As we forge ahead with KIT CAR's ECOCAT project, the most unique planned feature is the use of a 2.2L Ford Ecotec engine for "motorvation." While the body modifications that were made were extreme, the conversion of a front-wheel-drive powerplant to a rear-drive application is the defining element of ECOCAT.
Actually, the Ecotec engine commonly found in GM's Cavalier and Sunbirds models was the catalyst that started the entire project. We saw it as a lightweight engine option with a great potential for horsepower improvements, capable of delivering both power and economy. Moreover, we had one of the little motors and could not resist the temptation of hot rodding it!
What we did not expect was the amount of planning and engineering it would require to do the front- to rear-wheel-drive conversion with this setup. Shafi Keisler and his team at Keisler Engineering (Knoxville, TN) were our salvation. Though we've known about Shafi for some time due to his company's five- and six-speed Tremec conversion kits for musclecars, this project, however, was quite different from any of their previous challenges.
If you were thinking of doing this conversion, check out the interview we did with Shafi Keisler, who gave us his inside view on what it took to develop this product, which he now sells through his company. We are extremely grateful to Keisler and his staff for their hard work on behalf of KIT CAR's ECOCAT project and providing KIT CAR's readers with an industry exclusive.
As of press date, the ECOCAT has left T&R Auto Body and is now at Hahn Racecraft. Bill Hahn and his staff are renown for their turbocharger kits for Ecotec Cavaliers. When presented the ECOCAT concept and project photos, they flipped over the idea and will be helping us mount and install power adders to our 2.2L Ecotec. In the next issue of the magazine, we'll highlight the parts and pieces used to create the Keisler kit, the unique engine mounts made by Hahn Racecraft, and how it fits into the ECOCAT itself. Stay tuned!
KC: When you were presented this concept car and its unusual engine-to-transmission combination, what was your initial reaction, and why get involved?
Keisler: Excitement and trepidation are two reactions that clearly resounded in my mind as well as those in our design team at Keisler Engineering. This project was our first transmission system design to take a front-wheel-drive engine to rear-wheel-drive configuration. We at Keisler Engineering have a soft spot for unusual or niche products. Our very first manual transmission system was for the Jaguar V12 engine cars (XJ-S) using the GM TH400 three-speed automatic, converting them to our custom-designed Tremec TKO five-speed or T56 six-speed overdrive system.
The majority of our business is driveline systems and components for RWD V-6-, V-8-, V-10- or V-12-powered vehicles. For the ECOCAT project, we see this driveline combination as a wave of the future. Using the inline-4 Ecotec engine plus a five- or six-speed overdrive transmission system offers a modern high-output engine to the niche market of RWD kit and replicars, street rods, and other purpose-built vehicles. Fuel economy and mechanical reliability, coupled with compact design, ease of installation, and multiple shifter positions offer an appealing product to the builders of the future.
KC: How did you approach such a challenging project?
Keisler: Project planning is always our first activity. Like the old saying goes, "A good plan makes a good result." As you can imagine, a project of this type requires a considerable amount of resources to create a quality product. During the planning phase, we establish the targets of what we are to achieve, followed by detailed item requirements.
Examples of these items for the ECOCAT project are the design concept for the clutch-housing adapter, hydraulic clutch actuator system layout, making the prototypes, test fitment, and product drawings. Looking further into the future, we also developed a step-by-step assembly installation manual and pictures, production manuals, and applied for patent applications.
KC: After developing the plan, how do you "parts shop" for compatibility to tie the components into a working assembly?
Keisler: Like the large automakers and parts companies, we have established product platforms that serve as the foundation for new product development. These platforms are the building blocks for the complete driveline system, or kit, which we manufacture. For the ECOCAT project, we had to create or add new products for the clutch housing, clutch disc, clutch hydraulic system, and transmission input gear, to name a few.
For the clutch housing, we decided to utilize our new titanium aluminum 10.5-inch, GM-type clutch housing plus an engine adapter, which we designed. This allows us the flexibility to use any number of transmissions, including our custom-engineered versions of the Tremec TKO five-speed and T56 six-speed overdrive manual transmissions. It also allows us the use of SFI race-approved clutch housings for the drag race-oriented driver.
Product component selection, or "parts shopping" if you will, considers service parts and ease of maintenance. For example, we kept the input shaft type 1 1/8 x 26, which is the heavy-duty GM input shaft size used on most performance passenger cars since 1970. A clutch change is as easy as a phone call to us or a visit to the local parts store. From all of this we have made a transmission system that is efficient, cost effective, and overall simple to install and maintain for the end user.
KC: Obviously there needed to be special machined parts to tie the engine to the transmission. What steps do you take to build such a part?
Keisler: Product design is core strength at our company and we utilized our engineering tools to develop the special parts that went into the ECOCAT project. Here's a just a few of the steps used to make just one part of the entire driveline system: the clutch housing adapter.
Step 1--Reverse Engineering: To make the rear-wheel-drive transmission system work with the Ecotec, we had to understand the way the original transmission was attached to the engine, including the starter mounting, flywheel construction, clutch plate, and disc. We collected many pieces of data using precision measuring tools, such as our seven-axis coordinate measuring machine. We actually scanned the engine assembly--the clutch housing mounting surface, starter motor details, crankshaft flange, and flywheel. This gave our engineers the construction data needed to develop the clutch-housing adapter, along with assembly and component drawings.
Step 2--Product Modeling: With data in hand, our engineers proceed to design the entire driveline. A 3-D assembly of the driveline is constructed on the computer, and 2-D drawings are made for the production department so that components can be built.
