Honda motors end up in the darnedest places. Some time ago we stumbled across the phenomenon of B-series powered Minis (the old ones, not the BMW versions), which makes tons of sense given the ideal power-to-weight ratio of the combo. Owners of late-model Lotuses saw they could set up something similar by swapping in a K mill, and another cross-platform hybrid was born. We've witnessed NSX- and S2000-powered sand rails, but if it's drifting that gets your adrenaline pumping, there really is only one mash up that matters: the F20/22C in a Toyota AE86 Corolla chassis.
As you can guess, we don't speak the "T" word too often 'round these parts, except when maligning the OE and its motorsports efforts. Truth told, we've been resisting the urge to run any stories about the bastard pairing, mostly because Toyota is part of the equation. From a pure performance perspective, however, there is no denying the lethality of the crossbreed. Like the previous examples, it's all about matching a high-revving, powerful Honda mill to a lightweight, and largely fling-able, chassis.
The story we ran, though, had to be unique, and that's where Eric O'Sullivan enters the picture. We met the 26-year-old mechanic from Dublin, Ireland, at the '06 Formula D final, but it wasn't his F20-powered AE86 that initially sparked our interest. It was his history with the H badge, and its contrast against his current car aims, that made us notice; O'Sullivan has owned a '97 JDM CTR and a '99 Civic VTi, upon which he spent a small fortune, and currently rolls his girl's DC5 ITR on the daily. He comes from a growing JDM Honda scene in Dublin, to boot.
So how did this Honda head end up in a Corolla? Oddly enough, it involved keeping his VTEC by means of an S2000 engine swap. In the following interview, O'Sullivan details his drifting ambitions and explains what it took to get his F20'ed AE86 up and running.
Honda Tuning: How Did You Get Into Drifting?Eric O'Sullivan: It was 2004 when I first saw what drifting was. I was hangin' with a mate and he had this DVD he had ordered online. It was the Hashirya DVD with Drifter X and his street [Nissan] 180SX in it. I'd never seen anything like it; the car looked amazing, and he was pulling third gear flat before throwing the car into a huge slide down a main road and into a 90 degrees right. I was hooked, and shortly after that I heard about the first drifting tournaments in Ireland. I went along and was a spectator for around 6 months before getting my first AE86. I spent the whole winter practicing in the industrial areas of south Dublin, and then began competing in 2005.
My brother was working for Modified Motors magazine at the time and they were keen to get involved in the drift scene. They decided to take me on as part of their projects section and follow my progress with car and the championship. It was because of their enthusiasm and contacts that I got most of the sponsors you see on the car today. They really helped me out right from day one.
My first few events went terribly. I had just changed from my first 16-valve '86 coupe to a 20-valve hatch I got last minute. It had been a track car in Japan and, although it looked very rough compared to my first car, it had all the right bits already in place, most importantly the blacktop 20-valve engine. I couldn't figure out why it was so hard to drift compared to my first car and it took me a while to figure it out. Although it had seen some track time before, it was obviously used for grip driving as it had very little steering angle and not enough front-end grip for me. It was a good lesson to learn early on about setting up the car, and the changes I made really transformed the handling.
On my third attempt, I qualified for the Sunday main event. I was having so much fun with car I just kept pushing it harder and harder. Next thing I know, I'm in the final with the UK and Irish championship leader Damien Mulvey. I got second place in the end-I couldn't believe it! I did the same thing at Round 4. I was just having so much fun in the car. I wasn't paying attention to who or what I was drifting against; I just drove as quick as I could. Two seconds and an unlucky draw against Mulvey again in round 5 meant I placed nowhere. I was more determined than ever to get back up there, and the next event was the D1 exhibition match in Silverstone.
I had made it through the drivers search with Darren and Julian Smith, 2 lads from the UK, and Paul Vlasbom from Belgium. The event itself didn't go too well for me. I was very late arriving at the track, and with only a couple of practice runs done I had electrical trouble. I got it sorted for Sunday and then my gearbox started acting up-it didn't want to downshift from 4th to 3rd, so I had to come into the first bend in 3rd with not nearly enough speed. I was gutted. It was the one event I really wanted to do well at and I blew it. That's when I decided to build the car into its current state. It was all that mattered to me then.
Last year was mostly taken up with building the car. D1 said that they'd be back in '06, so that's what I set as my goal. Unfortunately, they came back in July, not October like the previous year, and I wasn't ready. It was August by the time I got the car out, and it didn't really go as planned. The first time out, the oil filter came loose and sprayed oil onto the exhaust, which then caught fire. The bottom end was damaged and I knew I wouldn't be able to get it sorted in time for the next event. I'd missed enough already, so I sourced an engine in the UK and got it installed in no time. It was an expensive mishap, but at least I got some good exposure out of it. Everywhere I go now people have seen the footage of me drifting with 3 foot flames spitting out from behind the front wheel. At least the car's famous!
