Boost Time: Finishing Up Project Red Dragon’s Turbo Installation

The 2000 Pontiac Trans Am never had an option for a turbocharger from the factory, so to add one to Project Red Dragon we knew changes would need to be made under the hood. The Huron Speed turbo kit was just the start — the OEM k-member would also need to be removed to make installation easier. Today, we’re going to cover the basics of getting the turbo kit installed and why upgrading the front suspension is a great idea while you’re adding the turbo kit.

Turbo kits for the fourth-generation F-body used to be totally custom, but now you can get a full kit from companies like Huron Speed. Since the front end of Project Red Dragon needed to come apart to install this kit, we opted to make some improvements to the front suspension while we were at it by adding a BMR tubular k-member and control arms. The tubular k-member will make installing the turbo kit much easier and will provide some nice performance benefits, too.

The first big step for us was to remove EVERYTHING from under the hood of Project Red Dragon. It looks like there’s a lot of room there, but it will soon be filled with an engine, a giant VS Racing turbo, and lots of turbo system piping.

Getting The Front End Ready

A street/strip car is full of compromises, whether it’s giving up some creature comforts like A/C to save weight, or not using certain high-performance parts because they just aren’t meant for street use. That means you have to be smart about how you optimize a car for street/strip duty and select parts that will benefit both uses of the vehicle. An easy win in that category is the suspension…that’s why we opted to go with a tubular k-member and control arms.

A tubular k-member is going to give you a lot more room on the bottom side of the engine, which makes working on things much easier under the car. – Kyle Briese BMR Suspension

The OEM front suspension parts on our Project Red Dragon Trans Am were designed to deal with normal driving conditions, so they are very heavy, made of stamped steel, and full of rubber bushings. Project Red Dragon is 21 years young, has over 80,000 miles on the clock, and spent plenty of time at the track while we’ve owned it, so the front-end parts were starting to show their age.

You can see the massive amount of space the BMR k-member offers versus the OEM unit.

The Huron Speed turbo kit needed some extra space and that meant it was time for the stock k-member to go. BMR makes a tubular k-member that’s specifically designed for fourth-generation F-bodies that are getting boost from a turbocharger. Kyle Briese from BMR outlines the biggest benefits these k-members offer.

“The OEM k-member is really heavy…our k-member is made of 1-5/8-inch x 0.120-inch wall and 1-1/4-inch x 0.095-inch wall DOM tubing, so it’s much lighter. Less weight on the front end means you’ll have better weight transfer at the track. A tubular k-member is going to give you a lot more room on the bottom side of the engine, which makes working on things much easier under the car.”

Our Huron Speed T6 turbo kit will need plenty of room for the headers, crossover pipe, exhaust, turbo, and oil lines. The OEM k-member just doesn’t offer enough space to get everything placed properly and not have clearance issues. If you’re using a different style turbo kit or building your own, the additional space a tubular k-member provides would allow you to route a crossover where you need, or even run a full exhaust on the car.

The BMR k-member is designed to maximize space and strength.

The OEM k-member is home to a lot of stuff besides the engine, like brake lines, the power steering rack, sensor wiring, and much more. We decided to change how the brake lines were routed for maintenance purposes with Project Red Dragon. Crew Chief Scott Cordell plumbed the brake lines around the k-member so we can remove the k-member without disconnecting the lines.

If you want to go a more traditional path with your k-member installation you can. BMR designed its tubular k-member to be a bolt-in part that doesn’t require massive changes.

“You can reuse the factory rubber motor mounts, power steering rack, and lower A-arms. There are mounts on each side of the BMR k-member that allow you to use the existing brake line mounts on the lines to secure them to the k-member. There are places where we recommend using zip-ties to secure the brake lines to the k-member to keep them tied up and in place. The only wiring that you really have to deal with is the ABS wiring on each side. The best thing to do with that is to zip-tie the wires to the k-member and lower A-arms to secure them,” Briese says.

BMR's control arms offer a massive upgrade when it comes to strength, weight, and adjability versus the OEM parts.

