Project bB: The Search For A Donor
Making The Switch

In my last Project bB update, I covered off some of my plans for the little box car including adding forced induction – by the way of turbocharging – into the mix. Today, I want to talk about the other major upgrade I’m making to the Toyota: a switch from 4-speed auto to 5-speed manual.

You might be wondering why I just didn’t start with a manual car, and that would be a fair question to ask if I was living in the US and my project base was the bB’s USDM counterpart, the Scion xB, which was offered with a 5-speed stick shift. But alas, that was never an option for the JDM model, which I have here in New Zealand. Column-shift automatic is all that was offered for Japanese market buyers, and therefore all that’s available for purchasers of used examples.

But a turbo auto bB was never going to cut it for me.


Looking at images of manual xBs and noting that they used a C-series Toyota gearbox, I figured that the swap could be easily done, even though I’d be dealing with a right-hand drive car as opposed to a left-hand drive one. Discovering a few manual-converted bBs in Japan online also gave me confidence that it would be a pretty straightforward upgrade, but I couldn’t be entirely sure until I got into it.


The obvious thing to do was use a manual donor car with as much in common with my bB as possible, and when I looked into that everything pointed to the Japanese market NCP13 Vitz RS. This model was built at the same time through the early 2000s, on the same basic chassis, and featured the same 1.5-litre DOHC 16-valve 1NZ-FE engine. As a bonus, the JDM NCP13 came with Toyota’s C56 gearbox, which has the most performance-oriented ratios of all the 5-speed C-series gearboxes.

All I had to do was find one.

Wrecking Yard Riches

Because such a large number of the vehicles on New Zealand roads are used Japanese imports, wrecking yards are full of weird and wonderful JDM models. I figured the best place for me to find what I needed (at a reasonable price) would be at one of the local self-service wreckers, namely Zebra U-Pick, which sources the majority of its stock from private sellers and salvage auctions dealing with insurance write-offs.

Of course, most vehicles of real value don’t end up in a place like Zebra – they go to auto dismantlers that know their parts’ worth – but that doesn’t mean it’s all run-of-the-mill stuff. Sometimes it’s fun just to pay the $2 entry fee and have a look around.

Toyota bBs aren’t all that rare in New Zealand, meaning there’s a constant supply of them coming through places like Zebra U-Pick. I’ve managed to pick up a few parts as they’ve appeared too. In fact, one bB turned out to be a bit of a treasure trove, but more on that in a future update…


One great thing about Zebra U-Pick is its daily online stock updates, and ever since I decided to do the automatic-to-manual swap in my car, I made a point of checking the list every morning and afternoon. After a couple months of nothing, my luck finally changed. Or at least I thought it had until I saw the Vitz RS in its twisted metal glory.

Yes, the car had all the bits I was after, but its frontal damage was so heavy that the bumper beam had crushed the radiator and electric fan up against the gearbox (and engine) and smashed off the clutch fork reservoir along with a sizeable chunk of the transmission casing. I guess it could have been repaired, but with 280,000km (174,000mi) on the clock of this particular car and absolutely no guarantee that the gearbox was even operable, I decided to leave it and resume my search.


A couple more months followed with no good leads, and by this point I had started looking at complete cars to wreck and even investigated the costs of sourcing a Vitz RS front-cut out of Japan. Both of those options weren’t going to be cheap, so I was pretty happy when finally a suitable donor turned up at Zebra.

As soon as I found out the Vitz was in stock, I headed straight over to check it out. This one looked much better; not only was the damage minor, but the car had low mileage for its age and appeared to be in good (and complete) condition otherwise. As it was nearing the end of the day, I made a plan to return the following afternoon with some tools and at least grab the gearbox.

Less that 24 hours later, I fully expected to find the Vitz in the same way I had left it, but that wasn’t the case. Not only had a bunch of of parts been removed, but someone had started unbolting the gearbox from the engine. I wasn’t sure why, but I could only assume they had either given up on it or found what they were looking for elsewhere, so I set about finishing the job off.

