In 1969, Volkswagen began producing its Type 181 "Kurierwagen," more commonly known in U.S. markets as the Thing. At first developed as a military vehicle, and soon after adapted for civilian sales, the Thing was and continues to be something of an odd duck, as its name suggests, primarily because of its weird-looking combination of boxy utility in a convertible coupe platform. An elegant, refined driver's car it is not.
There would appear to be little in common between a Thing and Honda's premiere roadster, the S2000, outside of the fact that they both have soft-tops, but Ryan Kress owns both. The VW is actually a holdover from Kress' entrance into the brotherhood of automotive fanaticism. The Placentia, Calif., resident got his start messing with durable Euros like Baja Bugs and his Thing. You can imagine our surprise, then, when we heard the owner of the beautifully crafted AP1 splashed across these pages also counts a 181 among his stable of whips.
It wasn't the first thing we expected from someone who has clearly been doing his Japanese market homework, but then Kress himself seems something of a nonconformist. Like a lot of Southern Californians, he comes across as a sort of a relaxed, dippy hippy, certainly nothing like many of the minutiae-consumed JDM fanboys we've met so far. As you'll read, his approach to tuning is just as unconventional.
Recently, we caught up with Kress over the phone and had a moment to chat about his Imola orange S2000 and how it came to be.
HT: How did you picture this project turning out? Initially did you have any idea that it would become what it has?
RK: I've always wanted to build an old-school car. I've always wanted to do like a CRX or EK or something, so I kind of took my old-school ideas and applied them toward a newer car. A newer car with an old-school twist is something I don't see a lot of people doing. Like with S2000s, a lot of people build them as "catalog" cars, they buy just one specific parts brand, and I wanted to break away from that. I wanted to do something that I thought would look cool.
HT: What automotive influences have you had? You list only 2 previous Hondas on your tech sheet, a '99 Si and an '07 Fit.
RK: I've been in the car scene for a little while now. I have a '73 Volkswagen Thing, and before [I picked it up] my dad and I had built Baja bugs and stuff like that. I've only owned 2 Hondas, but I've been working on cars for a while.
HT: Do you see yourself as a disciple of the JDM aesthetic?
RK: I'm a little bit more JDM now than I used to be, but in general, I'm just a car guy. I'm a big Volkswagen guy; I've always wanted to own a Transporter, or a 21-window van.
HT: Did you chart out a plan for the build? From the info we have, it seems like you were just adding mods as you could afford them.
RK: When I got the S [in late 2005], I didn't really have a direction because cars like that weren't cool [to mod at the time]. It was all about JDM this, and JDM that. I kind of wanted to build a catalog car at first-I really wanted to build a replica of the Amuse car, the Touge monster.
The first step was to get [the S2000] painted, and then when I was getting ready to buy a front bumper I came across the Top Secret front end. I started to think it would be better to go [a different direction] and do something that I like, because I've always been a fan of Top Secret and Kazuhiko "Smoky" Nagata, [the man behind TS]. I figured the next natural step after [deciding to change directions] would be to go turbo. I was a big turbo guy; with my Civic, I put 3 or 4 different kits on it over the period I owned it.
HT: Did you do any of the work yourself?
RK: I actually did all of it myself, with the help of a few people. I spent entire school days and countless hours mapping out different turbo kits and stuff. When it came time to build it, I needed someone who could weld. I just laid out everything and the guy I found welded everything up. (Kress admits the relationship with his welder has eroded since the project build, hence his remaining nameless.)
HT: Is your welder someone you met just for this project? Or have you worked with him in the past?
RK: He helped me get into the scene. He helped me with a few turbo kits for my Civic, like the first kit we pieced together from GReddy parts. My second kit was entirely custom, and he helped me with that too, the manifold mostly. He did the manifold for the S2000.
HT: There seems to be some discrepancy in the power number you're giving. You indicated 310hp on a good day and 263 on a bad one. Why is that?
RK: I actually just re-dynoed the car and pulled 320hp, tuning with the e-Manage. That was the only problem-my e-Manage was really sketchy before, and my welder was going to tune it himself, but then had personal issues come up that he had to handle. When you guys photographed the car, basically the only thing that was tuned on the S was A/F ratios. We richened up the mix a tiny bit and ran it, and the power is mostly just from bolting on the kit. With the 320 I got, I wouldn't say it's fully tuned, but it's getting there. I'm expecting more-I'm switching from the e-Manage to an AEM Engine Management System ECU pretty soon. I'm going to step up injectors, too.
