Article from Fast Fours Magazine Nov/Dec
1999, Australian automobile publication. Fast Fours tested the
effectiveness of eleven different octane boosters using a knock
engine. The NF
Octane Booster Racing Formula, which contains Viscon,
tied for first place by increasing the research octane number of the
fuel by 2.8 points. Below are seven scanned pages and an
easier-to-read version of the article.
Scanned Pages of the
Typed Version of the
boosters are popular in the
performance scene because they often regain power last through
detonation. Sold for around $25 in a handy bottle, they’re a
convenient fuel additive and horsepower helper. But with so much
brands on the market, you may be fooled into thinking they’re all as
effective as each other. Which they’re not! Differing chemical
compounds, additives and even volumes, mixed in with a good
percentage of advertising, ‘independent" testing and testimonials
all conspire to confuse the consumer away from the single most
important paint: does it improve the octane rating?
what’s worth it in octane boosters.
DO I NEED AN OCTANE BOOSTER?
at "The Macquarie Library" describe detonation as: "Excessively
rapid burning of the fuel mixture, often caused by auto-ignition due
to excessive temperatures in the combustion chamber, incorrect
ignition timing, lean mixtures, too high a compression ratio or
unsuitable fuel," – as in too-low an octane rating.
Heard as a faint, metallic rattle, detonation is accompanied by a
loss of power and can cause serious damage to piston crowns.
The significance of detonation is such that many companies
produce fuel additives designed to increase the inherent octane
rating of a given fuel. The proliferation of octane boosters has in
part come about in recent times thanks to low quality Australian
fuels. White or "Super" leaded fuel has been reduced from 98 to
95-96 octane, Premium Unleaded has also dropped to a minimum of 95
octane. And this presents a problem for high-performance cars
designed to run on higher octane European or 100 octane Japanese
fuel. Japanese import performance cars, Subaru’s STI WRX for
example, runs an ECU program for 100 octane, but sometimes detonates
on our Australian PULP.
All engines are different though and with Honda’s S2000 2.0-litre
engine running a high 11.0:1 compression ratio, it relies on
advanced engine management as much as quality fuel. But it can
sustain its power on PULP. And of course any turbo owner who has
experimented with boost will know if you run too much,
it will detonate, so improving
the octane is vital for maximum performance.
We must state that unless an engine is detonation through low RON
fuel, octane boosters have little use. However, in a turbo or high
compression application, the inclusion of a better grade of fuel
allows the engine management system to optimize ignition timing and
test we tracked down nine different makes and models of octane
boosters, two fuel "additive," a straight race fuel and a drum of
Toluene. Where there were several different "levels" of octane
boosters in the one brand, we chose the strongest version.
The biggest claims the bottles have is the amount of "points"
they claim to increase. This is ambiguous as a "point" can relate to
either 1.0 RON (Research Octane Number) octane points, or 0.1RON
The list of entrants in our octane Olympics included:
STP Octane Booster
Wynns Octane 10+ Power Booster,
Amsoil Series 2000 Octane Boost,
Super 104+ Octane Booster,
VP C5 Fuel Additive,
ELF HTX 330 Racing Fuel Stabilizer,
Nulon Pro Strength Octane Booster,
PowerFuel Super Street Nitro Based,
PowerFuel Max Race Nitro Based,
NF Octane Booster Racing Formula,
NOS Octane Booster Racing Formula,
VP Motorsport 103 Unleaded Racing Fuel
these tests we contracted independent laboratory Intertek Testing
Services, who would test our products on a knock engine.
We had to also find a base fuel to add our boosters to so we went
to the closest public petrol station, a Shell on the outward-bound
side of the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne.
Being a performance-based test, we chose premium unleaded fuel as
this represents the most common high performance fuel (ie: if you
start with regular unleaded, you’re wasting money!). We should add
that "some" boosters would have improved the octane rating of
regular unleaded proportionately more than our tests with PULP.
