There’s Always Room For A Nugget

They call football ‘the beautiful game’ and if you can ignore what sometimes happens off the pitch, it’s a fair description. No other sport has both lasted as long or influenced people in as many corners of the globe as soccer. There is also beauty in that any kid around the world can play the same game as Cristiano Ronaldo without money, specialised equipment or even open spaces.

Then there’s motorsport. Beautiful? Unbelievably so. Accessible? Once the cost of a car, consumables and safety equipment are added up I struggle to think of a more expensive hobby, bar Jeff, Elon and Richard’s recent interest in private space exploration. And things are only getting worse instead of better as cars get faster and as a result more complex.

But does motorsport really need to be about ultimate speed to be fun? Listening to any pro driver enthuse about the joys of kart racing suggests not.


Time attack – a beacon for unrestricted development – still requires a road-based chassis and treaded tyres. Even the pinnacle of contemporary motorsport, F1, concedes that faster cars are not always better with their new regulations to prioritise close racing and lower costs over outright speed. Will they be any less engaging as a result? F1 argues the opposite will be true.


So what happens when you take this idea to the absolute extreme? When a whole competition car costs less than a single wheel on a modern performance machine? You get something like Australia’s Nugget Nationals, AKA the NugNats.


The rules are simple – spend under AU$3,000 ($5,000 allowing for track-prep) on a car that has less than 1.5-litres of engine capacity and go racing.


Before you ask, no rotaries are allowed. Furthermore, no engine swaps, no engine modifications beyond intake/exhaust, and no LSDs either. Tyres must be above 140 tread-wear rating and there are limitations on the extent of suspension changes too, but safety modifications are unlimited.


I’d heard a complaint of ‘why not allow up to 1.6L engines? There are so many more options.’ But that is missing the beauty of the 1.5L cap. At 1,600cc of capacity there are genuine sports cars with racing pedigree; think 4A-GE Corollas, MX-5/Miatas and any number of VTEC-powered Hondas. Although the cost cap should limit the silliness, it is so much harder to enforce than a simple capacity limit.


The driving force behind the series are Technical Director Tom and Racing Director Ying, who put an insane amount of work into making the event a success on top of day jobs and other racing activities. From what started as a cheap excuse to get on track when their ‘proper’ track cars were under repair, the staging grids now fill up quickly with 40+ entries.

Choose Your Flavour

So now you know the ingredients for a nugget, it’s time to sample some of the menu. This is absolutely not an exhaustive list, but is an example of some of the popular makes and models that roll up to each of the six championship rounds. On the day I attended, the NugNats were being held at the Bryant Park Hillclimb track, or as it is more commonly known, Haunted Hills.


Contender #1: Suzuki Swift

Strengths: Great aftermarket support, newish with cheap parts.
Weaknesses: Power-to-weight isn’t stellar.

The Swift nameplate is well-known in Australia thanks to the GTi of the ’80s and ’90s which was a proper firecracker for the time. Those early cars would be a fantastic fit for the NugNats but are probably impossible to find under $5,000 these days. Although these later model cars lack the outright speed of the early cars, they are a well-rounded package which can be upgraded over time thanks to strong Japanese aftermarket support.


Contender #2: Toyota Echo Sportivo

Strengths: Modern Toyota reliability, 110hp VVT-i engine is torquey, relatively light, high likelihood of being befriended by Ying (the Bernie Eccelstone of NugNats).
Weaknesses: The safe choice, perhaps?

If there was a go-to choice for a nugget, it would have to be the Toyota Echo Sportivo (aka Yaris TS and Vitz RS). With just a good set of tyres and decent seat you are ready to rip lap after lap, and a strong support amongst the field means knowledge on maintenance and setup is just a few steps away.


Contender #3: Mitsubishi Lancer/Mirage

Strengths: Actually looks like a sports car, engines are reliable and sound great, parts are readily available.
Weaknesses: The 4G15 makes only 92hp.

I spent my teenage years hooning around in my mum’s Lancer Coupe (albeit the big block 1.8L MR, excuse the flex) and know these to be agile and especially good at handbrake turns. Sorry mum.


Contender #4: Hyundai Getz

Strengths: Extremely plentiful, cheap parts, 100hp 1.5L 16V engine.
Weaknesses: ABS and ESC of questionable value on the track.

