Sunday, May 26, 2019

Three Small Sleeper Projects

Twin-turbo LS-powered Geo Tracker. Photo via
If you’re a gearhead, you no doubt know what a sleeper is. If you’re unfamiliar, a sleeper is a vehicle that may not look like much, but it’s actually a high-performance vehicle in a dowdy package. Think wolf in sheep’s clothing. Think high horsepower with hubcaps. Not all sleepers need to look super boring; they can simply be a platform that’s not generally associated with performance that is a surprising performer.

For years, I’ve had a few projects I’d love to undertake. And while they’ve been done before, these are ones I’d love to build and love to own. Here are three of my dream projects. Leave your dream sleepers in the comments.

V-8 Powered Suzuki Sidekick

I loved our 1995 Suzuki Sidekick dubbed the Teal Terror. However, the name was a bit tongue-in-cheek as it only had 95 hp—hardly terrifying. And while the Teal Terror was a good little off-roader, I’d love to build a fire-breathing V-8 on-road rig that’d be fun to drag race but still be streetable.

I’m thinking an LS or a 5.0-liter V-8 out of a Mustang or something along that size; an engine with plenty of potential to provide horsepower with that hairy-chested V-8 growl. A two door Sidekick or Geo Tracker can weigh as little as 2,134 lbs so there’s some serious power-to-weight ratio potential. It’s a body-on-frame construction, but it’d need to be reinforced to accept the extra power and weight. But man, a short-wheelbase 2WD V-8 powered Sidekick could be a real handful in a good way. And of course, it would have to be equipped with electric exhaust cut outs for full V-8 sounds.

Frankly, I’m getting giddy just thinking about this project.

4G63T-powered Mitsubishi Expo LRV

4G63 powered Mitsubishi Expo LRV
This one is actually for sale.

My first car was a 1992 Mitsubishi Expo LRV. This three-door miniature minivan was super practical and totally versatile. It was even fun to drive with its 1.8-liter 113 hp mill hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission. However, it wasn’t very fast.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, I was in college and got access to the internet. This allowed me to do all sorts of research on cars, and I found out that my unpopular Expo was also called the RVR (Recreational Vehicle Runner) in Japan. The RVR was available with a variety of engines including my gas-powered 1.8-liter, a diesel mill, and the legendary 4G63 engine found in the Eclipse and Lancer Evolution. Ever since finding this out, I’ve wanted to swap in a 4G63 into an Expo LRV (also known as the Eagle Summit Wagon and Plymouth Colt Vista) to create a very fast pregnant rollerskate of a car.

This swap has been done and is well documented, and I’ve even found a Eagle Summit/Mitsubishi RVR/LRV/Vista Tuners group that caters to modifying these cars. You can go full-on AWD and make yourself a tall Evo eater. However, I’d skip the AWD complexity and go FWD. All the info is out there to do the swap, and you could make one hell of a sleeper. Imagine pulling up to the line with your little tall wagon knowing you have 200+ hp under the stubby hood.

I think I’m getting hot and bothered.

Ford Escort GT Wagon

Lowered Ford Escort Wagon
Photo via
From the 1980s through the 1990s, the Ford Escort was Ford’s compact car. Available in a variety of configurations, there was something for everyone. Whether it was the basic hatchback, or the versatile wagon, Escorts (and they’re Mercury Tracer twins) had Mazda DNA and even sometimes Mazda powerplants. Such was the case with the sporty second-generation Escort GT which utilized the twin-cam Mazda BP engine. This powerplant had plenty of potential to scoot the Scort 0-60 in under nine seconds stock.

What I’d love to do is swap in the Mazda BP powerplant from the Escort GT into an Escort wagon. Of course it’d have to have the silky five-speed manual transmission, and maybe a little boost added, if you know what I mean. I know this has been done before but I’d love to have a small sleeper wagon that is not only great at hauling ass, but also good at hauling groceries.

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