That you’ve never heard of HCP Engineering, the first company to manufacture and sell Honda-specific engine swap mounts or George Hsieh, its founder, doesn’t change history. At a time when engine swap experts were few, personal computers remained luxuries of early adopters, and original owners took delivery of Honda’s remaining CRXs, Hsieh sought to simplify the engine swap process…for himself, at least. Uncharted territory by most accounts, the B-series swap was complex, lengthy, ubiquitous. In an effort to ease his own B-series transplant, Hsieh constructed a series of brackets that changed the rules forever. No longer would cutting and welding be requisite to the dual-overhead-cam-shoehorned ’88–’91 Civic. Hsieh sought to simplify the engine swap process for himself. Instead, he helped spawn an engine swap revolution.
HT: When did you realize there was a need for Honda engine swap mounts?
GH: Well, before the mount kit was mass-produced, everybody was cutting and welding their swaps into place. I got the idea to sell the prototype kit I made when I went down to Speed Garage. They were doing a shitload of motor swaps at the time. It was more like an assembly plant than a shop. One guy would just sit there and cut off all of the mounts, and the other guy would weld on these mounts that were all crooked, and then the next guy would just drop in the motor. That kind of gave me the idea: “Oh, shoot, why don’t I just sell something where, you know, it would allow this whole thing to bolt in?” Structure-wise, Integras and Civics are pretty similar, so if I could somehow reuse the original mounts, that would basically allow people to do it themselves and really drive down the cost. It could make it a fun project.
HT: What year was that?
GH: That was 1996, but I made my first bolt-in kit for my own swap in 1991.
HT: Were you doing swaps for other people or had you just done your own?
GH: You know, this whole thing kind of came about from my own needs. I was trying to do a motor swap in my own garage but I didn’t have any welding equipment or anything that had to do with cutting out the mounts. Basically, I bought a salvaged ’89 CRX and had the whole thing stripped down to the bare shell, sitting in my garage, trying to do the swap.
HT: That car was still fairly new and you’d already pulled the engine out?
GH: Yeah, it’s hard to believe it’s been 20-some years, but it was still a pretty new car.
HT: What happened next?
GH: I got an Integra motor from a buddy of mine. I set the motor inside the engine bay, put a few wood blocks underneath it, and everything just pretty much lined up. It wasn’t a project that I completed in just one day, though. It took more like two months for me to go back and forth, coming up with ideas to basically bolt the motor into the car without any kind of cutting or welding. The original mount kit idea came about when I tried to set the stock Integra mount into the driver-side bracket. I used a pry bar to try to open up the bracket and squeeze it in there.
HT: That didn’t work, though, did it?
GH: No. That was crazy [laughs]. I ended up shaving down the mount’s metal spacers on each side to get it to fit into the bracket. On the passenger side, I kept the stock Civic EF bracket and I fabricated a special bracket with a stud, which allowed the transmission to bolt up to the factory Civic mount.
HT: That was neither a transmission bracket nor a mount. It was more like an intermediary bracket that sandwiched in between the Integra transmission bracket and the Civic passenger-side mount, right?
GH: Yeah, that was how this whole thing started. And for the rear transmission mount, I kept the factory EF mount. I just made an L bracket that allowed me to keep the factory Civic mount on the subframe and that weird-looking horseshoe mount with the three bolts up top. That horseshoe mount hooked up to the L bracket, which attached to the Integra transmission.
HT: Did you sell those or were they just for you?
GH: Yeah, I sold them. That’s basically how the business got started. Speed Garage started distributing them later on, and I was also selling them locally. It was really, really grassroots. I was selling mount kits out of the back of my car.
HT: Was HCP a full-time business for you yet?
GH: No, I was working as an accountant for a manufacturing company. I was using their fabrication facility after hours, and that’s how I came up with the prototype.
HT: You offered these mounts pretty early on, but a lot people continued to weld their swaps into place. Why was that?
GH: Some were just totally against these bolt-in kits. There were a lot of people who were nonbelievers. There are always people with different opinions. I just tried to show them this was cool and this was safe. But, to be honest with you, the original mounts, they weren’t all that good anyway. In order to run those—going back to the rear mount—there was no way to use the Integra’s VSS (Vehicle Speed Sensor). That was my main obstacle in getting those mounts made. I couldn’t find a way to get the VSS to fit. So, I figured out that I could pull the Civic one out and use it. Luckily, they had the same sprocket, same gear, and same mount, so I’d be able to use the one out of a Civic or CRX. Until then, I had the hardest time trying to fabricate a rear bracket to work with that funny-looking horseshoe mount. From that point on, it was problem solved.
