John Giffin’s Mitsubishi Minicab is a third-generation utility vehicle classified as a “Kei Truck” born in the Land of the Rising Sun. The Keitora class denotes a tiny but practical Japanese light truck whose design was highly regulated in both size and engine displacement. When this mini-hauler was first conceived in the mid-60s, it was designed to haul a lot of stuff with as little an engine as possible. The little air-cooled engine popped out a whopping 26 horsepower. The engineers probably never thought an LS-swapped Kei truck like this would ever exist!
You could say that John’s little Kei truck has been “Americanized” in a variety of ways from the inside out, but what else would you expect from a self-proclaimed adrenaline junky. Growing up, he constantly tore things down to see what made them tick. It didn’t matter if it was the family lawn mower or his sister’s bicycle. John’s curiosity drove him to get inside the subject to understand it better.
It is a one-of-one build that nobody knows what it is. It’s quick and very fun to drive! – Owner, John Giffin.
That insatiable appetite for knowledge led him to work on MGs in his father’s restoration shop. After that, during his 11 years as a GM Master Technician, John grew fond of GM’s LS-based engine platform. While he doesn’t currently spend his days in any of the General’s service bays, he does like using LS engines for his builds, which include a Datsun 610 with a turbo, a twin-turbo school bus that pulls wheelies, and of course, this mini Mitsu.
From Junkyard JDM To Keivette Cool
There are many fans of Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) vehicles, but when John saw three of these Mitsubishi Minicabs languishing in a New Hampshire junkyard, he was instantly smitten. He dragged the trio of trucks home, and he and his friend Josh Mazerolle began building one each in a sort of “build-off” competition. Josh went 4×4 while John decided on a C5 Corvette for the base of his Kei truck.
John described the condition of his Minicab when he pulled them from the boneyard as “horrible.” Of course, after years of use as a utility vehicle and repeated New England winters, rust was an issue, as well as the various “park by sound” dings and dents. Infusing a performance persona onto a tiny truck whose primary purpose was to simply meet size and engine requirements is not an easy task. But, thanks to John’s expertise and the whimsical idea of what this little truck could become, all this was easily accomplished with some cutting, welding, adding some extensive “IMSA- based” body modifications, and a little Krylon rattle-can paint.
Seeing how these trucks exemplify the term “mini,” John needed to first shorten the wheelbase of the C5’s chassis from 104 to only 74-inches. In doing so, John also removed the torque tube to place the engine back even further to retain a certain amount of foot room up front. The engine is a 2008 6.0L (LY6) that was hot-tanked and cleaned, with new cam bearings installed at Precision Balancing and Machine in Hudson, New Hampshire.
The engine was then reassembled by John and has been treated to a Brian Tooley Racing Stage-III camshaft and a set of cathedral-port heads. Since this is a truck and the sky is the limit so far as payload height, John also decided to add a Cadillac M122 supercharger to top off the engine package. With about 12 pounds of boost, the supercharger adds several times more performance to the V8 engine than the original little air-cooled engine had in total when it left the factory! The entire powerplant is controlled with a Holley Terminator X Max EFI system.
In keeping with the C5 theme, John also kept the 4L60E transmission and used a 10-inch billet torque converter of unknown origin (it came with the transmission) whose only indication of what lies within was a piece of tape stuck to it that stated, “built.” The suspension of John’s Kei-Vette is also all C5. The truck’s upper and lower control arms are now OEM Corvette, and a set of Alden coilovers have been swapped in place of the stock composite spring up front with a stock rear spring still setting the ride height out back. The C5’s steering rack was flipped upside-down to fit everything where it needed to be, and a 1.75-inch DOM roll-bar ties the front and rear C5 sections together to keep John safe should anything go sideways while driving it.
And driving it is precisely what John intends to do! The LS-swapped Kei truck only took about 30 days to complete, and then John spent another three months shaking down all the little nagging issues that arise as you put a few miles on a fresh vehicle. So far, John has hauled around in his little Kei truck to Holley’s LSFest, driving to Texas one day after he got it running from swapping out the heads and supercharger. He also did one leg of the Hot Rod Power Tour and drives it daily to work and back.
While driving is the primary purpose for this truck, John hopes to dyno it someday and estimates that the engine now residing in his (FUV) Fun Utility Vehicle makes around 530 horsepower. That’s more powerful than an entire fleet of factory-stock Minicabs and makes for a lot of fun when driving a 2,300-pound vehicle with only a 74-inch wheelbase!