DriverMod Update: I’ve Become a Slave to My Car

I’ll be the first to admit that this is more of a blog entry, than what could legitimately be called an article, but I wanted to take the time to explain what’s going on behind the scenes in an attempt to convince you, our readers, that DriverMod is not dead.

If you didn’t know, DriverMod isn’t some automotive startup with legitimate financial backing; we’re five guys who all work real full time jobs, and only one of us writes the vast majority of articles; me. My brother Andrew handles all the editing and my friends Andrew Zhang, Milan Stivek, and Mike McGugan take care of photography, provide creative input, and help me fix the website when it’s broken. That formula has worked really well for a long time; this time last year we were at Rally of the Tall Pines chasing a WRX in the dirt in my NB Miata, and we were doing shoots for featured builds on the regular. Then as some of you might know, my daily-driven NB Miata became a never-ending project car when we stuck a Chevrolet 2.4L Ecotec engine into it.

I say never-ending because almost nothing went to plan. I took a week off work, and we got the motor into the car in about three days. From there, I towed the car to MT Motorsport and started working on the car one day a week. That’s when things slowed to a crawl, because like every project car veteran knows; everything takes twice as long as you expect. The wiring harness was finished in about a day, it took me an entire day to mount accessories on to the engine and pull the pedal assembly, and another day to mount the GM throttle pedal and start fabricating a header. Three months of once-a-week work on the car and it was done, sorta.

Our first attempt at starting it resulted in nothing, which lead to us having to fix a bunch of the wiring. Then it finally started, but it would start sounding like a three-cylinder whenever you would touch the throttle pedal. Turns out the ECU that came with my engine was for a V6. Re-flashing it allowed it to run the Ecotec I4, but the throttle mapping was all wrong. Then we got a new ECU and it ran fine, but oil on the dip-stick was full of air bubbles. Turns out we didn’t seal the oil pick-up on the oil pan properly, and had to pull off the oil pan and reseal it back in my parent’s garage. With the pan sealed, I drove the car home for the first time in roughly four months. On the way though, virtually everything broke.

First the check-engine light began flashing; the engine was touching the steering rack causing it to think it was knocking. When I pulled over to check it out, I shut it down and the car wouldn’t start up again. It turns out a fuel line popped off and my header was beginning to rattle itself apart. Stubbornly, I kept trying to make my way home. That’s when my header completely fell apart, my mid-pipe got lodged between the subframe and clutch fork, and I lost use of my clutch.

Forgive me; I should have called a tow truck, I really should have. Instead, I drove the car 8 kms clutch-less. As it turns out, I’m terrible at driving clutch-less. I learned this after I towed the car home, put my header back together, and realized that my second gear synchro was obliterated. My engine swap suddenly became a transmission swap.

Next thing I knew, I was cuddling with my new transmission on the floor of my parent’s garage, trying to squeeze my new transmission between my new exhaust and transmission tunnel. I wanted to do two things with this article; apologize for not having new and original content to post (there’s just zero time between the constant wrenching and producing our swap-related content for Speed Academy), and to thank everyone who’s helped with the project up to now. It’s occurred to me that this car has become so much more than just my car. It’s become a community effort between me and nearly a dozen friends I couldn’t be luckier to have in my life. A seriously huge thanks to Milan Stivek, Andrew Zhang, Samee Motiwala, Mike McGugan, the guys at MT Motorsports, my girlfriend Tabrina for letting me put ridiculous mileage on your car driving to and from the shop, Yousef and Mostafa Sheteiwy for helping with the transmission swap, the CAA tow truck drivers who pretended not to notice that was quite clearly in the middle of an engine swap, and literally anyone else who helped out (Raphael and Justin, thanks for the pizza and water bottles). Anyone else I forgot – THANK YOU.

The car is so close to completion it hurts, and we’ll finally be able to get back to the business of making awesome content. Also, we’re still producing an Ecotec Miata swap guide for Speed Academy so look out for that.