With a RON rating at a minimum of 95, we first established the
exact octane of the PULP. The biggest surprise was our randomly
select Shell resulted in a quite high 96-8 RON.
We precisely measured and mixed each additive to the PULP,
according to each manufacturer’s recommendations and specs and
poured each into the knock engine’s tank. The compression ratio was
then slowly increased until it started to knock, gaining
a threshold of detonation and
subsequently a maximum RON rating.
Of less importance but still worth mentioning is the design of
the bottles: since most people will be pouring it straight into a
tank, the design of a bottle is important to prevent any spillage on
paintwork causing damage.
So let’s look at the results!
BASELINE OCTANE 96.8
It’s very easy to confuse octane ratings as there are a number of
separate international standards. MON (Motor Octane Number) is the
number derived from a fuel when it’s applied to a test engine run at
3000rpm rather than 600rpm and higher inlet temps and ignition
advance. The Australian importer of 104+, Andrew Holdsworth,
suggested MON is seen as a more real-world test.
Though none of the fuel companies promote the MON figure which is
normally between 7 and 10 numbers less than RON (Research Octane
Intertek’s Graeme Marks believes RON provides the general public
with an idea of which additive works more effectively. And being the
most commonly-used reference, we’ve used RON for all our
PowerFuel Super Street Nitro Based
946ml treats 35 litres RRP: $35
Right from the start, we were told PowerFuel’s additives weren’t
necessarily octane boosters, but horsepower helpers. We kept this in
mind when testing both the products, but of the two only the Super
Street claimed it was specifically designed to increase the octane
rating of PULP. With a 20-percent nitro mix, Super Street
Nitro-Based still improved octane ever so slightly (0.2RON) but the
real test for these two would come on the dyno
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 97.0 (+0.2 RON)
PowerFuel MaxRace Nitro Based
946ml treats 35 litres RRP: $45
Containing another 15 percent more nitromethane than the
SuperStreet formula, MaxRace doesn’t claim to increase octane, but
the verbal recommendation was the same, ie: its main characteristic
is to boost horsepower, not octane. For a fair comparison of these
two additives, you need to look at the power they produce. As for
octane, it proved very similar toe the SuperStreet formula bumping
up octane ever so slightly.
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 97.0 (+0.2 RON)
STP Octane Booster
350ml treats 57 litres RRP: $10.95
One of the cheapest of the group, the STP was also one of the
hardest to find. Auto stores either didn’t stock it, or had simply
run out! Claiming to increase the octane 2-5 points, in a
well-designed-for-pouring bottle, the STP – used in the ratio
determined by the label - improved the octane marginally by just
over half a point. A little disappointing unless you interpret STP’s
claim actually meant 0.2-0.5 points. Then it’s a good
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 97.4 (+0.6 RON)
Wynns Octane 10+ Power Booster
325ml treats 60 litres RRP: $10
The Wynns was the cheapest of the lot and claimed an increase
between two and five points, again not actually listing what a
"point" related to. Strangely though the 10+ could indicate 1RON and
if this is the case going by our tests it almost lived up to its
name. It didn’t quite live up to its claims however, increasing the
octane rating by 0.8RON.
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 97.6 (+0.8 RON)
Super 104+ Octane Boost
473ml treats 83 litres RRP: $25.95
The acknowledged winner of all previous testing in this country,
Super 104+’s bottle stated we should expect an increase between four
and seven point. With a new formula introduced about 12 months ago,
identified by an "Eagle" logo on the back of the bottle, the Super
104+ seems to have lost its edge with a marginal gain of just less
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 97.5 (+0.9 RON)
VP Racing C5
355ml treats 75 litres RRP: $19.95
VP has a strong reputation with fuels and its high octane
formulas are very popular (VP?) with drag racers. VP Racing’s C5
Fuel Additive lacked any indication of contents nor claims, but the
C5 additive still provided a reasonable increase of
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 98.1 (+1.3 RON)
NOS Octane Booster Racing Formula
355ml treats 60 litres RRP: $28
NOS, a relatively new octane booster, comes in
"1/10th" scale bottles designed to emulate the actual
nitrous bottles of its successful NOS systems. The Racing Formula is
the strongest of three concentrates and containing Hydrotreated
Aliphatics and Methylcyclopentadienyl Manganese Tricarbonyl (try
saying that 10 times in a row), it contains a lead replacement which
NOS claims increases the octane rating by as much as seven points.