HT: How did those original mounts compare to the factory ones in terms of engine position and movement?
GH: Everything would bolt in, but there was a lot of movement with the engine. There were only three mounts, and the factory [Civic] mount, it just wasn’t beefy enough. So I took the [Civic] front mount and figured out how to somehow adapt it to the Integra transmission.
HT: You adapted a Civic mount to the Integra transmission? Most were adapting the Integra mount to the Civic crossmember.
GH: Yeah, right, but that involved cutting and welding. The main thing I realized was not everybody had access to a welder or any kind of cutting equipment. I tried to make everything strictly bolt-in. The only way to make that happen was to utilize the Civic mount. The Civic mount obviously mounted to the chassis, so the challenge was to make the mount bolt to the B-series transmission.
HT: Those early mounts were pretty crude—just simple steel brackets that were powdercoated black so they wouldn’t rust.
GH: When I set out to make my mounts, it was always function first. Form always took a back seat. Eventually, I caught up with the form-and-function balance. I was later making cast-aluminum mounts. Those things, they were lightweight, they were strong, and they looked good.
HT: So you went from the backyard brackets to the steel mounts to the cast-aluminum ones?
GH: Yeah, and the steel ones had the longest life span. I used cold-rolled steel that was a little more forgiving and could take a pounding—not too brittle or too soft. After I powdercoated them, they were just as good as anything else out there, but they just didn’t look as good as the aluminum mounts.
HT: You weren’t the first to offer aluminum mounts, right?
GH: No, HaSport was. When I made those, they were even cheaper to make than the old steel ones.
HT: I’d argue that one of the most innovative Honda-specific performance parts ever developed is the adjustable shift linkage. Tell us how that came to be.
GH: (laughs) There are always production variances with anything. The older Civics’ engines and transmissions and mounts—their tolerances aren’t really as close as people think they are. I’ve got to go back and talk about the mounts again, though. Even with four mounts, the engine wasn’t in its ideal position. With my prototype kit, the engine was placed practically flat, so there was no way I could use any factory linkage. Basically, I took the Integra linkage, cut part of it out, and welded it back together. At that point, though, I’d cut nine inches out; it was too short. Back then, I couldn’t keep buying linkages to try them out. It was a difficult part to find, and these places that had them wanted a grip for them. I really had no choice. I went to the hardware store and bought a piece of threaded rod. I thought that maybe I could use that to help develop some sort of fixture to help make fixed linkages of different lengths. One thing led to another and it was like, well, with the threaded rod and a nut at each end, I could sell these as adjustable linkages.
HT: So the adjustable shift linkage was an accident?
GH: Yeah, everything just kind of happened by accident. Think about it: when you’re really strapped for resources, you’ve just kind of got to make due. It wasn’t like a bright idea or anything. I needed to do something at that point and it just came about. You know, I think the mounts themselves were sort of an accident, too (laughs). I was trying to put that first motor into my own car. I wanted to get it done without renting welding equipment or doing something half-assed since I couldn’t weld. Lucky for me, people were able to use my shift linkage on other people’s kits, so that was definitely a big plus. It was really hard to find cores at the time, so I ended up going to junkyards and taking all of their ’86-and-up Civic, CRX, and Integra rods so I could make mine.
HT: The linkages were made out of mostly OEM parts?
GH: Yeah, except for the threaded rods and nuts. Everything was powdercoated and zinc-plated so they wouldn’t rust. All of this was pretty simple back then. I didn’t really set out to become this engine mount company or whatever; it was really, really grassroots, trying to solve my own problems for my own car. I was just making stuff that would allow me to do things to my own car with whatever parts I could find.
HT: You might say that HCP set out to solve its own engine swap problems, not the world’s.
HT: How did it affect you when your first competitor, Place Racing, began offering bolt-in mount kits?