In Australia, the Hyundai Getz is so popular amongst young female drivers that you’d think they were handed out upon learner driver graduation. Thereafter, most disappear into the ether, but not this one, which is driven by the manliest bloke I’ve ever seen.


Contender #5: Honda Jazz/Fit

Strengths: Actual VTEC for an impressive 108hp, chassis stiffness, extremely practical, welcoming meme community.
Weaknesses: Heavy in this company, electronics (electric throttle and steering) not ideal.

It could be argued that the Honda Jazz is all the car anyone ever needs. Amazing interior space, fuel efficiency and great impact protection made it a top seller, but typical of Honda, fantastic driving dynamics were baked in.


Contender #6: Suzuki Ignis Sport

Strengths: High-compression M15A engine is a 114hp powerhouse, car weighs only 935kg.
Weaknesses: Impossible to find, everybody thinks it’s a Holden Cruze, your times will be compared to those of James Dyer.

An Ignis Sport is campaigned by James Dyer, an experienced Bryant Park veteran. Combined with an impressive power-to-weight combo, James and the silver ‘Iggy’ are a formidable combination.


Contender #7: Honda Civic

Strengths: Double-wishbone suspension (basically F1 technology), massive aftermarket support, light weight.
Weaknesses: Rear drum brakes, vacuum-actuated carburettors, price and availability is getting worse.

I can’t end this chapter without mentioning the humble Honda Civic. Honda fitted its trusty 1.5L D-series donk in both ED/EF and EG chassis but sold the greatest volumes in the earlier model, which also benefits from being ridiculously light. Even at NugNats a Civic will struggle to gain on the straights, but in the right hands is hard to match in the corners.


The best thing is that despite the many differences, anything can be competitive. The series has been won by an Echo, a Civic, a Mirage and even a Mazda 121.

It’s at this point I’d like to ask you, fantastic person reading this story, what would you bring to challenge the Nugget Nationals field? Remember – naturally aspirated, 1.5L or less, sub-$5,000. Head to the comments section and let me know…

Meet White Meat

You probably guessed that all this fun was something I’d want to be a part of. Developing and driving Project NSX is a real privilege, but the cost and risk does weigh on my mind; I don’t really push the limits and thus miss opportunities to learn from mistakes along the way.


Out of all the great nugget options it was only ever going to be a Honda for me. I’d seen what a well-driven ED was capable of, so when this standard 1991 came up at auction close to home, I committed. As it turns out, most of the other bidders were NugNats drivers too, so it seems White Meat already has more crowd appeal than I will ever have.


Under the hood sits one of Honda’s many D-Series variants, this one in non-VTEC, twin carburettor form. While it hasn’t been pampered it has at least been serviced, with evidence of a timing belt and new distributor in recent times.

There’s nothing wrong with carburettors in practice, but for the fact they don’t play well with catalytic converters and emissions controls in general. Honda put an insane amount of effort into making these early ’90s carb-fed engines compliant through a complex network of vacuum hoses and computer controls to try and keep the fuel burn as clean as possible. However, finding ’90s-era Honda carbs that work as intended 30 years on is tough, and repairing them is almost impossible.

The same basic engine carried through to the curvier EG chassis, but by then the carbs had been put out of their misery and replaced with electronic fuel injection. A side note is that in 2021 we’re now approaching another complexity barrier for EFI engines to meet the ever-stricter emissions regulations; this time the ‘step change’ is to full electric.


Everything is as it left the factory in 1991 with a thick layer of patina. It’s slow, painfully slow in a straight line, but drives nice enough to have me thinking maybe this should be spared from the racetrack and make a nice daily driver.

Adding Some Spice

But one look at the Idemitsu Group A-spec EF9 Civic SiR is enough to banish those thoughts.


According to Ross Bentley, author of Speed Secrets, a comfortable and safe cockpit is the first step in setting up a car for the racetrack.


Comfortable is debatable, but I’ve made sure that the seat and wheel are placed well relative to the stock pedals. I’ve had this Sparco for eight years and it fits well enough on the Bride rail. A 50mm spacer behind the Momo wheel brings it a little closer to my chest, where it should be.

The one mandatory concession to safety is a hard-mounted fire extinguisher just fore the passenger seat. To keep Mr. Bentley and my mother happy, a half cage, 5-point harness and HANS device are at the top of my shopping list.