The main sticking point was the rear mount, but after I managed to prop the engine up with a handy nearby concrete-filled bucket, the gearbox disconnected from the engine and cleared everywhere else, allowing me to drop it (not literally, but almost) onto the floor. NZ$110 (US$75) later and I was walking out the door with an NCP13 C56.


The following morning I made my third trip to the wrecking yard in as many days, but this time with my buddy Kevin. On this visit we gathered up all the other parts needed for the gearbox conversion, including the Vitz’s clutch and brake pedal assemblies, plus the shifter box, cables and flywheel, and all the required lines and fitting hardware (not pictured).

Test Fit

With all the pieces of the puzzle now in my possession, a couple of weeks ago I drove the bB over to my friend Jacky’s workshop, where previously we had run it up on the Dynapack chassis dyno for a baseline run and sh*ts and giggles.

JTune Automotive builds some pretty tough cars, and every time I visit I’m reminded that I really need to do a shop tour post. Soon, I promise. On this particular day, however, we’d be removing the auto transmission, throwing the manual gearbox in for a test fit, and then dropping everything out of the engine bay.

The workshop was pretty busy when I arrived, so I maneuvered the car into the far corner and set about unplugging and removing everything on the topside to give access to the transmission. Then, once the final jobs of the day were off the hoists, Kevin – who by day is a mechanic and fabricator at JTune – lifted the bB up into the air, and we carried on with the removal process.


With easy access and the right tools for the job, quick work was made of undoing all the bolts, splitting the transmission from the engine, and then completely removing it from the car.


As soon as it was on the ground, we compared it to the Vitz 5-speed to confirm that the mount brackets looked similar and were all in the same place. As you can see, things looked promising. I was also happy that what we were putting into the car (albeit only temporarily at this stage) was about half the weight of what had come out!

Because this was just a test install we didn’t worry about fitting the flywheel or clutch; all Kevin and I were interested in (or maybe just me, Kevin is pained by this project) was whether the Vitz manual gearbox would bolt straight up into the bB auto mounts. And it did – perfectly. Thanks Toyota!


With the fitment confirmed, we turned our attention to removing both gearbox and engine from the car. At this point the engine was sitting on a low trolley and Kevin was checking that everything was clear before the bB was raised back up, minus the 1NZ-FE and C56 combo.

A couple of minutes later and it was free, and we didn’t even have to remove the subframe. Now I have an engine bay that looks like this.


As for the motor, that was attached to a stand and wheeled into JTune’s engine room where I’ll soon be tearing it down in preparation for some shiny new internal organs. Before that though, I couldn’t help but do a test-fit with my HKS cast iron manifold and baby Garrett T25 turbo. As I mentioned last time, the turbo itself is toast and will probably be relegated to doorstopper or paperweight duties in the future, but as I intend to replace it with a similarly-sized unit (or something marginally bigger) it was good to see how it sat relation to the engine and how much space there is to play with.

Having transported Project bB back home as a rolling body, there are now numerous jobs I can take care of, and I hope to tick off as many of those as I can over the colder months which are almost upon us down here in the Southern Hemisphere.

Brad Lord
Instagram: speedhunters_brad



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This is so awesome! Gotta love Toyota for their "interchangeable" parts between cars.


@Toua, it's definitely a bonus! There are more parts I'll be swapping over the from the Vitz RS too, and I'll go into those in a future update.


Most Japanese cars are like this. If anything, Honda has even MORE interchangeable parts between cars.


@ReallyForeverAlone - I agree, although I did auto to manual swap in a Civic EK many years ago and that required an existing trans mount bracket to be cut off and a replacement welded on.


Cool to see a good speedhunters project that isn't just sponsors throwing parts at a car or articles about which boring wheels to put on your new lexus.

6 if you fancy being bored stupid, my KP (which is still progressing) is floating about on here, it's solely an endeavour built by myself with help from friends. It's pretty garage spec however.


Really digging the thorough format. Gt2554 would be neat on this thing...


Thanks Kelly! Yep, a GT2554 is at the top of my turbo wishlist right now.


I think this is the same trans that USDM Corolla's get (10th gen) Everyone online, including mine has issues where the syncro's start to fail.... perhaps its something that happens on all transmissions (it is a mechanical part blah blah) but for $75 bucks its quite a steal price. I should start looking for related chassis that have them in our junkyards.... mine is on its way out at 230k.....


i stand corrected, i did more research, the problematic trans is a c52, while the upgraded (2005+) ones would be the c59.


