Pouncing Kei. Hidden Ninja

Stuffing a big engine into a little car is a recipe that many follow in the quest for speed – and for good reason. Coupling high power with small dimensions is a surefire way to improve performance, and when taken to the extreme, the results can be mind-numbingly awesome.

It’s that sort of thinking that lead me to this unassuming A103 Mitsubishi Minica F4 Super Deluxe on my last trip over to Brisbane, Australia.


kei car from the early ’70s might not seem like the obvious base for a modified street car build, but for the few hundred dollars outlay, it was exactly what Trent Bianco had been looking for when he stumbled across it a couple of years ago. Small. Japanese. Old school. Rear-wheel drive. As far as the automotive fabricator was concerned, there was a lot of potential just waiting to be exploited…


And Trent was right too. Once upon a time you would have been lucky to even reach 100km/h in this rare miniature Mitsubishi, but these days it gets the job done without even having to shift out of first gear. Weighing just 570kg with a full tank of gas and all the trimmings, the theoretical top speed of 220km/h is not hard to imagine either; and the picture above should give you a hint why.  


Not only does the Minica possess a power to weight ratio to embarrass cars of high performance stature, but it does so in a completely incognito way. Sleeper style was all part of Trent’s grand plan.


Where once sat a 359cc two-stroke OHC Mitsubishi 2G21 engine, now resides a 998cc four-cylinder DOHC power plant lifted straight out of the frame of a ’05 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. And with it, 175hp, for an almost a six-fold power improvement over the 30hp offered in the original car. Apart from the performance on offer, the Ninja motor was the logical choice. It fit (just) in the Minica’s tiny 400mm-deep engine bay without requiring any metal to be cut and displaced less that 1.0L – two important factors required to satisfy engineers and put the car back on the road legally. Trent also wanted an engine that would rev, and with peak power arriving at 11,700rpm and a redline at 13,000rpm, the Kawasaki mill certainly fulfils that need.


Once custom mounts were knocked up, fitting the engine in the hole was a relatively straightforward operation. The handmade headers took the most time to fabricate, mostly because of the very small space Trent had to work with, but he’s done a really nice job of them as you can see. As it sits now, the motor remains mostly stock, save for a custom exhaust system featuring an Akrapovič carbon fibre bike muffler, a Power Commander piggyback ECU, and TRE (timing retard eliminator) module to overwrite Kawasaki’s factory-imposed, power-limiting tune that stop riders flipping their bikes if they’re too eager on the throttle through the first few gears.


Speaking of gears, the Minica now has six of them going forward, not four, and they’re close ratio and shifted sequentially through a cool lever. Considering the engine and dog box share the same casing, it’s a given, but I was interested to see how it connects to the rest of the driveline. As it turns out, quite easily – an off-the-shelf Hawk adapter driving the tail shaft is directly off the output shaft where the bike’s sprocket originally attached. As the for the clutch, Trent built an adapter that connects the Minica’s pedal with the Kawasaki’s cable.


Some real thought has gone into the set-up, and that becomes very obvious when you get down on your hands and knees and take a look under the rear end. To cope with the extra output, Trent removed the Minica’s factory back axle and replaced it with a shortened and custom-fitted Toyota T-series LSD unit out of a 4WD AE95 Corolla.


The interior space is straight out of the early ’70s, right down to the factory push-button AM radio with mono speaker on the top of dashboard. It’s in surprisingly good shape considering its 40-year old vintage, so Trent doesn’t really have much work that he needs – or wants – to do here apart from replacing the carpets and tidying things up around the sequential shifter.


I mean, look at the condition of the seats, the interior trim and even the two-piece fabric boot cover at the rear! It’s amazingly clean, and being completely original (save for the ZX-10R digital cluster and gear lever) is in total keeping with the sleeper secret.


Although it’s been built and subsequently certified for the road, there are more things on the to-do list that need ticking off. A custom dry sump is being fitted at the moment, and the Minica has been stripped of its wiring while Trent pieces together a simpler and tidier harness. Panel and paint to refresh the original exterior will come at a later date, but as far as its outward appearance goes, hunting out the right set of small, old school Japanese wheels is the main focus at the moment. Given the tiny amount of room to work with under the front and rear fenders and the fact that 13s look way too big, they’re not going to be an easy find. But just how cool is this little kei car going to look when Trent eventually finds a fix!


