“These are the last cars of Honda’s golden era,” Seamus Erskine says, pointing to the absolutely bonkers hatchback that I’ve just qualified ahead of my own MX-5 Cup car for the American Endurance Racing event at NCM Motorsports Park. “The Fit embodied that old Honda way of thinking, before the joy of engineering those elegant solutions and putting them into cars that were brilliant to drive kind of gave way to consumer-driven design and functionality. It has a place in the heart of every true Honda enthusiast.”
The man’s got a point, you know. To drive a first- or second-generation Fit is to be confronted with Honda the way it used to be: tinny, fragile-feeling, loud–but absolutely connected to both the pavement below and the driver above. I can still remember the day in 1988 that I drove a 1977 Accord hatchback for the first time. The common-and-garden-variety Fit gives me all those same feelings, just packaged like a phone booth instead of a blunt-nosed fastback. Too bad that it’s sundial slow, even in the 1.5-liter VTEC form sold here in North America. I can only imagine what the 1.2-liter eight-valve home-market cars were like. Relaxed ain’t the word.
The car that Seamus and his crew at Tailored Chassis Solutions built, on the other hand, is kind of like my World-Challenge-spec Accord V6 racer, only in a much smaller package. It’s got that same vicious, wheel-spinning urgency, the same desire to rotate the back end on every corner entry, and the same tenacious exit traction. In a straight line, it can hassle an E36 M3 and steam by an ND-generation MX-5 Cup like it’s a Shelby GT500 making short work of V-6 ponycars. What’s the secret here?
“The K24 engine fits in the second-gen almost like Honda intended for it to go there,” Seamus notes. “Brian at Hasport Performance solved the engine mount problems a long time ago, but we had to figure out the wiring, the ECU integration, and the CANBUS function. We get a lot of parts from the same-generation TSX/Accord and make them work in this environment.”
TCS is capable of doing “K-swaps” into the first two generations of Fits; the newest generation isn’t impossible, but it requires an expensive standalone ECU. Seamus is in the process of finishing a first-gen street car, but I’m more interested in the second-gen racer that is currently sitting 7th overall in AER’s season points. It’s not just the engine that intrigues me, although the idea of nearly doubling the power of a stock Fit is cheering to say the least. It’s the hyper-alert way that this car sits low on it’s reverse-stagger-setup Maxxis tires, kinda like a frog that’s managed to steal Fleetwood Mac’s weekly supply of cocaine and do the whole thing in one shot. Seamus and his teammate, Tommy Lydon, have spent four years developing a racing chassis package for these Fits. When I explain some of the handling issues that I’m having with my Accord, he laughs. “We solved that kind of stuff years ago.”
Sure enough, when I drive the Fit around NCM I can see that they’ve managed the nearly impossible feat of making an FWD car feel whisper-light on its feet. The front wheels have considerable offset and they protrude angrily from beneath the fenders, while the rears are tucked, almost in the manner of a first-gen Insight. “It can get a bit hoppy,” Seamus warns me, and sure enough when I shortcut NCM’s front-straight chicane I can feel the back tires getting helium-light three or four times in a row before they settle down. It doesn’t matter. You only worry about the front wheels in this car. It goes where you point it and if you brush the brakes on the way in you get about a quarter-turn’s worth of corner-entry oversteer.
Meanwhile I’m surrounded by a basso profundo take on the traditional Honda four-cylinder wail, reverberating through the stripped-out interior and making the vestigial dashboard vibrate in sympathy. The driving position is classic Fit; rarely has a race car been this easy to enter and exit. Visibility is 360-degree perfect. I’ve been given a casual redline of about 7200 rpm by Seamus but in just my second lap I’ve already qualified top-three for the AER class in which both this car and my NC-generation MX-5 Cup compete.
Compared to the MX-5, the Fit is more powerful, far more responsive to the throttle, and much more eager to pull hard out of a corner. It might not have the Miata’s utter serenity at 95mph into NCM’s Turn 5, but in the slower sections it actually feels a bit more alive and flingable than my car does. Like my Accord, it has a wicked appetite for front tires, and for the same reason–namely, its ability to vaporize the rubber in the first three gears and squeak ‘em in fourth.
I’ve spent twelve years club-racing FWD cars, including a NASA Championship-winning EF-generation Civic, but this Fit manages to whip them all for tossability and just plain fun. Which is what Seamus had in mind. “I've always idolized the underdog,” he says. “I have a bone to pick with large scale ignorance, not only about FWD but around the blissful simplicity of the Fit. The universal disbelief that a Fit can be a racecar and be competitive against motorsport ‘sure-bets’ like BMW/Porsche/Mazda is what makes me want to push hard to prove it.” In the following day’s race, the Fit proves unable to quite match our Cup car’s laptime, but when we drop out of first place at the six-hour mark with overheating issues the TCS team is able to hold on and snag a well-deserved podium.
Seamus would love to see a grid full of K24-powered Fits. “You can buy a B-Spec Fit racer for ten grand or less. After the swap you have a great car for way less than the price of an equally quick Spec Miata.” He knows, however, that the vast majority of potential buyers for his services are more interested in stoplight drags than they are in 200-treadwear endurance racing.
So for between $15,000 and $20,000, depending on options, TCS will find a donor Fit and deliver it to you as a turnkey K-swap car. That includes all of the engine stuff, the modified suspension geometry and custom-spec shocks that make the conversion such a joy to drive at speed. You can get as aggressive as you want with big-brake kits and JDM-spec aero pieces, but I think the best way to do it would be as a completely stock-looking car with plastic wheel covers. Think of it as James Taylor’s sleeper Chevrolet from Two-Lane Blacktop, or just think of it the way Seamus Erskine does: as the last vestige of a time when Honda was the enthusiast’s obvious choice.