The All Motor Build Report

All motor 2.0l SOHCWhen we last posted (The 2GN SOHC 2.0l Group 2 All Motor Build), the plan was a pile of parts on a shelf and some boxes had just started to arrive from Modern Performance. Our donor block had been cleaned up and the crank checked. A clean area was setup and covered using recycled boxes from our kitchen cabinets.

Just like standalone engine management, the key here is to take your time and methodically go through the build step by step. I have rebuilt a bottom end a couple of times, but this was the first time assembling the whole machine from scratch. All of the running gear for the camshaft was needed, along with all of the miscellaneous brackets and bolts, the intake manifold, etc.ย ย I found a wonderful 2005 donor in the junkyard on a “50% off” weekend.

Piston Ring CheckWhen installing Piston Rings: Read the page that came with your pistons. Read it again! I looked at the chart about 20 times, it said: Bore x .0056″ and when I tested the rings, right away the gap was almost .015″. Incorrect rings? I ask around and after a few inquiries it is brought to my attention that Bore x .0056″ย actually means ([bore size 3.445] multiplied by [0.0056] equals [0.0193]) I completely missed that it was a little math problem. I get through the steps of filing down the rings, wiping off the metal, hitting with oil, wiping again, and testing. After the first couple I get the hang of it and can guess when I’m close after dragging the gap over a file 5-6 times. The most important piece I picked up here is this: Blow-by is bad, but having the rings expand to the point where the ends crash into each other is worse. There was no “stage rally” listed on the JE Piston chart, so I went with “Circle Track / Drag Race” numbers over “Street Strip” knowing that the engine will be going flat out from 3100 to 6500 for a 15 miles at a time. ๐Ÿ™‚

Why the factory intake Kris?!ย I had tuned into two posts in particular for that decision: The first was a comprehensive intake dyno test over on which showed that while the ITB’s and AMM intakes are great, they are great at making power OVER 7,000 RPM. I knew the 2.0L SOHC could make low end torque and the long intake is especially part of that. Second is a post where Vincent slapped a 2GN intake on a 1995 SOHC 1GN and proceeded to make 5HP and almost 10lbs of torque!

No long tube header?! Two things come into play here: I wanted the ability to keep the stock exhaust and the stock catalytic converter location, and just like the short intakes – the long headers make more power at higher RPM, sometimes at the detriment of low end torque.

The 3 day weekend was as good time to swap the new motor in. I finally decided to delete the AC, as it’s 5 complicated connections and like 20lbs of parts. I made a good effort to get it going, but all of those seals need to be clean-room clean, and any time I have to pull the motor in the future a fragile system of vacuum, refrigerant, and O-rings need to be “dealt with.”

Start’er up! The only change I had to make with the Megasquirt over the stock motor is the crank signal is different on the pre-2003 Neons. I made one change in a drop-down menu, clicked burn, power cycled, and started the car! Literally “crank, crank, vroom.” It startled me as I expected to have to fiddle with something for 15 minutes. Before I knew it, the new engine was up to temp. I ran it at various RPM’s for a few minutes after warm-up and triple checked everything.

Late night timing belt check...A few days before my dyno appointment I got the knock sensor working. This required me to solder the spark signal from the MSX board OR re-run new wires to the engine bay. I chose to change it inside the Megasquirt. I did this and the next night got some weird readings that maybe my spark timing was off, so I went back to basics. I checked timing and it was off! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ At this very moment the mechanical tensioner that WAS making a little noise earlier, decided to full on rattle and ping itself – loudly. I thought for sure the belt had skipped a tooth. Time to pull it all apart and get to the timing belt. ๐Ÿ™

Getting it all apart meant pulling the under-drive pulley and rocking the motor up and down like 25 degrees to get the motor mount / timing cover off. Once in there though, I discovered that the timing was fine. The tensioner was too TIGHT and pulling on the belt made the same rattle and ping so I adjusted it into the sweet spot. Put it all back together and sleep on it. More reading the next day revealed that when you change the timing to fixed and set it more than 10 degrees, you need to power cycle the MS. I re tested it – 0.0 on the MS and TDC on the car. No more noise from the timing belt tensioner at least.

To the Dyno!

Wide open throttle run on the DynaPack.

The tech at Church Auto Testing made quick work of the fuel map that I had been fiddling with for many days and weeks. He then turned his attention to the ignition timing (the critical reason WHY you need dyno testing) and the engine responded to timing changes without issue. He also set the limiter, fix the hot engine start-up, etc. A couple of runs later the new engine I built was making 143HP and 150ft/lbs of torque! By comparison, a bone stock SOHC 2.0l makes about 112HP and 115ft/lbs at the wheels, and it’s equal to a stock 2.4l Stratus motor (a common engine swap for the Neon). All this with the stock cat back, no timing change on the adjustable cam gear, and a table switch on the dash prepared for a tank of 100+ octane fuel. I’ve got a strong motor, a good baseline, and room to grow! ๐Ÿ˜€


The 2GN SOHC 2.0l Group 2 All Motor Build

Originally my plan was to jump up to the 2.4 turbo SRT-4. Throw some heavy horsepower into the 2GN and start winning rallies. Let’s break this down a little bit:

It’s all about the competition:
Open 2WD or Group 5 is an anything goes 2WD class where the motor can be as big as you want it, and as charged as you want it. This class only sports a handful of drivers in the country, and sometimes these guys still get beat by non-turbo Group 2 cars. In the Southwest, there are only 1 or 2 Group 5 (or CRS-5) classed cars.