The upper and lower control arms are another part of the OEM F-body suspension that can be improved with aftermarket parts. The stock parts are made of stamped steel, are heavy, and sport rubber bushings that are great at deflecting energy when they’re put under stress. A set of aftermarket control arms like the ones offered by BMR will address all of these issues, so it makes sense to replace them.

Two big benefits of aftermarket control arms are the improved geometry they offer along with adjustability. These control arms will put your front suspension in a much better place thanks to an improved design; they also give you the ability to have a better front-end alignment applied to your car. You’d be surprised how much of a difference those two items will provide at the track while making your car drive better on the street. The bushings in aftermarket control arms are also much better than the OEM units, they won’t deflect as much providing better handling and performance.

“Just like the k-member, the aftermarket control arms are going to take the weight off the front of the car and allow for improved weight transfer. They also articulate more freely, allowing the suspension to operate more efficiently without binding. We offer tubular lower a-arms that have lowered shock mounts, which lower the car 1-inch without losing any suspension travel,” Briese explains.

Adding a Turbo Kit And Bolting Things Up

Turbo kits at one time required a lot of fabrication skills and special tools to install, but things have changed thanks to companies like Huron Speed. Now you can install a full turbo kit in your home garage on jack stands using a basic set of hand tools.

A turbo system may be easier to install than ever, but that doesn’t mean everything falls into place without any issues. Before you start tearing open the boxes your Huron Speed turbo kit came in you’ll need to make sure you’re familiar with your car, how you take it apart, and how a turbo system is set up. Thankfully, if you do have questions while you’re installing a kit, Jon Ojczyk is available to help and can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]. We hit Jon’s line a few times while installing our kit to make sure everything was done right; he does answer e-mails, even on the weekend!

You can install he Huron Speed kit while the engine is still in the car without any issues. We're taking advantage of the fact the engine was out of the car to mock everything up and make sure there's no clearance issues or suprises.

Ojczyk provides some examples of how doing your homework before you start installing your turbo system makes the process much easier.

“The more knowledge you have about the vehicle, the easier your installation will be. For example, removing the front bumper cover and bumper to install the cold-side can take a bit longer if you’ve never done it before; you should familiarize yourself where all the bolts are to do this before you begin. Knowledge of turbo systems, in general, can be helpful, as well. An example of this would be how oil feed and drain lines should be routed. Knowing this and clocking the turbo properly to remove any slack in the drain may save headaches and time later on if you have a diagnosis of a smokey turbo from a drain line that has a little uphill climb in it.”

We decided to bolt as much of the turbo system on our LS engine as possible, along with a few other items before it was placed back in The Red Dragon. There’s plenty more that needs to be added before the turbo system is truly complete.

The right spark plugs for boost are very important, and Huron Speed recommends NGK TR6 plugs for systems making up to 600 horsepower; if you’re going over 600-horse, Huron suggests BR7EF spark plugs.

The more knowledge you have about the vehicle, the easier your installation will be. – Jon Ojczyk, Huron Speed

When you’ve got the engine in the car, the hot-side buttoned up, the cold-side plumbed, and the oil lines run, it’s time to finish up all the small things. You’ll need to run boost and vacuum lines to items like your wastegates, blow-off valves, and boost controller. You’ll also need to build a PCV system to ensure you don’t boost the engine’s crankcase.

Here's an example of the Huron Speed T4 turbo kit installed and ready to go into the Project Corn Star Camaro of our sister site, LSX Magazine.

“Once the turbo kit is fully installed, all of your items have their references set up, and your fuel system is up to the task of the power you wish to make, a professional tune is the last step. You will want to discuss the setup and your goals with the tuner so you can work together to achieve your goals. We can help make this process easier by working with you during the sale to ensure the parts you are ordering will make plenty of horsepower,” Ojczyk explains.

Installing the turbo system into Project Red Dragon required a lot of preparation to make sure the process went as smooth as possible. Now it’s time to start working on things like wiring, adding a two-step, and finishing the TH400 transmission conversion. You can follow along right here to see everything we’re doing to turn Project Red Dragon into a boosted street/strip terror.

Article Sources

About the author

Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. When Brian is not writing, you can find him at the track as a crew chief, doing freelance photography, or beating on his nitrous-fed 2000 Trans Am.
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