How To Optimize an Old Acura Integra if You Don’t Want a New One
There are still some ’90s Integras out there for not-unobtanium prices. These cars are absolutely still worth saving and driving.
The Acura Integra Type R (ITR) is a sport compact hero. Although it originally represented somewhat attainable performance as the hot version of a more modest machine, nostalgia for the ’90s has pushed the prices on these well into collector territory. Luckily, lesser Integras are far easier to find, and with the right mods, they can capture a lot of the same experience for much less money.
While we're excited about the existence of the 2023 Acura Integra (especially as the first driving impressions drop this week) we still haven't forgotten about the venerable last-gen car. Nostalgia for the 1990s is part of its appeal, but the DC2 Integra (1994 to 2001) remains a genuinely joyful car to drive and an excellent modding platform today. They may not be as plentiful on the used market as they were a decade ago, and it's true that prices on great ones have been steadily climbing to cherished-classic territory. But decent examples are still out there and at this point, these cars will only get cooler as they age. That means they absolutely are still worth finding, saving, and enjoying.
In case you’re still catching up, the DC2 ITR is deservedly legendary. With its factory chassis stiffening, improved suspension, bigger brakes, wild engine, and low curb weight, it received immense acclaim around the globe when it was new and quickly became the object of almost all enthusiasts’ yearning. It was a low-production, wild car that followed a formula that we’ll, unfortunately, probably never see again. Combine limited availability to begin with and the fact that many have been crashed or thrashed in the decades since this car came out, plus car culture’s aforementioned lust for all-things-’90s right now, and it’s no surprise that surviving Type Rs fetch an immense amount of cash.
We’re not here to wax poetic about the Type R today though. We’re going to talk about how to harness a similar vibe for much less money. Early third-gen Integras, from '94 to ’97, had simple faces with a horizontal line through the grille, like this:
Later cars (’98 to ’01) became a bit sleeker in the face:
Both pre and post-facelift DC2s are very similar behind the front bumper, though.
A clean Integra GSR is somewhat rare now that the cars are 20 years old, but they were mass-produced and far more readily available than the Type R. GSRs were/are also available as four-doors, along with the rest of the non-Type R Integra lineup. Even lower-spec LS, GS, and RS Integras need more tweaking to be really fun to drive, but they’re still good platforms to play with. It’s actually quite possible to reach a very similar experience thanks to a little elbow grease, aftermarket parts selection, and reasonable knowledge of ’90s/early-’00s Honda Lego-like parts interchangeability.
Integras of all varieties have been popular tuner cars for more than two decades now, so the list of available aftermarket parts is immense. But instead of reviewing specific products, this post will highlight some principles and concepts on how to sprinkle Type R magic into a base Integra.
What Do Track Enthusiasts Have to Say?
To get some info I reached out on Facebook to all my Honda tuning pals and got some great knowledge. Notably, SoCal’s Nicest Guy at the Track and Assistant Sales Manager at suspension company Eibach, Jared Reyes, hit me up and shed some bright, insight-filled light. He’s been tracking Hondas for many years, co-runs Honda Time Attack Challenge (previously HFF Challenge), and has the best EG hatch ever.
In his opinion, taking a DC2 Integra GSR from “decent to great” would be the easiest. These can be had in all kinds of conditions, and pull a premium one week before Race Wars– I mean, because they themselves are pretty sought after. The GSR is already “Type R adjacent” with a Honda B18C VTEC engine that claimed a healthy 170 horsepower from the factory and tipped the scales at roughly 2,750 pounds. The DC2 Type R by comparison had a B18C5 VTEC that claimed around 195 horsepower and weighed a bit less at about 2,639 pounds. Having a power differential of 25 horses is easier to close up than other trims with lower-power engines, and more significantly, the other (non-GSR) Integras were non-VTEC.
