Updated July 2020: Even before the current incarnation of Kevin Stittle's 1990 Suzuki Swift GT we knew the subcompact was a little badass, which is why it was first featured in Modified mag in 2013. That early version may have been just a leaping point, though, as the car today—still owned by Stittle—is a much more capable track assassin.
For one, the Suzuki now features a supercharged Honda K20 engine built by Lavigne Motorsports, kicking to the curb the hatchback's native G13B 1.3L mill. Kevin's mighty mite also has added supplemental aero bits that include an APR rear wing and Custom Carbon Composites front splitter. We caught up with Stittle and got an update, plus more recent photos from @pitlane.media.
SS: When did you decide to go K20? How difficult was the swap? Is the K20 still supercharged?
KS: I decided to do the swap back in 2015. I just felt the car had reached its potential with the Suzuki motor. I had spent a lot of time trying to make power with it and I was sinking a lot of money into developing it with minimal returns and limited potential. A quick measurement of a K Series motor and my mind was made up; it would fit between the frame rails and I decided it was the next step for the car. When I did the swap it was the first one in the world in that model Swift, but with a race car it's a lot easier to do a swap than if you are keeping it a street car. The car was stripped, and it all started with a long block, gearbox and a set of K Tuned headers. The engine mounts were fabricated around the headers fitting; we wanted to be able to use as many off-the-shelf parts to make life easier. K Tuned was a huge help and the car has a ton of K Tuned parts on it that look and work fantastic. From there it was pretty straightforward - plumb in the fuel, wire up the motor and add a pedal box for the hydraulic clutch pedal needed. The most difficult thing to work out was axles; I started with a custom set of shafts with the Honda spline on the inner and Swift spline on the outer. It worked and might have been ok for a street car but we kept sheering them in half on the track. In the end I adapted a larger Suzuki SX4 upright to fit a Honda wheel bearing and pressed in a Honda hub, that way the whole driveline was Honda and I simply ordered a custom length set of Honda axles from Drive Shaft Shop. I have not had an issue since. With the swap on a stock motor we had gained about a 100whp over the Swift motor. We worked out all the bugs with that setup, then went to the Rotrex Supercharger. The car now make 455whp on a Mustang dyno tuned by Lavigne Motorsports on VP100 fuel. It's an absolute rocket.
SS: Generally, what else has changed about the car since it was featured in Modified in 2013? We noticed the aero
KS: There is a lot that has changed - probably not much that's the same actually! Shortly after the Modified magazine article we went wider with custom control arms and some 3-inch flares. We added a full cage and carbon roof skin, carbon doors, carbon hatch, carbon skirts, carbon splitter, carbon diffuser and an APR GT250 wing. All of the brakes were upgraded to a custom NEO Motorsports big brake kit with Hawk pads which is now available to the public. All new, all aluminum prototype NEO Motorsports coilovers front and rear with Eibach springs are on it now and a fun new addition, NEO Motorsports air jack system. The air jack system seems a bit odd to put on a time attack car but it is so nice to have and makes changes and service at the track so much easier It's probably one of my favorite mods right now. We are running a much bigger wheel, Konig Dial In's in a 15 x 9 with Nankang AR1 245's on the front and 225's rear. The car is hooked up on this setup and the tire and wheel combo are killer. An AEM CDL7 dash is used for all of our driver information and data logging, then there are some race car stuff like a fuel cell, Accusump and on board fire suppression system that have all found their way into the car.
SS: Is the car done now? What else, if anything, do you want for the car? What is your goal?
KS: The car will never be done. It's a race car and it can always go faster. Where we have gotten with the car I never would have thought possible, but I know it still has more in it. Right now we are working on getting everything working well again; we had a few issues come up last year and it's been going through a bit of a teething phase again. There are some components that we originally modified that just aren't holding up to the new power and grip so we are on revision 2 or 3 on a few things, like control arms, braces and mounts Developing a new or unusual chassis is a very tedious process. I'm also working on some new carbon wing mounts and a new splitter design that is going to be bad ass. Once we get everything working well again I'd like to turn up the power, tune on some more aggressive fuel and maybe put some wider wheels and slicks on it and see what it can really do. The time attack class we have been running in (SuperStreet in CSCS, Track Mod in Gridlife) have tire treadwear limitations. It's been a good fit for the car (and my budget) but I'm curious to know what the car could do with a full racing slick. In my dream world I would absolutely love to see the car with a sequential gearbox in it; sequential and big slicks on the new Konig Countergram wheel, that might even be enough for me to consider the car finished!
More new images of the Swift from our coverage of Gridlife Midwest '16, The Speed Ring 2019, and Kevin's Facebook, as well as in-car video have been added to the gallery. What follows is the original story from seven years ago.
It's not often you come across a Suzuki Swift these days, let alone a highly modified one capable of turning lap times that rival the quickest front-drive machines around. That's because the last time Suzuki sold a Swift in North American was in 1994, when it was also sold as a Pontiac Firefly and a Geo Metro during its five-year production run. And as you'd expect from an inexpensive car of this vintage, most have either rusted out or have simply been worn out and retired to the scrap yard.
