This Nissan Leaf is EV in the front, 13,000 RPM Sportbike Screamer in the rear

The hyperactive scream of a Kawasaki superbike and the whisper of Nissan’s Leaf EV have absolutely no business, you already know that. One is the embodiment of the progression of internal combustion engines over decades of development while the other is on the opposite end of the spectrum and represents the direction of the automotive market, but someone saw fit to combine the two.

That someone is Derek Young, a certified tinkerer who also happens to be an engineer, and who finds time to judge the prestigious Battle Bots competition. What he built was not done on a whim, but carefully planned before a single key was turned and, yes, he wanted to use a modern 3,700 pound vehicle. You’ve seen other finished sportbike powered cars in the past, usually based on a lightweight vintage chassis and more often than not lacking a reverse option. This exercise would be based on something more current and already racing an electric motor.

Growing up glued to the V-10 era of Formula 1, Young discovered that the sound of a high-revving engine was far more satisfying than the growl of a V-8 or the hiss of a turbo. Eventually a friend presented him with a CBR600F4i where a quick jab of the throttle brought on a rush of glaring high redline memories of those F1 days. “I rode motorcycles for a short time, but it wasn’t for me,” he says. “I wanted to have my own car that turned like a superbike. After seeing many swaps in the smallest of cars as well as a handful of motorcycle oddities at the 24 Hours of Lemons, I decided to find a way to get a motor superbike to work in a larger, more modern vehicle.”

Jot down a bunch of bullet points on a whiteboard regarding all of this and it doesn’t really make sense, but get Young to lay out his thoughts, and the ICE x EV equation quickly defends itself. He tells us that “the EV powertrain would provide the torque to start a 2,000 pound (or more) car without destroying the clutch and could also provide reverse. With 100 hp of EV front-wheel drive and a modern superbike, this dual-motor AWD system just might push a not-so-micro car forward.” This instead of using an older Civic for example and having to build an EV system around the front axles and find a way to incorporate a rear mounted bike motor that works well with each others.

At the time, Young already owned a Chevy Bolt, but its value was far too high to begin heavily modifying it. He also had a Fiat 500e but found that a third of the battery drained into the bite-sized chassis trunk. A deep dive into electric vehicles revealed that a first-generation Leaf’s electrical system stops right where the rear seats are and that it has enough cargo space to accommodate, say, a motorcycle engine . “It also helped that at the time they could be purchased for very little money,” Young notes. For just $5,000, that 2013 model with just 38,000 miles and a half-dead battery was his, followed by buying a crashed-but-still-good-running 2009 Kawasaki ZX10R.

Solid work with Solidworks

You get the Kawasaki and Nissan combo, but what about the Lexus mention? “I chose a Lexus IS350 subframe and rear suspension because of its track width, wheel bolt pattern, factory coil springs and small footprint,” he adds. . With the rear of the Leaf stripped down and the Kawasaki engine awaiting its next mission, Young used $1,000 worth of photo equipment and a process called photogrammetry to extract precise dimensions (because engineers go engineer). “This was the major breakthrough that allowed me to design all the critical components in advance in Solidworks before a single part was fabricated,” he adds. “So the parts could not only be made by CNC processes, but they also fit together right the first time.”

The detailed pre-planning paid off when Young got the Lexus subframe in place in a single weekend. He drove into a borrowed, walk-up space, removed the rear of the Leaf, and began installing the Lexus frame and custom structure consisting of laser-cut tube and plate. He notes, “I hired a mobile welder to come in and do the structural welding that Sunday and drove the car home Tuesday morning. The following weekend, Young took a lift from a friend’s shop and installed the ZX10R engine in the back in a single day, then drove home to finish buttoning the swap in his driveway. “The car was drivable for all but five days during this whole build. Having a still functional EV powertrain up front made that possible and with no fixed parking spot in San Francisco it was a requirement,” he added.

From the outside, the only visual clues that something is wrong with this foil are its slightly altered ride height and the Enkei TS-5 wrapped in Nexen N’Fera, a subtle stretcher flap along its tailgate to create low pressure. area to help get air out, and, oh yeah, the massive 3D-printed scoop that took over the right rear window. This inlet is sectioned off to allow air to pass through a Honda Civic radiator and provide a rush of cool air to the individual throttle bodies. Put on your goggles and note that the rear hatch has been cut away to create vents that allow hot air to escape and on the driver’s side vent, a 1.75 inch exhaust passes through. The factory black hatch does a good job of disguising the heavy modification.

precious cargo

Lift that hatch and now the engine cover and the ZX10R rests in all its glory right next to the Kawasaki’s fuel tank. That’s right, with all the space available, the actual tank was fitted rather than resorting to a fuel cell, and a filler neck was routed through the C-pillar to confuse people its local service station. On either side of the bike’s parts, you can see the custom shock towers that now house the BC Racing coilovers and help connect the Lexus subframe to the Leaf.

