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The Subaru EJ253 engine has been chosen due to its compact design, with offset but opposing horizontal cylinders allowing the engine to sit very low, in our case, in the rear of the car, giving us a fighting chance to utilise the back seats in some way retaining an element of practicality.
Obviously some adaptation is required to accommodate a 4 cylinder 2.5 litre engine given the engine bay back in the day only had to host an aircooled 2 cylinder circa 500cc motor, with its deemed, period sufficient 12 BHP. Later models would see 17 BHP and 21 BHP, but dimensionally the engine remained unchanged.
The conversion primarily has been designed to retain the iconic lines with minimal bodywork changes. Unsurprisingly concessions have had to be made for water cooling and the significantly larger Subaru Legacy engine and gearbox. However when you consider the then sportier original 500 models, the 595 and 695, utilised two substantial brackets holding the boot lid open permanently to facilitate cooling and stability to cope with 37 BHP, our changes are very discrete by way of comparison.
Whilst we could have followed the Abarth engineers lead and just winged it, subtly disguised changes facilitate the conversion and are not easily visible externally, and the boot lid can close as normal. It is not unusual to cause a little bewilderment at fuel stations when a disbelieving motorist asks what’s in the back. This never gets old!
With the engine rotated 180° this means the engine fits snuggly into the engine bay with minimal alterations to the bodywork, so much so the rear seat can be retained.
The dramatic increase in performance necessitates an uprating of the front suspension, with cross drilled solid disks. Having tested the more powerful Hayabusa which has the brakes with this configuration, we feel this would be up to the task. If we wanted to upgrade, we would change the pads for a harder material. A vented front disk upgrade is also available.
The steering box is replaced with a Mini rack and gives better feel and gives the driver more confidence that the quicker steering would facilitate more control given the performance capabilities of the conversion. This addresses the ponderous, vague steering of the original set-up.
The switch to a water-cooled engine means a front mounted radiator would be required. We have chosen to not be too aggressive on the cooling risking overcompensating for air flow through the radiator with a more pronounced aperture or front grill, which can detract from the look of the 500 in our view.
The EJ253 Subaru unit is our preferred engine for the Fiat 500 being a compact unit and facilitates keeping the standard look and retaining the practicality of the original car including the bulkhead and rear seats. Rated at 165 - 173 BHP, this would give the 500 a power to weight ratio of circa 250 BHP per tonne, our demo car is less due to the specification.
Put into context this on par with countless sports cars and more than most if not all the latest hot hatchbacks. In short, one might say this is sufficient. When you factor in the power consumed by the removed ancillaries (power steering and AC) and the removal of the catalytic convertor by way of our optional sports exhaust, an extra 15-20 BHP will be available.