By on October 6, 2015

v8 engine. shutterstock user Jackfoto

Nicholas writes:

A friend recently acquired the carcass (very deliberate choice of words) of a Bugeye Sprite. We were discussing what engine might go into it, and I was thinking that the turbo three-cylinder Ecotec would be a light but sufficiently powerful choice. However, I know very little about what is involved in turning an engine 90 degrees to run the rear wheels.

Sajeev answers:

Pretty simple: get a bellhousing adapter, this one is a fine example of the breed. And Quicktime has a Bellhousing Selector that supposedly has a good 2.0-liter Ecotec to T-5 gearbox option for you. Too bad there’s no guarantee the 1.0 has the same bellhousing footprint. Googling isn’t helping. I suggest a call to Quicktime to see if their staff has done it yet. You might be the first!

From there, everything falls into place: Fabricate motor mounts and find new hoses (intake, coolant, etc) to connect the factory ports to the “new” home of the radiator and air cleaner assembly. The Bugeye has a pretty tiny engine bay, so hopefully the factory wiring harness won’t need splicing/lengthening — hopefully!

Honestly, I’d get a donor car instead, preferably one that is already rear-wheel drive. That’s because I’m cheap and hate reinventing the wheel.

For me? The 2.3-liter 16V Duratec (not the old Pinto motor) and 5-speed stick of a last-gen Ford Ranger would be a total hoot in a classic British roadster, just like it must be in a Locost.


The Ranger swap means plenty of trucky torque (especially after a tune) with no turbo over-engineering and a smooth powerband all the way to 6,000 rpm.

Fords have always been a natural swap candidate because of their availability and insane tune-ability, but Ranger-schmanger. The same damn thing applies to a Toyota, Chevy or any other small pickup with a four banger and a stick. Hell, if you found a wrecked Honda S2000…

Buy the whole car/truck for a few grand, have all the parts to make it happen. Part out the rest on Craigslist, eBay or the forums. Keep parts like the transmission, accessories, and even the ignition key needed to interface with the computer to get the damn thing running! Buying an Ecotec crate motor (if it exists in 1.0T form) may sound like a great idea on paper, but that’s only if you have a metric ton of spare time and a very, uh, flexible budget.

It’s better to buy a wrecked or depreciated vehicle and have everything in one place. Ecotec cars are cheap, trucks tend to roll over once their third owner takes over, etc. Go make it happen!

[Image: Shutterstock user Jackfoto]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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24 Comments on “Piston Slap: I Like the Sprite in You?...”

  • avatar

    what?!? a Ranger motor in a car like this?!?

    keep the weight down and let the little bastid scream;
    Hayabusa motor or DETH!

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Sajeev’s not talking about the old Lima 2.3 – he’s talking about the Duratec 23NS with aluminum block and head. It’s not a heavy engine and it makes ~145hp, which would give you a better power-to-weight ratio than the new Miata. Plus they’re dirt cheap and reliable.

      There is no 3-cyl Ecotec engine yet, right? Was the OP thinking of the 3-cyl Ecoboost from the Fiesta? That’d be a much bigger pain in the ass than the Duratec swap.

      Miata 1.6 would probably be the cheapest and easiest, and you only have to deal with OBD-I electronics.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t know the dimensions but maybe a 1400cc v twin from a wrecked guzzi. 96 hp is 2 x the original motor and more than the 1275 cc.

  • avatar

    That Spridget with VTECH engine looks very nice ! .

    It’s be *much* easier and faster to drop in a 1275 engine mated to a 5 speed…..


  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Depending on your level of skill I would think that using a turbo motor may add an additional complication to the project.

    In a car that size I would think a Vtec would work fabulously, the hard part is finding one in the scrap yard that has not been picked over. I am going to agree with Sajeev that a Ranger donor may be the most cost efficient way to go about this. The best part would be you can do whatever you want, turbo perhaps even a NOS bottle. Greneding motors turns into a hastle of R&R as I would bet they are $200 or less at a scrap yard.

  • avatar

    The last time I swapped a FWD engine into a RWD chassis I had one HELL of a time. Granted, this was a decade ago and pre-fab’d parts were scarce. The swap consisted of a Mitsubishi 4G63 Turbo mated to a Toyota MKIII Supra R154 gearbox in a Chrysler Conquest chassis.

    The wiring was a pain but at least it was anticipated. I did not like the fit & finish of the adapter plate I ended up using. The 4G63’s intake manifold had to be heavily modified as it faced rearward now. What I hated most is what you can see in that second picture Sajeev posted, the upper radiator outlet and pipe ran over the exhaust manifold.

    Anyway, sorry I went on a rant. I agree with Morgan, keep it naturally aspirated. My suggestion is to use something that was factory designed to be RWD. Honda’s F20 or F22 are expensive but you can run what essentially is a standalone with its stock harness and ECM. Toyota’s 4AGE is a favorite although it is “old.” Mazda’s Miata engine whatever that is BPZ?


