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 |   |  1995 Honda Odyssey LX - Altered Course
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1995 Honda Odyssey LX - Altered Course

One minivan and five championship-winning race engine replicas. You can’t make this stuff up!

Aaron Bonk
Aug 6, 2013
Photographer: Rodrez

Tommy Fitzgibbon’s minivan weighs almost two tons, has seven seats of which five have been defiled from the likes of his brood, was originally intended for soccer-player-bearing middle-aged mothers, and is every bit as awesome as your Civic.

That’s mostly because of the Super Touring–inspired H22A that sits underneath its hood, an engine descended of the series that’s influenced Fitzgibbon since he first took an interest in the Honda species nearly 20 years ago. Super Touring Accords, which were powered by 2.0L, twin-cam F-series VTEC engines, went to great lengths to ensure superior intake and exhaust capabilities. As such, reversing the engine’s cylinder head orientation became standard procedure, resulting in forward-facing intakes and shorter exhaust paths, much like Honda’s current four-cylinder lineup. The process is an elaborate one, and is precisely why only a handful of H-series fans have attempted the conversion outside of the professional racing circuit. After all, swapping a K-series into the Odyssey, which isn’t very much unlike the Accord, results in similar power and makes a whole lot of sense.

Fitzgibbon has no delusions of making any sense, though. He’ll be the first to tell you that his reverse-head conversion was an exploratory one—a journey that led him to appreciate the Honda brand more than any drop-in engine swap ever could. The longtime Honda owner wasn’t necessarily in the market for an Odyssey three years ago, either, but an online classifieds offer which he couldn’t refuse soon altered his course. A spare H series was included with the already H-swapped van as was a turbo system and most of the components needed for a soon-to-be-completed manual transmission conversion. Fitzgibbon elaborates on the van’s condition upon his initial inspection, detailing its barrage of battle scars, oil-stained carpet, and rat’s nest of an under-dash wiring harness: “It was perfect.”

Perfect for the quick flip that he had planned, one in which he’d take advantage of his resources as part owner of Torrance, California–based Fast Eddie’s Racing to fix its faults, clean it up, and make a quick grand. Three months into the project and plans changed. The desire for a naturally aspirated H-series rebuild got the best of Fitzgibbon, and soon what appeared to be an innocent engine build began. Until he got the idea to create his own version of a Super Touring H series—a conversion that required extensive engineering, elaborate machine work, and is the last thing anybody would expect to find underneath the hood of car that was once lauded for its ability to stow away strollers without so much as folding them up. “I’ve always been a fan of the old Super Touring cars—British and Japanese—and my fascination with the reverse-head F20B engines that powered them finally caught up with me,” he says. “It was time to stop dreaming about them and build one.”

As earnest as he was about assembling his own van-destined touring car mill, its development was every bit as challenging as the minivan-race-engine fusion is silly sounding. Consider the architecture of almost any internal-combustion engine, and the number of obstacles encountered once the head’s orientation is reversed is clear. For one, the Odyssey’s H series remains counterclockwise-driven, which means the head’s rotation took place independent of its camshafts. This, along with reoriented oil and coolant passages and flip-flopped pistons to account for proper valve-to-valve relief clearances are just a sampling of complications Fitzgibbon addressed. Ask him, though, and he’ll assure you that it was all worth it: “This one decision changed everything about how I tune cars,” he says. “It forged alliances with new friends, earned the attention of prominent folks within the industry, and attracted praise from all over the country.”

Spend some time on your favorite online automotive abyss, and you’ll quickly realize that instructions on how to complete a reverse-head conversion of your own are sparse. Fitzgibbon came to terms with that early on and sourced the necessary information from English race car firm Neil Brown Engineering, the company behind those fabled F20Bs of lore. U.K.-based engine supplier Touring Car Spares also came to his aid, providing Fitzgibbon with a series of photos that allowed him to reverse-engineer his own interpretation of the once race car engine. And what an engine it was, if only for a short time. Bungled calculations on his behalf resulted in a nasty piston-to-valve mix-up once VTEC was engaged. “It turned out that I had done the math wrong when adjusting the cam gears to compensate for the way that the cams’ lobes would actuate the rockers,” Fitzgibbon explains. “I wanted to clone myself just so I could kick my own ass.” A series of mishaps and a steep learning curve led to four more engine failures, at which time he decided to shelve the project for good. “I was more of a mess than the engine was,” Fitzgibbon says. “I decided that enough time and money had been spent on a project that had previously only been accomplished by a group of well-financed engineers in an English race engine laboratory.”

The story of Fitzgibbon, his minivan, and his Super Touring car–inspired Prelude engine doesn’t end here. Although preparations for a more mundane H-series mill were subsequently laid out, the reverse-head idea continued to haunt him, and a newfound friendship with nearby RC Engineering’s John Park, who began to take an interest in the project, helped see the engine to completion. Five blown engines weren’t all for naught, though, and Fitzgibbon will admit as much. “We now have the knowledge to build it right the first time, and now that we know that we’re not going to be destroying expensive parts, we can experiment with higher compression, hotter cams, and port work,” he says.

