Spoon president Tatsuru Ichishima is now an icon in the Honda tuning world but there was a time when he once was a newbie; although, that was more than a quarter of a century ago.
Back in 1985 when Spoon was still "Tatsuru Ichishima Company", the 33 year-old Ichishima was building his very first race car on his own. Although he was a privateer, the Spoon founder was able to gain support from Honda and Mugen for parts. In exchange he provided racing data back. When we asked him why he was able to get this kind of support he just chuckled and said, "I used to be a test driver for Honda. Back then getting the support from the manufacturers was huge. But I didn't realize just how special that was until later. At that time, all I wanted was to race."
As a test driver, he had of course plenty of track experience and done his share of time underneath a car but this race car was special. His Honda Civic E-AT would become the first Civic to enter the Japan Touring Car Championship series even before the Honda team and also become the basis of Spoon's racing concept and philosophy of today.
Now the car sits in Spoon's speed shop "Type One" among their later race cars like the NSX Type-R and Integra DC5 as a symbol of the Honda tuner's racing heritage, although they can hang with new cars of today. It may be old school but you better come ready because this old timer can lap Tsukuba pretty quickly. The amazing thing about this car is that not only is it fast, but its in great running condition and is an endurance car that can constantly go fast.
As you can see in Spoon's cars of today, their building concept was formed right at this time. Ichishima always stresses that a car must be fast and durable. One of the things that Spoon does to make this happen is weight reduction, and his target was to slim down to 900kg (1984lbs). This was before carbon-fiber, high-tensile steel and titanium. As you can see the car is completely gutted out to the bone, reinforced and built up according to the strict Group A specs.
This third generation Civic was designed by Honda under the MM (man maximum/mechanics minimum) concept. It was clearly designed from the factory to become a fun-to-drive vehicle with the same DNA from Honda's motor sports. The car would later attain the popular Wonder Civic nickname and win the first Japan Car of the Year award for Honda. Basically this was the car that put the Honda Civic on the map. It was an obvious choice for Spoon to take this car as a base vehicle and turn it into a full-blown racing machine.
Under the bulged hood is the 1.6L DOHC ZC engine with programmed fuel injection (PGM-FI). The ZC engine is to become the defacto sports twin cam engine before Honda comes out with the VTEC. The ZC has a long stroke for a sports engine and had the speed that paralleled F1 engines back then. The PGM-FI gives lots of low rpm torque and smooth revving across the board. The Spoon racing E-AT boasts 230hp at 9800rpm where the stock E-AT Civic Si with the ZC gets 130hp at 6,800rpm. Within the JTC Series, the battle between the Civics with the ZC and the Corolla Levins with the 4A-GE becomes the big rivalry of both the makes and motors.
The ECU is made by Keihin, which is Honda's biggest electronics system supplier. Ichi-san modestly said, "We weren't able to set up the car during practice so we had to wing it as we went." It was set up so the front and rear brake distribution, fuel mapping and ignition timing can all be controlled from the cockpit.
Spoon also tuned the transmission gears to close ratios to adapt to the various tight curves of Japanese tracks. This also allows the car to operate near the maximum power band of the engine a majority of the time. Another tuning concept that Spoon still practices today is enhancing the performance of the original part. This means using the same hardware but by tuning and polishing, that same part contributes to raising the overall performance of the car. By buffing up, cleaning and pampering it and feeding it high performance transmission fluid, Spoon was able to lower the friction produced within the gearbox thus hoisting the endurance level. The current close gear set by Spoon still makes use of the same gear ratio from the Group A days.
Spoon also chose Nissin brakes, another OEM Honda brand, to tune and perfect the braking. Pads were replaced to high performance racing pads but the hardware basically remained stock. Today Nissin still manufactures the high performance monoblock and twin-block calipers for Spoon.
Showa suspension was the way to go for Spoon since whether it's a racing car or not, Ichishima's cars are very easy to handle. He says the feeling is very linear and nothing tricky. If you already guessed, you guessed right, Showa still produces specially tuned Spoons legs to this day.
Many of Spoon's cars have made it over stateside but this one has yet to make it over. The Spoon president hopes one day he can bring this Wonder Civic across the Pacific so his US fans can take a look at history.
1985 Civic (E-AT) Group A Spec
Owner Spoon sports
Hometown Ogikubo, Tokyo, Japan
Daily Grind Honda Tuning Specialist
Under The Hood naturally-aspirated ZC Engine 1.6L DOHC; Spoon valve cover, aluminum oil pan, oil cap, reservoir covers, straight pipe-exhaust (megaphone type), custom header w/spring flange joints; NGK spark plug wires; grey sealer paint
Brains Keihin ECU
Drivetrain 5-speed close ratio transmission
Stiff Stuff Showa struts; custom aluminum rollcage, front torsion bars, rear springs, front strut tower bar, front/rear swaybars w/spherical endlinks, adjustable panhard rod, air jacks, single lug conversion
Stoppers Nissin calipers; adjustable proportioning valve; 2-piece drilled rotors
Rollers 15X8 (front) and 15X6.5 (rear) center-locking Enkei wheels, 205/55 R15 Vintage Yokohama Advan SS tires
Outside : Flat panel underneath car; Spoon Sports paint scheme, decals, windshield banner; tow hooks; EC Works Type A mirrors; hood pins; fender-mounted air jack wand
Inside Handmade meters: Spoon Sports first-gen steering wheel, carbon-kevlar bucket seat; Simpson harness; custom seat brackets; battery kill switch;