Step back to a time when a hot off-the-shelf Holden Commodore made around
180kW and one of the quickest hot hatches on the market was Suzuki’s Swift GTi.
Through this early/mid ‘90s period, the little 1.3 litre DOHC hatch was
the cult hot hatch.
But, despite its hot hatch label, the Swift GTi is not the sort of vehicle
that immediately impresses in terms of raw performance. With 74kW/113Nm and a
kerb weight of around 800kg, it’s a car that comes together when
you’ve got the engine buzzing near its redline, threading up a mountain
pass. Line up at a set of traffic lights and you’d best not be a betting
But John Paul Costanzo’s ’97 Swift GTi packs a whole lot more performance
than a stocker. A whole lot more...
About four years ago JP started looking at ways to get his hot hatch really
sizzling. The easiest and most cost-effective approach was to lay down the cash
for an AVO (Advanced Vehicle Operations) bolt-on turbo kit.
An AVO Stage 1 kit (fitted by Brisbane’s Motson’s Turbo and Suspension) gives
the Swift a cast exhaust manifold, ball-bearing turbo, extra injector with Link
micro-fueller, front-mount air-to-air intercooler and all necessary lines and
fittings. A custom 2¼ inch mandrel exhaust was also fitted at this
time. On 9 psi boost, this set-up made 118hp (87kW) at the wheels of JP’s Swift.
Unfortunately, a bad batch of fuel led to a major detonation event and the
demise of one standard head gasket. The solution was the fitment of a more
durable triple-layer steel gasket and, subsequently, boost was bumped up to 11
But that was all too much for the stock internals - cylinder number 2’s ring
land went bye-bye.
At this point, the vehicle was again handed over to Motson’s for an engine
rebuild featuring 8.5:1 static compression forged pistons and a 3-angle valve
job on the cylinder head. The standard cams remain except with adjustable gears.
JP’s brother, Rob, fabricated a 2½ inch 316-grade stainless steel exhaust
running a TRP muffler.
With greater boost on the agenda, the Suzuki fuel system now runs a Malpassi
rising rate pressure regulator and four Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R injectors
controlled by a Link programmable management system. The previous micro-fueller
arrangement was given away.
The now-gone airflow meter is replaced by a Motson’s fabricated flared
adaptor pipe which connects the K&N pod filter. A stainless steel heat
shield prevents under-bonnet air making its way into the engine. Motson’s also
whacked in a custom oil catch can for good measure.
TurboSmart is the brand label on the blow-off valve and boost valve, while a
Do-It-Yourself type intercooler water spray system (triggered by a Hobbs
pressure switch) helps chill the intake air. The intercooler pipe
that runs to the engine has also been wrapped in insulation in the vicinity of the
With boost pressure now safely cranked up to 14.5 psi, the next weak link in
the Suzuki armoury was the driveline. After destroying one gearbox, JP installed
an expensive (AUD$9000!) Suzuki Motorsport Group A gearbox containing helical
gears, billet shafts and a very short 4.96:1 LSD. The clutch presently in
service is a Motson’s unit providing a substantial 2400lb clamping force.
With the shortened final drive ratio (which is said to reduce measured power),
JP’s GTi has recently blasted out an amazing 178hp (131kW) at the wheels on 14.5
psi. That’s one helluva lotta power for a little 1.3 litre engine with standard
cams and a modest size turbocharger!
The new LSD apparently tugs at the steering wheel when accelerating hard from
low speed but the car now grips and goes. JP hasn’t yet taken the car to
the drags but all indications are that a 13 second pass should be quite easy –
depending on how the altered gearing affects 400m performance.
Harnessing this speed is the standard braking arrangement enhanced with DBA
slotted and drilled front discs and DBA slotted rear discs. Endless pads are
The GTi-spec suspension is tightened-up with Koni dampers, King springs and
beefy Whiteline swaybars. JP’s brother also fabricated front and rear strut
And check out the wheel arches – you won’t have seen 16 x 6.5 inch ROH
Chicanes on a GTi before because these puppies are a one-off. Tyres are nitrogen-filled Federal 205/40 16s.
Open the door and you’ll find a small cabin packed with a very large sound
system. JP runs a current Clarion head unit, PPI 4 x 100W RMS amplifier, Canton
front splits and a dirty big pair of Orion 12 inch subs that consume the rear
cargo area. An Odyssey battery and high-quality cables ensure the system
operates to its full potential. JP says the system is set up to provide
excellent sound across a variety of music styles – but that doesn’t stop it
pounding out up to 146dB...
Also found inside is a Momo steering wheel, gear knob and pedals, an
AutoMeter boost gauge and ‘MR GTI’ front seat covers.
So what plans does Mr GTi have left in store?
Well, now that he’s got that tough gearbox there’s no reason to hold back on
power. An AVO ‘280hp’ ball-bearing turbocharger should give the 1.3 even more
top-end whack and we’re told the suspension will probably be revised for
something more accommodating of B-grade roads.
And did we menton JP’s brother has recently got in on the Swift turbo act?
You’ll have to wait and see how the other Costanzo lad tackles the same
Motson’s Turbo and Suspension +617 3277 7766
JP would also like to thank his brother, Rob, for his help building the car.
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