HT: Doesn't that turbo take forever to spool? It seems kinda big...
RK: The compressor is big, but the turbine side is actually pretty small. If I mash [the throttle] I hit full boost after 3,000rpm. Right now the turbo is making 7psi, but when I do the EMS it'll be pushing more. With injectors, an EMS, and more boost, it should be pretty sweet. I'm looking forward to it.
HT: Moving to the exterior, where did you get the car painted?
RK: There's a place [in Placentia, Calif.] called Paint 'N Place. They shoot John Force's funny car bodies and stuff like that. My dad is actually friends with the owners. I take my cars to them all the time.
HT: You mentioned using JDM front fenders. How are they different from U.S. market fenders?
RK: Honestly, they are no different than the U.S. ones. I bought the headlights and taillights from the same guy, and he had the fenders on his car, and it looked like the lights fit just a little better. He told me to trade him my stock fenders and he'd send me the JDM ones he had.
HT: In retrospect, what has been the biggest hurdle so far in assembling this S2000?
RK: It all went pretty smoothly, although I can remember a lot of sleepless nights trying to get the turbo to run correctly. I had a lot of problems with the oil cooler; I remember I had to take it off like 3 or 4 times. It was leaking, the return line from the turbo was a bitch to get to-I think setting up the cooler was the biggest headache. That, and money, having the money to fund everything. It was all out of pocket-to this day, zero sponsors.
HT: So what is next?
RK: For now, tuning. I want to make more power, and I think the car can make more. Then I'm going to start something new; I think I might do a right-handed EG next.
Bolts & Washers
Ryan Kress' 2000 S2000
Kress' preferred engine stimulus is forced induction, and to that end, he pieced together a custom turbo system to satisfy his F20C mill. Bolted to a one-off manifold is a huge Turbonetics 60-1 snail, complete with wastegate and polished, spun-aluminum ASME compressor inlet. The pump sends charge to a Spearco heat exchanger via custom plumbing equipped with an HKS Super Sequential blow-off valve and ultimately to a head that's been mildly ported and polished. The hot side directs gases out a custom 3-inch exhaust rigged with a straight pipe and finished with an HKS carbon Ti muffler.
To match the increase in induction, Kress upgraded the fuel system with a Walbro 255lph inline pump and RC Engineering 440cc injectors. Denso Iridium IK24 plugs bring the spark, and tuning parameters are tweaked with a GReddy e-Manage Ultimate piggyback computer. To anticipate the added stress to engine oil, a B&M cooler was incorporated into the oiling system.
The F20's bottom end spins a lightweight steel Comptech flywheel. Power is then transferred to the gearbox by way of an Exedy Hyper Single clutch boasting a 6-puck disc with cera-metallic face.
Evidence: Kress' most recent dyno outing produced 320 ponies at the wheels.
Set up on Tein S.Tech springs, the AP1 seems crouched to kill. Spoon front and rear crossbeam bars keep the chassis plenty stiff.
Stopping prowess is kicked up a notch with Hawk pads and braided lines.
Rims & Rubber
Tucked in each wheelwell are 17-inch Volk LE28N rims, 7.5-inches wide in front and 9-inches in back, shod in Falken FK451 stickiness, 225/45ZR17 fronts and 245/40ZR17 rears.
Outside: Paint look familiar? It should-it's the Imola orange found on J-spec NSXs. The body has also been enhanced with JDM front fenders, headlights, side markers, and taillights. A Top Secret front bumper and Siebon carbon-fiber hood round out exterior mods.
Inside: In transit, Kress settles into Recaro Sport Topline seats flossing Takata harnesses, as a quartet of A'PEXi EL II gauges staring back from the dash keep him abreast of operating conditions. A Top Secret shift knob allows him to work through the gears, while a Personal steering wheel, secured with an FET quick-release hub, points the S2K's nose in the right direction.
Kress gives it to his parents and family, Ron and Celine from Supastar, Nick from DSB Garage, and his girlfriend Josia.