It’s not often you locate a Suzuki Swift nowadays, let alone a highly modified one capable of turning lap times that rival the quickest front-drive machines around. That’s as the last time Suzuki sold a Swift in North American was in 1994, when it have also been sold like a Pontiac Firefly and a Geo Metro during its five-year production run. And as you’d expect from an inexpensive car of this vintage, most have either rusted out or have simply been broken down and retired to the scrap yard.
So, when we found this amazing little ’90 Swift GT at the CSCS Time Attack event earlier this coming year, our interest was immediately piqued. And it wasn’t merely the oddness of seeing a 23-year-old Suzuki in pit lane at a Time Attack event; it absolutely was the extent to which it’s been modified and race prepped that basically caught us off guard. Whenever we spotted fellow RX and rotorhead-8 racer Andrew Stittle behind the wheel, we couldn’t resist digging a little deeper. Turns out Andrew’s brother Kevin Stittle is the owner and madman behind the transformation with this tiny hatchback into a formidable time-attacking machine. And as we soon learned, Kevin isn’t just some nutter who loves Swifts, he’s also a world-class sailor who won a Silver Medal at the ’08 World Championships, missed the podium by one spot at the ’08 Summer Olympics in Beijing (tornado class), and is now coaching an American sailor planning to qualify for the ’16 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
As Kevin explained, “Dad was into drag racing and was a bit of a motorsports guy, and then we inherited that from him. But then the entire family got into sailing so we started visiting the cottage rather than racetrack. I inherited my first car at age 16 and also have always had an automotive interest, beginning withback in 2001-which originated from the factory with a 100-bhp 1.3L naturally aspirated engine (though there was yet another turbo model), a 5-speed manual gearbox, four-wheel disc brakes, and independent Mac strut suspension all around-and it’s been a task car for him ever since. When we asked Kevin why a Swift, he responded, “I didn’t want to do a cookie-cutter Civic and saw the potential in your body shape of the Swift being a unique show/stereo car type of project. Back then I was practicing for the Sydney Olympics, as well as in Australia Swifts are as popular as Civics are here. So, hanging out at the beach in Sydney, I saw a bunch of boosted Swifts, some making up to 350 hp and running 9s in the quarter-mile, so that’s what inspired me to create one.”
In fact, Kevin brought the X Racing Aero body kit back from Australia after the training camps, plus some other parts are foreign market goodies he picked up throughout his sailing adventures around the world. The clear corners, for example, he bought during Argentina, along with the steering wheel he picked up in New Zealand.
Among the few North American sources for go-fast upgrades for these cars is Suzuki Racing Development in Miami, a store with a lot of R&D experience from the background in rally and road racing Swifts. According to Kevin, including possibly the most badass addition to the vehicle to date, new sponsor Kalmar Motorsports away fromWaterloo and Ontario, has also been a huge help: a detailed-ratio dog box transmission. Straight-cut gear whine in a Suzuki Swift? Speak aboutBut what Kevin enjoys most about his Swift is the fact there isn’t much aftermarket support for doing it, so he’s had to get his hands dirty making many of the parts himself. “I grew up working in a surf shop, where I got to look at the owner lay up fiberglass on boards, so I learned a lot of craftsmanship and methods from watching him work with composites. Coming home and working on the car has also been a nice break from training and sailing, plus automotive customization is actually a genuine passion of mine.”
Kevin put his surf shop composites skills to work building his Swift a custom carbon-fiber hood, hatch and splitter and flat bottom, as well as some carbon trim pieces such as the cam gear cover and dash overlay. He also did all the bodywork and fiberglass work on the human body kit, even though Andrew went a bit agricultural during the car’s maiden voyage around a racetrack just last year due to brake failure.
“The car had gotten to the point in which there wasn’t a great deal left to perform, so I lost a bit of motivation, as Kevin explained. Plus it was a struggle to get it to successfully pass an emissions test, too, i wasn’t enjoying driving it around the street due to the race clutch and light flywheel. So for a few years I didn’t have it on the road. But when Andrew got into Time Attack racing, I made the decision to try it out. The car showed a lot of promise out on the track, nevertheless it had a big brake problem. Andrew went off on the first lap and banged the body kit, but I didn’t care because it gave me something to work on. I’m all about building the auto, so I’m happy to let Andrew do the driving. It’s a ton of fun watching him rip it.”
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Since then, the Swift has gone through plenty of teething pains and setup changes, including addressing the brake problem with a new master cylinder plus a front Wilwood big brake kit. Kevin also had some custom brackets machined up so he can install the stock front calipers and rotors on the rear of the car using a dual master cylinder setup. It’s the kind of engineering challenge and learning process he loves most, though kevin admits this can be overkill over a 1,500-pound car.
Having replaced literally everybolt and nut, and bushing around the Swift, the Stittle bros finally completed a Time Attack event without having a hiccup on the CSCS season opener way back in June. Andrew managed to post a best lap time period of 1 minute 23.6 seconds, which was beneficial to 5th in class, hot on the heels of several K-swapped Civics. Area of the secret to this particular Swift’s surprising pace is its low mass, of course, but the power Sasha and Kevin from OnPoint Dyno have managed to squeeze from its tiny 1.3L engine plays a big role, too.
After having a money shift at the second CSCS of the season, Kevin is now rebuilding the race motor, which originally spun OnPoint’s Dynapack dyno towards the tune of 126 whp. And with the addition of a titanium valvetrain as well as an even bigger group of camshafts, peak power should climb to somewhere in the 135- to 140-whp range. The excess jam, in addition to the new dog box transmission, and the Stittles are now targeting sub-1 minute 20 seconds at Toronto Motorsports Park, a lap time that would not just put them with the head from the Super Street FWD class but would also let them have a shot with the class reputation.
That might appear to be a lofty goal for any quarter-century-old sub-compact grocery getter that has hardly any off-the-shelf go-fast support. Then again Kevin didn’t become an Olympian by pussying outside in the face of adversity, did he? So don’t be too surprised when you see this “Hey, that’s not a Civic! ” hatchback shocking the competition and laying claim to more than a few track records before Kevin decides to visit sailing again.