The very name is synonymous with any and all things Honda performance-related. From the bright, screaming-yellow, and blue paint schemes to the often-idolized company founder and acting president, Tatsuru Ichishima, the Spoon Sports name and product line are recognized and respected worldwide. And while you've no doubt seen Spoon brake calipers and signature carbon bits and pieces strewn about every car show you've attended over the last decade or so, make no mistake, the heart and soul of Spoon Sports comes from the track.
In '85, before the company took shape, a then-33-year-old Ichishima was focused on just one thing: racing. He'd built this '85 Civic E-AT track car that not only held its own in battle, but also managed to stand the test of time. Raw and utilitarian by design, Ichishima did away with any of the non-crucial components of his hatchback, then developed an engine program that would maintain longevity and reliability for countless race adventures. It's been through hell and back and recently toured the U.S. at a number of events after being re-sprayed and freshened up. Thanks to GoTuning Unlimited, Spoon Sports' sole authorized North American distributor, I was able to shoot both Ichishima's iconic Civic and the more modern CR-Z before they were shipped back to Japan.
E-at Sleep Race
With a goal of bringing the car into sub-2,000-pound territory while taking into account the additional weight of a rollcage and air jacks, the majority of the Civic was stripped completely bare. Inside you'll find little more than a dash, door panels, and an extremely tight carbon-Kevlar bucket seat. I had the opportunity to drive the car during the photo shoot, and compared to one of Spoon's off-the-shelf Kevlar bucket seats, this version felt painfully slimmer. As I slipped no more than 60 percent of the way into the seat (as far I could physically go), I took note of the custom gauge cluster and warning lights, the rollcage bars that flanked the cabin, and the ECU joined by a quartet of metallic dials that I assumed acted as a precursor to VTEC controllers, which became all the rage some 15 years after this car's inception.
Firing up the Civic was more difficult than it sounds. A number of attempts were ignored by the 1.6L ZC powerplant that, until this day, still remains hush-hush in terms of internal modification, but eventually the silence that surrounded GoTuning's headquarters was ripped apart by a nasty wail from the car's exhaust.
Jabbing at the gas pedal brought about lightning-quick, snappy bursts of anger from beneath the passenger side door and I headed off, just a short drive to a nearby building for a few photos. The clutch has a hairpin trigger, the ride is obnoxiously harsh, the sound is absolutely ear piercing, and three decades' worth of creeks and groans make themselves known at even the most mild concrete imperfections—it's perfect! Everything you'd expect from a bare-bones, no-nonsense, purpose-built track demon is packed into this micro-sized hatchback, and it's literally begging to be abused, all but fighting me when I attempted to slow down through a narrow parking lot.
Beyond the eye-popping livery, the exterior of Ichishima's third-gen remains subtle by today's standards. No canards, oversized splitter, or massive rear wing; in fact, the only aero changes occur under the car's belly with a flat panel that runs the length of the chassis in the name of efficiency. At all four corners sit Enkei single lug wheels wrapped in Advan rubber, and just behind the front rollers lie a set of air jacks with a third unit placed in the center of the rear to complete the tripod.
Fast-forward 26 years and the U.S. hasn't seen a Civic hatchback offered in almost a decade, while in Japan, the Civic lineup was removed entirely, for the most part replaced by the smaller Fit. The lack of a fun, affordable small car segment candidate left room for the CR-Z "sport hybrid." Noted globally as sorely lacking in the "sport" department, Spoon Sports began developing parts for the two-seater even before its official introduction. Wanting to highlight the car's potential, they built a demo car specifically for the '13 25 Hours of Thunderhill Challenge—an annual race event that stands as the longest single race in the U.S.
Finishing Thunderhill is a task in and of itself. Reliability is crucial for the all-day/all-night affair, and the team relied on the factory 1.5L heart with a few performance touches like their high camshaft and ECU kit, GE8 Honda Fit intake chamber conversion, venturi throttle, and signature air filter and N1 muffler. Even with the changes, power is well below the competition, a big hurdle especially with a chassis that tips the scales at more than 2,600 pounds. In order to bring that number down, the car was completely stripped down and fitted with one-off dry carbon doors, a carbon hood, and plexi windows.
After a grueling 25 hours of non-stop racing, the Spoon CR-Z not only completed the event, but they took home a third place finish. Fuel mileage, low tire wear, and unrivaled reliability kept the team in front of competition armed with double the horsepower, and in some cases, even more. Spoon Sports applied the same formula to the CR-Z that it's been using since the '80s, and the results speak for themselves.
This old, battle-tested '85 Civic serves as a starting point, a foundation if you will, for the eventual establishment of a company praised by Honda fans worldwide. Much of the theory, simplicity, and raw feel invested into the Spoon CR-Z came from the development of Ichishima's legendary E-AT chassis over the years. And the president along with his company, don't seem to be slowing down a bit.
25 Hours of Thunderhill
It's hard to fathom 25 hours on the track—all the stress on a car and energy used by a race team is indescribable. Only the strong survive, and the guys at Spoon Sports definitely have something to be proud of. Competing in the Thunderhill endurance race in their CR-Z, four drivers—including Dai Yoshihara and Spoon founder Ichishima San—finished the event in third place. Might not be the most powerful Honda around, but it has the stamina to outlast nearly anything in sight.