THRASH TESTING A K24-SWAPPED HONDA FIT
Stop for a second and think of as many modified cars that can be found on New Zealand shores as you can. Now, tally up all the ones that have model years starting with a one — there should be a shitload of them bouncing around your skull right now. The truth that we’re currently staring at is that our car fleet is ageing something chronic. The calendar pages may be peeling off rapidly, but the average year of the cars we’re driving and building almost seems to have stalled. We’re stuck in the past, living the glory of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.
While you may be able to list a couple of examples from the early to mid 2000s, these are almost always at the tail end of a beloved model’s lifetime, just before it’s discontinued. These cars aren’t getting any younger, and, as more and more get dragged into the abyss, we’re left with fewer and fewer, while we see hefty price tags attached to cars that we were once unable to give away.
So, it begs the question: why aren’t we embracing more modern examples? Are we scared of the 2000s or the mythical high price tag that we all seem to think modern cars command? Jacky Tse of Jtune Automotive tells us straight that Kiwis should be looking towards the future a lot more than we currently are.
“So many cars get built and then sit in the garage because they aren’t practical to drive regularly. Most of these cars are old and look old, even with engine swaps,” he says. “Our new concept is ‘less is more’. Do less, but get more. The car doesn’t need to have a huge spec list; just everything having been done for a reason — it doesn’t have to be fancy all of the time. Something modern with the right bits goes a long way.”
To get a better idea of what he’s on about, Jacky invited us to get behind the wheel of a project that he and the team recently completed for a customer. After hearing the above comments from the man himself, any reasonable person would generate thoughts of modern weapons the likes of an Evo X, late-model STi, or GT-R. So, in saying that, we weren’t quite prepared for what was parked in the driveway when we showed up to Jtune — a 2010 Honda Fit RS. Yep, we were there to look at the quintessential old-lady grocery-getter! However, straight off the bat, it was obvious that this was by no means your regular example. Dripping in factorystyled aero, carbon-fibre laden, and sitting low to the ground over a stark white set of Rays TE37s, it looked as if there was a little more going on under the steel skin than you’d probably be able to guess.
Jacky explains to us that the car had served the customer
as a daily-driver for a short while, albeit not living up to the owner’s power desire — a measly 80kW at the wheels. With ideas of hitting the track, the customer had the 1.5-litre factory heart fitted with a Sprintex charger and Ti exhaust, and tuned to 125kW, with a smaller pulley for more boost. Even then, the Fit struggled to keep up with its bigger brothers on the track — the factory six-speed manual had horrendously long-spread gearing, lacked a limited-slip diff (LSD), and, as the charger heated up with a lack of cooler, power was lost. It was obvious that the package was simply not suited for track work, and that revelation was the exact reason that we’re looking at this car now. After all, no one likes to sit at the back of the pack.
“There wasn’t enough power to keep up with the big brother K20A around the track, so we decided to step up and go with the bigger capacity K24A,” explains Jacky. “Our initial plan was just a basic stock swap — stock motor, stock gearbox — enough for daily driving and a step up for the track.”
Evidently, that never happened. The Accord Euro–sourced K24 bottom end has been fully rebuilt and the head packed with a fresh pair of camshafts ground to Jtune’s own blend. The Fit’s drive-by-wire (DBW) throttle has been retained through the use of an adaptor plate and ZDX 78mm throttle body, which was more of a necessity than choice due to space constraints — if you’ve ever
stopped to have a gander inside a Fit engine bay, you’ll know that it’s by no means roomy at the best of times, let alone when crammed with a motor that has nearly a litre on the factory unit.
However, as we quickly learn when pulling out of the driveway with the assistant ed. behind the wheel, that is only half of the fun. Jacky has fitted a Firepower close-ratio gear set into the DC5 Type R five-speed and made shifting nothing more than a flick of the pinky thanks to a K-Tuned shifter. It’s a surefire way to keep the power band in play, only dropping 2000rpm between shifts, and pumping massive amounts of torque to the fronts in practically any gear of your choice — grip becomes a concept of how hundo you want to peel through gears, spinning first through third like it is nothing, and we dare not hold through three more gears to find out how much trouble we could get ourselves into on this ‘Sunday’ drive. Having 192kW at the front, with oodles of torque in such a small wheelbase and lightweight chassis is dangerous in all the right ways.
It may scream out ‘rice rocket’ to any middle-aged hot rodder within a 20km radius, and sound like an angry teenager looking to piss off their entire neighbourhood to the regular commuter, but it packs all the drive to justify doing so, and then some. It is a wellblended concoction of a smooth daily-driver and tarmac-terror weaponry. This is what the word ‘stealth’ was created for, and, even if you know what you are looking at — noting the AP Racing brakes and the chop of a cammed motor — there is really no way of picking out that some mad man has crammed a K-series heart into a Fit. You can be highway banging one minute, weaving your way through dense traffic at speeds that would undoubtedly see your license incinerated, then sitting at the lights calm as the next, with the boys in blue not batting an eyelid at you.
Best of all, this vehicle comes with all the perks of a modern car. You get to have a swanky interior that feels, and smells, new. All the gauges work as they should, the trims don’t rattle as if they’ve been vibrated to death for 200,000-plus kilometres, and it’s generally a place that passengers don’t mind climbing into — it even has air conditioning, a feature that Jacky tells us was a must for the customer.
There are very few cars around that you can hop into the driver’s seat of and genuinely not stop smiling the whole time; somehow, during our drive, this little Fit manages to surprise us all and deliver a lot more than its looks promise. If you’re looking to build a practical daily commuter that can handle a serious amount of track work while remaining comfortable and still looking half decent, the Fit really makes sense. You can pick these things up for $5–6K, and most K-swaps will cost around the same whether you’re doing it with an old Civic, an Integra, or a Fit. Hell, the mounts are off the shelf, and you don’t even need to build the motor or have a gear set for it to pack plenty of punch. So, maybe Jacky’s right and we do need to start looking towards the next generation of modified chassis — this K-swapped Fit has certainly convinced us that the future is looking good.
Surprisingly, the looms remain uncut and no adapter harness was used for the conversion. The only modification to the wiring was repinning the ECU plug so that a Honda Civic FD2 Type R unit could be used to retain the dbw throttle When the VTEC hits at 6200rpm and revs out to 8000RPM, the Firepower gear set keeps the motor within the power band by dropping only 2000rpm per shift and those fronts struggling for traction