HT: Where did you get the idea to swap an S2000 motor into your car?EOS: I first saw the F20C engine swap in Gabriel Tyler's car, the man behind Techno Toy Tuning. There were some details about it on Club4AG.com (a Toyota enthusiast's site) and it looked amazing, just like factory. I was buying a lot of parts from Gabriel at the time for my 20-valve AE86, so I was able to ask questions about the build and get some info on it. I've always been into my Hondas, so the thought of having a VTEC-powered drift car excited me. At that time, though, I had no intention of changing from my 20-valve powerplant. I was still a beginner and having fun learning the limits of the car.
HT: How did you source the motor and get it back to the shop?EOS: The decision to go ahead with the swap was made in the van on the way back from the D1 Grand Prix exhibition match at Silverstone in October '05. I knew that with the right machine, I could have done much better.
I decided to stay with the AE86 chassis and weigh up the options for an engine. A fully built 200hp 4AG was just too expensive, and then there was a reliable gearbox needed to accompany it. Darren McNamara has an SR20 [Nissan mill] in his AE86 coupe and has done really well that, but I'm not really into turbo power. I much prefer my motor to be over 200hp and naturally aspirated. I didn't need any convincing in the first place, but the F20 actually made perfect sense for my application.
The following week, MM magazine had sourced me a very low-mileage [Euro market] F20C2 engine, complete with gearbox, driveshaft, ECU, and wiring. It was up in the North of Ireland, and a few days later we were off in the van to collect it. I paid around ?3000 (approximately $4,000 US) for the whole lot, about a third of the price of a race-spec 4AG.
HT: How smoothly did the swap go? What kind of unexpected hurdles did you hit, and which parts required the most fabrication?EOS: Initially, I was going to have a shop do the swap for me after I had finished any work I wanted to do on the shell. I had very little experience fabricating and welding and I wasn't sure if I had the skills to dive in there and get the swap running. But after some encouragement from my boss, I began to research the finer details of the transplant and see how hard it would be.
Before I touched the car, I searched online for various pictures of F20 swaps into AE86s. Most of what I found were US-spec cars with various methods of mounting and positioning the engine. I printed off the more detailed images and kept them with the car for future reference. I also had all the info on Gabriel Tyler's car and it was his method that I decided to go with in the end. It was the most straightforward and meant the standard Honda engine mounts could be adapted to work.
The one major difference with my car was the right-hand drive configuration (Irish and English cars are RHD; all other European nations use LHD cars), and it would prove to be the biggest headache of all. The standard Honda exhaust manifold is very efficient, but it simply wouldn't work with my steering rack setup. A new manifold would have to be fabricated, but it would have to wait until I had the engine positioned where I wanted it.
I had extra space at the garage where I work, so at the end of November '05 I drove it in and started stripping it down. There was a lot of work I wanted to do on the shell before I started on the engine fitment to get the car more competitive, and it was several months before I had it lightened, seam welded, and caged properly.
After some trial fitments, I marked the tunnel and cut a big hole in the floor, passing the point of no return. I wanted to sit the engine as far back as possible, but also make it possible to remove the gearbox trackside if there was ever a problem. I designed a new tunnel that would also replace an area of the bulkhead I removed to make this possible. I made the tunnel first out of sheets of cardboard and then used the template for the pieces I needed to cut from sheet steel. Then I tacked them together off the car, and the complete tunnel was fitted and welded fully in place.
The other area that required major fabrication was the front crossmember. First, the whole assembly was lowered on custom spacers I had made to allow for the very tall nature of the engine. Most of the fabrication here was done with more trial and error than basic design. The steering rack mount was modified to allow for a large area of material to be removed, so as not to foul on the engine sump. Once this was done, some strengthening was required and the adapted Honda engine mounts positioned and checked.
The other parts that needed to be fabricated were the gearbox mount, the driveshaft, a custom brace I designed to run under the gearbox, and the exhaust manifold. I did have some help from my boss, particularly with work on the crossmember. He had raced single seat cars for many years with great success, and his experience was invaluable in positioning the engine.
Once all this was done and before the shell saw paint, I got the shell rolling, put it on the trailer, and drove to Gunt Tuning where Michael Gunning was going to make a custom exhaust manifold. After that, the shell was primed and painted, and reassembly began.
HT: How has the swap performed so far?EOS: The car was started on 12th of August, the morning of the Prodrift European event just outside Dublin at Punchestown racecourse. It started the first time. I brought it for a quick spin to check it out, and then drove 40 minutes to the track. Even on the road, the power and responsiveness of the engine was apparent. It would pull from anywhere in the RPM range, partially due to the fact that the car weighs very little, but also due to the mapping of the race-spec Mektronic ECU. Ben Rushworth of Angelworks Technologies in the UK tuned it with an emphasis on gaining as much mid-range power and torque from the naturally high-revving engine. The result was 250hp at 9000 rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque from 5000rpm right up to redline.