The problems associated with trying to modify a seven-person family carriage for high-performance use don’t end here, either. Otherwise simple suspension mods are customized procedures when concerning the Odyssey, and because of the van’s weight, it’s severely over-geared and under-braked, according to Fitzgibbon. Says the guy who blew through five Prelude engines to fulfill his Super Touring car dreams: “Solutions for all of these problems are in the works as well.”


Bolts & Washers

Propulsion
Reverse-head H22A1 engine
Neil Brown Engineering valve cover
Bisimoto adjustable cam gears
Modified OEM camshafts
Brian Crower stainless steel valves
Brian Crower titanium retainers
Brian Crower keepers
Neil Brown Engineering head gasket
ARP head studs
Modified OEM pistons
Knife-edged crankshaft
Balanced rotating assembly
H22A4 aluminum oil pan
Bisimoto balance shaft removal kit
Kaizenspeed manual timing belt tensioner
ITG air filter
TWM 50mm individual throttle bodies
B-Werks custom exhaust manifold
MagnaFlow primary muffler
Mazdatrix secondary muffler
SLP high-flow catalytic converter
RC Engineering 450 cc/min. fuel injectors
TWM fuel rail
Earl’s AN fittings and lines
AEM engine management system
AEM engine positioning module
K20A2 ignition coils
NGK iridium spark plugs
PRC Racing aluminum radiator
Prelude VTEC manual transmission
Prelude shift mechanism
Fast Eddie’s Racing shifter plate
Fast Eddie’s Racing heavy-duty clutch
Fast Eddie’s Racing lightweight flywheel

Suspension
TEIN HA coilovers, front
TEIN Basic coilovers, rear
Energy Suspension bushings
Ingalls adjustable upper ball joints, front and rear
Cusco rear alignment kit
Custom extended rear shock hats

Resistance
Cross-drilled OEM rotors
Earl’s steel-braided lines
Wilwood proportioning valve

Wheels & Tires
17x9 Racing Hart Type C, +18 offset
225/45-17 Falken Ziex

Exterior
Mugen aero kit
Mugen rear spoiler

Interior
AEM wideband air-fuel UEGO gauge
Recaro Sport seats
Sony Premier head unit
MOMO Monte Carlo steering wheel
HKB steering wheel hub adapter
Tekniq AutoSport quick-release adapter
Wilwood clutch pedal
Fast Eddie’s Racing–modified OEM brake pedal
Arachnaforms shift knob
Tuffy center console

Props
My dad, Tom Fitzgibbon Sr., for teaching me how to think like an engineer. This project is dedicated to him and never would have been possible without everything I learned from him. My wife Renae. Harry and Arturo at Velios Machine Shop; Rick Rosales; Dennis Smith; Jim Pierce from Advanced Muffler; Beto from B-Werks; Steve Rodgers from SR Motorcars; Mitch Peterson from MP Tuning; Neil Brown and his receptionist, Louise Wooley, from Neil Brown Engineering; Tony from Touring Car Spares; Sean Montoya; James Hsu; Mike “Monkey” Kim; my partner in crime, Kevin Hollis; Hawthorne Ngo; Scott Brasil; Kim Kovananth; Anthony Do from Infinit Wheels; Eli Sesma from Fast Forward Wheels; Millan’s Honda Wrecking; Alan and Ralph from Cali Accord Meet; Ron Cino-Cruz from Team Supastar; Ronald Wu from Aero-Duo; John Park from RC Engineering; Nate Duenes and the boys from Kamakaze Racing; Anh from Style Over Comfort; Oscar Jackson Sr. from Jackson Racing

Owner Specs

Daily Grind
Helping teenagers change their lives at Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy

Favorite Sites
Macross World, eBay, and Craigslist

Screen Name
656delta

Building Hondas
Since 1994

Dream Car
Whatever I decide to build next

Inspiration For This Build
Neil Brown’s famous BSTCC Accords

Future Builds
1975 Datsun 280Z, 1983 Toyota Land Cruiser, and someday a CRX

North American Touring Car Championship

Super Touring racing wasn’t just reserved for the British and Japanese. From 1996 to 1997, the NATCC (North American Touring Car Championship) was held in the U.S. and Canada, which served as a support series to CART’s road course and street course racing. Tasman Motorsports’ Honda Accord factory team and driver Randy Pobst dominated the series, winning the championship its first year, but although popular among its fans, the series failed to entice a substantial number of competitors and was discontinued after its second year. NATCC rules only allowed vehicles with production runs in excess of 2,500 units and with maximum displacements of 2.0L to compete, of which the Accords regularly produced nearly 300 hp and resulted in times comparable to or faster than today’s Speed World Challenge GT racers, making for an exciting series that arguably ended all too soon.

Sources

AEM
Hawthorne, CA 90250
800-992-3000
http://www.aempower.com
RC Engineering
Torrance, CA 90501
310-320-2273
http://www.rceng.com
Bisimoto
Ontario, CA 91761
888-922-6686
http://www.bisimoto.com
Fast Eddie's Racing
http://www.ferperformance.com
By Aaron Bonk
413 Articles

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