I've had the pleasure of driving numerous high-powered turbo cars. I drive both a big-turbo BMW M3 and Toyota Supra. But I have just one thing to say about ICS' yellow turbo M3: It scares me stupid. A couple of months ago I received a call from ICS Performance owner George Kakaletris. "I hear the magazine is looking for a 1000-whp car," he said. "Give me two weeks and I'll have one for you."
Just a few weeks later I'm at ICS' Stamford, Conn., headquarters, where Kakaletris wastes no time introducing me to the company's newly acquired M3 project car, also known as the Bumblebee. Upon initial fire-up it roars to life, sending deafening combustion waves through its turbo-back exhaust. Trust me, it's loud; heads from all directions are turning our way.
As the car warms up, the Sias-tuned Electromotive TEC3R engine management system continues sending the appropriate pulse signals to half a dozen 152 lb/hr Precision injectors, which squirt nine times more fuel than factory '95 M3 injectors. The engine finally calms down to a completely streetable rumble. Kakaletris tops off the tank with some VP Racing C16 super-octane juice to ward off detonation. Then we drive.
Traffic is at its peak in downtown Stamford. The exhaust note bounces off walls as commuters and pedestrians continue to rubberneck. The Bumblebee appears totally stock and people can't seem to figure out why this car sounds like it's on its way to an NHRA event. As we make our way toward open roads, Kakaletris drives somewhat cautiously to warm up the engine oil. Despite the low 8.5:1 compression, with more than 250 lb-ft of torque by 3000 rpm the car feels way quicker than a stock 3.2-liter M3 thanks to aggressive ignition timing and a wide-open exhaust.
As the engine warms we start to see what the turbo response is like. By 4200 rpm the massive PT76-GTS turbocharger is already making more than 400 lb-ft of torque at the wheels-fairly uncharacteristic of such a large turbo on this size motor. The Clutchmasters twin-disc clutch is considerably grabbier than a stock clutch but fares well around town. The car continues to warm up and Kakaletris starts to lay into the throttle a little bit. As we predicted, there is simply no traction at these low speeds. In second gear, at 4000 rpm, the car starts to ramp up so quickly it breaks the rear tires loose, and at this point the peak boost recall only registers about 8 psi.
Now is a good time to mention this car put down a mind-boggling 1025 whp on ICS' Dynojet chassis dyno. Thanks to the buttload of torque-860 lb-ft-it cracked 1000 hp at an astonishingly low 6200 rpm. Considering the all-turbo (i.e., no nitrous) pull was done at a low 32 psi manifold pressure, indicating a very non-restrictive motor, it was obvious we were going to need to throw it into high gear to feel any of its real power.
Third gear, Kakaletris rolls into it-4800 rpm on the tach and more than 500 lb-ft of torque breaks the tires loose again. Once we hit the highway we test fourth gear from a 60-mph roll. Throttle pedal down. The tach starts to flip quickly past 4500 rpm and by around 5200 rpm-or about 700 lb-ft of torque-at full throttle the tires break loose at more than 90 mph. We're not talking traction loss like the tire chirp you'd get from a stock E36 M3 in damp conditions. No, I mean literal ice-like loss of traction that breaks the car sideways, preventing any further acceleration and zinging the tach needle to redline in the blink of an eye. At this point I'm simply amazed. The sound of the copious amounts of air rushing through the 76mm compressor belittles me.
"Have you ever felt this sucker pull in fifth gear?" I ask.
Kakaletris replies: "No. Wanna try it?"
Although I've had enough, there's something inside me that needs to feel the yet-untapped 200-plus lb-ft of torque. Kakaletris finds an open stretch of highway, and what happens next I will remember for the rest of my life. The car accelerates smoothly back to 90 mph in fourth gear. Kakaletris shifts into fifth. Silently I pray to live through this.
The throttle pedal drops. Ninety mph... 91... 92... the turbo is already starting to make some noise... 93... 95... 97... serious turbo sounds, boost continues building quickly. Triple digits; I've got tunnel vision and cannot move. In the next nanosecond, with a sound coming from the engine compartment that can only be described as frightening, the tires break loose into a stomach-dropping fishtail. Obviously this car needs a set of warmed-up slicks just to get traction, even in fifth gear.
As we decelerate it becomes evident from all the racket that the ZF five-speed transmission has spun its last. The drive ends with a fifth-gear limp back through the crowded Stamford downtown, and now we're wiping away tears of hysterical laughter from the sheer disbelief of what transpired. Now the drivability of the Sias-tuned Electromotive TEC3R engine management becomes really evident as Kakaletris is forced to launch from each traffic signal in fifth gear and cruise between 1000 and 1500 rpm to stay under 40 mph. Off boost this car is totally street-friendly.