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Pot Grower

A 1987 Ford Laser with a 24 valve DOHC V6? You're looking at the wonderful end-product of two adept engineering minds...

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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MPFI, VTEC, ATTESSA, AFC, EVC - there's a whole stack of abbreviations that have sprung up in today's modified car world. But there's an all-important one that many people are forgetting about - DIY. Yep, good ol' do-it-yourself - pulling up your sleeves, diving under the bonnet and getting dirty. Nothing satisfies like spinning a spanner and squeezing a set of side-cutters for yourself.

Just ask Mark Smith (the owner of this ingenious V6 Laser) and nine-year-work-friend Peter Liebig (owner of that sensational SR20DET Datto 1600 we recently featured). We actually met up with Mark through the ever-keen Peter - and, while we're talking about Peter and his friends, it seems like just about everyone he meets winds up doing some kind of wacky Japanese engine conversion!

A bad influence? Nah, not if you ask us.

The engine conversion history of Mark's (owned since new!) 1987 KC Ford Laser began when the ol' gal clocked up about 200,000 kilometres on the stock carby'd 1.6 litre four. After close consultation with Peter about his options, Mark went out and purchased a bargain (imported) 1.5 litre twin-cam EFI B5 motor. With nearly twice the stock motor's output, the Laser's straight-line performance was boosted markedly. And the only mod required to make it sing was to alter the right hand engine mount and connect a high pressure fuel system - namely a KE Laser TX3 tank and pump. The factory Mazda computer and loom also proved to be very compatible with the Ford's body loom.

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Now the Laser had a new lease in life - and it remained in twin-cam B5 form for around one and a half years, before Mark got really hungry for more. He checked out the familiar BP 1.8 litre twin-cam turbo (a la KF Laser TX3 4WD turbo), but he became wary of this engine after he heard of a few crankshaft troubles - plus the wrecker engine he was checking over looked a little rough anyhow. But it was in that same wrecking yard of Adelaide Jap Dismantlers where Bob Dunn (business owner) pointed out the intriguing possibility of slipping in the 1.8 litre V6 from an Eunos 30X. That mere passing mention was what kicked off the whole V6-into-Laser caper.

Returning to have an in-depth chat to Peter Liebig, Mark got pretty excited about the prospect of a 108kW (at 7000 rpm) V6 Laser - in his own words, he "fell in love with the idea". And it was to be a breeze to install, 'coz the engine, computer, airflow meter and loom came complete - all for only A$2250. The only bastard was that he'd have to wait for an LSD gearbox to come in from Japan. And that wait dragged out to a painful 12 months. Imagine his exasperation!

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After finally talking delivery of the close-ratio LSD 'box, it was the driveway of Peter Liebig's house that again set the scene for a Master Engine Conversion. And we really should mention at this stage how grateful Mark is to Peter for lending so much of his time and resources at no cost. Anyhow, despite the non-believers who said "it can't be done", the swap took place with only a few heavy-duty mods. The only sore point is in relation to the driveshafts. Mark says he literally threw away A$500 when he made an error measuring up the length of the required custom driveshafts. They came back from Slider Machining a painful 20mm too short... So with much personal disgust, he returned the beautifully fabricated billet shafts (with Laser outer joints and Eunos inners) to have them cut and then lengthened to the proper length.

The V6 nestled into the Laser's engine bay neatly enough; the only mounting changes needed were slight alterations to the Ford engine and gearbox mounts. Good ol' Peter also welded up a beautiful custom right-hand top bracket to suit and, most recently, the front lower engine mount has been modified to accept a Nolathane bush after the stock one broke. Clearance between a rear plenum chamber pipe and the brake master cylinder was non-existent though, so the fouling corner of this pipe was simply cut out and sealed with aluminium plate. No probs. And it also got a bit tight around the thermo fan area, which lead to the fitment of a slim-line electric fan to the standard Laser radiator (which performs flawlessly).

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Mark decided not to fit up power steering, so the associated Eunos drive system and pulleys were removed and a custom pulley set up was rigged to go in its place. And since the standard Laser has a cable-operated clutch, a new hydraulic system had to be devised to work with the Eunos 'box. A trip to Adelaide Jap Dismantlers resulted in a Mazda Astina booster and to this was fitted a compact CB750 motorcycle reservoir. Neat-o. Wiring - the bugbear of many conversions - involved splicing the original Laser loom and fuse box with the Eunos engine and ECU loom. A factory wiring diagram made things a lot easier.