The factory gauge cluster is still intact and provides information on the front half of the EV, while a permanent camera is aimed at Kawasaki’s tachometer and relayed to a dash-mounted monitor. A custom sequential shift lever works with the ZX10R transmission and provides split-second ignition cut for lightning-fast, lift-free shifts, while the Leaf’s single-speed transmission is still used for the operation of electric vehicles. Perhaps the best part of it all is how Young designed the front and back halves to work independently or as a team. A flick of the switch initiates full EV mode, its 100hp motor enough to move the car around town. Another click and the future is history as the 174-hp ZX10R takes over.

Plus, there’s a third option available, which combines an internal combustion engine derived strictly from an electric vehicle and a motorcycle in a way no one ever intended. The result is 281 hp transferred to all four wheels and with its weight distribution of 51.5 front and 48.5 rear it offers great joy behind the wheel. “The first ride was in late December and the thrill of shifting gears and running the stock EV system with the ICE screaming at 13,000 rpm was indescribable,” he says. “The car was legitimately fast (5-60mph in ~5.5s) and after facing some initial teething issues it had its first outing at a Cars and Coffee in Menlo Park in March 2022. I found out there that people loved this weird thing I created, and after driving up Skyline Blvd in Woodside, California on twisty mountain roads, I found that I loved driving it too.”

It’s not over yet, as it’s continually being upgraded with suspension parts, bigger brakes, and some cosmetic additions. “It was a real joy to build with every design problem an opportunity to create something completely new,” he says. “I love showing it to people and seeing the excitement it generates. I hope to inspire other skilled people to take on bold challenges and use the technology that is now available to us to build things that the world never seen before.”

Engine front OEM EV; Rear swapped Kawasaki ZX10R; custom engine cradle, side intake; 1.75 in. exhaust; Removed ZX10R exhaust resonator and servo; Honda Civic Radiator; Mishimoto cap 1.3 bar

Power 281 hp combined using engine and electric motor

Transmission Original 1-speed LEAF front; 6-speed sequential ZX10R in the rear; custom sequential shifter with clutchless upshift without ignition cut-off clutch, custom clutch pedal; waterproof chain drive Application Quaife ATB Honda Civic; DDD 530 ZVM-X super street series chain from engine output to differential with tensioner and adjustable idler sprockets; final chain ration 15:56; PBI custom sprockets; Dutch axles; Lexus outboard CV joints; Honda indoor tripods

Suspension BC Racing DS coilovers for Nissan Juke application front, Lexus IS350 application rear; IS350 rear subframe, rear anti-roll bar; custom shock towers and associated structure

Braking LEAF 2-piston sliding calipers front; Rear IS350 single piston calipers; front/rear vented rotors

Wheels and tires Enkei TS-5 18×9.5 +38; Nexen N’Fera SUR4G 255/35

Electronic SkyRC GNSS Performance Analyzer; camera to monitor the ZX10R gauge displayed on the dashboard screen; Ruggeduino microcontroller monitoring analog LEAF accelerator pedal; Dynamixel XM430-W210-R via RS-485 to operate ITB ZX10R as drive by wire; mode selector to change driving modes between EV engine only, gasoline engine only or hybrid

Outside custom stretcher flap on hatch wing; 3D printed ABS radiator cooling scoop in the passenger side window; Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid badge

Interior deletion of the rear seat; custom rear compartment partition; OMP pedal covers; modified/reduced brake pedal; HP Multijet Fusion 3D printed shift knob

Thanks #1 thanks to my wife Gillian, who has been very supportive, and my sons Alistair and Graham. Many thanks to Ian Moore, Ryan Hollowell, Greg Dachs and Mike Rosenzweig who all helped build with tools, time, space, energy and/or insight. Inspirational and technological thanks to superfastmatt (whose Youtube projects convinced me to create my own 3D scanning workflow), r/photogrammetry (whose knowledge helped me get started in photogrammetry). Supplier thanks to Sendcutsend, OSHCut, Fictiv and Precision Tube Laser who have manufactured unique CNC cut metal parts within the financial reach of the hobby builder, McMaster-Carr and Misumi who have unrivaled mechanical component resources for CAD users, and Amazon .com for their extensive assortment of off-brand tuner components and generous return policy.

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