Go ahead, take another look at the photos, specifically the engine “bay,” then browse through the spec list and reread the title for the third or fourth time. Now, let’s get down to business here. First and foremost, putting a V-6 into an Insight is downright wacky. Converting an Insight to rear-wheel drive is just crazy. Creating a one-off, mid-engine Insight is pure madness! At least that’s what I thought when I first laid eyes upon Mini Tec’s Frank-Insight build. Little did I know, the build wasn’t even finished at that point; they had visions of a snarling turbo setup on the horizon.
Last summer, I’d come across Mini Tec’s website, superfastminis.com, while helping a friend research swap options for early model Minis. Clicking through the site, I found a massive inventory of Mini Tec custom-built components dedicated to making the art of swapping a VTEC powerplant into a Mini both safe and simple. Front, rear, and all-wheel-drive conversion options are the norm at this shop, but I was quickly pulled away from any and all thoughts of Minis when I noticed the blue Insight you see pictured. A closer look revealed an Acura TL swap sitting in the chest cavity of the once anemic gas sipper, and I immediately sent an email to get more info on this one-of-a-kind build.
The first question is, of course, “How do you come up with something like this?”
Mini Tec states, “Approximately two years ago, a potential customer inquired of the feasibility of fitting the complete first-generation Insight Hybrid system into a Classic Mini. We were intrigued, so we acquired a wrecked 2000 Insight donor and began dismantling it. When we removed the battery pack, we discovered a considerable vacancy aft the seat area. Previous experience with mid/rear engine cars gave us an idea. We’d been reading about J-series swaps in Honda Tuning, but considered the J too heavy and tall for the Mini. After some quick measurements, we knew the J had found a new home. Using information from Honda Tuning, forums, and Don at RPM Systems, we decided on a ’03 TL engine with a ’04 Accord V-6 tranny and stock TL ECU.”
In need of an actual car of their own for the transplant, the crew took to Craigslist and eventually came up with a salvage-titled ’02 with “minor flood damage.” Mini Tec adds, “The seller told us water only entered the floorboard area, and a quick inspection found no evidence otherwise. So for a mere $1,800, we brought the car back to the shop for disassembly.” Peeling back the layers, it was apparent that the Insight has been completely submerged in muddy water at some point as mud reared its ugly face on top of the headliner, hood insulation, and everywhere else. A complete teardown was in order before the fabrication magic began.
“We began by removing the battery floor area between the rear framerails along with the complete rear suspension. We then transferred it to the jig rack and located the engine/tranny by matching the intermediate shaft with the axle centerline, then centering and squaring it.”
With the engine in place, the suspension was tackled (see sidebar), and the wiring nightmare that is almost customary with a once completely flooded vehicle began—and painfully carried on for quite some time. Having plenty of experience with Honda-based swaps, the shop found the engine and support wiring were child’s play. However, there were plenty of wiring roadblocks along the way. Mini Tec states, “We had to replace wiper motors, window motors, all relays and fuses—even some switches. We learned a life lesson: never deal on a flood car! We spent as much time on the flood problems as we did on the swap!”
With the wiring mess a thing of the past, the TL Type S engine was fired up and the maiden voyage underway. The torque of the V-6 combined with the lightweight “slippery” chassis was incredible. Further testing revealed that with Mini Tec’s engine mounting and suspension strategies performing so well, even above the performance level of the TL swap, the chassis could indeed handle more. Some back-and-forth conversations with Don of RPM Systems, and both parties agreed that a turbocharged V-6 would be the next step. A J35 Odyssey engine with a custom turbo kit overseen by an AEM EMS at just 8 pounds of boost belted out 400 rear wheel horsepower! At a svelte 2,200 pounds, the power-to-weight ratio is out of this world, and yes, they upgraded the factory brakes at all four corners.
Mini Tec says they’ve found a solid balance with the car and have a few more changes to make; namely a longer final drive, front caster adjustment, and some additional downforce. In the safety department, a new cage, harness, and proper seats will add some additional confidence when the hammer is dropped. We’ve seen a number of unique projects pass through the pages of Honda Tuning, many of which reside within the pages of this very issue, but few are as far outside the box as Mini Tec’s mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, turbo V-6 Frank-Insight!
Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, turbocharged 3.5L V-6 creature!
Bolts & Washers
HKS 40mm wastegate
GReddy 40mm blow-off valve
Mini Tec custom exhaust manifold
Removed stock torque plate
Bosch 044 fuel pump
Weldon fuel filter
Injector Dynamics 725cc injectors
’00 Integra radiator
’04 Accord V-6 6-speed trans
Driveshaft Shop chromoly axles
QA1 adjustable coilovers
Mini Tec front/rear sway bars
QA1 rock end bushings
Custom rear alignment kit
Wilwood Dynalite calipers
Mini Tec custom lines
Wheels & Tires
Eagle Alloys 16x7 +30
BFG G-Force 205/40-16
Mini Tec custom paint/bodywork
AEM boost controller
Ferrari 458 Italia
Inspiration for this build
More Insight changes
The act of converting a once gas-miserly front engine, front-wheel-drive commuter into the fire-breathing, mid-engine monster that you now see is not one to be taken lightly. Beyond the extensive planning and extremely talented fabrication skills, the guys at Mini Tec have a ton of real-world experience under their belts. Adapting their hands-on experience from the world of custom Minis to the otherworldly Honda Insight project, especially the suspension department, was crucial to the project’s success. They explain, “Having previously developed a rear drive hub and trailing arm for the rear engine Mini, we used a similar design with the Insight. With the existing framerails in the rear, we had a problem with placement of a spring and damper, so we decided on a seesaw-type arm that pivots in the center using a QA1 rock spherical bearing, along with a mount bolted right into the stock trailing arm location. We used a 5-inch coilover shock mounted just aft of the seats on the forward end of the arm, with a hub on the rearward side. By using the compression- and rebound-adjustable coilover shocks in conjunction with cam-bolt adjustable hubs and transverse-mounted parallel stabilizer bars with adjustable rod ends, the rear suspension is totally adjustable for camber, alignment, ride height, spring rate, compression and rebound.” That’s right. When Mini Tec takes on a project, they cover all of their bases.