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newrider3 New Reader
1/31/20 3:17 p.m.

I thought I would post some documentation about our Starlet, which made its Lemons debut last September at the 2019 High Plains Drifter. We survived that race with few mechanical issues, but the car was glacially slow. We're starting an engine and trans swap in preparation for the 2020 BFE GP, so I thought I would post some pictures of the beginnings and initial build of the car before I get into the swap.

The car had lived in a Colorado farm field for something like 20 years. We paid $400, the guy even trailered it to my house for free. The interior was an absolute disaster, completely packed with mouse nests, bird seed shells, and mouse E36 M3. I even had to strategically hole saw into the rocker panels from inside and outside in order to reach all of the turd nests to get the car fully clean.

I'll continue posting pictures of the cage build/race prep to catch you up to present day. We're headed to the junkyard this Sunday in search of a new heart for the Starlet. We have a couple ideas, but I won't post until we have an engine in hand and ready to go.

EvanB GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/31/20 3:29 p.m.

I can smell it from here. I thought it was bad under the back seat of my Opel and that was only about 10% of what you had. 

ShawnG UltimaDork
1/31/20 3:37 p.m.

Wear a mask, I hear hantavirus is pretty bad.

slowbird Dork
1/31/20 3:42 p.m.

There's a cheap Chevy 4.3 V8 for sale on the forums here. devil wink

newrider3 New Reader
1/31/20 3:59 p.m.

The first steps after getting the car in a slightly less stanky state were to chop up the trunk floor for a fuel cell. I didn't want to go through the hassle and expense of a fuel cell but the stock tank was rotted out, and there are no spare Starlet parts left to be found. It's only a 12 gallon cell, so no real racing advantage either.

I also had to filet the driver's side floorboard for seat and ass clearance. Two of my teammates are annoyingly tall so we went with a Kirkey mounted as far inboard and as low as we could for helmet to cage clearance. 



wheelsmithy GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
1/31/20 4:07 p.m.

Cool Project!

newrider3 New Reader
1/31/20 4:50 p.m.

Some roll cage pics. Looking back I have weird amounts of detailed pics for some things, and zero pics of others. 

Went with 100 feet of 1.75x0.095" DOM. Inch-and-tree-quarter tubing is overkill for such a light car, but I have a 1.75 bender die and no desire to buy another die set.

The Grand Caravan hauls tubing like a champ, as long as you have them cut the sticks to 10 foot.


newrider3 New Reader
1/31/20 5:36 p.m.

I'm glossing over a lot of details here, mostly because I failed to document them at the time. We bought the car mid December 2018, and it mostly sat until I started the roll cage in July 2019, with some piddling around on the fuel cell and seat in the interim. Meanwhile, my daughter was born in February and I became a stay-at-home parent, we bought some mountain land in May to build our forever home after getting fed up with the collective attitude of our neighborhood, then ended up deciding in August to sell our house and move into a rental for the duration of construction. All a bit of a thrash and the prep for the race in September was a thrash too.

So I ended up with no pictures of stuff like the lexan windshield, coroplast door panels, homebuilt big front brake upgrade, remote mount battery and complete rewire, installation of a Weber 38/38 on the 4K in place of nonfunctional factory EFI, fuel cell fire bulkhead and plumbing, fire suppression system installation, fender rolling to fit 15x8s and overkill 205/50 rubber, installation of a larger/cheaper radiator with electric fans, etc.

We did fairly well at the car's debut at the 2019 High Plains Drifter, with a couple intermissions to reinstall pushrods and relash the valves because the adjusters wanted to back off. We also had to do a bit of the old engine-in-out Saturday night because I had reinstalled the stock clutch disc backwards when I went to replace it while prepping the car and ended up not having the right parts. We came away with a Judge's Choice trophy, (I believe) narrowly missing out on Index of Effluency. 

Race recap:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJPrwJpnTqw


Yeah, this thing three-wheeled through Turn 2 and Turn 6 at HPR, and felt amazing doing it. It was a great race car even with 50-something horsepower, 4 speeds and weird diff gearing, and nearly stock suspension.

Ben_Modified HalfDork
1/31/20 6:19 p.m.

Nice!  Looks like fun!

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
2/1/20 12:39 p.m.