Moving the seat and wheel back left the gearstick in a bit of an awkward spot, so a two-bend shifter topped with a 50mm extension brings it backward and up closer to the wheel for some super-speedy shift action.


Replacing the whole dash cluster with race-ready gauges like in the Group A car might be a little outside of scope, but spying the two gauges which replaced the radio in the centre console gave me an idea for new 3D printing project.


Do I really need to monitor oil pressure and water temp on a stock, base-model Civic engine? I figured it couldn’t hurt. At least I might spot something going horribly awry before the engine goes pop and leaves me stranded at the side of a track 200 kilometres from home.


It’s mounted with tabs identical to those on the radio so fit the slot with ease. The gauges are angled 5-degrees upwards and 15-degrees towards the driver which helps with legibility from behind the steering wheel. Oil pressure is measured from a filter sandwich plate while the coolant temp sensor was spliced into the upper radiator hose.


Overall it integrated pretty nicely. There are some small changes I’d make if I were to print a version two, but hey, race cars aren’t meant to be perfect.


The printer wasn’t idle for long. Next was a few prototypes for an intake trumpet designed to match up to the standard carburettor throats in place of the stock air box.


These are printed in ASA (a modified version of ABS plastic) which means they are temperature-stable up to about 95°C (203°F), so will be fine for the intake side of a naturally aspirated engine.


The filters are just off-the-shelf, appropriately-sized Unifilters. These are the oiled type which can be removed, cleaned and re-oiled from time to time. I wasn’t expecting much of a performance gain, but the engine does seem a bit happier to rev above 4,500rpm now, and it sounds surprisingly sporty.


The 3D-printed stuff is just a bit of fun – the key to unlocking the latent potential in White Meat would come from smart suspension tuning.


The guys at Shockworks have an impressive amount of knowledge on the ED platform and flew through the custom coilover install and setup process. The longest task was setting the ride height, which took a few test drops to ensure that each corner was set down to the millimetre. This will be one of the last installations in the ‘old’ workshop – an impressive facility has just completed construction next door and will provide the room for growth that the young company needs.


Once the install was buttoned up, Chris took me out for a blast through his local test and evaluation route. I was equal parts scared at the corner speed and impressed with the damping relative to the bumpy road conditions. I’m looking forward to spending more time behind the wheel myself so I can start to work out what it takes to drive this sub-100hp wonder fast.


White Meat has a set of low-mount suspension top plates, which has helped get the floorpan significantly closer to the tarmac. We might even go lower in the future.


I almost forgot to mention the wheels – very well-used RAYS Volk Racing GRCs in a 15×6.5-inch fitment, wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE003s found on Facebook Marketplace. They use a specific wheel nut which was a right pain to source, but now they are on I’m loving the period-correct look even if they are a bit on the porky side.


There are a few maintenance items that need attention, but now I just need to get an alignment and start stacking up seat time. Hopefully I can get these second-hand tyres to hang on through the remaining three 2021 Nugget Nationals rounds while I learn the car and tracks, then a new set can start us off for a more competitive 2022.

Nugget Nationals on Facebook

Blake Jones
Instagram: blaketjones



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oh god no he spelled cristiano as "Christiano"


I've just inadvertently revealed how much of a soccer fan I am. Fixed!


Welcome to the club!


Glad to be a member! What a lovely shade of blue.


Thanks bud! It’s called Superior Blue Metallic. The interior is blue too. Lol. I’m not sure type of engine you guys received ‘down unda’ but you should look into the DPFI to MPFI conversion as a relatively cheap way to free up some ponies. I did it to mine. Can’t say that it’s significantly faster than before but it sure makes B or K series swaps easier in the future.


Very cool project you have. Over here in the states prices for all used cars are going up because new cars are in shortage. So, everyone is out to make a profit and those cars like the nugget are going up. I'd heard of other competition races, in the snow where there's a cap on how much you can buy your car for and after the race if someone offers to buy that car you have to sell. It really helps make you a better driver when the cars limited. All good fun.


Greatest story in the history of publishing!

I completely agree that a price/ displacement/ or horsepower limited car race makes a driver focus more on technique, thoughtful adjustments, and getting the most out of the car. Also, a lower investment opens up opportunities for the "average Joe" to get involved. Wish we had such a race in the States! Some are talking locally about a max 1999 cc's of displacement, max 4 cylinders, NA engine only, manual transmission race. That would be thrilling.

