Some people go to Harbor Freight, see the cheap Predator engines on the shelves, then decide to fit the little things into a car. The results tend to be pretty pathetic, but one charming YouTuber made a usable car using a Predator engine.
Predator engines are delightfully cheap powerplants that tend to be found mounted to go-karts, minibikes and industrial equipment. While these engines were not designed for automotive use, people have bolted them into the engine bays of various cars. Some Predator engines have even found a home in the frames of motorcycles.
Predictably, Predator-powered vehicles are often slow and unusable on the road. The Robot Cantina YouTube channel is here to show that you can make a street-legal vehicle powered by a Predator.
Robot Cantina initially started off with a $99 Predator 212cc single-cylinder engine and a first-generation Honda Insight. The YouTuber removed as many components as possible from the Insight, including the gas engine and batteries. The Predator 212, with its go-kart style centrifugal clutch and torque converter, was bolted up to the Insight’s manual transmission using an adaptor.
With a stock Predator 212, the little Insight accelerated from 0 to 30 in a leisurely 25 seconds, with a top speed of 39 mph. That’s not bad for something with only 6.5 horsepower. Robot Cantina set a goal of 50 mph, so there was work to do. Following a similar path to minibike builders, upgraded internals of the Predator 212 brought the Insight that goal:
But the builder wanted the street-legal go-kart of a Honda Insight to do more, so a 420cc Predator single-cylinder engine that makes a whopping 13-horsepower was purchased. This engine, while still good for minibikes and go-karts, is also found in portable cement mixers.
In addition to the larger engine, the transmission adaptor was modified to fit different sprocket sizes, helping to fine tune the engine’s performance. The clutch and the carburetor were upgraded, too.
The bigger engine features such luxuries as an electric starter and an alternator, so it’s at least somewhat civilized.
Our YouTuber wanted to see how all of the hard work paid off and took the engine-swapped Insight for a test run. The exhaust of the Predator 420 was also routed through the Insight’s stock exhaust system, but it still sounds about as hilarious as you’d expect.
Throughout the tests, information was gathered about fuel economy, top speed and acceleration. Robot Cantina also played around with sprockets, starting with a 28-tooth sprocket and moving down to a 21-tooth version. While the car was slower in acceleration, the sprockets with fewer teeth gave a better top speed.
Depending on sprocket setup, the car can get 47 mpg, top out above 60 mph and accelerate to 30 mph in only 11 seconds. That would be terrible for a regular road car, but it’s pretty impressive for a car powered by a Harbor Freight engine.
I think part of the project’s success comes down to vehicle choice. Not only is the Insight light at only 1,847 pounds (before its dramatic weight loss), but it’s pretty aerodynamic. Robot Cantina has a series of 17 videos documenting the adventures in making a street-legal go-kart, and they’re a joy to watch. If you want to learn more about this build, check out the channel.