Find an old rwd Corolla wagon for a rear diff ratio in excess of 4:1.  Yes these cars are tossable and fun.  Switching on the AC would lose you about 5 mph but with the 2.93:1 rear end, it would hit top speed in third, fourth, or fifth gear.  I was looking at the body of your Starlet and think how much straighter it was than the car I owned.  Too bad the EFI was dead.  Such a great looking intake manifold for such little performance gain.

wvumtnbkr GRM+ Memberand UberDork
2/1/20 2:08 p.m.

I vote rotary swap!


150 hp would be sufficient for that lightweight car!

newrider3 New Reader
2/3/20 9:23 a.m.

The 4K and 4 speed this car came with are a fairly compact package, there's not a whole lot of room to work with in the engine bay and trans tunnel. The biggest complication for engine swapping is going to be the front sump oil pan this car was designed with.



I'm going to try as hard as I can to avoid cutting the firewall or the crossmember. Our last Lemons engine swap, a 1UZ into a Volvo 940, required cutting the crossmember, firewall, and oil pan. It was a huge pain in the dick, and I'd like to not go there again. Custom oil pan is probably a given, but that's the easiest route.

newrider3 New Reader
2/3/20 9:40 a.m.

We headed to the junkyard yesterday to look for our new engine. We had mostly finished waffling on donor choice by the time we got there, and we ended up walking out with (allegedly) 185hp in the wheelbarrow:


This is a Suzuki H27A, 2.7l V6 out of a Grand Vitara/XL7. I was actually hoping for the smaller 2.5l version, but the specimens available at this yard were trashed. Hopefully my intake and exhaust choices will choke it down just a little so we're not quite so overpowered :p

We settled on this option for a few reasons:
Lightweight, all aluminum construction, shouldn't be much weight penalty over stock. I was considering GM 60deg V6es but couldn't get over the weight gains.
Compact, both narrow and actually a couple inches shorter in overall length than the 4K. 
Durable bottom end, split block design with main bearing caps integral to a girdle with 4 bolts per main journal. I think a stiff bottom end is important for endurance racing reliability, and part of the reason engines like the 1UZ are so successful in Lemons. 
Cheap, readily available in the junkyard, and just weird enough to intrigue the Lemons judges. 


Nice and short:

Narrow, but a bit crusty:


This oil pan is definitely not going to work, I'll probably start from scratch rather than dealing with welding oily aluminum.

This cam position sensor is intriguing because it looks an awful lot like the distributor used in older Mazda V6 applications. I'm going to have to get one of those in hand and do some comparing.


Looking a bit better after stripping off stuff I probably won't be using.



AngryCorvair GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/3/20 11:05 a.m.

that pimptacular 600 SE deserves a thread of it's own!

newrider3 New Reader
2/3/20 1:08 p.m.

In reply to AngryCorvair :

It's so bone stock I don't think I could even write a whole thread about it...maybe in a couple years when I get time and an open garage bay to start installing the SRT4 engine and big turbo accessories that I have squirreled away in storage. I'll see if I have any more actual decent pics of the Dodge and update my user Garage profile for it.

2/3/20 1:33 p.m.

THATS a swap! how are you going to attach it to the trans? Cut the Toyota bellhousing and modify it?


I could also smell that seat picture through my computer.

newrider3 New Reader
2/3/20 2:44 p.m.

In reply to GIRTHQUAKE :

We have a couple bolt on options for this engine:

One is to source a bellhousing and flywheel from a 4x4 manual V6 Grand Vitara. These are fairly rare, and new flywheels aren't available, so we'd be looking at shipping a bellhousing and flywheel from a junkyard for something like $300 or $400. These bellhousings have the ubiquitous R154/AX15/MA5/AR5 transmission bolt pattern, so it would allow us to use a 2wd 5 speed manual out of something like a Chevy Colorado. 
Converting the car from cable to hydraulic clutch would also be quite an undertaking, there just isn't room for a clutch master cylinder on the firewall of a LHD Starlet. 