Obviously not recommended for street use, it also included
with a handy pouring spout. In testing, it proved a good result
improving the octane rating by almost 2RON.
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 98.6 (+1.8 RON) as much as 7
ELF 330 Fuel Stabilizer
1000ml treats 50 litres RRP: $45
"If you spill it on your paintwork, don’t rub it off – rinse it
with water" were our works of warning. We were also told to
"pre-mix" the ELF before adding it in a fuel tank (which with this
test we were doing anyway) as the ELF has a tendency to settle to
the bottom of fuel if it’s either not mixed properly or left to sit.
This was made somewhat more difficult by the design of the bottle,
which tends to drip when pouring. With some nasty stuff known as
Aniline, the ELF doesn’t claim any numbers, and provided a decent
1.8 RON point improvement.
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 98.6 (+1.8 RON)
Amsoil Series 2000 Octane Boost
354ml treats 57 litres RRP: $23
Recommended for off-road and racing use, the Amsoil Series 2000
claimed to increase the octane rating by up to seven points. It came
up a little short, but still proved surprisingly good with a full
2.0RON improvement. And good enough for the bronze medal in our
Octane Booster Olympics.
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 98.8 (+2.0 RON)
20 litres treats 100 litres RRP: $48
Since toluene (pronounced toll-you-een – also known as methyl
benzine) isn’t a commercially advertised octane booster. We were
unsure of exactly what ratio to mix the clear Toluene to the fuel,
with recommendations between 10 and 30 percent. From personal
experience, we have seen high percentages increase octane even
further, though 30 percent is considered the maximum. Available only
from various fuel distributors (it is a special order through
services stations), under advice we ran a 20 percent mix (quite a
lot more than the others) and saw an impressive improvement of 2.5
RON, for the silver medal.
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 99.3 (+2.5 RON)
NF Octane Booster
250 ml treats 80 litres RRP: $29.95
Time for an Aussie-made product. From Perth, the NF Octane
Booster Racing Formula was the smallest bottle in the field, but
looking at the mixing ratio, also the strongest NF relies on an
incredibly small dose – a mere 3 percent! Claiming to increase
octane as much as 6.0 RON, NF took the gold medal in a surprising
tie. If it were a split decision based on concentration though, it
would be the clear winner.
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 99.6 (+2.8 RON)
Nulon Pro Strength Octane Booster
500 ml treats 60 litres RRP: $20.95
Note: Also available in four-litre container for $110
The Australian-made Nulon Pro Strength Octane Booster is the top
of the range Nulon fuel product, claiming to boost octane "up to
seven number". The Pro Strength gained a test-winning,
gold-medal-gaining and Nf-equalling 2.8RON increase. And at $21,
it’s good value too!
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 99.6 (+2.8 RON)
VP Motorsport 103 fuel
Used straight fuel (20-litre minimum) RRP: $70
Purely for interest, we decided to also test a straight racing
fuel. While there are a number available (such as ELF) for no
particular reason we chose VP. The highest octane VP fuel which was
still totally street-legal was the Motorsport 103. Working out at
$3.50 per litre and "designed for maximum power and throttle
response", the VP was very impressive with an octane rating of
107RON – more than 10RON points more than PULP. Obviously more
expensive than the boosters, if octane is problem, racing fuel like
VP may be the answer.