Thanks for your comments Amar. I know that the C56s in other Toyota models do develop synchro problems, especially when they got a bit of mileage on them, so i'll just have to deal with that if it's an issue. I'll be pulling my gearbox apart to fit an LSD anyway, so I should be able to check the condition then, but I can't complain for $75.


When i first saw this as a project, i was thinking you couldn't get a dumber car. But it'll be hilarious when its done.


I'm definitely not taking it too seriously!

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Go away


Aren't you guys moderators on ? I think you guys should be able to delete such comments

best wishes

Automotive obsession

Turbo civic causing hearing damage!


I'll see you at Nightspeed Drag Wars next season perhaps?!


Keen! It might be fun for Chrome too.


In general I really dislike front wheel drive cars but I loved reading this and all the build articles on this site.

My mum lives in Auckland and I've seen so many weird Japanese vehicles there it's mind blowing but I had no idea there was any kind of car culture outside Holden v Ford. I also had no idea they had the same sort of junk yards as you see in the US.

Can't wait to read more about this.


Thanks Matt!

Yes, there are lots of JDM oddities on NZ roads, our import laws allow most models from the last 10 years to come straight in.

As for the junk yards, there are definitely not as many of the self-service ones as there are yards with parts on the shelf, but the place in this story is pretty good and the prices are cheaper enough.

Chris Colouryum

Used to love my Vitz RS. Great little motor!


I agree! I'm really looking forward to seeing how my one goes with a bit of boost stuffed in it.

Chris Colouryum
Chris Colouryum

TTE do a supercharger which I nearly ended up doing. Seen a couple of people get over 300bhp out of it with Turbos. He'res mine (same colour thunder grey as your donor!) We got the better spoilers here in the UK IMO.


Not weighing much they'd surely be animals to drive with that sort of power! There are a few supercharged Vitzes here in NZ, but they are all ex-Japan with Blitz and Jimney chargers, which are not bad.

Your one looked cool, and same colour as my first bB. What muffler is that though? I just picked up a mint APEXi N1 Evolution axle-back exhaust from a Vitz at the same wrecking yard I found the gearbox donor car, for the princely sum of US$31.

Chris Colouryum

It was a HKS Limited Titanium one. Only one in the UK! Sounded lovely!


Wow, nice!


My wifey drives a manual version xb here in the states and I have to say it has really grown on me over time. Its such a well designed little car. The manual makes it pretty fun to drive and it gets like 40mpg! and you can fit a small couch in it! Scion really ruined the designs when they made the newer xb.


I think a lot of people are probably like you, not sure about the car at first, but then grew to like it after living with one for a while. I imagine they'd be much better in factory form with a manual gearbox!

I actually own the JDM equivalent of a second-gen xB too – a Corolla Rumion S Aerotourer – and agree that it's nothing like the original xB/bB. I think it's obvious the second-gen was designed for the US market rather than the Japanese market like the first model originally was, and that was a mistake. I still like the Rumion for what it is though, and the JDM version had the Corolla 1.8L engine (and 1.5L for the base models), which probably suited it better. My wife drives a second-gen JDM bB and loves it; it's a lot like the first-gen bB so potentially would have done quite well in the US.




I hope so!

Jason Randolph

This is slick man! I've always wanted to build one of these but I have never seen one done. What kind of hp are you looking at hitting?


Thanks! I don't really have any horsepower expectation to be honest, we'll just put it together and see what we end up with.

Automotive obsession

Picking up an AMG Edition One!


Aren't Subaru's generally the "lego" car re interchangeable parts between cars?

Anyway I am admiring your project and love the Bb as a model. I have always thought of doing something similar, i.e. chucking in a small turbo in a small car like a Honda City just for choo choo noises and to possibly surprise a few other commuters lol. But then again it does require certing in NZ!


Thanks James! Yes, I'll definitely need to have this all certed, but hopefully it won't hurt too much if I do it at the end. The list will be long, engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, seats...