Option two is to use an automatic transmission from a 2wd V6 Grand Vitara or XL7. The bellhousing attached to the engine in the pictures above is from an auto. These are much more common, probably $250 with converter from a local full-service salvage yard. This is an Aisin A44DE or 03-72LE 4 speed overdrive unit, fairly compact for an auto. We have had great luck with the Aisin A341E behind a 1UZ in our Volvo (same transmission with a little more beef), and we've developed a paddle shifter package for it that allows us to run with no sensors or TCM. 
This option is definitely cheapest and easiest, and will put down lap times just as good as a manual in a Lemons race. It will be more noob-friendly also if we bring on more drivers to run both cars at once. 
The downsides are increased weight, and the sad feeling you get in your heart when you take a perfectly good manual transmission race car and shove an auto in it.


This is the homebrew digi-dash in the Volvo, which is linked to the paddle shifter system. If we go with the auto I'm hoping for something much less intense for the Starlet, just shifters and gear indicator this time so we can stick with traditional gauges for everything else.


newrider3 New Reader
2/3/20 7:55 p.m.

Here's a teaser of the engine plonked vaguely into place in the bay. A little crooked, and may have to come forward for bellhousing to tunnel clearance, but you can get some idea of how it fits. 
The stock lower and upper oil pan have been removed, it's sitting on a 2x4 on the crossmember, resting on the oil pan rail/lowest swing of the crankshaft counterweights. 
I may experiment with a spacer between the crossmember and unibody to gain some room; the ride height is so tall that the roll center shouldn't be hugely impacted.


newrider3 New Reader
2/6/20 7:39 p.m.

This is the engine more carefully test-fit, with the auto trans bellhousing also attached to check for transmission room. Seems good so far, adequate clearance to build a new oil pan, lots of room for exhaust routing, and the bellhousing just squeezes between the firewall and the steering rack. Just barely enough room between the block/bellhousing area and the steering shaft u-joint. The engine mount towers on the crossmember line up perfectly with the bosses on the block, I'll have to decide if I'm keeping the stock chassis mount towers or the stock Suzuki mount arms. 

newrider3 New Reader
2/8/20 7:32 p.m.

I decided I'm going to use the Suzuki XL7 engine mount arms, they're nice lightweight aluminum castings, and will work well with a universal biscuit style mount bushing. So today I peeled the stock Toyota engine mount towers off the crossmember. Also added a pair of 1" spacers between the chassis and the crossmember, this gives a nice boost to the clearance between the bellhousing and the firewall/steering rack, and doesn't look like it will harm the suspension geometry since this car has little to no lowering.


Nitroracer UltraDork
2/9/20 9:24 p.m.

If that cam position sensor looks like a Mazda part that lends some credibility to a rumor I head back when Ford Probes and Mazda MX6s still existed.  The Mazda KL V6 was said to be related to the Suzuki V6.  I never was able to find confirmation of that.  

Aside from that, a V6 powered Starlet sounds like a hoot!

newrider3 New Reader
3/14/20 4:57 p.m.

Small progress; the engine is sitting on it's mounts, just needs final welding and correct length fasteners. I caved and made simple delrin spacer mounts, I wanted rubber isolators but couldn't pick an easy solution.

The auto trans has been test fit and fits like a glove. 


TurnerX19 Dork
3/14/20 9:34 p.m.

Given the shape of your brackets, McMaster Carr has machine mounts that will work for you. Two bolt flange with a center bolt or stud, and 4 different durometers last time I looked. They are identical to Caterham/Lotus7 piecessurprise

newrider3 New Reader
3/14/20 11:23 p.m.

In reply to TurnerX19 :

That was actually my most well-considered choice for damped mounts, I had them sitting in the McMaster cart for weeks, but cheapness and laziness won out in the end. Also, it's a bit hard to see in the pictures, but there really isn't clearance to use the two bolt flange type cushion mounts, either front-back or side to side. The mounts kind of painted themselves into a corner where there's really only room for the single vertical bolt. 

newrider3 Reader
4/19/21 7:25 p.m.

Me, abandon a build thread for over a year? Shocking, I know.

Getting back to this engine swap for the 2021 Lemons season. Hoping to be done with enough time for test days before the BFE GP in June. 


Tearing down the engine for cleanup and gaskets. Look at the timing chain fun:


Completely redid the engine and trans mounts, I knew deep down the solid mounts I made earlier were a bad idea. Got some bushings in there, and managed to move the engine further back, lower, and center the transmission properly all at the same time.

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