He remembers riding with his dad in an MGTD. Years later, in a clairvoyant move when Frank Honsowetz was about to get his learner’s permit, his dad sold the Austin-Healey 100-4 that he owned.
Born and raised in Culver City, Honsowetz got much of his interest and experience in cars through his dad but also growing up in car-rich Southern California. As soon as he turned 16 he bought an El Camino and later a Nova, both with small-blocks, both modified for drag racing.
A die-hard car guy from the beginning his dream was to work at the GM Research Center in Burbank, then through a strange one-month period he suddenly and coincidentally began meeting Datsun owners and admired the 510’s independent rear end, and the overhead cam engines. He quickly changed his mind and told his counselor at LA Trade Tech that he wanted to go work for Datsun rather than GM.
Even though he loved his cheater-slick-wearing Nova, Datsun’s technology intrigued him and he wanted to work on engines that seemed futuristic to him. According to Honsowetz, he was “spurred by my desire to work on neat stuff,” and joined the company as a mechanic, working on company vehicles, test cars, and pre-production prototypes. Eventually he transitioned to the engineering department and later became a field engineer, working on cars that other mechanics couldn’t fix.
He began racing after a few years (and consequently spent about 35 years chasing the checkered flag) and then began working on some of Datsun’s motorsports cars as an engineer, including work for Don Devendorf’s Electramotive cars, and some races with Paul Newman. He currently works for Ed Pink, a relationship that developed when Honsowetz was looking for someone to build racing engines for Nissan’s IRL racers in the ‘90s, based on their Q45 engine architecture.
Ed Pink Engines established their reputation by building the meanest racing engines available, but they also sold engines to well-heeled enthusiasts such as Steve McQueen and Newman. Today it’s mostly materials and control systems that are enhancing engine performance. And accordingly, Ed Pink continues supplying racing engines (to TRD, for instance) and building engines for the consumer market like the 4.0L ones that go into Porsche’s restored by Singer Vehicle Design.
But the consumer engines aren’t just warmed over, Honsowetz says that the only original parts that Ed Pink uses are the “engine case and cam carriers, that’s all.” Everything else in the engine is brand new and they don’t even use Porsche’s four-liter configuration “because we believe ours is better… you have to remember that cost is not a driving force in this deal. Quality and the best possible configuration [are].” What this means is that the pistons, cam, connecting rods, etcetera are all built to race specs and the engine is simply run at slightly lower compression to make the engine more daily-driveable.
Asked what he thinks provides the best fun per dollar ratio in racing, Honsowetz immediately mentions spec Miata racing. And he takes pride in looking at Mazda’s current motorsports program and noticing that in many ways it’s very similar to Nissan’s in the 1980s. Honsowetz also recognizes that it’s a great marketing tool, because every single Miata racer is a brand ambassador by default.
It might be easy for you to get into a Miata and go racing; however, the same can’t be said for the leading edge of engine technology. Honsowetz points to Audi, Porsche, and Toyota as the OEMs with the most advanced programs, blending small, high-output gas and diesel powerplants with extremely advanced hybrid systems. He notes, with more than a hint of regret, that Ed Pink isn’t involved in any hybrid technology. Much like the kid graduating from LA Trade Tech, he’s still wants to work on futuristic technology.