Hella Sweet Lemons Car(s) of the Week: Engine Swapping the Honda 600!

Back in 2013, the 24 Hours of Lemons implemented minimum-wheelbase rules. That 82-inch rule excluded one of the most remarkable early “Frankenstein” Lemons builds, the Angry Hamsters Z600. You can read all about that car here, but it set a precedent to outlaw all Honda 600s. Or did it? These two Honda 600s have raced multiple times in 2017. Let’s take a look at the two remaining Honda N600s in Lemons from Team Baka and Team Apathy (with video!) and how they were put together.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_005

As you might surmise from the lead photo, neither car really resembles the two-stroke, 30-horsepower Japanese kei car with which Honda debuted in America. Both teams extended the original 78-inch wheelbases to, well, considerably more. And they also got waivers from Lemons’ tech inspectors .

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_050

We’ll start with Team Apathy, whose “Saanda” inspired the Team Baka N600. Before they showed up with their pale blue monstrosity, Team Apathy has already raced in about a dozen Lemons races with a tired old Saab 9000. For a Saab, it fared pretty well with a Top 10 finish in one of its early races. However, a plain old Saab sedan is not particularly exciting.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_012

Team Apathy wanted something a bit more cobbled together, so they found an N600. They gutted the little Honda, then mounted the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine from a mid-1980s Saab 900 behind the driver. The rear mounting of the engine allowed them to move the rear axle farther back to stretch the wheelbase. Lo and behold, they had a Lemons-legal “Saanda 1500.”

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_030

As long as they had hacked up most of the car, Team Apathy moved the driver’s position to the center of the cabin. They fabricated just an incredible amount of bespoke items for the car like shift linkage for the five-speed manual (with bike-handle shifter) and foot-wide fenders from scrapyard-bound stainless steel.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_043

Aside from the rough-edged appearance of the car, the packaging and fitment of the 160-horsepower Saab engine looks fantastic. Everything sits nice and tidily in the car with a separated bulkhead for a surprisingly large 15-gallon fuel cell. Team Apathy even found enough room in the tiny car for an intercooler. They mounted it on the underside of the roof.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_046

Naturally, the car faced a number of teething troubles. The Saanda struggled to get out of the bottom third of the standings in all but one of its first half-dozen races. When we caught up with Scott Graves from Team Apathy at Buttonwillow Raceway Park this year, the Saanda was making its first appearance since 2015. It only managed a handful of laps, however.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_028

But the Saanda 1500 was back at Arse-Freeze-Apalooza last weekend at Sonoma Raceway, where everything finally came together. The Saanda—street-registered with a license plate and all—managed to win Class C. Murilee Martin will have more on that soon in the full race recap.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_033

That brings us to Team Baka and their N600. The team cooked this idea up after seeing both the Saanda and the one and only Lloyd Alexander (That’s a car, not a person) at a Sonoma race. Since one of the team’s fabricators had worked on priceless race cars in the 1980s, the team envisioned an IMSA GTU/GTP style build out of something, say, completely nonsensical. When they found a half-dozen Honda N600s in the California desert for $300, they knew they’d hit paydirt.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_041

When they first began the build, they brought its shell for Lemons tech inspectors to look over at a race. From the outset, it was clear they meant to build this car the “right way.” That meant an incredible attention to detail with some of the best fabrication work we’ve ever seen in Lemons. The driver sits in the back seat with a beautifully simple swinging steering column.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_002

Originally, the engine was a Honda sportbike engine, but they couldn’t get that to work well. After burning up a whole bunch of clutches, they decided to go with something a bit more robust. Team Baka picked up the rev-happy 2.0-liter engine from a Honda S2000 and decided to make that work. (Somehow, this is the only photo we have of the engine).

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_019

Unfortunately, the packaging underhood meant they couldn’t use the big fuel-injection intake manifold. Instead, they slapped a 350 cfm Holley carburetor on it and called it good enough. The car uses the same S2000 five-speed gearbox with a short propshaft to the rear end. The carb setup likely saps some of the engine’s original 240 horsepower, so it’s not as insane as it first seems.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_024

However, the Team Baka drivers have struggled to keep the front end pointed forward from time to time. Even though they extended the wheelbase—and the track width substantially with their own huge fenders—the car still likes to swap ends. We think they’ll get a handle on it eventually, but the more-than-$500 S2000 engine swap will probably prevent them from ever winning races.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_001

Like most Lemons builders, Team Baka can’t leave well enough alone, either. They’ve clued us in on their next big build, which will be fast and Lemony and ruffle some feathers.

HSCOTW_Honda_N600s_009

We promised video, too, so here is Lemons correspondent Eric Rood getting walkaround tours of both Honda N600s at Buttonwillow in September 2017. You can watch the whole time-lapse video of the Saanda right here, too, once you’ve watched the walkaround.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover