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May 2014 Road Rage - DOHC The Hard Way

Aaron Bonk
Apr 28, 2014

Last year marked the 10th anniversary of my permanently closing the doors to the shop where I'd made my first contributions to the world of high-performance Honda engine swaps. A newly introduced K Series engine then foolishly perceived to be the end of making Hondas any faster along with an Internet all too eager to dole out once complex transplant information meant any lucrativeness the business once had would soon be gone. As it turns out, I was wrong, and not just about my nitwitted and half-baked convictions about the K Series but about the need for shops like mine.

The pervasiveness of online information-wielding philanthropists with a whole lot of spare time and do-it-yourself engine swapping arguably crippled shops like mine but all of that isn't inherently bad. There's perhaps no greater satisfaction than installing your own engine. About the only thing better is figuring out how to do all of that from scratch. That's where shops like mine came in. In a time long before bolt-in engine mount kits, plug-and-play wiring harnesses, or OBD conversions were available, seemingly simple engine swaps now taken for granted weren't always so easy. And since the Internet didn't invent the engine swap, even people like me who got paid to do things like stuff ZC engines into '86 CRXs nearly 20 years ago had to figure some things out for themselves.

For example, during the early half of the 1990s, a typical B Series engine swap into an '88-91 Civic or CRX would've generally played out like this:

  • Call every local wrecking yard and see who's got a crashed '94 del Sol VTEC or Integra GS-R for sale. Sure, a Japanese-spec SiR engine and drivetrain would make a whole lot more sense, but it's 1994 and you have no idea they exist.
  • Purchase everything under the hood, including the hydraulic-style transmission you'll later find out you won't be able to use and the under-dash wiring harness you'll unnecessarily make work.
  • Mock up the powertrain and realize that a cable-style transmission that'll easily adapt to the Civic or CRX chassis exists.
  • Call every local engine yard for any cable-style Integra transmission and pay dearly for it.
  • Mock up the powertrain again and realize that the driver-side chassis bracket is too small, that the passenger-side chassis bracket is in the wrong spot, and that whatever Civic or CRX mounts you thought you could use can be chucked.
  • Realize that the Civic or CRX chassis brackets will work if you really want them to after carefully drilling, cutting, and prying the passenger-side one off and welding it back on in the right spot.
  • Realize that the '90-93 Integra might have more in common with the Civic and CRX than you initially thought. Purchase the appropriate rear engine bracket and front mount, which still won't bolt up to the chassis but all of a sudden fits on the transmission.
  • Using a couple of hunks of L-metal sourced at 1 a.m. from the only 24-hour Home Depot around, fabricate the crudest, most rudimentary bracket that'll get welded to the front crossmember and bolt up to the transmission mount.
  • Stand back, look at the engine in the bay, and fool yourself into thinking that you're anywhere close to being done.
  • Pick up the Civic axles and realize that they're both too small and one of them's entirely too long, which can mostly be blamed on what looks like a blasted prop shaft bolted to the back of the block.
  • Disassemble the del Sol or Integra axles along with the Civic or CRX ones and, while applying a liberal layer of CV joint grease to your arms and face, play "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" until the magical combination is found.
  • Do the same thing with the two different shift linkages and then realize that they've both got to be chopped up and welded together to work.
  • Congratulate yourself for now knowing that Civics really are similar to Integras and put the right radiator hoses, throttle cable, and fuel lines into place.
  • Attempt to plug the car's underdash wiring harness connectors into the del Sol's or Integra's OBD-I ECU and realize that OBD adapter harnesses won't exist for another seven years.
  • Remove the seats, instrument cluster, steering wheel, and dashboard to make installing the del Sol's or Integra's underdash wiring harness easier even though it'll quite possibly be the most numbskull engine swap move ever pulled.
  • Four weeks later plug in the ECU and pat yourself on the back for finishing one of the first B Series engine swaps.

Of course, swaps began to make a whole lot more sense after those first nonsensical ones, but removing and welding factory brackets into place along with cut-and-modified shift linkages remained staples to the process for years. Even all of that wiring nonsense gave way to something much simpler, fortunately, and revolved around permanent underdash OBD conversions or, as it turned out, using the right ECU to begin with. It was all very much a part of the learning process, one that I wouldn't give up for any amount of Googles or a sack full of questionably accurate, DIY-tip-filled Honda forums.

By Aaron Bonk
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