Audi's are over engineered they tend to mask their speed quite well. To break this tendency your car has to be super-fast, and Andy's car is right on the money here. At 427bhp (dialled back), and WMI on the way to release more potential this is a true super car eater. At no point in the rev range or speedometer position does this car ever stop feeling urgent or lacking in grunt. It's absolute savagery. The world was going past very quickly and I was deeply reassured by the fact Andy had done the honorable thing and poured £2k into the brake department as the bomber also stops from silly speeds in a matter of seconds. The huge mechanical grip afforded by the Parada's are also instrumental here. Too many people pile money on power mods, and then forget you only have 4 contact points less that the size of your shoes keeping you attached to the Queen's Highway. Not a good move. Yet again it reinforced the very balanced approach to the modification path that Andy has taken here.
At this point I realise I haven't mentioned the exhaust system in the mix. This is an interesting beast manufactured in part by the tuners (The Phirm) who Andy has used for his BT conversion. The front part of the exhaust system has had the cat removed, and is a full 3" system going right back to the Milltek backbox (which has been painted black unsurprisingly!). Although raucous under load, it was never oppressive, and with the amount of gases that are passing through Andy's set up it is a pre-requisite to continued performance. So often people obsess about fat diameter pipework, but unless you have the power to match you can significantly reduce your back pressure, and as a result your overall torque figures. Not an issue here, and a very worthy addition which has afforded the enlarged turbo far better breathing space.
On the way back Andy proved that the car is every bit the composed daily driver as it is the stealth bomber. At 30-40mph it is every bit an S3; composed, peaceful and wholly 'livable with'. And that in itself to me is the real key to this cars outright genius, making this car most things to most men. There isn't really a weak point (and before you mention fuel consumption or tyre wear costs, the turbo responds at higher RPM so you can comfortably sit under the spool band to retain MPG, and you can get over 10k out of your tyres - so Andy reports).
Back on the drive I got out and had to stand back and respect. The guys at Revo and The Phirm have taken Andy's wishlist and translated it into something very special. When/if Audi were to bring out an RS3, it would be obliterated by this car without question. We did discuss that the S3 is little more than a tweaked S line, and could almost be deemed an imposter to the 'S' logo badge. I could be nothing but envious as I saw my car sat on it's OE 'stilts' (suspension!), waiting to ponderously take me home as best it could.
So my take on all the above. Yet again it raises a key issue that if you have any intention on pursuing a significantly modded car, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for RESEARCH, COLLABORATION, and an OPEN MIND. You also need to be able to call on a good tuning house who can help you to steer round the likely pitfalls, or ensure they can help you maximise with mods that aren't counterproductive.
Andy and I talked for some time about our mixed experiences with some of the tuning fraternity (and our dismay of Audi dealers on the M4 corridor!). These guys are key to your success, and the better your relationship with them the better your long term modification path will be as they aren't just interested in selling you what is on offer this month, but what will compliment what you have. This needs to be backed by experience to predict and manage any limitations you are likely to face with the OE product, and how to work round this. I have experience of Revo, and concur with Andy's findings on their helpfulness to deliver customers needs. Andy has had excellent service from the Phirm, and whilst I have never used them myself, the initial feedback seems very promising for anyone who is considering modding from the M4 / West London catchment area.
If I had to be critical, and I'm really clutching at straws here, the only thing I would struggle with on this car is the ride compliance. Andy has chosen a firm set up, and whilst it compliments his driving style / requirements perfectly, some of my passengers would struggle with it somewhat. That in turn wold make my ears ache! I would have to run slightly softer, but then that in itself is a compromise. Horses for courses. This is truly the only thing I could personally challenge on this car.
The S3 has very much proved me wrong today. It's chassis is far more capable with carefully selected mods than I had given credit for. Knocking on the door of half a thousand horsepower it has not destroyed or even tainted the composure of the car, and in fact done nothing other than making it more of the car that it should have been in the first place. Keep your eyes open in the press, and I think you'll be seeing a lot more of Andy and this car in the future.
Needless to say, the drive home was somewhat tame, but I'd had a great time so thanks Andy for the chance of a test run. It left me pondering a thought Andy made that I am somewhat in limbo land with my mods, and it's about time I spent a few more quid (and not a lot at that) to cover off some bases and make it a more complete package. Watch this space! :think: