Starting in about 1998, major car manufacturers made the switch to heavily computerizing engine tuning, and Stan Williams of Marion believes it was a change for the better.
Fine-tuning an engine using a computer can take a lot of time and a lot of work, but it is much more customizable than in the past.
“You can do so much more stuff with computerized engines,” Williams said Sunday. “You can either get with the times or get left behind.”
About six years ago, Williams got with the times and invested in a computer and software to allow him to tune newer engines for General Motors vehicles. Most vehicles are well-tuned coming out of the factory, but making changes to increase horsepower — such as adding turbochargers or blowers — requires re-tuning.
Hundreds of variables go into making sure everything from timing to air-fuel ratios are just right.
“There’s an unlimited number of things you can monitor when driving these things,” Williams said.
On his own Chevrolet Camaro, Williams has made changes that have given him a boost of about 170 horsepower, but the changes would have been worthless if he had left the tuning the same. Worse, a badly out-of-tune engine can even melt a piston or break a rod, doing potentially thousands of dollars worth of damage, he said.
Since picking up skills computer-tuning engines, Williams has found a niche working with race cars and high-power street cars, the kinds of cars that usually get modified in ways requiring re-tuning.
He has about four projects currently. Lately he has been surprised how many mud-truck racers have come to him for help.
Of the racercar engines he is working on now, two have horsepower goals of 1,100 and 1,000 horsepower. For comparison, a stock 2012 Chevrolet Camaro has approximately 323 horsepower.
Williams is mostly self-taught in the art of tuning engines with a computer. He said he has spent a lot of time reading books, online forums, and help files, as well as watching DVDs on the subject and heeding the advice of people he trusts on the subject.
Despite all the time spent learning the tricks involved, Williams is happy he went through with it six years ago.
“It pays pretty good money, I don’t have to get dirty, and I love learning how it all works,” he said. “And I get to drive a lot of cool cars doing this.”