I’m going to wrap-up this spotlight with an in-car clip from a Downshift Circuit & Coffee meet at Queensland Raceway last year, which should give you a little taste of how mad this little car is, and how sweet it sounds pulling five digit RPMs. Out-of-the-box thinking, quality engineering and a whole lot of fun – here’s all the proof you need that you don’t need to be big to go large.

Brad Lord




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I need something small, RWD, stealthy and bike powered. Now.


Just needs a turbo for the final bit of punch down the straight -- Bitchen car and well done!!!!!


I am big into the kei and micro car engine swap community. I wish the car's suspension setup was done a little better.  The car is sitting so high, that it has to handle like poo 
: (


Superbike engines ? Hum...
Maybe we've been doing this wrong all along...

Amazing ! However, through the twisties it's probably too tall and narrow to inspire confidence.


eyelook throw up a web site that shows how you guys are setting up your cars -- would be nice to see


eyelook As Brad pointed out this is a work in progress with the hunt for correct wheels and more development work on the way. Do Trent a favour and read the words before being disappointed huh? It's all going to okay :)


holy. fizuck.


does it have a reverse gear?


Speedhunters_Bryn Fiat 500 build! Go!


Love this! It looks like a rollerskate and goes like stink. What a combination. :)


tkerrigan1  A very good question, and one that I'm sure Trent gave me the answer to at the time. Let me find out..


Just think, mitsubishi went from tjis little thing to the evo=D


tkerrigan1  perhaps he uses a starter to drive backwards only on car battery.


This thing looks hilarious, like it created by Top Gear.


Watching that video makes it officially insane. I love this thing.


That engine bay almost looks factory


MatsNorway Speedhunters_Bryn  Maybe someone could do a upgrade Abarth 500!


kamenkachev tkerrigan1  large motorcycles like the honda goldwing do that. It would make sense here.


I'd say this thing has embarrassed quite a few cars off the start at the traffic lights!


Dang!! I bet that's a really fun (tiny) car to drive. I want one!!


WANT!! I'd have that, even without the ZX10 motor......but with it, it just makes it THAT much cooler. I would however, love to see it dropped a bit further on some period little Japanese wheels, it looks a little odd as it sits, quite unstable......but that could be fixed so it's not too bad if that's the only thing wrong IMHO.


i know he's looking for a better suspension and wheel setup, so what I'm about to say MIGHT not apply to him (but really it most likely will): why do guys down under always get huge obnoxious modern car wheels for any sort of vintage car build, even if the car in question is from the 1970s and can barely fit 18s without getting it tubbed? I don't want to see an RX3 rolling around on 21 inch "rims." What's wrong with a nice vintage barrel, or, hell, anything with a bit of sidewall? I know too-big wheels are a worldwide problem, but I've never seen such a huge concentration of vintage japanese steel wearing what look like their 8 year old kid's trainers as I have coming out of Aus. and NZ. is there some reason for it? Are decent-sized wheels hard to come by down there? What gives?


robzor kamenkachev tkerrigan1  It's so small and light he could get out and lift at the rear bumper and turn it around...


Haha..awesome,  it really sounds like a Ninja inside a can. Great idea!


ComJive  Yes decent wheels are expensive in Aus, and I think the wheels on this car look deceptively large. But look at the third picture down the brakes consume almost all the area within the wheel.


A mash-up between a hi-performance motorcycle and a kei-car. It makes sense.


ComJive  We have our own style. Like it or loathe it.


That engine note is heavenly. What a beautiful sound! Epic build, way to go, man! Can't wait to see it with its suspension/wheels sorted out!


132000 ComJive  100% loathe


Don't they bother with helmets in Australia?... Nice car and all but it only takes one mistake from him or any other driver around him to turn sour... No cage and no helmet? One or the other would be a good idea.


Its rare to see motorcycle exhaust on cars but the sound that comes out is just too good.
A friend had an old Yoshimura mounted on his mk2 g60... Gods know that it was beautiful!


Very nice indeed. Fantastic down the stretch.


MatsNorway Speedhunters_Bryn  Cinquecentos in autoslalom/hill-climb trim are amazing.


It's been my dream to build a Nissan Figaro with a JIMS 135ci crammed in the bay. It wouldn't be legal in the slightest bit, but boy would it be loud and eat tyres.


@_Lightning_  Not at events like these we don't. There are rules and "speed limits" in place. Its a great environment what events like provide. Fill your car up with mates and drag who ever you want down the straights.


