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Radial Madness

Posted in 24 Hours of LeMons, Bizarre, Featured by Dustin Driver | February 28th, 2011 | 3 Responses |
Here’s a recipe for you: Place one WWII-era 540-cubic-inch Kinner R-5 radial aircraft engine, one late-model Toyota MR-2, and mechanical mad genius Marc Labranche in a garage. Mix well. Head directly to a 24 Hours of LeMons race.Radial engines. There’s something about they way they sputter and pop, the way they ooze oil and belch smoke. Something about their finned cylinders and clattering valves. They invoke images of heroic biplane battles, of leather helmets and grimy goggles.

That’s why, of course, you’d want to stick one into a late-model Toyota MR-2 and race the resulting contraption at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Or, more precisely, why LeMons veteran Marc Labranche is mounting a WWII-era Kinner R-5 engine into a Toyota MR-2.

“The radial-engine Goggomobil was really my inspiration,” he says. “When I saw that thing doing the quarter mile in 10 seconds flat it really made an impression.”

Labranche is referring to the world-famous hand-crafted Goggomobil equipped with a 10200cc nine-cylinder radial out of a Russian Zlin-37 airplane.

For most of us, that Goggomobil is simply too awesome to even think about reproducing. But Labranche is no stranger to engine swaps or custom fabrication. His first engine swap project was installing a 3.5-liter Toyota V6 into another MR-2. So contemplating a radial-engined car wasn’t just daydreaming.

First he found an engine on eBay. The Kinner mill dates to approximately 1942 and was originally used in training aircraft. This particular engine belonged to a pilot who hoarded plane parts and was stored just a few hours from Labranche’s Inidana home. It’s a massive five-cylinder job, 540 c.u. of clattering power that puts out something in the neighborhood of 160 horsepower and 600-plus foot pounds of torque at a red line of 2,000 RPM.

“The thing hasn’t ran in more than 60 years,” he says. “I took it apart when I first got it. It looks like it was rebuilt and then put on a shelf. It’s in great shape.”

With a powerplant secured, Labranche needed a suitable vehicle for soaring into the wild blue yonder. Early 80s American iron was on the list, including Lincoln Town Cars and Cadillacs, but nothing had an engine bay big enough to hold the massive power plant. Except, surprisingly, a Toyota MR-2. “When you remove the engine and the trunk, you have a space that’s 38 inches wide and 54 inches long,” he says.

Fitting the engine took more than just a big engine bay. Labranche needed a way to get the power to the wheels. So he lashed the engine to a Subaru transaxle with a reduction gear. It’s a circuitous setup, but it should work.

And “should” is the key. The engine hasn’t actually ran. Labranche plans to feed the monster using five individual throttle bodies from Yamaha R6 motorcycle engines and injectors from Yamaha R1 mills. Ignition will be provided by Ford waste spark coilpacks. The whole Frankenstein setup will be controlled by a Megasquirt 3 brain. Cooling will likely be provided by a massive fan out of a semi and—get this—water injection.

It’s an ambitious project, to say the least, but Labranche has made remarkable progress. In just a few months he’s obtained an engine and car and worked out the drive train issues (hopefully). With any luck, the car will be in running order before the May 7th Loudon Annoying LeMons race in Loudon, New Hampshire.

“I seriously can’t wait for this thing to fire up,” he says. “It’s going to sound like a pack of Harleys coming down the road.”

But will it finish the race? Who cares. If it only runs one lap it’ll be the most incredible thing to happen in the world of LeMons yet.

Hop on over to the 24 Hours of Lemons forum thread for up-to-date progress on the radial car: http://forums.24hoursoflemons.com/viewtopic.php?id=4861&p=1

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3 Responses

  1. Will says:

    Poor MR2 but at the same time I love it.

    I certainly won’t be doing that swap in my 93 MR2 lol

  2. Lee says:

    can’t wait to see how this works out

  3. Petr says:

    Are you sure, that Zlin-37 is russian plane? ;-)
    I don’t think so… :-)