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2003 Honda Insight - Adaptive Engineering

Redefining Honda’s iconic gas miser.

Matt “Rodrez” Rodriguez
Sep 12, 2011
Photographer: Henry Z. DeKuyper

Honda development executives have always possessed an uncanny ability to step outside of the box in an attempt to appeal to an even wider segment of America’s car buying public, and more importantly, strike before the iron is hot. That is, establish a stronghold on a particular genre before the next guy has a chance to stake his claim. While their direction might not satisfy today’s power-hungry performance enthusiast, the bottom line is Honda is selling cars—a large number of cars. In December of 1999, when the Insight was first introduced to the U.S. market, waves were felt across the automotive spectrum almost immediately. Although the idea of a hybrid-electric powerplant wasn’t exactly brand-new, producing an affordable version for the average Joe certainly was. Honda put its money on the Insight acting as a catalyst for a new breed of automobile that would cater to modern, more earth-conscious buyers. Some might call it a gamble, especially at a time when hybrid vehicles were still frowned upon by the general public, but the payoff in the long run has become quite apparent.

Htup 1110 01+2003 honda insight+cover Photo 2/10   |   2003 Honda Insight - Adaptive Engineering

Every major vehicle manufacturer has released or is working on releasing a hybrid vehicle on U.S. shores. So efficient was the first-generation Insight that its astounding mpg averages still stand at the top of the mountain almost 12 years after its introduction.

Luke Wilson and Josh Klein of 4 Piston Racing don’t exactly fit the criteria of an average Insight buyer according to Honda’s demographic team. The advanced hybrid electric engine from that era is of little interest to them, and the mpg is great for a commuter, but neither man has spent the last six-plus years tinkering with a car meant for racking up as many miles as possible for the least amount of gas money. No, these two were far more interested in the 0.25 coefficient of drag, and the 1,800-pound curb weight that the teardrop-shaped two-seater was blessed with right out of the box. Although factory quarter-mile numbers hover just under the 18-second mark, Luke and Josh had big plans to cut that number down significantly.

“Josh and I had been traveling to watch drag races for several years before we decided to build our own,” Luke says. “Our decision to get involved was heavily influenced by Outlaw class racer Joe Demaree.” In ’04, the two would unleash their Civic EH drag car on the strip, but no sooner had they completed their first event then they were already in search of an Insight to convert to drag status. Luke adds, “We were looking for a crashed Insight to fit our budget, but we found one in great shape in a field in Illinois. There wasn’t a scratch on it…though it was covered in mud up to its fenders.” Apparently the car’s owner used to travel quite a bit, changing horseshoes. As you can imagine, the smell that accompanies such a career isn’t the most flattering for a vehicle.

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With the car purchased, it was taken home and stripped of its fenders, battery pack, and windows in preparation for a visit to Mike Roth of MR2 Performance in Lebanon, Indiana. Originally the car was slated to receive a custom bolt-in rollcage, until Luke and Josh stopped by to check on it the very next day and were stopped in their tracks. Luke explains, “There was the body sitting on a jig with no floor! Mike told us, ‘We’re tubing the whole car.’ Mike somehow knew this is what we really wanted, and honestly, I’m glad he pushed us in that direction, but we were scared about how we were going to pay for everything.” Any form of competitive racing is comprised of a few critical factors—one of those, of course, being monetary boundaries. Scraping together funds to continue the build meant Luke and Josh would spend their free time taking on odd jobs that included motor swaps at home, painting houses, even racing for dollars.

During this time, Josh worked as an engine builder at a local shop, and with a good mentor and some of the best engine-building equipment at his disposal, the “go” portion of the project was underway. Picking up a few K24 CRV motors from the scrap yard, along with some spare heads to work with, Josh spent countless hours experimenting with various port shapes and valve sizing before finally settling on a winner. Becoming well acquainted with Honda cylinder head dynamics, the two began selling their signature heads locally to help raise money for their project. “By the end of the winter we were exhausted by the mere sound of carbide on aluminum,” Josh adds.

Finally armed with enough money to get the car running, they paid a visit to Joe Demaree for a midnight Dynojet session in preparation for the Insight’s initial event. A few hours of playing with the fuel and timing maps and a complete pull was finally made, registering 325 whp. “At that point we shut it down and went to the track where we pulled a 10.21 at 133 mph.” During another tuning appointment, the addition of a few induction and fuel changes had the motor belting out 370hp, and faster they went—this time nailing a 9.8 at 142 mph.

Htup 1110 03+2003 honda insight+engine Photo 4/10   |   With the front end removed, the heavily modified K24 is exposed. Note the staggered air horns on the Kinsler ITBs.

The excitement that came from getting the car on track and landing in nine-second territory caused the pair to overlook some vital aspects of competition. “The car was plagued with broken transmissions, pass after pass. First, second, fourth, even final drives, we destroyed them all. One summer, we either broke a gear or a driveshaft every single time we touched the track. Not one single pass from A to B,” Luke admits. With the closest import race events more than 13 hours away, the team’s budget was quickly diminished, but not their spirit.

Htup 1110 04+2003 honda insight+roll cage Photo 5/10   |   2003 Honda Insight - Adaptive Engineering

Knowing that all the power in the world won’t do much if you can’t put it to the pavement, they contacted Frank at Driveshaft Shop who would set them up with a pair of axles that could take anything the Insight would throw at them. Money was then invested into a new and improved tranny, and once again they hit the track, only to fall victim to a broken final drive that would ultimately destroy everything inside the new tranny. “We took another break from things to come up with a way to pay for everything without putting a strain on our families financially. We decided to sell the same CNC cylinder heads that we developed for our own program, and with the help of Chris Grace at Weld Tech, business just snowballed ever since,” Luke proudly states.

