To be precise, the Titan T-51 uses Honda's J35A6 60-degree SOHC V6. It's one version of the ubiquitous J-series engine, found in the Odyssey minivan as well as the Honda Pilot. Other variations of the Ohio-built powerplant pull duty in the Accord and several Acura models.
But why a Honda V6? Titan Aircraft president John Williams says the company began production of the T-51 with a Rotax 912F four-cylinder boxer engine, but its 100-horsepower output wasn't cutting it for customers. They wanted "more power and more noise." So the search began for a lightweight, easily-packaged V6, leading first to a Suzuki 2.5-liter with 160 hp.
"Our guys still wanted more power, so the next choice was either going to be a Chevy V8 or a Honda V6. The Honda is a little bit lighter and from a V6 standpoint, it's a brute. In the Honda Pilot or the Odyssey, it's rated from 240 to 250 horsepower," Williams explains.
Converting the V6 to an airworthy powerplant requires minor modifications, such as swapping the stock engine control unit (ECU) for an aftermarket one. Car-specific parameters for things like anti-knock sensing and rev limiters simply don't work well in the air. "You don't want your timing retarded when you're trying to clear a tree," Williams chuckles.
With a hotter Acura camshaft and exhaust modifications, the naturally aspirated Honda engine makes about 300 hp in the T-51D, Williams says. The V6 mates to a custom gearbox designed to yield a 2-to-1 reduction for the propeller. Rather than the original Mustang's crankcase oil, the Titan's nosecase uses automotive gear oil. And while the engine can obviously use regular unleaded from any gas station, it runs well on the 100-octane low-lead aviation fuel commonly found at airports.
The T-51 is a kit airplane that buyers can build themselves for less than $100,000. And like most kit manufacturers, Titan offers a builder-assistance program to help with assembly. Titan recently showed off the T-51 at the annual Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) airshow at Oshkosh, WI. Mixed in with real, full-size warbirds, the three-quarter-scale T-51 drew plenty of attention. But we had to ask, what do people think of a Mustang with a Japanese engine?
"Very few make any comment," Williams claims. "There will be the odd snicker about it, mostly from veterans who served in the Pacific." While that may prove that time heals all wounds, there's no doubt that this is the coolest use of a Honda minivan engine we know of.