12-23-10 - Shitty modern cars and the Frankencar solution

Last post was about modern car electronics and how they foul up your fun even when you think they're all off. I really don't like this trend, but it goes with other trends that are much worse :

Fat, big, heavy cars :
How cars are getting fatter (infographic)

Low visibility and rising waist lines :
Datsun Z old vs new
Camaro old vs new

Every time I see an old-vs-new comparison like that, it's shocking how much better the old one looks, and how much more glass there is. Let there be light!

ADDENDUM : some more :
Honda S600 vs S2000

I also think the old cars are special in a way that new cars aren't. When you see a beautiful old car, like even something as commonplace as a Porsche 356 or a Jag E-type, you actually stop and admire it. They have hand-hammered steel curves; they're real works of sculpture, not works of CAD. Old cars are just infinitely cooler too; when a new supercar goes by, you can see the crowds think "dick" and nobody really cares, but when something old goes by, women drop their babies and everyone stares.

In other "new cars suck trend", I hate the way most car makers are trying to improve fuel efficiency. The Honda CR-Z is a great example of the modern fuckup. It's heavy and weak and gets only 30-35 mpg. You can get that mileage with an old CRX with a plain old gas engine, and the car would be an absolute joy to drive. A modern Honda engine in a lightweight car could easily be tuned to be both very fun and very efficient.

The only automaker I know of that's breaking the mold is Mazda, who have announced a 2200 pound Miata and high compression small engines . Because they are too small of a company to develop a hybrid, their goal is light weight and efficient normal engines. Way to go. Unfortunately -

Government subsidies for hybrids is fucking horrible. It's completely typical of the corrupt government way of doing things - you take a perfectly reasonable basic idea, that government should encourage development of new clean technology, and help consumers buy it, okay that's fine, but then you hand out tons of cash in semi-abritrary ways which allow you to favor certain companies over others, which completely distorts free market innovation. The most offensive subsidies to me are for Fisker and Tesla, which are self-indulgent rip-off operations by the rich for the rich. There are subsidies on both ends, and all over in other places; the car makers get cheap loans (several billion for Nissan and GM), some get direct free cash from the DOE ($500m for Fisker), then car buyers get tax credits, and car buyers get priviledges like HOV access and cheap registration, etc. So sensible Mazda gets no subsidy; somebody who buys a 100 mpg Vespa instead of a car gets no subsidy; but some rich jackass who buys a Tesla even though his daily driver is an SUV gets a subsidy. (and worst of all, people who don't drive at all get no subsidy).

(though I should note that the ridiculousness of this subsidy pales in comparison to the vast stupid ethanol subsidy or the ridiculous corrupt CAFE exceptions for large trucks or large wheelbases or "flex fuel" and tax subsidies of large trucks - which of course should have tax *penalties* under a sane government).

Anyway, I'm getting off topic.

Another thing that's got me thinking about Frankencars is the price of modern car engines. I get on this train of thought where I think - maybe I should tweak my car a bit, nah that would be stupid, maybe I should trade up for a GT3, nah if I want a track car I'd rather have a Cayman, what about a Cayman-GT3?, what if I blow the engine in my car? it's $15k, what if I buy a GT3 engine, it's $30k. Holy fuck, that's too expensive for a track car, which will inevitably need a new engine at some point.

All of this has got me thinking that the idea of an old car with modern internals is more and more appealing. You can easily find old cars that are under 2500 pounds, which is a delightful nimble weight to be. Drop in a modern engine and suspension and you have a crazy power to weight ratio with none of the new car electronic horribleness.

The thing that's kind of amazing is that a custom build like that could be relatively cheap if you choose a donor car that's not very popular. Great engines can be had for peanuts. For example the wonderful Honda K20 engine can be had for around $4k with transmission and ECU and everything - just drop it in! I adore the way those Hondas rev, and in a 2000 pound car, 220-250 hp would be more than enough. And if you run it on the track and blow up your engine - no biggie, just buy another (but you wouldn't because Honda engines are made of indestribonium).

Another cool swap appears to be the Chevy LS1, which is a Corvette engine, but it's also found detuned in their SUVs and whatnot; apparently you can get them from junkyards for $500 and then pay a few K to bring it up to undo the detuning, and blammo you have a vette engine you can stick in a Datsun 240. (you can also get the LS1 in Aluminum so it's not crazy heavy). Apparently the LS series is one of the great engines of modern times; very cheap, robust, reliable, light weight, high power.

As for what donor body to put this engine in, I love the AE86 (hachiroku) and the old MR2, super light and nimble RWD twitchy cars, maybe because I watch too much Best Motoring; I really like older Japanese cars, back when they were really Japanesey, now they're just so bland and generic. The Porsche 944 is the easiest option for transplants because the chassis and suspension and brakes are actually superb - the problem with them is the engines, which you are going to replace - and they are worth almost zero dollars; unfortunately they are a bit heavy. Actually an early Boxster would be a great transplant recipient as well; they are super super cheap now because that 2.5L M96 engine is made of mud and twigs, but the chassis/layout is superb - drop in an LS1 and you have a monster. Actually maybe the 914 is the best choice.