As you’re reading this, a new plan of attack has already been blueprinted by the dynamic duo in their search for the coveted 9.2-second pass. With the help of some industry heavy hitters, Luke and Josh have found even more power with their new setup utilizing a Series II AEM EMS. A new tranny guru is offering support, and though they haven’t cracked consistent back-to-back runs quite yet, the progression is apparent. Josh is even working on a brand-new 2.7L monster that will power the Team 4 Piston drag Insight to even faster times.

Htup 1110 05+2003 honda insight+switches Photo 6/10   |   2003 Honda Insight - Adaptive Engineering

From sitting lifeless in a field buried up to its fenders in mud to blasting down the 1320 at over 140 mph, this Insight has certainly seen far more than Honda’s design team had ever intended. And if Josh Klein and Luke Wilson have anything to say about it, the best is yet to come.

The excitement that came from getting the car on track and landing in nine-second territory caused the pair to overlook some vital aspects of competition. “The car was plagued with broken transmissions, pass after pass. First, second, fourth, even final drives, we destroyed them all.”

Staggered runner theory by Luke Wilson
There’s always a lot of talk on tech forums about intake runner length and how adjusting it can affect the way your engine makes power. In these photos you see our staggered runners on our induction and it has to raise some questions on the theory behind it and whether or not it works. There’s no deep secret to tuning intake runner length. It’s pretty well documented how changes in runner length and diameter will affect your power curve, and most of the “theory” is derived from real life experience from the most basic levels of racing up to the highest levels. Basically, the shorter intake runner should make power up top and benefit a high revving engine, as long as the cylinder head and camshaft can use it. The longer runner will be more useful in lower rpm ranges. The idea behind the staggered runner is to take advantage of both characteristics to create a broad power band. We are always trying different induction configurations and you may see something different on our car at any given point. I’m sure the application of this could be argued in great detail, but at the end of the day it all comes down to trial and error...something we do a lot of.

Htup 1110 06+2003 honda insight+fuel cell Photo 7/10   |   2003 Honda Insight - Adaptive Engineering

Bolts & Washers

Propulsion
K24A1
89.5mm x 103mm (2,592cc)
GRP aluminum rods
Winberg billet crankshaft
Kinsler individual throttle bodies
4 Piston Racing Pro 163 CNC head
4 Piston Racing–spec Wiseco pistons, 16.5:1
Kelford Camtech cams
4 Piston Racing custom PSI Pro Stock valvesprings
CV Products Xceldyne retainers
4 Piston Racing steel rockers
Fab Shop (Tim Murphy) custom header
Kinsler mechanical gear fuel pump
Injector Dynamics injectors
Earl’s Indy filter and hoses
Peterson 5 stage dry sump
4-speed dog box by Shane Marshall
K-Tuned billet shift arm, 5-6-R lockout
ClutchMasters FX725 twin clutch
ClutchMasters flywheel
Driveshaft Shop spool
Driveshaft Shop Pro axles
Power
415hp and 255 lb-ft of torque
Stance
Strange Engineering coilovers
Resistance
OEM
Earl’s Indy brake lines
Wheels And Tires
Spinwerkes 15-inch front
Weld Racing 15-inch rear
Mickey Thompson 26x8.5
Exterior
Franks Custom Fiberglass 1-piece front end
MR2 Performance wheelie bars
Spoon Sports DC2 side mirrors
Interior
Corbeau aluminum race seat
Fire bottle
Earl’s Indy safety equipment
Props
Friends and sponsors
Chris, Mary, and Debi at Weld Tech, Joe at GRP rods, Randy at Winberg Crankshafts, Kevin at Kelford Camtech, Mark at CV Products, Devin and Kirk at AEM, Mark at Earl’s Indy, Mike at K-Tuned, Mike Roth at MR2 Performance, Frank at Driveshaft Shop
Luke’s family—Stacy and Sophie for putting up with the time commitment
Josh’s family—My wife Samantha and my dad for all of the hard work, the crew guys who show up and help for nothing…Mitch Klein, Matt Hilt, Matt Monday, Shane Marshall

Owner Specs

Favorite Website
Honda-tech.com
Screen Name Or Nickname
Luke: 4piston
Josh: hondaballs
Building Hondas For How Long
16 years
Your Dream Car
Luke: NHRA Pro Stock G6
Josh: NHRA Pro Stock Mustang
Build inspiration
A love for engines, and Honda makes great engines for a fanatic to play with. We get just as excited about other people’s projects as we do our own
What’s Playing In Your iPod/CD/Mp3 Player Right Now
Luke: Jamey Johnson
Josh: Social Distortion
Greatest Movie Of All Time
Luke: Tombstone
Josh: Braveheart

Connect

4 Piston Racing
www.team4piston.com
Kelford Cams
www.kelford.co.nz
GRP Rods
www.grpconrods.com
CV Products
www.cvproducts.com
K-Tuned
www.k-tuned.com
Driveshaft Shop
www.driveshaftshop.com
Winberg Crankshafts
www.winbergcrankshafts.com

Sources

K-Tuned
877-958-8633
http://www.k-tuned.com
GRP Connecting Rods
Denver, CO 80216
303-935-7565
http://www.grpconrods.com
4 Piston Racing
Pittsboro, IN 46167
317-902-0200
http://www.team4piston.com
Winberg Crankshafts
http://www.winbergcrankshafts.com
Driveshaft Shop
Salisbury, NC 28147
704-633-2380
http://www.driveshaftshop.com
By Matt “Rodrez” Rodriguez
69 Articles

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