Subaru Swap-Introduction

When I bought Bridget four years ago my thought was to make an electric car out of her. I still think a TD Replica would make an excellent short distance commuter, too–this guy apparently did a nice job on his–but in my case the conversion seemed a bit more expensive than practical.

As a consequence of my later-to-be-aborted plan, however, I did not inspect Bridget’s mechanicals with the same vigor I would have if I’d known I was going to drive her 15,000 or more miles subsequently, including trips to Pittsburgh and Virginia Beach.

Fortunately I lucked into an extremely reliable little engine in Bridget’s 1966 model 1300-turned -1500 mill. I’ve been astonished by her reliability, in fact.

Which is why I have very mixed feelings about what I am doing now, which is removing her drive train and replacing it with a rebuilt transmission and an 84,000-mile Subaru engine.

There’s a lot to this swap. I’m a little worried that I’m going to make some big mistakes that kill the next season.

But others have blazed this trail before me and so I forge ahead.

First, the why:

The existing engine is pretty good for what it is, but she does use a bit of oil and requires some regular maintenance. Mileage is so-so at about 25 mpg. And this: She’d got 46 horsepower, at best. Though Bridget can go and has gone more than 80 mph on occasion (and won an auto-cross event!), she has also lugged up hills on the highway at under 55 mph with my wife and our gear in her. This engine isn’t getting any younger.

Why not build a new and better VW engine?

Because money, that’s why. Also, space. Having listened to and observed myriad owners of pretty stout Type 1 engines, two things came clear to me:

1. Stroked VWs displacing more than 2100 ccs can move these light cars very smartly and be resonably reliable, and

2. Such engines cost upwards of $6,000 to build properly. Bargain builds blow up.

The other constraint was space. Unlike some replicas, Bridget’s engine bay is small and has limited access. Since built-up VW engines generally require dual carbs to make their power, even if I did get one at a reasonable price, I would not be able to make it fit in Bridget’s engine bay. And even if I could do that, the elaborate “nest of snakes” exhausts that those engines require would also kill the look I’m going for with this car.

The Subaru ej22 engine of the early to mid 1990s solves these problems. It is nominally shorter than the Type 1, about the same width, 50 percent larger displacement and makes about triple the horsepower in stock form. The only obvious drawback is its low-hanging oil pan, and I have a potential fix for that.

The weight penalty is negligable–maybe 20 to 40 pounds, depending on how the Subie is fitted-out.

Once set up, the stock fuel injection, electronic ignition and roller valve train require next to no maintenance.

The engine is available from junk yards for a few hundred dollars.

Obviously, that’s not the full cost. And I decided to buy a whole 1995 Legacy wagon for $1,000 (plus $200 towing fee) to get an engine I know runs plus all the wires and sensors and stuff. I’m hoping to recoup at least $500 of that cost by selling some parts and the carcass later.

front 3-4

Including a new transmission the budget for this build is $3500. That’s less than just the engine if I’d gone for a low-budget turn-key 1915 cc with a two-bbl carb. And an engine like that in my car (assuming it held up) would probably only develop about 90 horsepower.

So, what’s involved with the swap?

1. Kennedy Engineered Products makes an adapter kit to mate the Suby engine to a VW transmission. ($500)

2. New custom heavy-duty clutch disc, KEP pressure plate and custom flywheel with hi-torque starter. ($400)

3. Rebuild the transmission stouter, with taller gearing. ($900)

4. Fuel system adjustments — high pressure fuel pump and fuel lines for the fuel injection. ($200)

5. Cooling system–radiator and lines to and from it, electric fan, shroud, etc. ($250)

6. Shorter oil pan to maintain ground clearance. ($350?? WTF?!)

7. Engine management and control system. ($??-options)

That last thing is the scary part, as I am not a fan of wiring and know nothing at all about either electronic fuel injection or crank-fired, multi-coil ignition systems.

But, life is for learning, isn’t it?

soob start

Man, there’s a lot of . . . stuff . . . on these engines, isn’t there?

Haynes manual


About stuntmidget

I'm a poor mechanic and general wisenheimer. I love old cars and the stories behind them, true or not.
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