Photos by: Paddy McGrath
Story by: Jacob Leveton
We bumped into Eric O’Sullivan at the Formula D final at Irwindale, and when we heard about his F20-powered AE86, our ears perked up. A few months later, post SEMA and holiday rush, we finally got the chance to get the car photographed and sit down with Eric to talk about his car, and boy were we in for a treat! Hopefully, Eric will find a way to bring his car stateside and find a way to get into a Formula D event or two!
EverythingDrift: Where did you get the idea to swap the S2000 motor into your car?
Eric O’Sullivan: 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 and it looked amazing, just like a factory fit. 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 Honda’s so the thought of having a VTEC powered drift car had me excited. At that time though, I had no intentions of changing from my 20 valve power plant, I was still a beginner and having fun learning the limits of the car.
ED: 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 exhibition match in Silverstone in October ’05. I had a terrible time at the event, everything just seemed to go wrong from arriving very late to electrical and gearbox problems with the car. 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 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, my friends and sponsors in Modified Motor magazine had sourced me a very low mileage F20C2 engine complete with gearbox, driveshaft, ecu and wiring. It was up the North of Ireland and a few days later, we were off in the van to collect it. I paid around €3000 (Approximately US $4,000) for the whole lot, about a third of the price of a race spec 4AG.
ED: 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 ‘86’s. 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 Tylers’ car and it was his method that I decided to go with in the end. It was the most straight forward and meant the standard Honda engine mounts could be adapted to work. The one major difference with my car was the RHD configuration [Irish and English cars are RHD, all other European nations use LHD cars] and it would prove to be the biggest head ache of all. The standard Honda exhaust manifold is very efficient but it simply wouldn’t work with my steering rack set up. 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 I work at, 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 firstly 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 which required major fabrication was the front cross member. The whole assembly was firstly 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 a basic design. The O/S 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 race cars for many years with great success, and his experience was invaluable when positioning the engine.
Once all this was done and before the shell saw some paint, I got the shell rolling, put it on the trailer, and drove to Gunt Tuning where Micheal Gunning was going to make a custom exhaust manifold. After that, the shell was primed and painted, and re-assembly could begin.
ED: 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 race course. It started 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 weighed very little, but also due to the mapping of the race spec Mektronic ECU. This was done by Ben Rushworth of Angelworks Technologies in the UK with an emphasis on gaining as much mid range power and torque from the naturally high revving engine. The result is 250hp at 9000 rpm and 150lbs.ft of torque from 5000rpm right up to the redline.
Once on the track, the car felt really good. There was 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 250hp, 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 hp numbers may be similar I don’t think one could generate that much torque from such low revs. I have quite a wide power band 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 its maintained correctly. A built 4ag with similar power would need a lot of attention over the course of a season.
ED: 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 full time job and had some sponsors to help finance it. I really had no life for ten 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 its 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.
ED: What’s your plan for this coming 2007 season?
EOS: The final rounds of the Prodrift IRL 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 car and I know with a little more time in the seat 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 before the season begins in April. My tyre 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 to get a chance to drive in the States. It was such a huge event, the crowd was massive, and the support from manufactures 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 the rest 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, Its what makes it the most competitive series in Europe.
ED: What would you change if you had to do it a second time? Any suggestions for those considering the conversion?
EOS: Ben in Angelworks is as passionate about Honda’s and ‘86’s 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 its 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 !.
For anyone else 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, have a some good friends that are interested in your car and are keen to help out. A race spec ECU or a fully kitted out workshop won’t cheer you up when your standing looking at the big hole you just cut in the floor.