Once on the track, the car felt really good. There were all-new suspension components fitted and a huge amount of weight had been removed from the shell. This, along with being out of the driving seat for almost a year, meant that it took 2 or 3 events to get some sort of confidence back. The balance of power to weight is perfect. I find that 350-400hp S13's are now holding me up when twin drifting. The grip that the car generates is unreal. There's very little tire smoke-it just grips and goes. I passed one of the top drivers here in his S13 on my second event. At the next round he was running 18's and 265 rear tires to try and get more traction.
Having said that, it still feels very much like an '86. You still need to rev it hard to get the most out of it and it handles like any '86 should. With 250 hp, I'm still going be an underdog going up against some of the big turbo-powered drift cars, but that's cool with me. I might not make much tire smoke, but I'll be pushing big angle 9000rpm all day long.
In comparison to a fully built 4AG, I'd say that although horsepower numbers may be similar, I don't think one could generate that much torque from such low revs. I have quite a wide powerband that would be hard get with a 1600. Also, this is a totally stock Honda engine. I really shouldn't have any reliability issues once it's maintained correctly. A built 4AG with similar power would need a lot of attention over the course of a season.
HT: How does your car compare to a drift-spec S2000?EOS: I've never driven an S2000, and there are none competing in any drift series in the UK. I would imagine my car would be far lighter, though, and maybe a little more agile with its manual steering set up.
HT: What's your plan for the 2007 season?EOS: The final rounds of the Prodrift Ireland series were really just about getting some confidence back and setting up the car to my liking. I had some good runs, though, and managed a 4th place in round 6. This year, I'm going to be competing mainly in the Prodrift European series, but I hope to be able to attend some of the Irish events. The Irish spectators are brilliant; there's always a huge turnout whatever the weather, and they really get behind the drivers. I'll be surprised if the European crowds are as loud. I'm very happy with the car and I know with a little more seat time I'll be capable of challenging for a title.
Now that my car is finished and I'm not really a rookie anymore, my project feature in the magazine has come to an end. I'll be looking for a good sponsor for this season, and with a little luck I'll be able to get someone on board. My tire sponsor was also part of the package with the magazine, so that's another area I need to try and sort in the next few months.
After attending the final round of Formula D at Irwindale while on vacation last year, I would love a chance to drive in the States. It was such a huge event; the crowd was massive, and the support from manufacturers and tuning companies is unbelievable. I loved it, and I met some very cool people there. Hopefully after Darren McNamara and Damien Mulvey's success at the D1GP AllStar event last December, a few doors might open for some of us Irish drivers to come over. There really is a huge amount of talent here; there are probably 10 drivers at any Prodrift IRL event that could take the win. It's what makes it the most competitive series in Europe.
I really want to get a good look into the Honda tuning scene next time I'm over, too. There are no drag strips in Ireland and I'd love to see and hear some of the big power Civics and Integras go at it down the quarter mile. Although we do have a great JDM scene here, there's no one pushing big power turbo B-series motors really. It's something I'd like to learn about and maybe try out some day. It would be nice to be able to leave behind all the EVO's, GTR's and RA Impreza's we have here in a little Si-R or Type R Civic!
HT: If you had to do it again, would you? What would you change?EOS: I would only build another car if I wasn't working a fulltime job and had some sponsors to help finance it. I really had no life for 10 months, between working long hours to afford the parts I wanted and spending hours fabricating parts from scratch. When you've had a long day in work, it's difficult to get the motivation to go and work on your sorry looking bare shell sitting in the corner.
There's very little I would change on the car if I were to do it again. I took my time with every area of the build. I wanted to do it right the first time around. I would have liked to have the shell acid dipped in the beginning, but there's no facility to have it done in Ireland as far as I know.
Ben at Angelworks is as passionate about Hondas and '86s as myself, and he's keen to develop a serious engine for the car. It was something we talked about originally, but there wasn't the time to do it and my finances were stretched enough as it was. I've got a spare engine now, after the incident with the oil filter coming loose, but as of yet it's undecided what we'll do with it. I don't feel I need the big-power engine Ben wants to build, but he has a custom camshaft grind we're going to try and some very cool ITB's being prototyped at the moment. This should give a nice chunk of power in the mid-range where I can use it, and an even louder exhaust note, which is always good!
HT: Any suggestions for those considering the conversion?EOS: For anyone who's going to try this kind of project, I'd say do your research first and give yourself plenty of time. You're going to need quite a decent budget no matter which way you tackle it, and some reasonable fabrication skills are a must. Most importantly, though, is to have some good friends that are interested in your car and are keen to help out.