Imagine you go for a podium or the 2WD win and you get beat by a hot-shoe in a tuned up VW GTI (this happens all the time). You finish the rally in 4th overall, you are 2nd in 2WD, and you get handed a 1st place trophy for CRS-5 because no one else is in the class. I’m sorry kids, but that participation trophy goes in the trash. ๐Ÿ˜

Meanwhile, Group 2 (or CRS-2) has a ton of participants. 10-12 competitors at small rallies, 20-25 at big ones! I’d much rather race with 20 friends in class than compare times with a turbo. This decision was settled shortly after Prescott 2012: Eddie (tuned up VW GTI) beat us by 10 seconds to win 2WD, and we finished 5th and 6th overall. Because we were both in the same class, that 2nd place trophy will remind me of an epic Group 2 battle, and not a “you have a turbo, why did you lose?” Group 5 award.

allmotorLet’s build a hot motor:
For 18+ years now, the Dodge Neon has been spec raced, drag raced, street raced, autocrossed, and everything else in-between. If you can think of any combination of parts, there is probably someone who has run it and has a dyno chart for it. Thousands of threads in forums on every conceivable modification leads to a tried and tested set of things you should do to get your Neon 30-40 more horsepower.

We’re going for a build that will keep the mid-range torque and won’t require a ton of RPM’s to make power. That means no long tube header or individual throttle bodies. ๐Ÿ™ The goal is strong reliable power. Rally is not a 14 second drag race, we’ll be expecting good performance on pump gas over a 100+ mile event. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Dodge Neon All Motor SOHC Formula:

  • Ported and polished head (professional job)
  • Upgraded valves and valve springs
  • Crane Cam #12 (158-0012)
  • JE 10.5:1 compression pistons + Eagle rods
  • Adjustable cam gear and mechanical belt tensioner
  • High flow oil pump
  • 2GN Intake manifold + throttle body
  • Exhaust manifold
  • Under drive pulley
  • Megasquirt ๐Ÿ™‚

(Rinse and repeat. Use only as directed. Your mileage may vary.)
This formula is setup to make good reliable horsepower across the entire rev range. With the Megasquirt there will be zero ‘goofing around’ with fuel pressure risers and pumps, crazy over-sized injectors, Air-Fuel piggy-backs, or DOHC computer swaps. Plus I have no restrictions on combinations like a 2nd gen crank with a 1st gen head and cam sensor. It’s all basically a dropdown menu and some settings.

The crank and block are cleaned up with new bearings and ready to go. I’m sorting through the head and collecting all the parts and pieces to begin engine assembly. A serious junkyard run has been planned – watch the Tumblelog for progress!

Starting your first rally in a 2WD is the smart bet.

Not only is it the smart bet, but it’s a much better long bet. I promise!
Here’s 5 reasons for starting with rally in a cheap stock 2WD car:

#5. Rally is awesome, but you just don’t know how awesome yet.
I started my first rally thinking “I know what’s going to happen. I know what’s important!” When we barely finished a one day regional rally I had a completely different set of priorities. Stuff that was super important the day before no longer mattered and stuff that I didn’t even think about was now at the top of the list. Now what if that first list of stuff took twice as long to complete? What if I thought engine dyno time and brake bias was more important than just getting on the stages at my first event? Some people never make it to the start line for this very reason.

#4. Everyone loves the underdog, and it’s great to BE the underdog.
An easy excuse is: “The car is slow.” A better excuse is: “I am slow.” You will go out there and get beat by 10+ cars. Now you can do this in a $8,000 beater P-Car you spent 6 months prepping or a $80,000 AWD special you spent all of last year saving for. Let me tell you though – when you start beating much faster, much more expensive hardware – it feels great!

#3. A bone stock 2WD rally car is easily 1/10th the cost.
You think you’ll have money for this – but your girlfriend has other plans. ๐Ÿ˜‰ You’re going to want to move out of that shitty apartment and your promotion won’t come fast enough. You think you’ll catch the eye of some big sponsors, but don’t set yourself up to fail. Rally costs real money, and really fast (top of the championship) rally cars cost A LOT of money. Like a small house in Los Angeles kind of money. You might get some parts discounts, and free paint, but chasing sponsorships can be a full time job.

