Why USLCI Hit a Home Run with the FZ09

By Blake Erb

For several years, I have been hoping we would see an engine update in the Legend cars.  Don't get me wrong, the 1250cc air-cooled was once a great engine.  For many years, I used to be able to get 30-40 races out of an engine.  However, in the past two years, my average had dropped significantly into single digits, and it seemed like I was constantly dealing with head cracks, pulled head studs and rods coming through the block.  So when the FZ09 was announced earlier this year, I couldn't wait to get my hands on one.

I was fortunate to have USLCI select me as one of the first to test the engine, only weeks after my last remaining 1250 blew up.  When the crate arrived at my shop, I was not disappointed.  USLCI does an amazing job of providing everything you need to make the swap, even down to the bolts and rivets.  The components selected are of great quality, and I was particularly impressed with the radiator plumbing components and the wiring harness.

Installation is best done with the body off the car.  Any time spent removing it will be made up easily with the quick install.  With two of us working on the car, we spent two 8 hour days installing.  However, this was taking our time and enjoying ourselves along the way.  While the install is long, nothing is overly complex.  Chad and Ashley at USLCI were extremely helpful in answering our questions along the way.  Furthermore, I am told USLCI is finalizing installation instructions which will likely greatly reduce the install time.  Even the wiring is pretty easy to do, which is surprising since it has about 10 times the length of wires, and several additional electrical components to install.  Everything fit extremely well, and the final installed product is in my opinion remarkable.

For our first race, we took it out to Wyant Group Raceway in Saskatoon, SK.  This 3/8 mile track is one of the largest and quickest we run on in Western Canada.  Based on recent reviews from others, I expected the FZ09 to struggle to keep up when coming out of the high banked corners.  However, once we got the right gear ratio in the car, it kept up well.  Where the engine really shined was during late corner exit and all the way down the straightaway.  It pulls hard, and never seems to let off, even as you approach the rev limiter.  I found the weight transfer and balance of the car to be very different, likely due to having to move and add lead ballast in order to maintain the weight minimums.  However, after some chassis adjustments and some changes to my driving style, we were running times identical to what we were running two weeks previous with the 1250 in the same car.  Even more exciting was the fact that the engine temperature never went above 220F during the hot afternoon.  We had absolutely no issues with the engine all day long, and after some more time behind the wheel, I honestly enjoyed driving it more than the 1250, as it felt much sportier and aggressive.

We ended up winning the National Qualifier race that day, but it was only by a few thousandths of a second, and it was far from easy.  The FZ09 will not make the 1250 inadequate over-night, nor will it struggle to compete right out of the box.  In fact, the most amazing thing to me about the FZ09 is how close in performance USLCI has developed it to be compared to the 1250.  I'm sure the FZ09 will have a distinct advantage as time goes on and we get more experience with it, but it doesn't mean someone with a strong 1250 needs to panic, as this will take time.  I think USLCI has done an incredible job of selecting the best possible drop-in replacement, and have really hit it out of the park this time!