A few years ago, if you asked the owner of this car what he thought of the Zen as a project car, he would have laughed. He didn’t hold the Zen in high regard. He didn’t like the way it looked or the idea of an old, cheap, city runabout as his base.
Shortly after I met him, he was grinning in the driver’s seat, watching me in amusement as I scare myself to death in the passenger seat. It was already past 160kmph on the speedo and the car was still accelerating hard. I could tell from his face that he loved his Zen.
This story goes back to the days when Joseph George from Kochi was driving his Honda City with a huge body kit and everything else on it, not realizing how slow he was, until he was overtaken by a taxi cab. Ego bruised, he starting thinking about performance mods and not body kits and heavy audio systems. He knew he wanted something fast but he had also made up his mind that he would take a slow car and make it fast, instead of buying something that’s fast out of the box.
The thought of a Zen with an Esteem/Baleno engine was put into his head by a friend. He knew it was one of the lightest cars around and thought since it was a Suzuki, it would be light on his pocket too.
Two years back he got this particular Zen. And before he knew it, a G16B Baleno engine was swapped into it. After the swap, he started to strip the car apart completely, to repaint it. Joseph wanted everything to be usable and drive it everywhere without scraping the wheels or sump. Those questionable fenders, are there to accommodate those wheels with that wider track.
He was always fascinated about Race Concepts and the kind of work they did to naturally aspirated cars. They advised him to keep it NA and started working on the G16B. The engine was rebuilt with stock internals and bottom end, but the head was given their stage 3 treatment, along with an upsized throttle body and a new intake setup. They also increased the compression ratio and provided an adjustable timing gear. It runs a stock Baleno ECU at the moment, but has an upsized fuel pump. They also made a drag spec side exit exhaust. A lightened flywheel was also put in, along with an Exedy clutch. The car runs on stiffened dampers and Cobra springs. It also has Dixcel calipers and pads.
As expected, this little Zen feels manic from behind the wheel. The way that lightened flywheel makes engine rev and spin your wheels, will take you by surprise. Helping the revs rise so quickly is also the wonderfully short gearing, which makes the car get to three digit speeds, in no time. The Zen is a light car to begin with, but Joseph’s have had even more weight taken off. It is stripped of most of its interior, the bonnet is a thin sheet of fibre glass and there is not much in the way of safety here either. It is scary past 120-140kmph where you know the car has a lot more to give, and the question is whether you can take it in. Took me some bravery to keep the throttle pinned but the blurred scenery and deafening noise of a side exit exhaust was all the motivation I needed.
Joseph started off his project to make it a daily driver for city use. But with no AC and that loud exhaust, it is far from that. The short gearing isn’t ideal for cruising either. But for a shot of adrenaline on a cool morning like this one, he can’t think of a better way to spend his money than on his Zen
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