  • avatar

    Seems too many folks are concerned about 0-60 and cruising on the freeway. Find an appropriate road and enjoy the drive in an old car. ps My first sportcar was a Bugeye Sprite.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “Seems too many folks are concerned about 0-60 and cruising on the freeway. Find an appropriate road and enjoy the drive in an old car.”

      The problem is getting to the appropriate road, both in terms of driving there, and in terms of having a car that is only worth driving on certain roads and how often are you free to dump a few hours on pleasure driving?

    • 0 avatar

      ” The problem is getting to the appropriate road, both in terms of driving there, and in terms of having a car that is only worth driving on certain roads and how often are you free to dump a few hours on pleasure driving?”

      I live in a major metropolitan area and I have not troubles finding the good roads nor the time to enjoy them .

      If it’s important to you , you’ll make it happen .

      That’s why there’s the ‘ TT Run ” (this weekend) , the ” No Frills Iron Bottom Motoring Tour ” and a gazillion other fun drives/runs .
      Or , just head on out for a day (or week) in your auld crate , why not ? what are you afraid of ? .


      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        I live in Chicagoland. The good roads are pretty far from the middle of the NW burbs where I am. To get there, I need to travel on heavily traffic’d freeways or surface streets, and drive probably 60 min+. So yeah, an old original Bugeye is fun once you get there, but a nightmare on the way there and back. That’s why my fun car has enough power to be fun on the twisties AND in the real world.

        • 0 avatar

          I _was_ talking about real world ~ I drive an LBC daily here in the whacko So. Cal. traffic .

          it’s dead easy to make even a bone stock MG Midget go 75 MPH all day long .

          Cheap too .


  • avatar

    See this link:

    In addition to the Q4 they also do Zetecs, Ecotecs, etc.

    Really freak people out and use the 1.4 turbo from a Fiat Abarth. That’ll get em talking…

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “Hell, if you found a wrecked Honda S2000…”

    If? You mean when.

  • avatar

    No, no, no, no turbo for you. Honda VTEC like in the picture will do nicely.

  • avatar

    If you want a Ford mill what about the Mustang’s boosted 4? (I know too big, just dreaming). But think about it… 280 HP of turbo power in a Sprite would basically turn it into a modern day Cobra.

  • avatar

    The Rover V8 apparently would fit and those are basically free.

  • avatar

    DIsclaimer – I have a ’72 Midget (much the same car) and have been around these things for 25+ years. I am twisted and not a purist. Having said that…

    Common swaps are
    – Datsun 1500/1600: not just the transmission, the engine too.
    – Suzuki 1.3 liter has been done (Google “bugzuki”)
    – Rotor motors
    – The inevitable and dumb SBC

    You have to keep in mind the sheer tinyness of the car. It’s tiny. REALLY tiny. Tall DOHC engines are a chore to fit and nearly impossible to do without bulging the hood/bonnet. Remember, you don’t need a lot of HP to get a lot of go-like-hell. For that reason, and the plain reason of simplicity, I’m going along with Nate and his Sprite/Midget 1275 cc recommendation. It bolts in. It will make a very reliable 100 hp in a 1400 lb car. Connect to the Datsun 210 transmission noted above, beef up the rear end, put the disc brakes off a later Sprite/Midget on the thing and have an absolute blast. No electronics, no computers. Carb (or carbs) and points/condenser. You can put in electronic ignition of course; I’ve never used it. My car does have the Datsun box – much more robust and gives you overdrive for highway speeds. I’ve stiffened up the suspension a bit but left the engine stock…no straight line rocket but wow, what a go kart in the corners.

    • 0 avatar

      … and don’t forget those rear axles they break even with stock motors.

    • 0 avatar

      I see you have been there, done that and got the t shirt/knuckle scars! I would fit the Datsun 1400 half ton truck engine and gear box as it is an Austin engine made under license by Nissan (Nissan Sunny in the US or B140 bakkie). More power, more reliability, no oil leaks! and metric fasteners, it also bolts right in (unsurprisingly)

  • avatar

    How about a Hayabusa engine, using Westfield Megabusa drivetrain parts? More realistically a Ford Zetec 4 from a Focus or Fiesta would be a good solution. Used Zetecs are much more available than the Ecoboost 3 cylinders and are well established in Caterham and Westfield cars so installation parts are available and proven and the normally aspirated Zetec will be more responsive and have plenty of power to move a small car.
    Or forget the sane option and stick a Mazda rotary in it. There are several YouTube videos of a well known rotary Sprite race car for reference.

  • avatar

    I had a 59 Bugeye Sprite for a few years in college. It has sat for the last 25 years in my friend’s basement garage, and one of these days I’m going to go and get it back.

    My dream lightweight engine for this car was always a twin-rotor Wankel. Could go crazy and put a triple rotor Eunos engine in it like one autocrosser has done. But I think the Mazda rotary has the best potential for ultimate power/weight ratio.

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