This is the first in what we're hoping is a long-term series on Autoblog. Since I started reviewing cars and have a new test-car dropped off almost every week, my own ride has gone virtually unused. The 1999 Ford Escort ZX2 will be paid off in a month or two and I've been itching to race it. I don't mean Fast and the Furious street racing, I'm talking about SCCA.

I am a complete novice and have never taken the ZX2 on the track. I'll be getting my first chance to take it out, for fun, at the end of August at the National Escort Meet in Ohio. But my main goal for this project is to get the car ready for what's called SOLO II racing. Basically amateur racers get timed going around a track one at a time (so no NASCAR bumping) and compare times to see who's best.

I have no illusions that I'll be horrible when I get started. But first I need help with the Escort. This is where the Autoblog readers come into play. I want your advice on what to upgrade, when and for how much. We're on a very limited budget and it doesn't look like we'll be getting any sponsors, so no freebies. Hopefully this will turn out to be a realistic diary of what it takes to get an everyday car ready for the track.

The catch: All modifications will be strictly for performance and not for looks. The ZX2 has to be completely stealth. The only exterior modification will be wheels (a set of ZX2 S/R wheels which I already have in storage). There will be limited dress-up inside as well. Eventually I'd like to see some racing seats but that would be the extent of it. No neon lighting etc.

Project ZX2 Engine - BeforeCurrent state of things:
1999 Ford Escort ZX2, DOHC 16-v Zetec engine with approximately 75,000 miles
5-speed manual transmission
130-hp & 127 lb-ft torque (stock figures)

The car has some modifications already. I've installed my second aftermarket intake. The current one is a Weapon-R Dragon intake, which I don't like as much as my former custom intake, but it does the job and looks pretty. But that's the only thing in the engine bay that looks nice. I also have Ford Racing spark plug wires, a MSD ignition and new platinum plugs. The ZX2 has a rough idle and these upgrades have helped tremendously with that. Otherwise this car is stock. I believe however that even these modifications exclude me from the Stock Series of Solo II.

So what do you think? Our other Autoblogger, Chris Diken, suggested suspension should be tackled first. Tires will be put on the S/R wheels before the Ohio trip without a doubt. Should suspension be addressed next? New exhaust?  Feedback will be key to the success of this series so please let us know your thoughts and opinions.

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