GH: I knew Place Racing was around, doing a lot of motor swaps, but they were still welding them in. They didn’t make any bolt-in kits at first. I remember the owner, Gil, and he went onto that Hybrid board—I forget what the exact website was—and he’d go on there and give out all sorts of information. I think he was there just to get business for his shop. I didn’t really like that, you know, taking advantage of the board, of the free service, for his own gain. When my kit was first released, I was getting a lot of negative stuff coming from Gil. He was talking about engine placement, the tilt, axle alignment, things like that. But the thing is, I wasn’t an engineer; I didn’t know any better, but it worked. I didn’t have any way to test the welds or the materials in a lab, so I put slicks on the car, slapped a turbo kit on there, and went out racing. Luckily, no one got killed, so I knew my shit worked. Besides, whenever somebody would say something about my products, I’d go back and try to make them better.
HT: And the mounts went through several revisions, right?
GH: Exactly. That was the first iteration. The second one, I kind of improved on the engine position. I didn’t have any problems with axles ever, though, which was contrary to what people were saying.
HT: What about HaSport? Do you ever feel like its success should’ve been yours?
GH: Yes and no. I mean, they had a vision of what they wanted to become. Honestly, I didn’t. I remember when Brian from HaSport bought a set of mounts from me sometime in the mid-’90s, before they were doing their own. I give him a lot of credit, and I have a lot of respect for what he’s done. I just had this feeling that this Honda/Acura thing wouldn’t last. I don’t know how else to say it. I knew that HCP would be a good experience for me, but I didn’t have enough faith in the Honda and Acura market to invest all of this capital. I “knew” it was all gonna end.
HT: What other innovations should HCP be credited for?
GH: Besides the first bolt-in kit in general, I had the first true bolt-in H-series kit for ’92–’95 Civics. There were other kits out there, but they still required cutting and drilling. I was working really close with Energy Suspension at the time, and they collaborated with me on bushings. They opened up their warehouse to me to go in and find the bushings I needed for that swap. It was a unique diameter and thickness that I needed, and they would customize the durometer for me. The passenger-side mount had to be really small in order to work as a bolt-in kit, so durometer was really important. On the driver side I might’ve used a 50 Shore [hardness] insert, but on the passenger side it was something like an 80 Shore [hardness] insert since they were different sizes. I had to do that, otherwise the motor wouldn’t have felt balanced.
HT: It used to be that an engine swap forced you to lose a lot of creature comforts, like A/C and power steering. Did you address any of those things?
GH: Yeah, I offered the first A/C bracket for H-series swaps. Before that, those swaps meant you had to ditch everything. I also offered throttle cable brackets, which made things easier. I tried to make it so that a guy could get this package from me, do the swap, and get his car done quickly. I was modifying harnesses way back then, doing DPFI-to-MPFI conversions. My theme became: motor swap in a box.
HT: Those had to have been some of the first mail-order wiring harnesses.
GH: Oh, yeah, they were. Nobody was doing that.
HT: The Internet was still new when HCP began. How did people find out about you?
GH: My brother knew the guys from Speed Garage in Mission Viejo [California] because they went to UCI together. Everybody used to go to Speed Garage for their rice add-ons, you know, emblems, strut bars, and fart can exhausts. They were strictly an accessory shop at first. They were working on an Eclipse this one time, and they couldn’t get it to start. They were having a heck of a time getting the timing belt to line up. They asked my brother if he could help, so we went down there to check it out. I saw a swap they were trying to do, so I told them about the prototype mounts I’d done for my car. The owner, he was all about money; he saw the potential. Anyway, he had the means to distribute the product and became the main outlet.
HT: Shortly after that, Speed Garage became one of the most prominent engine swap shops around, right?
GH: Yeah, and I’m pretty grateful I met those guys, because without them, I don’t think it would have ever taken off.
HT: HCP later expanded into retail, didn’t it?
GH: Not really, it was just a new business; it was all accessory stuff and JDM parts. I may have sold my old inventory of mounts, but I’d stopped all development work.
HT: HCP eventually closed, though. What happened?
GH: I wasn’t competitive enough. The thing is, my strongest product was the B-series EF mounts. I noticed that market started to die. In order for the business to sustain, I would’ve needed to move on to the K series. At the time, I didn’t have any interest in that. I figured, you know what, I’ll just go out on top. I closed the business voluntarily instead of being forced into it. Like I said, I never had a lot of faith in the Honda market (laughs). I can’t say that I couldn’t be happier, but it was kind of a chapter of my life that I was glad to close.
HT: Did you ever even try a K-series swap?
GH: Nope. I’ve never done one.
HT: Besides Speed Garage, where else did people go for engine swaps in the early days?
