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A Coyote in Sheep's Clothing: RS-R's V8 Scion FR-S

In some ways, the muscle-teed hillbilly with the beat-up Trans Am down the block who cracked "there's no replacement for displacement!" jokes about your single-cam Civic was right. As it turns out, puckering your ass cheeks at only 2,500 rpm in a Scion FR-S that would otherwise probably never send you into clinch-mode feels so wrong that maybe he was right.

That is, in part, what led to the president of RS-R's summoning his very own V8-swapped Scion — left-hand-drive and all — that would be built her in the U.S. and ultimately shipped back to the car's motherland for semi-daily hooning on his part.

Right about now, visions of any one of General Motors' capable LS engines stuffed into the FR-S' unibody have already been queued up in your cerebral... which means you're already wrong. According to project point man Nathan Tasukon of Forward Motion Technologies, the RS-R team considered the LS — as did they a handful of other eight-cylinders, the most hopeful of which was the BMW M3's 4.0L V8 — which, after carefully calculated estimations, was determined to fit about as crummily as you'd expect an engine nearly twice as big to fit.

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The search soon led to Ford's 5.0L Coyote V8, the 590 hp Aluminator XS crate engine version of the same V8 that can be found underneath the hoods of Boss 302 Mustangs — and it's a good thing it did.

Papadakis Racing, who was commissioned to make everything happen this side of the electronics, retained most of the modular engine's ancillaries. According to Tasukon, avoiding one-off components and instead relying on Ford's original A/C lines, engine mounts, radiator hoses and evaporative emissions system means serviceability just got a whole lot easier. Little's also been permanently modified on this Scion FR-S. The crew at Papadakis Racing integrated brackets onto the coupe's subframe that accept the factory Ford engine mounts and fashioned a third attachment point out of steel plate that connects the Coyote's rubber transmission mount to the chassis' underside, but the rest of the sheetmetal has been left alone. It's almost as if Ford and Toyota wanted all of this to happen, Tasukon eluded to, as he rattled off the list of Coyote parts that happily coexist underneath the hood.

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When you realize that Tasukon was forced to dumb down the throttle nearly 20 percent at speeds slower than 30 mph just to retain some semblance of grip and drivability, you'll understand just how ridiculous almost 500 lb-ft of torque stuffed into a chassis nearly 1,000 pounds lighter than it was meant for can be, all while retaining a nearly perfect 54/46 weight bias. Ridiculous in a good way, though, especially when considering the FR-S' factory-like demeanor on the outside that suggests that nothing more than a cold-air intake is all that rests underneath the hood.

Put down your Google for a minute, though, and don't bother looking for your own $18,000 Aluminator changeover, because the challenges that do present themselves won't easily be overcome. Like the electronics, for one, which is where somebody like Tasukon, formerly a technical support specialist at MoTeC, becomes so vital. The motorsports electronics ace tapped into his former employer's technical arsenal, taking the company's plug-and-play M150 FR-S system and having it retrofitted for four extra injectors. When he was done, the factory instrumentation, the engine's sensors, even the radio all played nicely across Toyota's CAN-bus system, in part because of Tasukon, but mostly because of the M150's innate ability at being awesome.

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For every concession that Papadakis Racing made, who finalized the mechanics in just one-and-a-half months, three or four factory pieces cooperated in ways you'd never expect. The V8 oil pan's sump, for example, was lopped off, flipped around and welded back into place for clearance. Out back, though, the FR-S' original rear differential was left alone. The Aluminator's throttle body that would've poked out of the hood's been relocated, and the high-mount intake manifold that's responsible for some of that 590 hp has been replaced; but in contrast, the same fuel pump that the car was sold with remains in the tank.

Before you start searching forum archives for fancy fuel-injection calculations that you don't understand, though, know that the M150's wideband oxygen sensors say that all of this is just fine. You won't see RS-R's 5.0L-swapped FR-S coming, and for that, you'll be sorry. It is indeed the sleeper to end all sleepers, augmented by little more than custom RS-R coilovers, enough AP brakes to deliver the madness to a stop, a Vossen Wheel and Nitto Tire package, and one more point chalked up for good ol' boys everywhere who've been waving the no-replacement-for-displacement flag for so long.

VEHICLE SPECS

RS-R USA 2013 Scion FR-S

  • Ford Racing 5.0L Aluminator XS V8 engine swap by Papadakis Racing; Ford Boss 302 transmission; custom exhaust system (header to muffler tips); Koyo aluminum radiator; MoTeC M150 engine management system tuned by Nathan Tasukon (Forward Motion Technologies, www.tunedbyN8.com); custom Driveshaft Shop axles and aluminum driveshaft
  • RS-R custom-valved coilovers and rear lower control arms
  • 19x8.5”/19x10.5” Vossen VFS/2 wheels; NITTO NT05 245/35R19 (front), 275/30R19 (rear) tires; 5x114 hub conversion
  • AP Racing brake system
  • OEM Audio Plus 400+ speaker; JDM steering wheel; Ford Boss 302 shift knob

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So what does a V8-swapped Scion FR-S drive like?

"I've driven engine-swapped cars before, but I wasn't expecting anything quite like this. RS-R says this car goes largely unnoticed at shows its displayed on, and to be honest, even I passed right by it at an event earlier this year because it is so plain-Jane. Right now, even looking at these photos, I don't expect you to fully grasp how crazy the car actually is because these photos, as the old saying goes, don’t do it any justice.
"Before handing me the keys, RS-R Director of Business Development Ben Chong recommends I sit shotgun and go for a quick spin around the neighborhood. Once that Aluminator V8 is fired up, you can’t help but turn to the driver wide-eyed, break a smile and crack an 'oh shit' (or some other appropriate type of obscenity); this is all before the car has made its way out the driveway.
"'Forget about using First gear,' Ben says. 'This has enough torque, you could actually start from Third or Fourth if you really wanted to. But Second is good enough to get used to the car.' We scream down the street as I’m reaching for the closest 'oh shit' handle — oh yeah, my 'oh shit' from earlier has just turned into an 'ohhhhhhhhhhh shiiiiiiit' by now. This is the ah-ha moment I’ve been waiting for.
"Ben goes on to tell me about how they got this project up and running, the cost of doing such a job and future plans to put this engine swap kit into production, something that should be more affordable for the every-day enthusiast — which all goes over my head, because all I can think of is just how fun the car is, and I’m the passenger (coming in a close second is 'Please, Jonathan, you can do this, man. Don’t F things up; just drive').
"We loop back into RS-R's driveway and switch places. The clutch pedal is stiff and can be tricky to feather (nothing too bad if you've driven something with a 3 or 4-puck clutch); the shifter is extremely short, the switching between gears very notchy. It’s hard to get a feel for First gear, although the shift pattern is the same as an ordinary FR-S; but this car is anything but ordinary. I move it slowly from First to Second down the same route Ben took me earlier, and I finally punch on the gas.
"It's wicked fast. I shift quickly into what I think is Third but I soon realize it's actually Fifth; that’s how tight this shifter is. But Fifth is fine for what I’m doing. Lift off, and I can cruise without any notice; stab the gas, and you better be sure to make way. The Boss FR-S' roar is unmistakable and gets all sorts of funky looks. Meanwhile, I'm just figuring out how to put this on my wish list of cars to own in the near future. The only things I need now are a salvaged FR-S and some extra cash. – Jonathan Wong

See more of the FR-S in the gallery below.

(Photos: Danny Nguyen of JDMZipTies)

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