Friday, March 8, 2013

Sport Compact Sleeper: The Garrett Turbo 2005 Chevy Cobalt

The Cobalt was the replacement for Chevy's miserable sub-rental car quality compact Cavalier and was offered in basic-junk LS trim or front tire melting SS trim. The nuts who build turbocharged fire breathing 7 second front wheel drive Pontiac Sunfires got hold of a 2005 Chevy Cobalt and used it develop a tire warming turbo kit.  Most development cars of this type are driven into the ground, stripped of anything valuable and turned into recycled tuna cans, but we've found one that escaped all of those fates and is being offered to the public now for the first time. It's the Garrett Turbo Chevy Cobalt, the car used for developing Garrett by Honeywell's turbo retrofit kit for the naturally aspirated sport compact. This thing packs a wallop, has a cool history and less than 20k miles on the clock. It's going on ebay in the next few days but the seller contacted Daily Turismo for an exclusive preview.

It's not often that an engineering development mule vehicle from a legitimate company comes up for sale to the public, but these vehicles represent a peek into the world of automotive engineering and can be a great value to someone looking for an interesting car.  This Cobalt started life as a 2005 LS model, a basic two-door economy coupe with a 2.2 liter four cylinder engine and a 5-speed manual trans driving the front wheels. It still looks pretty unassuming to the casual observer and has not been "riced out," wrapped in vinyl or stripped and caged.

Sure, it looks like any boring rental car from the outside except for the slightly lowered stance, Motegi wheels and the black Turbo by Garrett stickers. But to us, that's part of the appeal; this is a sleeper in the best sense because no one expects a silver rental car to have big huge balls and put a smile on their face at every opportunity.

The source of said smiles (and balls) is all under the hood - the Garrett turbo kit features a GT2860RS "Disco Potato" turbo, which provides nearly instant spoolup with its low inertia and dual ball bearing design. It lives behind the engine on the exhaust side, with an internally wastegated 0.64 A/R turbine housing, unique cast manifold and downpipe created by Garrett for this engine. Driving the Cobalt is an experience similar to trying to ride a cheetah. It's docile and well behaved for simple cruising, but give it the spurs and it tries to kill you.  Seriously, this author has driven this car and can report that it seems docile and that all things are well until you decide to give it some boot...and then all hell breaks loose.

The myriad tubes required to plumb fresh air to and from the turbo are, from the left: the pre-turbo intake from the air filter, the post-turbo charge tube running over the valve cover and down to the intercooler, and the post-intercooler duct feeding the throttle body through a 90-degree silicone elbow. All are very clean looking mandrel bent aluminum, formed and powdercoated by AEM. This kit was really an OE quality level project for Garrett and it shows in the details.

Needless to say this Ecotec makes quite a bit more power than stock. Garrett had the car dynoed at AutoWave, Inc. in Huntington Beach before and after the kit install. Stock, it made 143 hp to the wheels. After the turbo kit, fueling upgrades and tuning, it put down an impressive 233 hp @5300 rpm, and 270 lb-ft of torque at a moderate 12 psi boost pressure. We believe this measurement was made with the catalytic converter installed and rumor is that it made closer to 250 whp with a test pipe installed. The powerband is fat in the midrange which makes for a car that feels faster than it is when you whack the throttle open suddenly. Bam!

The current owner received the technical data and kit images when he purchased the car from an internal company auction and we are happy to share them with you. Here we see the kit components laid out for a marketing image; the compact ball bearing turbo is visible at left along with all of the bespoke parts created for this specific kit. That includes Garrett logo cast manifold and downpipe, a stainless heat shield, custom water and oil lines for the turbo, the AEM charge plumbing, SCT performance reflash tuner for the ECU, custom intercooler with Garrett logo end-tanks, and all gaskets and hardware. The fuel injectors and air filter are upgrades as well.

Inside the car looks just about like any other 2005 non-SS Cobalt. Gray cloth and GM plastics abound - but it's clean in here and can still function perfectly as a daily driver. Everything is as stock except for the turbo speed sensor wiring harness visible in the door jamb, and the boost gauge installed in the A-pillar.

This little force-fed baby has less than 20k miles on the clock; we'd bet it has many more years of fun to give to the next owner. It was driven only around 13k miles as a turbo development car, and the current private owner has driven only 6k miles in the last three years.

The boost gauge looks great with the red Garrett logo and LED backlighting. It's also refreshing to see it installed in an OEM a-pillar pod mount and not hacked into the dash haphazardly like we see with so many other cheap, fun sport compacts.

The seller provides great shots of the underside with the car on a lift. We can see that this is a California car for has lived in Southern California since new and it shows via the lack of rust or grime. The body looks clean and straight with no visible damage. We also don't see a catalytic converter but the test pipe can be removed and a stock cat installed if this needs to be smogged by the new owner. The DC Sports stainless exhaust system fits like stock and looks sharp.

As a test vehicle this Cobalt saw a lot of varied action; from regular driving to spirited excursions to autocross events, track days at Buttonwillow and Willow Springs raceways to evaluate the boost response and power delivery, and trips to the now-defunct LACR (LA County Raceway) drag strip to get an idea of straight-line performance.  It actually handles turns quite well, and loves a bit of mid-corner trailing throttle oversteer; just hit the tire spinning pedal on the right if you want to correct.

It even saw some dry-lake testing out in the Johnson Valley area at a rallycross event. A dry lake is the  perfect test bed (no pun intended) for a powerful car given the flat, wide-open expanses of space. The problem would seem to be getting traction on the loose surface, but hey - this looks like a ton of fun to us!

We can see this Cobalt wore its dust with pride, but rest assured it has been thoroughly cleaned since then and will be spankin' fresh for the new owner. We will update our DT readers when the auction goes live on ebay, so stay tuned for your chance to bid on this unique piece of engineering hardware that just happens to be a blast to drive.

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  1. I can see the hose clamps for the cold air kit but the ones on the boots from the intercooler to turbo. I woulda thought they woulda used the spring type clamps. Anyone have an idea on why they used those type of clamps?

    1. The hose clamps used were the standard ones supplied with the kit, and the Garrett engineers tested this car thoroughly. So they deemed these clamps to be acceptable given the boost level; I'm sure that wasn't an overlooked detail. The new owner could change to the T-bolt spring clamps if they want...but we've driven this car and can say there aren't any boost leaks!


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