The guys got away not needing to alter the EFI fuel system from the previous conversion, so all the rest of the work was focussed under the hood. That is, except for the bigger brakes that Mark wisely chose to fit. They're now 10¼ inch Mazda 323 turbo discs and calipers (up from 9¼ inch) teamed with standard KC/KE TX3 rear discs. Mark points out that's this set up is very well matched to the performance of the car, stating that he can't induce any noticeable amount of fade even when he's taken the car out for a fang on the local racetrack.

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Mechanically, the K8-ZE engine remains stock, but with some improved breathing into and out of the six cylinders. Actually, the reason that a K&N air filter was fitted to the intake was one of economics. You see, a new standard filter cost around A$90 and Mark could get a re-usable K&N for the same sort of money. So it makes sense to ditch the factory airbox set-up. On the other hand, the un-modified factory exhaust manifolds now lead into a full 2½ inch press-bent system with a self-modified 2½ inch cat converter and a straight-through offset/offset rear muffler (although this complete system is soon to be changed). And believe us, this Laser sounds like no other you've heard! It sounds s-o-o smooth and it'll just keep revving for as long as Mark dares - not unlike a good atmo rotary, come to think of it. Overall, it's a totally reliable package that performs daily transport duties without a hiccup.

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You'd have to be unsure what kind of punch this Laser will deliver when you pull up alongside at the lights. From the outside, the wild front bar, 16 inch wheels and lowered stance contradict the statement made by the rest of the near-stock bodywork. Certainly the most gonad-grabbing part of the body is the fibreglass front bar that's a re-pro of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 2 item. While we'd imagined it probably needed to be cut-and-shut to fit, but Mark tells us all he had to do was cut the bottom section off the standard bar, cut the top off the Evo bar and fit them together using a special glue. Some custom metal stays for the sides were also required. But a lot of time was put into the join between the two bars, which has been cleverly run along the factory Laser chrome trim strip. The gaping holes in the awesome Evo bar are filled with wire mesh, while the side intakes are now filled with carbon fibre blanking plates, since the engine was previously being over-cooled by too much airflow. And wouldn't you know it, someone bonehead gouged a hole in it in a carpark only a short while after it was all finished! Grrr.

A set of 16x7 Auscar Millenium wheels have been roped in on the act to give both improved cosmetics and more grip. But by the look of the front tyres' tread depth, the V6 (combined with some enthusiastic driving) is too much for Goodyear's Eagle F1s to handle! Those 16 inch rims also now sit 1½ inches higher up in the guards thanks to a combination of K-Mac lowered springs, Monroe Sensatrac front dampers and Monroe GT gas rears. And to keep the car sitting flatter through the twisties, there's a K-Mac heavy duty front bar, Eurotech front strut brace and a bag of Nolathane bushes all 'round.

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Mark' s also a pretty handy guy when it comes to using a spray gun. In his own back yard, he's stripped just about everything back to bare metal and applied 2 pak Dulux red over the standard faded red colour. Oh, and the grille is painted a mean shade of black too. And he's also just about broken his back detailing the focal-piece engine bay. You'll notice the 316 stainless steel bolts (a favourite amongst yachties) scattered around the place, detailed bracketry and an abundance of either silver paint or black powder coating.

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Inside the cabin there's further more evidence of Mark's automotive cleverness. Gone is the original dash cluster and in its place is one from an up-market AX Telstar (complete with tacho, speedo, water temp, fuel level - and oops, even an auto trans gear indicator!). Making this work with the Eunos loom was limited to wiring it straight in. The comfortable pews from a Nissan GTiR Pulsar were installed using custom mild steel brackets and these are complemented by a Momo race wheel, Momo pedals and re-trimmed door trims. The remainder of the interior is original Ford Laser in good condition.

But like any great creator, Mark can't help but think a little more eccentrically. You see, the 2.5 litre KL V6 from a locally delivered Telstar looks like it'll take over the 1.8 litre's place with hardly any further modifications. And that - by all accounts - is a conversion that's set to happen very, very soon. Thank you Mr Mazda for designing engines with such handy interchangeability....

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And thank you to Mark and Peter - you guys show us all how we really can do it ourselves. Amen.

Contact:

Adelaide Jap Dismantlers
+61 8 8369 1941

Allen's Jap Parts
+61 8 8265 3455

Slider Machining
+61 8 8349 4060

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