So, when we stumbled upon this amazing little '90 Swift GT at a CSCS Time Attack event, our interest was immediately piqued. And it wasn't just the oddness of seeing an old Suzuki in pit lane at a Time Attack event; it was the extent to which it's been modified and race prepped that really caught us off guard. When we spotted fellow rotorhead and RX-8 racer Andrew Stittle behind the wheel, we couldn't resist digging a little deeper. Turns out Andrew's brother Kevin Stittle is the owner and madman behind the transformation of this tiny hatchback into a formidable time-attacking machine. And as we soon learned, Kevin isn't just some nutter who loves Swifts; he's also a world-class sailor who won a Silver Medal at the '08 World Championships and missed the podium by one spot at the '08 Summer Olympics in Beijing (tornado class).
As Kevin explained, "Dad was into drag racing and was a bit of a motorsports guy, so we inherited that from him. But then the whole family got into sailing, so we started going to the cottage instead of the racetrack. I inherited my first car at the age of 16 and have always had an automotive interest, starting with stereos and lowering springs in the late '90s."
Kevin bought this Swift GT back in 2001—which came from the factory with a 100-bhp 1.3L naturally aspirated engine (though there was also a turbo model), a 5-speed manual gearbox, four-wheel disc brakes, and independent Mac strut suspension all around—and it's been a project car for him ever since. When we asked Kevin why a Swift, he responded, "I didn't want to do a cookie-cutter Civic and saw the potential in the body shape of the Swift as a unique show/stereo car type of project. At the time I was training for the Sydney Olympics, and in Australia Swifts are as popular as Civics are here. So, hanging out at the beach in Sydney, I saw a bunch of boosted Swifts, some making up to 350 hp and running 9s in the quarter mile, so that's what inspired me to build one."
In fact, Kevin brought the X Racing Aero body kit back from Australia after the training camps, and a few other parts are foreign market goodies he picked up during his sailing adventures around the world. The clear corners, for example, he bought while in Argentina, and the steering wheel he picked up in New Zealand.
One of the few North American sources for go-fast upgrades for these cars is Suzuki Racing Development in Miami, a shop with a lot of R&D experience from its background in rally and road racing Swifts. Sponsor Kalmar Motorsports out of Waterloo, Ontario, has also been a big help according to Kevin, including perhaps the most badass addition to the car to date: a close-ratio dog box transmission. Straight-cut gear whine in a Suzuki Swift? Talk about unexpected!
But what Kevin enjoys most about his Swift is that there isn't much aftermarket support for it, so he's had to get his hands dirty making many of the parts himself. "I grew up working in a surf shop, where I got to watch the owner lay up fiberglass on boards, so I learned a lot of techniques and craftsmanship from watching him work with composites. Coming home and working on the car has also been a nice break from sailing and training, plus automotive customization is a genuine passion of mine."
Kevin put his surf shop composites skills to work building his Swift a custom carbon-fiber hood, hatch, splitter, and flat bottom, as well as some carbon trim pieces like the cam gear cover and dash overlay. He also did all the bodywork and fiberglass work on the body kit, even after Andrew went a bit agricultural during the car's maiden voyage around a racetrack last year due to brake failure.
As Kevin explained, "The car had gotten to the point where there wasn't a lot left to do, so I lost a bit of motivation. I wasn't enjoying driving it on the street because of the race clutch and light flywheel, and it was a struggle to get it to pass an emissions test, too. So, for a few years I didn't have it on the road. But then when Andrew got into Time Attack racing, I decided to give it a try. The car showed a lot of promise out on the track, but it had a big brake problem. Andrew went off on the first lap and banged up the body kit, but I didn't care because it gave me something to work on. I'm all about building the car, so I'm happy to let Andrew do the driving. It's a ton of fun watching him rip it."
Since then, the Swift has gone through a lot of teething pains and setup changes, including addressing the brake problem with a new master cylinder and a front Wilwood big brake kit. Kevin also had some custom brackets machined up so he can install the stock front calipers and rotors on the rear of the car using a dual master cylinder setup. Kevin admits this might be overkill on a 1,500-pound car, but it's the type of engineering challenge and learning process he loves most.
Having replaced literally every nut, bolt, and bushing on the Swift, the Stittle bros finally completed a Time Attack event without a hiccup at the CSCS season opener in June 2013. Andrew managed to post a best lap time of 1 minute 23.6 seconds, which was good for fifth in class, hot on the heels of several K-swapped Civics. Part of the secret to this Swift's surprising pace is its low mass, of course, but the power Kevin and Sasha from OnPoint Dyno have managed to squeeze from its tiny 1.3L engine plays a big role, too.
After a money shift at the second CSCS of the season, Kevin is now rebuilding the race motor, which originally spun OnPoint's Dynapack dyno to the tune of 126 whp. And with the addition of a titanium valvetrain and an even bigger set of camshafts, peak power should climb to somewhere in the 135- to 140-whp range. The extra jam, along with the new dog box transmission, and the Stittles are now targeting sub-1 minute 20 seconds at Toronto Motorsports Park, a lap time that would not only put them at the head of the Super Street FWD class but would also give them a shot at the class track record.
That may seem like a lofty goal for a quarter-century-old sub-compact grocery getter that has almost no off-the-shelf go-fast support. But then Kevin didn't become an Olympian by pussying out in the face of adversity, did he? So, don't be too surprised when you see this "Hey, that's not a Civic!" hatchback shocking the competition and laying claim to more than a few track records before Kevin decides to go sailing again.