So many track races are littered with poor drivers who make up for bad technique with horsepower on the straightaways. Let's focus more on skill and affordability. If we are being honest, few of us can drive a 350+ hp car to its limits. In these comp's Honda Civics are hard to beat.


#GRIDLIFE Sundae Cup is what we have here in the States.


Doesn't you guys already have LeMons?


WOW! we need the same sort of event here in NZ, these nuggets here are plentiful and dropping in prices


NZ always has such a good selection of JDM cars, I’m very envious.


I've always wanted an excuse to buy a compact hatch, a real buzz box. But unfortunately it's going to have to wait a bit longer as I'm moving interstate to QLD soon. However after a quick look on I managed to find this lil gem:

Awesome story and great coverage! Hopefully after my move I can save up for a car to participate in :)


I've always wanted an excuse to buy a compact hatch, a proper buzz box! But it's going to have to wait a bit longer as I'm moving interstate to QLD in a couple months, however after a quick look on AutoTrader I managed to find a gorgeous 1992 Daihatsu Charade TS. Hopefully after my move I can save up for a car to participate in NugNats!
Awesome story and coverage tho, it's good to know small events like this exist in Australia!


Scratch that, the Charade is over lmao


Great write up, love it! Wish they did stuff here in Sydney too.
BTW, isn't the Swift Sport 1.6L? But the fact that its performance is more like a 1.5L makes it ok I guess...


Thanks Jeremy! Yes, a Swift Sport is 1.6L and ineligible, but run-of-the-mill Swifts came with a 1.5 which are Nug-approved.


I wanna know how he managed to get it under 3k hahaha


i recently picked up a swift sport for $1350, running driving complete. its possible.


Wow good on you man! I clearly just havn't been looking properly hahaha


High horsepower has its purposes, but if you can't have fun in a sorted 100hp car then you just don't know what you are doing. I have a first gen Primera, or infiniti g20 here in the US, and truly believe they would be more popular if you could find any here. Comes from factory with an SR20, 5spd manual, lsd, nice buckets, and only weighs a bit more than 2500 pounds. Aftermarket and many oem parts are incredibly hard to find but I am holding out to someday make my home-built jtcc car a reality. I am much more into it than my other two cars, being a brz and 1969 mustang. Very jealous of the civic and looking forward to watching how it turns out.


I have a first gen primera sr20 aswell, its good fun for not alot of money (£375 gbp 4 months ago). Unfotunately though I don't think it will be on the roads much longer


*me looking frantically for one now*


Comes from factory with an SR20, 5spd manual, lsd, nice buckets, and only weighs a bit more than 2500 pounds.

Wait What?! I'm guessing it wasn't sold in the states? :(


Whoops didn't notice the part about it selling in us as an infinity:) Looked it up and they are so cool!


Amazing article mate - best SH article this year! You now got me looking at Echo's on gumtree haha.


If I get one more person to experience the joy of Nugget life, my job here is done.


The way to go fast in low power FWD is just to never brake. I learnt that on my P plates from driving a Leyland Moke with all of 60hp.


93' Toyota Paseo. 1.5 Lts, 100 hp, 1 ton., tercel/starlet platform , great on gas and good parts availabilty, simple mechanics and good fun.


Great choice! There have been a few Paseos at Nug Nats.


Would definitely take the previous iteration of my car, mirage with a 4g15 but its got the dohc head from an import. Makes 109hp and loved to rev, couple that with semi slicks, coilovers and evo 3 brakes, would certainly be a competitive car, wish they ran it down in South Australia


Technically the head swap would take it out of Nugget territory but that does look like a lot of fun!


This makes me miss my old 91’ Civic Hacthback even more


This makes really makes me miss my 91’ Civic Hacthback!


Great ride :) Having carburettors instead of fuel injection might actually be an advantage in this case, as you can tune them easily and cheaply by just purchasing a few jets and needles. I own an early carburetted Triumph Bonneville motorcycle and knew practically nothing about carbs, and in less than a year I could tune them by feel. I replaced the stock ones with smoothbore racing carbs and the difference in throttle response and mid to top end power is quite significant. By the way, since you removed the stock airbox, you might need to re-jet those carbs, as they might be running lean now that they have less restriction .


Hi, can someone please tell what Toyota is the number 98 that we see in the top of the page? The front looks cool. A Corolla? From what year? Thanks.


