Steve Cole is the modern equivalent of the only guy in town who could weld, or adjust lash with a P&G valve-gapper, or synchronize two four barrels with a Uni-Syn. In the early ‘60s, the people with wielded sich high-tech equipment were pestered by the ignorant and unwashed… like myself. Of course, Cole uses none of those ancient artifacts, but he does things with automotive computers that others cannot or will not attempt. He markets the power Loader II and has built several special GM Toy Test hotties, including a 400hp LS1-powered Sonoma and a 444hp 302 (destroker) LS1 Z28. He is also germane to the next generation Harley – Davidson engines. Steve spends a lot of time at TTS in Compton, California (310/669-8101 or

HRM: OK, Steve, where did it begin?
SC: I worked on a Top Fuel team called “The Gas House Gang.” I was seven. Actually, I lived across the street and gravitated to that slinky car, so they let me go to Lions with them. When I was in high school (1972), I had a 421 inch small block in my early Nova. That car ran 10s, and I drove it every day. I wound up with a prototype intake manifold (it later became the Pro Ram) I got from Vic Edelbrock Sr., who was very interested in my big inch small block. When the engine was wounded on the dyno, Bobby Meeks let me keep the manifold. It had 660-cfm carbs with 850 double pumper base plates. During my college days, I worked on the SR71 spy plane project and was in charge of writing a computer program for a sophisticated welder control design. Despite the high-tech deal, I kept my interest in street cars.

HRM: No drag racing, just street cars?
SC: No drags then, but I was going to The (Colorado) River a lot in those days, too, and got hooked up with a blown gasoline flat bottom; the boat was called “Kaleidoscope.” It held world records for blown gas flat bottoms. I was doing stuff out of my garage then, and when my friends kept busting my chops about not having a shop, I told them I’d have one in a month. That was in ’81. I leased some space to work on specialty stuff and through (the defunct) BAE Turbo. I became involved in turbo charging. I was prototype builder for BAE, and this work naturally segued into the field of electronic fuel injection. Robert Bosch specifically. I had this idea that I could make the factory EFI do things it wasn’t designed to do.

HRM: So what was the key experience that got you where you are today?
SC: I managed to source some little-known technical works that I called the Scared Books. After I read them all my electronics background came together, and I began to see the big picture and what I would be doing in the future. The PC was just becoming available. In the mid- ‘80s I brought in people who knew a lot more about this stuff then I did. That was key, to learn from the best talent available. In ’88-’89 I got hooked up with someone who was supposed to be the after market guru. Turned out I knew more than he did. Like a dope, I gave him the knowledge that I had developed (all tuning was done with 87 octane gas), and he tried to screw me with it. I set out on my goal again and hired some smart people to help me.

HRM: So how does computer tuning actually happen?
SC: It’s still a matter of air in, air out. A plumber taught me that with pipes of equal diameter, long and strait verses long and twisted will not flow the same. Those 45 and 90 degree angles means that the air must go around a corner and therefore encounter resistance. Also, a difference of up to 4 inches in pipe length in an “equal length” system will not impede output. In all, you must tune the entire package, as it will be in the car, not on the dyno. I can tune a turbo engine on a dyno to a high degree, but I know it will not run the same when it’s in the car. The computer codes are actually tables, grids of numbers and letters, and to ascertain the table, I use a scan tool and lots of intuition. When you jet a carb, you usually begin somewhere in the ballpark and then make your changes from there. In kind, the microprocessor becomes the jets. Think of the computer as a jigsaw puzzle; when one piece fits, it shows where the next two pieces go. I map the original spark and fule tables, and then I create a table of my own that’s specific to the equipment on the car.

HRM: What else in involved?
SC: Though some will disagree, I’ve found that an air/fuel ratio of 12.8:1 (against the stoichiometric ideal of 14.7:1) will produce the most peak horsepower. It’s better to err on the side of richness so I begin with that ratio as the guideline and then wiggle the rest from there. Then there’s what’s called “octane creep.” As the engine accumulates wear it wants more octane (or the ability to resist detonation). To reduce the tendency to rattle, I program a few degrees of spark retard.

HRM: What do you see in the crystal ball?
SC: The tuning process has recently become more difficult because the OE software guys are laying more traps for criminal types like me. They are actually putting in way to much information, which is bad because I’ll have to spend just that much more time deciding what’s useful and what’s smoke.

HRM: Is it a precursor to OBD-III?
SC: No, that’s the Bog Brother scenario where the car talks to the authorities about what you’ve been doing with it. We’ve got a ways to go before that happens, and by that time, we’ll probably be to old to care.


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