#2. You will be able to attend more events and get more experience.
How do you get better at something? Practice! Do you rally 6 TIMES with a $20,000 budget, or do you rally ONCE. The more seat time you get, the faster you will become. I know, I know, Subaru WRX rally cars ARE friggen awesome and it’s totally cool to have one, but having one that does 3 rallies and then sits for 2 years is sad. ๐Ÿ™ The more rallies you complete the better prepared you’ll be for the next one. It’s up to you, Underdog.

#1. You will become a much better driver. I promise!
You’ll have to setup and commit to your braking zone and learn to squeeze every last drop of speed through the corner. You’ll be controlling the throttle and left foot braking as you exit. These techniques are a lot easier to learn slowly on a cheap 2WD car than a super ‘on the edge’ AWD monster. With 2WD you can’t mess up a turn and then just stomp on the turbo to get you going again. Slow 2WD cars teach you to understand the preservation of motion. Don’t worry, when you make a mistake and plow into the outside of the turn – it’ll be a much less costly one.

“Until you finish a rally without lifting, you don’t need a faster car.”
– Tim O’Neil


I know how tempting it is to build a balls-to-the-wall AWD turbo monster car for your first time out, but you must resist! Building a faster car in 2 years will be a lot better than not having enough money to rally in 2 years. See you on the stages! – Kris

2014 California Rally Series Rally School!

Countless champions have started in rally with the California Rally Series Rally School. This intense classroom day is broken up with instructor led driving & co-driving sessions. You will learn from top to bottom what it takes to compete and win in this challenging sport. From timecards to car-prep, stage notes to car control, this school is a foundation for everything you will do in rally. An awesome value for both the school and rallycross at $150.

The rallynotes team will be representing again this year: Christine Marciniak teaches co-driving and team management, and Kristopher Marciniak talks about car prep and what it takes to build a successful rally car! The 2GN will be on display and of course rallycrossing on Sunday! Ride-alongs can be arranged – just ask!

The CRS Rally School is Saturday & Sunday, February 15 & 16, 2014
Head over to for more details and signup!

The Mega Experiment: Part III โ€“ Got Root?

If you’ve ever had admin access to a server or rooted a phone, getting access to every single mode and operation of your engine feels exactly the same. First you go through some trick BS where you have to remove a battery and USB and networking cables are everywhere. Someone grants you access to the machine or you run a sketchy .bat from some internet shareware site, and next thing you know, you have total and complete control of your hardware. It feels great, but your euphoria quickly turns to panic as you start clicking dialogs and checkboxes. “You are about to change the permissions on sub-folders – are you sure?” “You are about to flash new firmware this may brick your device – are you sure?” “CAUTION! Anti-lag is very hard on your turbo and engine. Use at your own risk.” ๐Ÿ˜› Then you start to forget that you dropped a script in /usr/bin that causes issues with a backup, or selected PID air-fuel correction and went off to tune the VE table. Completely the same – so be careful as you just rooted your car.


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The Mega Experiment: Part II – Executing the Plan

As the saying goes: Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. I loaded the .pdf for the MegaSquirt, the LC-1 Wideband, and the Dodge Shop Manual onto my tablet. I printed out the pin reference for all of the engine connectors, and I had various diagrams for the alternator, auto shutdown relay, and of course the MegaSquirt and MS3X.

I ordered an MS3 with the MS3X expansion board from SymTech Labs. If you go this route – I was a little confused as MegaSquirt also has a version 3.0 board. So you have a MegaSquirt 3 processor with a version 3.0 board and an MS3X – lots of M S and 3’s to confuse you. I initially thought the 3.0 board WAS the MS3X… (wrong) Then there is the MS3-Pro, which is basically an MS3 + MS3X + some extras – in a more compact case for more money. As of 2013 this is the newest version of MegaSquirt hardware you can buy.

The MS3X expansion board allows you to do all the cool stuff out of the box like launch control, boost, nitrous, sequential fueling, etc. Full sequential is where you can individually trigger the fuel injector on one cylinder for just that particular intake stroke. Common MegaSquirt setup does a “batch fire” where 2 injectors are opened at the same time. This is okay at full throttle as the time it takes for the fuel to travel down the head, it was already on the next intake stroke at 6,000-RPMs. At idle though you are just spraying fuel onto a closed valve every other time at 700-RPM. Not very good for economy and not that great for a steady idle. In order for it to work though, the MS3X needs to know where your camshaft is.

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The Mega Experiment: Part I – Skills & Starting

megasquirt_pcbStandalone Engine Management is not for the faint of heart. I’ve read a lot of forum posts where people become frustrated a few wires into their installation, fry stuff, and blame the people they bought it from. When in fact it was their own lack of understanding when it comes to automotive electrical and tuning. If I were selling and supporting these systems, I would almost have you answer a few questions before being allowed to purchase – but that’s me. ๐Ÿ™‚

What should those basic questions should be?

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