That, my friend, is a rather modified Starlet.


Thanks. :)


The Swift Sport is 1.6 litre. It is out of the league.


Great read, great subject and great choice of car. I would love for the UK to have something along these lines, the rules are perfect for a country where small CC and sporty economical cars are relatively cheap and fuel is expensive (approx £6.35 / $8.74 USD / $12.50 AUD for a gallon). For me this would be a perfect series to get involved in. Please keep us updated on the racing and I know I would love to see move cars from the series. Good luck and godspeed!!!


Thanks Michael, I'll certainly be bringing you more updates from my foray into the world of Nuggetry. If you're looking for a series like this I'm sure some of your fellow Englishmen are too - time to kick it off!


Does finish first project car

Buys another


Hahaha, it's a curse. There's others too, that don't make these pages. I'm starting to wonder if I own them, or they own me...


Great write up Blake. Nugget Nationals was my first real experience with track days and now I can't get enough of them. Even when the mirage isn't ready I've been welcomed with open arms in the van for the day. Would and do highly recommend to anyone that has a opportunity to get out there on track, no matter what you are in.


I wish we had this in the Netherlands. Sounds like a blast!

Makes me think of #Club1000 that did the Nordschleife BTG in only slightly modified 1 liter cars. 1.5 sounds like a great step up as you still keep the 1.6 16v engines out of the picture. Also, Ignis sports are very affordable over here..


There's nothing like a properly done ED/EF LOVE these cars. So hard to find them in salvageable condition. Good on you sir for keeping this one going!


In Malaysia, 4G15 engine in Proton Wira is quite popular for turbo swap. Guys, you should watch it at Youtube Channel called Galeri Kereta. I hope that our country, have these motorsports activities after COVID-19 thingy. T_T


we have a similar type series with Gridlife called Sundae Cup.. Fits are the predominant choice, but alsp have Mazda2s and a Fiesta and a Rio.

removing the barriers to seat time is the best way to maximize time on track and slow lightweight cars with cheap consumables is an easy button to making that happen


Hey Peter,
Ying from NugNats here. Just came to comment that the "Sundae" Cup is such a great name! Cool to see you guys doing the same thing over there :D


Love this article!

We have a similar type series with Gridlife in the USA, called Sundae Cup.. Fits are the predominant choice, but also have Mazda2s and a Fiesta and a Rio.

removing the barriers to seat time is the best way to maximize time on track and slow lightweight cars with cheap consumables is an easy button to making that happen


This is awesome!! I'd definitely go with a Renault Clio or Peugeot 206!


I would bring my Renault Clio III 1.4. It makes 98hp and has a really well handling chassis. Downside could be the weight, but stripping some parts could do wonders. But I think it would be impossible to find outside of europe :/


Wow that's awesome! Good to see the Clio lasted trough the entire thing aswell. Thanks for the link!


Yes, most of the cars in this series are Japanese or Korean just because they were sold in such large numbers here. The Clio would be a perfect choice for a European nugget series!


I would bring the Mazda 2(demio) to the NugNatz!


Great choice, there are a few nice Mazda2's competing.


Anyone's thoughts on the new i20N?
It's cool to see the subcompact hot hatch coming back


couple things:

1. The 1.6L rule is stupid imho, as lots of D16s were non vtec and produced under 100hp, but then you wouldn't have to deal with carbs as the D16 was EFI

2. The stock carbs are not great on that era of Hondas. I had an 89 Accord with a carb'd A20 but much the same mess of vaccuum hoses. Look into weber 2 barrel conversion kits, they are fairly affordable and easy to install, and you will lose like 20-30lbs of crap from the engine bay. After, the engine felt a lot more torquey and responsive, and I got better MPG to boot

3. I also picked up a 91 Civic, frost white, but the Si model. It's an incredible car and I adore it.


I certainly choose a Peugeot 106 rallye 1.3 carb for this serie, or maybe a Fiat Panda 100hp which have a 6 speed gearbox.

Justin Narayan @ Car Advice

Why does that girl have pink hair?


Why do you need to question the hair? Let people be themselves.


Well, i will take my 2007 chevy aveo with the 1.5L techII engine if this series ever reached my region (it is also fitted on a lot of Daewoo and Opel and the new chevy spark has the 1.4L thechIII i think).