Step 3--Prototype Component Making: Making prototype parts is expensive and time consuming. Prior to making the engine adapter in steel, we made it in wood and mounted it to the engine, then added the clutch housing and transmission. This physical check with "dummy" parts is useful. From this step we learned of the water rail interference, as well as other important information relating to how the engine adapter would be installed by the customer. Drawing changes were made reflecting the design changes, and the clutch-housing adapter was then made in steel. At this stage, fastener selection is made, and test and re-test fitting is performed to ensure a quality, repeatable result.
The key to Keisler's kit is...
The key to Keisler's kit is the 10.5" and 11" clutch bellhousing that Keisler Engineering reproduces for GM vehicles (the 10.5" model was selected for the Ecotec engine). An SFI race-approved housing is also available. Keisler Engineering's unique hydraulic bearing assembly, which uses a single line and self bleeds, is rated for over 1.5 million cycles and 9,000-rpm shifts in continuous operation.
KC: As the project began to come together, were there any unseen complications that set in?
Keisler: We had numerous small complications during the development, but this is usual and expected for a project of this scope. Here are a few hurdles we had to address during development of the Ecotec conversion.
Water Rail Interference: The water pump interfered with the clutch housing, so we cut it off with a flame torch. No, just kidding! The rear water rail ran directly into the clutch-housing adapter's position due to a design constraint we established early on to make the clutch housing a standard GM-type. Therefore, we carefully disassembled the piping components, which required removing the exhaust manifold heat shield, and determined that a new water pipe routing could readily be substituted by the engine mechanic or car builder.
Hydraulic Bearing: With our new clutch-housing adapter and 10.5-inch clutch housing mated to the Ecotec engine, the distance from the transmission to the clutch plate fingers was longer than any previous model we had in production. Accordingly, a new mounting base was constructed for our hydraulic bearing. This was easy, as our hydraulic system is modular in design and not limited to piston length. The easy self-bleed function of our hydraulic clutch actuator system was kept intact. Installers love the Keisler Engineering hydraulic systems for their ease of use, and drivers love the crisp and light pedal response, along with the fact our hydraulic bearings are tested to over 1.5 million cycles for failure-free operation. None of these key features were sacrificed for the Ecotec-Keisler driveline.
Transmission Input Gear: Similar to the hydraulic bearing, we had to make a special-length input gear to accommodate the location of the pilot bearing within the crankshaft of the Ecotec engine. This was achieved with reasonable cost due to our manufacturing capabilities, and allowed the use of GM-spec clutch input spline of 1 1/8 x 26 tooth, along with a GM-spec pilot bushing.
KC: As the last bolt was set in place and a few trial pulls completed, what was your and your team's reaction?
Keisler: Our team--Pat Huffstetler, Thomas Shields, Chuck Wilson, George Thompson, John Knoll, and I--were elated and proud to see the Ecotec-Keisler five-speed drivetrain. One of our assembly technicians plans to put this combination in his Chevy S-10 sport truck (which uses a different shifter location than the one for Ecocat). The system looks as if it were meant to be. We look forward to see the market adopt this latest winning driveline combination, as the potential is endless in kit and replicar cars, street rods, and more.
KC: Based on the gear ratios available in the transmission, what was the suggested rear end ratio for the projected 300hp car weighting 1,875 lbs?
Keisler: If the car is to be used for road-course driving, I'd recommend a 3.70 or 3.90 differential with .82 overdrive Fifth gear. Otherwise, I'd recommend 3.50 or 3.70 differential with .64 for the street, strip, and highway use.
KC: What applications do you see for this product going forward?
Keisler: With the strong market for kits, replicars, street rods, and late-model sports cars and small body trucks, the applications seem limitless. I'd like to see more kit car projects similar to ECOCAT develop market interest as an alternative to small-block V-8 power. Cars built for all-around performance--speed, handling, drivability and ease of maintenance--can benefit the most from the Ecotec-Keisler driveline.
I would expect vehicles with small engine compartments to benefit well from this combination. Perhaps we will see this driveline retrofitted to some smaller domestic and import cars in need of heavier-duty driveline components and better power-to-weight ratios. With rising fuel costs and more attention to the environment, this driveline offers many owners a cost-effective means to build quality, performance, and fun into their special project.
KC: While our project car is yet not completed, can you project what kind of performance can be expected with this conversion kit installed in this type of car?
Keisler: I would expect that sub 6-second 0-60 mph and high 12s or low 13s quarter-mile times could be achieved with the ECOCAT or a similar power-weight ratio vehicle using the Ecotec-Keisler driveline. With the supercharged engine readily available in crate form, the power tuners will liven up the engine a bit, and our transmission system will easily handle 650 hp/650 ft-lb and more. For the economy-minded driver, 25-33 mpg under normal highway driving conditions should be easy to achieve with the normally aspirated version of the engine.
KC: When the project is completed, we'll test the car and see how close these predictions are to the actual performance of ECOCAT. Having now completed this drivetrain exercise, are you glad that you took this challenge on, and is this common for your company to meet any application?
Keisler: Certainly, we are proud to be a part of a well-prepared project and look forward to being a part of the Ecotec engine's future for many years to come. So far, we have tackled every driveline for which we have attempted to design a transmission system--GM, Chrysler, Ford, and Jaguar, from four cylinders to 12 cylinders, and most musclecars, kit cars, street rods, or trucks.
While our offerings are not limitless, we can accommodate most seeking a high-quality overdrive manual transmission for rear-wheel applications. We continually expand and update our product offerings. Builders should call or e-mail us, or visit our Web site as something new is always in the works. We hope the contributions we make to this sector of the market will provide countless hours of driving enjoyment to many enthusiasts for years to come.