The LS, GS, and RS-trim Integras still had 1.8-liter B-Series engines, just with less HP and without Honda’s legendary variable valve timing system that allows engines to be efficient at low speed and powerful when they’re revved up. These cars are still on a great chassis though, and engine-swapping isn’t all that hard with Hondas from this era in general, so don’t discount non-VTEC Integras if you’re trying to build a cool sport compact car on a budget.
Whichever not-a-Type R you start with, weight reduction is a great place to start mimicking the faster model. “Pull weight out!” Reyes says, as far as a good first step. “Type Rs have no sound deadening anywhere in the car. You can remove this, along with anything else that is not an absolute must. Old AC systems are another great way to lose weight,” (as air conditioning was optional on the Type Rs). Heck yeah, the easiest mod I’d say is just lightening a car, especially by pulling interior bits and sound deadening. Keep in mind though: the more interior you remove, the less street-able, daily-friendly it’ll be.
After a good, general service to ensure nothing’s leaking and the car will run reliability, adding power is a good next step. “Adding simple engine bolt-ons -intake, header, exhaust, and an ECU tune- would help the engine breath much better. Adding OEM Type R or aftermarket camshafts would put it in Type R horsepower range (If not higher). You could also upgrade to a Type R-style intake manifold for the GSR, which would replace the GSR’s dual-stage intake manifold, flow better, and remove a few more pounds in the process,” Reyes suggested.
Reigning in all that power is just as important as lighting up the front tires with it. Luckily, it isn’t too difficult to mirror Type R braking performance. “Buy some re-manufactured Type R calipers, 2007 Mini Cooper S rotors, and some Aletheia Motorsport rotor shims, and you’ve just upgraded to Type R front brakes. This opens you up to dozens of pad compounds, and gets you 20mm larger rotors.” Bigger brakes with better performance pad options are only a good thing, and allow you to try out different compounds depending on the driving you’re doing. If you’re like me, where you’ve always been curious about popular compounds by Endless, Project Mu, Winnmax, etc., and you haven’t had a platform that jibes with their catalog, this is especially appealing.
Finally, getting closer to the Type R’s factory-reinforced chassis can be solved with aftermarket chassis stiffening and suspension. Jared’s take: “Upgrade the rear sway bar, add a good spring/shock combo (or coilovers), and sticky tires. You could also add the OEM Type R strut tower braces.” Well, this all could come before power adders, too; this isn’t necessarily a step-by-step, start-to-finish guide, but more of a general overview.
The Type R also came with factory aero parts that were wind tunnel-developed. Companies make knock-off Type R front lips and rear wings, but one could definitely take it a step further and pursue more well-built aero options. Racebred Components, RS Future Dynamics, Nine Lives Racing –there are a bunch of companies out there who develop and build such quality parts. Like everything else in life, you get what you pay for so if you really want to improve aero, not just make your Integra look cooler, take the time to dig into Facebook Groups and old forum threads as you comparison shop.
The Type R also came from the factory with a limited-slip differential and shorter gearing than standard. This helped put the power to the ground and made for more livelier, faster acceleration. From some quick research, OEM swaps seem to be rare and expensive, but lots of companies make aftermarket limited-slip differentials for the DC2. That should help close the gap, and when paired with all of the improvements mentioned, potentially smoke an otherwise collector-fresh, unmodified DC2 Type R. And for far less money.
Unfortunately, the days of finding a truly cheap (like $1,200 cheap) cleanish third-gen Integra are pretty much behind us. Many GSRs are priced ambitiously because of their mechanical proximity to the Type R discussed above, though they’re still dramatically easier to get your hands on than a true ITR. Non-VTEC cars are often in rough shape or heavily modified, but if you can find one with good bones it might still be worth saving from the scrap heap. Here’s hoping a few of you find this post inspiring enough to keep some more of these cars on the road.
With that, I’ll leave you with this cool ITR video my editor found that shows off the car’s racing pedigree, and open the floor to comments. Got some more tips on Integra tuning? Let us know!
This story was originally posted to CarBibles.com