OCTANE IMPROVEMENT: 107 (+10.2RON)
As the name suggests, a knock engine is
designed to test the detonation or anti-knock rating of fuels and
fuel additives. It’s a slow revving engine capable of running most
fossil fuels through an adjustable compression ratio. As the comp
ratio increases, it accurately measures the intensity of the knock
and determines the fuel’s octane rating.
The world standard is a one-cylinder two-valve four-stroke engine
with exposed valve gear. Archaic in appearance, a carby is fed from
any one of three fuel bowls to allow three different fuels to be run
back to back. The mixture is actually controlled via gravity feed
and by raising or lowering the float level of each bowl!
Run under load via a belt-drive linking the flywheel and load
system, it ensures a real world situation and ensuring minimal
variation between tests, oil temperature, intake air density and air
temperature are all monitored and controlled.
The engine is somewhat agricultural, however its unique ability
to vary the compression ratio while running between 5.0:1 and 15.0:1
is quite amazing. The operator simply winds a handle and the entire
head and cylinder assembly moves up and down relative to the
A knock sensor measures both the frequency and intensity of the
ping (as displayed on a knock metre). Figures are then
cross-referenced on a chart using the information provided by the
knock meter, plus the height of the head and barrel.
Finally, knock intensity is figured in and the fuel’s octane
Taking two hours to warm, this $200,000 engine is super robust
and rarely needs rebuilding. Individual tests can then proceed at
approximately $120 per test sample.
Being subjected to so much detonation, you can only imagine how
much maintenance an engine of this nature must need. Interestingly,
this isn’t the case as the piston and rod assembly are rejects from
a monstrous ship engine (just kidding)! They’re frigging huge with
the incredibly thick piston crown contributing to a combined gudgeon
pin and piston weight of 1794 grams! Likewise, the rod weighs an
astonishing 1929 grams. The bottom line is these engines which have
replacement value of over $200,000 and almost never require
Ultimately, the role of an octane
booster, is to regain horsepower lost through detonation or retarded
ignition timing due to detonation. But two of our products, the
nitro additives, weren’t specifically designed to increase octane.
Instead, they contain a mix of nitromethane (the petrol Top Fuellers
run) in a "percentage" concentrate. Power Fuel’s Super Street and
Max Race additives has 20-percent and 35-percent nitro respectively,
and the Australian importer specifically claimed they would increase
power, not necessarily octane.
So, we took those two products, and the two best-performing
octane boosters to MRT Performance for some Dyno Dynamics dyno
testing. Interestingly, we were going to use MRT’s rally Civic,
which normally runs on avgas. On PULP – even with the booster – it
was pinging too much, so a Jap-spec EF Honda Civic was used with a
1.6-litre VTEC and about 10.0:1 comp ratio.
The graphs tell the story though, and to be fair to the products,
with variables such as heat soak, the results weren’t as conclusive
as could be gained from an engine dyno. But that is not to say the
products don’t work. As our test prove, they do, but it’s not as
easily measured on a chassis dyno. Plus the Civic had no detonation
problems on PULP, further hampering the "apparent" effectiveness of
With changes too small to accurately measure, we would suggest if
your engine is sensitive to octane, a booster is for you. If not,
try the nitro or racing fuels.
Both the Nulon Pro Strength and the NF Racing Formula rated the
best octane boosters in our test. And considering that less NF was
needed than Nulon, it evens out a little with a slightly higher
cost. Still, both proved extremely effective at increasing octane,
even outranking Toluene, which needs much higher levels of
concentration. The VP Motorsport 103 fuel was an interesting
exercise, and if a little more effort (ie: buying it from the
selected outlets) is worth the octane, it’s a good representative of
what to expect from straight racing fuel. As for the nitro
additives, if you’re not experiencing any type of detonation,
they’re definitely worth a try. So whether you detonate or not,
we’ve found a fuel additive for you!
Material courtesy of Fast Fours Magazine Nov/Dec