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 earlier this year, our interest was immediately piqued. And it wasn’t just the oddness of seeing a 23-year-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, missed the podium by one spot at the ’08 Summer Olympics in Beijing (tornado class), and is now coaching an American sailor looking to qualify for the ’16 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
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. New 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 back in June. Andrew managed to post a best lap time of 1 minute 23.6 seconds, which was good for 5th 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.
Specs & Details
1990 Suzuki Swift GT three-door hatchback
Engine G13B 1.3L DOHC inline-four
Engine Modifications 76mm 12.5:1 Suzuki Racing Development pistons, aluminum underdrive pulley set, 440cc fuel injectors and fuel rail; lightened and knife-edged crank, port and polished cylinder head, 3 Tech camshafts, SSGTI adjustable cam gear, Cultus JDM intake manifold and 60mm TB; Holley adjustable FPR, Genie 4-2-1 header, MSD ignition and coils, lithium-ion battery (1.5 pounds), custom solid motor mounts, aluminum radiator, K&N air filter
Engine Management Haltech Sprint 500 ECU tuned by OnPoint Dyno on MKII race fuel
Drivetrain ACT clutch kit with custom HD pressure plate, Suzuki Racing Development aluminum flywheel, Kalmar Motorsports LSD and close-ratio dog box gearset
Suspension Koni dampers, custom coilover conversion, Suzuki Racing Development race springs and upper strut brace (f); custom adjustable pillowball top mounts, Turbine Tech 4-point lower brace and upper strut bar (r), custom adjustable aluminum toe rods (r), Whiteline/Superpro poly bushing kit, Energy Suspension sway bar bushings and end links
Wheels, Tires & Brakes 15x6.5 Weds Sport TC-005 wheels, Toyo Proxes R888 205/50R15 tires, Wilwood big brake kit (f) and rear bias valve; stainless steel brake lines, Motul RBF600 brake fluid, Novus Tech wheel spacers, Speedstar track alignment and corner balance
Exterior X Racing Aero body kit, House of Kolor Pearl White paint, custom carbon-fiber hood, hatch, and front splitter
Interior Bride racing seat, Auto Meter Ultralite II oil pressure and water temp gauges; custom battery panel, Hurst shifter, old-school shifter ball from Kevin’s dad’s original Chevy drag car
Sponsors OnPoint Dyno, Kalmar Motorsports, Speedstar, Suzuki Racing Development, Paint Werx, Teamswift
Special Thanks Lee Brittan, Sasha Anis, Andrew Stittle, Ken Stittle, Peter Kocandrle, Derek Young, Andres Lamus, CSCS for running great events, and Modified for being a kickass magazine