GH: It was mostly backyard mechanics who could cut and weld mounts into place. After the mounts came out, most shops were doing swaps.
HT: Businesses that focused on engine swaps early on saw bolt-in mount kits as a positive thing, something that could really speed up turn-around. Ultimately, as swaps got easier, it put some of those shops out of business.
GH: Yeah, at first some probably saw it as a tool, but I guess it later became a threat for some businesses.
HT: I suppose that’s just natural progression, though.
HT: How did you become interested in Hondas?
GH: I want to be on record: I didn’t get into Hondas; I got into CRXs (laughs). That was about 1990, at the end of high school.
HT: Speed Garage was affiliated with the Southern California street racing crew MetroSpeed. Were you involved with them?
GH: No, I never really got into street racing like hard-core style. I’d hang out with them and talk about cars and stuff, but I didn’t really dedicate my life to street racing.
HT: Is there a favorite car you’ve owned?
GH: That would probably be my ’86 Starion TSi.
HT: Not a Honda (laughs)?
GH: Well, I loved it (laughs). I guess my favorite Honda was my S2000. I’ve gotten rid of that, but I’ve kept my old CRX; it’s still got a JDM front end and Mugen kit. I still have that.
HT: Your first engine swap took you two months to complete, with little help. Today, instructions and schematics and tips are available online. What do you think about that?
GH: I actually prefer finding out things on my own. I mean, when I would find something out at first, I would keep it a secret. Everything I learned was a trade secret that I could either make money off of or win races from. Now, having the information so available, it’s taken the mystery out of everything. Before, if you knew how to do a DPFI-to-MPFI conversion, you were a god. Now it’s like, oh, you know how to use Google.
HT: Would you say the dynamic of what people do with information has changed?
GH: Absolutely. I wanted to make money back then. Now, people would rather be popular. They’d rather be liked and popular on the Internet than make money (laughs).
HT: Who influenced you early on?
GH: My uncle taught me a few things about cars in general. He was a hard-core gearhead. He had one of the first twin-turbo, second-generation Supras. He taught me a lot of the fundamentals. I was able to apply a lot of what I learned from him to what I did. He actually helped me build my first motor, a D16. When we built that, there weren’t any oversize valves or cams or stuff like that. We ended up using intake and exhaust valves from an F22 Accord motor. A motorcycle machine shop cut the valves and the head and made them fit. I spent a lot of money and a lot of time on it, but I just didn’t get what I wanted out of it. Power was so peaky. The powerband was so narrow. It was all trial and error. I was making things work based on what I had.
“My uncle taught me a few things about cars in general. He was a hard-core gearhead. He taught me a lot of the fundamentals. I was able to apply a lot of what I learned f
HT: Did that engine’s shortcomings lead to your first engine swap and ultimately the first bolt-in mount kit?
GH: Yeah, exactly. The D-series powerband was so narrow, which made the car hard to drive, so I started looking at other options. I knew the D series wasn’t going to cut it, and I had to figure out some way to go with a B.
HT: Do you feel you’ve left a positive mark within the Honda performance world?
GH: Yeah, the one thing that really struck me when guys were doing weld-in mounts was that the motor would come out crooked. You just couldn’t get consistent swaps done. It didn’t matter how good you were, either. The bolt-in kits, they allowed for some adjustability. You could get consistent engine placement every time. Same with the cut-and-weld linkages, unless you had a really sophisticated jig or fixture setup, which nobody did, it was always a guessing game. Nothing was consistent.
HT: People today might not fully understand how difficult it was to get the engine level and in its correct position. It was a guessing game.
GH: Yeah, and that’s where experience came in. You’d have the engine on blocks, nice and level, weld the mount in, remove the blocks, and then one side of the engine would drop a little bit because of the factory rubber mounts. Also, there was no exact position to place the weld-in brackets since, as cars got older, they were all a little different. There were a lot of variables. The slotted bolt-in mounts solved most of those problems.
HT: Do you look at today’s Honda engine swap industry and feel as though you’ve made your own contribution?
GH: Yes and no, because motor swaps have been around for long before any of us. Guys have been doing V-8 swaps in their Chevys and Fords for forever. These motor mounts were definitely nothing new. But I guess that is what brought Hondas and Acuras into the limelight. I mean, I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I can’t take any credit as being an innovator. Somebody else was bound to come up with all of this if I didn’t.