The Opel GT is super cheap and just gorgeous, but apparently the chassis is no good so you'd have to tube-frame it; but an Opel GT - LS1 would be shweet :

Some random links related to swaps :

Welcome to Nofearmotorsports
Renegade Hybrids
YouTube - Sound EG K20
YouTube - ls1 powered datsun 240z
YouTube - 944 Porsche LS1
The Porsche� 944 V8 Conversion Manual
HMotorsonline : Specializing in JDM-USDM engines and parts...
Smog-Legal LS1 Power 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo - $14k all done
LS1 conversion - Rennlist Discussion Forums
opel_gt_3.jpg (JPEG Image, 797x600 pixels) - purty and cheap
Opel GT 1968
The New Honda Integra Type R Video - just a bit about how ridiculously good Honda engines are
Toyota 2000GT - almost the ideal looking car IMO
Factory Five Type 65 - kit car eewww gross , but it's got the look
FactoryFive Type 65 Coupe
Boxster LS1
Porsche boxster ls1 swap - LS1TECH
Boxster LS1 swap Ideas needed plz - Page 2 - LS1TECH
Boxster engine swap Grassroots Motorsports forum Grassroots Motorsports Magazine

ADDENDUM : some more on 240Z swaps :
Z, Z car, 510, 240SX, Altima, Suspension, Brakes
Ultimate Z Car Link Page!
LS1 Speed Inc - Pro Touring Super Cars
Introductory Discussion of V8 conversions
Cars for Sale - HybridZ
YouTube - 240z rb26dett drift test
Early Z Cars For Sale - The Datsun Classifieds

Also, not directly related, but if you ever start thinking about buying a car and tweaking it and turning it into more of a track car - don't. You can get track cars for ridiculously cheap, and they cost a *lot* to build. For example, somebody might buy an old 911 for $30k, spend $30k in track mods, and the result is a car that resells for $25k - super tweaked out track cars with awesome suspension (Moton) and full cages and all that often sell for less than the equivalent street car. Now granted the engine and tranny may need rebuilds at some point, but even with that cost it's probably cheaper than doing it yourself.

Just as a tiny example :
Race Cars For Sale

The best values are in cars where the base car is not worth much, but they put a ton of expensive mods on it. eg. something like an old Boxster with Motons.

If you're interested in having a track car, it's a way better value to just buy something like a Miata or a 944 that's fully set up for the track already than it is to take something like your Porsche 997 or your BMW M3 and convert it into more of a track car. It's kind of an amazing fact that mods to cars do not help resale value at all - in fact they often hurt it. So if you actually want some mods, you get amazing +value by buying a car that already has them.

ADDENDUM : Another very nice base car is the Lotus Elan +2 which is very pretty and very light. One problem with these older beautiful light cars is that I don't fit very well inside them. The 914, the Opel GT, the Elan, all are problems for people over 6'


David said...

It sounds like what you want is a 00-05 S2000, depending on if you want the 9k redline with less torque or the 8k redline with more torque. In 06 they added the stability control (which you can turn off).

I have an 06 and it's awesome, it's like driving a motorcycle on 4 wheels. The one thing I really like are the classic lines. I laugh all the suckers with Saturn Sky's. Those POSes already look old.

cbloom said...

Yeah, I think the S2000 is pretty great, but I just don't understand why it's so big and heavy. Why does it weigh 800 pounds more than an Elise ?

It's too bad Lotus sourced shitty Toyota engines instead of the Honda K20. K20-Elise would be a killer.

See for example :


Tom Forsyth said...

So... you want something designed before the age of heavy nanny-gizmos, tube frame, inherently sorted suspension, with some really simple cheap reliable engine you don't mind blowing up? Drive a Seven already. Not the crazy CSRs, just a "normal" Roadsport.

Interestingly it looks like the "Academy" edition is coming to the US soon, i.e. one price gets you a car, a racing licence, and a spot on the grid. (sadly Sevens are still "too fast to race" so you can currently only race other Sevens)

cbloom said...

I knew the Seven comment was coming ;)

It's not really a car though, it's like a motorcycle with four wheels.

BTW "Sevens are too fast to race" isn't quite true. They are run in SCCA - they are just too fast for "Stock" classes and get put in "Modified". In Modified the Sevens get beat by single seaters such as the Dragon F1 and LeGrand Mk18 and the TUI FSV and TUI BH3.

see :


A highly modified "Sprint" Seven won D-modified :


A 240Z won F-prepared and a hachiroku took second in E-prepared with very good times.

One crazy surprise is this modified 81 Camaro that did similar times to the Sevens :


It's funny SCCA doesn't seem to have any class that corresponds to "fastest street legal"

Thatcher Ulrich said...

Charles, I've found your perfect car. It is in fact a time machine built by H.G. Wells, and there's actually a hollywood movie that depicts you piloting it:


(Watched it on Netflix the other day. There's another scene where HG gets a bit crazy with a Honda Civic so maybe that is actually the car for you.)

old rants