We first met Lee Niffenegger at the media introduction for the current Civic Si. As part of Honda's pocket-protector posse, Lee is responsible for infusing that Honda DNA into the import cars we know and love. Much like us, he's a hardcore Honda head at heart. But unlike us, he's really, really smart. His title as senior engineer, OR2 VR3 complete vehicle reliability at Honda R&D Americas, Inc. announces just how smart he is. And if that doesn't do it, then the lab coat is a dead giveaway.
When you think of an R&D engineer, you probably have a mental image of a nerd in a white lab coat. If so, ... well ... you're partly right. Everyone here at Honda R&D does wear the same white uniform. But many of us "enginerds" are also enthusiasts, so we're constantly dreaming up the same kinds of things that Super Street readers really want.
Don't believe me? Let's talk about the '06 Civic Si. Honda R&D Americas took on the huge responsibility of creating this sport compact icon. I served as one of the Project Leaders on this one-of-a-kind assignment. Since I own and have owned several iconic Hondas ('87 CRX Si, '97 ITR, '99 Si) this project was right up my alley - literally a "dream come true." But I also felt the weight of huge expectations from Honda enthusiasts everywhere. During development, we were able to add that long sought after LSD, sticky summer tires, and a Si-worthy interior because, on the right product, enthusiast features do make business sense. Developing the Si in the U.S. created other great opportunities as well. As a special project, we modified the stock Si and took it from street car to race car. Dream come true #2: getting paid to design a race car! After everything was said and done, we finished 1st and 2nd in our class at the grueling NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill, a professional driver/closed course event. It was a true testament to the performance and durabilityof the Si.
So if you hear a fellow enthusiast say that no one at Honda cares about the kind of car they want, kindly inform them that there are plenty of "us" on the inside...and we will be heard from again!
Lee Niffenegger www.honda.com