Project Car Hell: BMW-powered Opel Olympia vs. Aston-equipped Singer NineFri, 14 Oct 2011 00:00:00 -0700
Editor's note: When you can't fit your newly acquired basket-case Jeep FC150 in the garage because you have an Autocar Sussita and a 1928 Studebaker President chassis buried beneath crates of Subaru 360 parts, you're in Project Car Hell. Our friend Murilee Martin is here to oil up the gates to Automotive Hades, bringing the series back with a couple of you'd-hafta-be-outta-your-mind hypothetical engine-swap projects. And be sure to check back for fresh installments of Project Car Hell every week.
Having just attended Billetproof NorCal and admired all manner of rusty Ford Model Ts with transplanted engines ranging from a supercharged Pinto to a triple-Weber-equipped Maserati quad-cam V8, I can say that patina'd-out vintage steel with modern engines is now quite fashionable. The problem is that few builders seem to be willing to break out of the Model A/Model T prison and stagger right into true engine-swap lunacy.
Why not put together, say, a Nissan-built '59 Austin A50 clone with the V8 out of an Infiniti Q45? You'd silence the purists by showing that the vehicle is still all Nissan, and yet you'd make all the geezers in their Chevy 350-powered T-buckets go slinking off into the obscurity they deserve. Better still, why not take an unutterably horrible clanker of an elderly, off-brand import and then stuff in a wallet-crippling monster engine originating in the same country as the vehicle? All of that work and money on a Bondo'd-up, Rust Monster-gnawed heap, but the end result will turn the stunned onlookers into pillars of salt.
Well, if you ever get it finished, which is the nature of Project Car Hell. Let's get started!
Opel Olympia, Project Car Hell candidate No. 1?
Wagons are cool. Everyone likes vintage wagons. They'll claim that the coolest wagon is the original Chevrolet Nomad, but you know in your heart that it's really impossible to top the Rekord-based Opel Olympia Caravan wagon of the late 1950s. It's like a scaled-down Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon with a German accent. You could find a clean Olympia Caravan and transplant your typical quotidian small-block Chevy or Buick V6, maybe throw some Cragar SSs on, and be done with it. But then you could also be sitting on a cooler at a car show, listening to "Little Old Lady From Pasadena" for the 406,543rd time and wishing for a painless death as the onlookers trudge by your car.
No, what you need is a just-dragged-out-of-a-field Olympia Caravan with 555 turbocharged BMW horsepower, and you need to skip the car shows and make that totally sensible automobile your daily driver. Yes, it will take some time and cost you your sanity, but it will all make sense the first time you run a 10-second quarter-mile at the drag strip. What you do is, you go to Benedict, Minn., and buy this 195? (sic) Opel Olympia Caravan for $668 (go here if the listing disappears).
The twin-turbo V8 out of a BMW X6 M is perfect power for an Opel Olympia, right?
Then you load up your PayPal account with about 19 grand in genuine American dollars, because that's what it's going to cost you to get this 555-hp BMW S63 V8, the same one that goes into the X6 M and the F10 M5 delivered to your door. Of course, making that big twin-cam V8 and all its plumbing fit the cramped engine compartment your Olympia will be absolutely freakin' impossible on the challenging side, but you'll have plenty of time to work out the details as you chase transmissions, build a tube frame, find a rear end that can take all that power and fit a tiny Opel, and so on.
The Singer Nine--a perfect candidate for an Aston Martin DOHC V8 engine swap!
It would be fun having that monstrously overpowered wagon as your commuter, but we were talking about alternatives to ancient Fords with modern engines. For that, we've got to go prewar here, with a vehicle that will look good with no fenders and a massive exposed engine. You don't want a Detroit product for that, because it's all been done (although a '27 Dodge Brothers Series 124 with supercharged slant six does sound like a fine idea). So where do you go for the basis of your costly engine swap project? England, of course, and that means looking into the Rootes Group rummage sale for something cheap, battered and interesting. A few minutes checking Rootes and pre-Rootes marques on eBay yields this 1934 Singer Nine convertible in Stockton, Calif., with a no-reserve price that's stuck at a low, low 200 bucks at the time of this writing. Two hundred dollars for a numbers-matching Singer!
An Aston Martin V8 plus a Singer Nine equals Project Car Hell!
Even with the stock 30-hp engine, a Nine would be a tough restoration, but you need to dive into the Lake of Fire and pony up $27,575 for this low-mile, Weber-equipped Aston Martin DOHC V8 out of an '83 Lagonda. Just imagine rumbling into the drive-through lane with this engine—ideally equipped with a 6-71 blower, because you can—sticking up out of your Singer's bonnet! While some aspects of this swap might be "laborious," look at the bright side: This engine bolts right up to easy-to-find Chrysler transmissions. When you're all done, you'll have a car that will confuse awe all who behold it and a sensation of stunning accomplishment.
New to Project Car Hell? Learn more about its history and read some of our favorite past PCH listings here.
By Murilee Martin