This month's Legends interviewee is one that anybody who knows anything about the world of Honda performance had to have seen coming: Stephan Papadakis. Conqueror of the nine-second and later eight-second FWD barriers, Papadakis saw many firsts during his drag racing tenure. But I'm not here to tell you about Papadakis' drag racing exploits or his H-series legacy; everything you've ever wanted to know about him, including all of that, can be found in the following pages. No, when I think of Stephan Papadakis, I'm instead reminded of the best doggone single-cam I've ever known.
Southern California was home to dozens of Honda-specific performance shops throughout the 1990s. Mine was one of them, along with Papadakis' Honda Pro, which served as a beacon for no-frills enthusiasts looking for more power by means of engine transplants. I could tell you that when I reminisce of that era and think of Honda Pro that Papadakis' then 10-second '91 Civic or some customer's brand-new '98 hatchback being stuffed with all manner of B-series VTEC engines comes to mind, but I'd be lying. When I think of Honda Pro, I think of the strongest little D series I've ever known.
Sometime during the late-1990s I got my hands on a 1.6L D-series engine that'd made its rounds within the Honda Pro ranks by means of a second-generation CRX. Why we bought that engine from Papadakis I don't exactly know, but I do remember how many different cars' engine bays it'd since called home, how much damage it did at the races, and as far as I can remember, how it never blew up. That old single-cam started life not in an unusual way and was retrofitted with little more than Arias forged pistons and a set of Integra non-VTEC connecting rods, fresh out of a bone-stock engine. The factory sleeves remained intact-mostly because block sleeving was still relatively new and prohibitively expensive-as did the majority of the cylinder head, including the camshaft. It was a simple engine, but the turbo system that accompanied it was anything but for those days. At its core were some sort of T3-based turbo of specifications that I've long forgotten and a host of HKS components, including the company's original external wastegate, front-mount intercooler, and equally old blow-off valve. The engine's fuel management system is where the peculiarities began, though. A stand-alone system it didn't have nor did it feature the later tried-and-proven boost-dependent fuel pressure regulator. Instead, an HKS AIC (Additional Injector Controller) was wired up, which manned two extra injectors that were plumbed directly into the charge pipe. The slightly larger primary injectors, two extra injectors up-stream, and backed-off ignition timing ensured 20-psi pulls were no problem. A relic of an engine management system it most assuredly was. Trouble was, instructions for the AIC had disappeared, which meant late-night pulls on the street (as well as a few phone calls to Papadakis), learning what that little box's boost gain and rev gain knobs did and didn't do, were in order.
Don't ask me how much power that little engine made because I couldn't tell you. Not because I can't remember, but because we never measured it. In a stripped-down CRX HF (and by stripped-down I mean gutted doors with Lexan windows, holes everywhere, and absolutely no interior save for a dashboard and two seats), though, it ruled the streets, embarrassing boosted and twin-cam-swapped Civics and Integras of admittedly heavier proportions but also of exponentially more power. All of that was after we yanked it from a '93 Civic coupe but before we put it into a '95 Civic hatchback-both of which put the D series through equal amounts of abuse, the span of which lasted no less than three years. Assuredly, that engine made its rounds and served as the basis of more than a few later semi-professional racers' first taste of boost. Somewhere along the line I let that engine go, and as far as I know (and sort of hope), it's still running strong today.
Papadakis has quite the story to tell, and it'd do you well to read about it. As for me, yeah, I'll never forget the time I stood there and watched as he broke the nine-second barrier, causing import drag racing to practically reinvent itself, but I'll also never forget that little single-cam.