Ant86 ComJive  Ant86 is 100% correct re: the brakes. This car came with tiny drums behind 10" steel wheels on all four corners. With almost six times the power of the standard car, something had to give, and upgrading to discs was the logical thing to do. The 13s look big because the car is so small, but once Trent tracks down the right set of old schools wheels I think it will make all the difference. 12s may even fit if he's lucky..


@beany robzor kamenkachev tkerrigan1  Beany's right! Trent's told me that it does run an electric reverse though, and more specifically using a Ford V8 starter motor that engages a 150mm ring gear on a custom spacer mounted between the tailshaft and the diff pinion flange.


i didn't even read this, that thing needs WAY smaller wheels to be anywhere near interesting


132000 ComJive  I wasn't saying it was right or wrong. It's not my thing but it seems to make you guys happy, so fair play to you. I was more curious why it's so prevalent


Ant86 ComJive  This car wasn't a good example for my argument, because those wheels don't look too big to me. I'm more worried about the aspect ratio of the tyres rather than outright diameter. I don't personally think low-profile tyres look good on most cars, but the aspect ratio here is fine. I'm thinking more of all the RX_ I see down there wearing wheels that more or less don't even have rubber on them, just black paint when I level this complaint.

And, I'll be the first to admit that I'm standing on very thin ice, because what I want cars to look like should in no way affect how other people build them. I'm more just curious why the big wheels on a tiny old car style seems so prevalent there, because I don't really see old japanese classics with huge (relatively speaking) wheels anywhere else

The brake argument works for me, at least here, where the car in question is a kei car that used to wear ten inchers, and where the power has been increased by, what, 500%? 600%? That makes sense to me


BradLord Ant86 ComJive  Like I told Ant86, this car isn't the best example for my point, because these wheels look fine in terms of size (I only brought it up because you mentioned in the story they look too big, which reminded me of all the RX_ I've seen with huge wheels.) The main worry for me isn't the outright size as much as the aspect ratio of the tyres on these cars. I like to see some sidewall, and while upgrading to discs from tiny drums here obviously necessitated more room, I don't know why some people go so far in the other direction. Am I just underestimating how powerful all these guys' cars are? Do they all need to be running huge brakes, or is it just some style thing that has gone over my head?

Also like I told ant86, obviously what I want shouldn't ever affect what others do, and I'm not saying that any of this is wrong or bad. I'm more curious as to why it happens or seems to happen so much. I guess when I crash my future Z360 in a panic stop because my wheel demands forced me to stick to tiny brakes, I'll realise that these guys were the right ones after all, eh?

I guess, looking back on it now, asking this is like asking why some guys like to stretch their tyres, or why some people dress differently, or why my ex didn't like peppers as much as I did. It's because they want to (or because she doesn't understand what good flavor actually is)


Dalton Bedore  How would he have fit the bigger brakes?


Hhy is it so high up?


AshleyHartley  Because it's a work in progress. Once the owner finds a suitable set of wheels for the car, it will be set up accordingly.


Dalton Bedore That's honestly the most ignorant thing I've read on this site. Your loss, buddy.


@132000 that looks like so much fun. screw the critics, its your car that you built and as long as your enjoying it, its a success to me. BradLord great spotlight love stuff like this!


'spose i could do the same to this eh. 530kgs.. Hmmmmmmm


This thing is awesome, but im bias as I too own a Kei ('04 Nissan Clipper). Ive found the hardest part with modifying Kei's outside Japan (Im in New Zealand) is the lack of knowledge and parts accessibility. Often you have to mix and match components by spending hours rummaging out the back of parts suppliers. But if you own a Kei, you know its worth it.
Top stuff Trent !!
P/s - Dalton, piss off you ignorant stance ass


ComJive I'm from Aus and yep oversize chrome wheels have been the domain for old school japanese cars for quite some time. The scene for these cars has been transitioning from a street machine/sexspec bias to appreciating the nostalgia of the period these cars came from. Whilst its likely we will always have tubbed RX3's rolling on big chrome wheels I think we are starting to get some balance in the scene now with more sympathetic treatment of these classics.


Small Car + Superbike engine = Madnesss!!!


Please source a suitable pouncing cutey K wheels to complement it's pouncing. Then paint it to feel like motorcycle rims, to promote the kawasaki blue blood in it. Put some downforce element on the front too. It'll be worth it...


You can get a 12 x 8 rim with 235/45 tyres that would fit well. Check out golf cart rims :) I had some 10x7 with 205/50's on my Handivan at one stage. Cornering was limited by how well you could hang on to the wheel

 You would like my current project then :) 
My 83 Diahatsu Handi Van has swallowed a Vn Commodore.