As far as 25-year-old compacts go, Acura's '92 to '93 Integra GS-R is a special one. It was sold with the first twin-cam VTEC engine that you could afford, its gear set was wound tighter than any other Integra's, and it was produced in quantities so limited that its exclusivity was ensured. Robert Romero buying his for 400 bucks, chucking the unicorn of a B17A1 engine, and turning the whole thing into a 1,000-plus-hp drag car was his way of giving the middle finger to exclusivity and turning out a 9.10-quarter mile while doing it.
Nine-second quarter miles happen a whole lot more frequently since Stephan Papadakis checked off the first one in a Honda back in '99, but that doesn't mean just anybody can do it. It takes time. Romero's been tinkering with B-series engines for 13 years now. It takes money. For him, single-digit time slips were at the mercy of his moving up at work. And it takes a little bit of heart. At least one short-block was sacrificed by way of spun rod bearings for the sake of faster times. "I boosted a B20-VTEC [with its] stock block and that lasted a whole two races," he says. "I realized I needed to build a motor that would make power and [be able to] handle it."
The formula for all of this nine-second business isn't all that complicated. Send 1,042hp to a couple of 24.5-inch slicks by way of a BorgWarner turbo and M&H rubber and, provided that long-block's been reinforced, enough fuel's been added, and the driveline's up for it, low-nines are yours for the taking; that is, if you have the skill to make it all work the way it's supposed to. Which is exactly what Romero's gone on to do.
"After hanging out with friends who owned EVOs, I knew it was time for a turbo street car," Romero says about the impetus for ditching the car's original 1.7L engine. Since that time the Integra's transitioned from Romero's street car to his full-time track car-a role it's served for the last four years. "The majority of my fabricating and modifying knowledge came from this build," he says. "There aren't a lot of aftermarket parts [available] for this chassis so I spent a lot of time making things fit or work."
Right about now you've got your panties in a wad, wondering how in the world somebody could take a perfectly good early '90s GS-R and lop it all up into a purpose-built race car. Romero doesn't care. That's mostly because this GS-R's his-not yours-and the whole race car transformation progressed naturally, over time. "When I first purchased this car, I was shocked to see that it was a GS-R and that it was in almost stock condition," he says, going on to mention how modifications came slowly and, at first, didn't interfere with the whole nature or demeanor of that top-of-the-line Integra. "As the years passed, I advanced in my career as a union sheet metal worker, so my budget allowed me to take it from a street car to an all-out race car." And everybody knows that an all-out race car beats a garage-bound dust collector any day. And while the contents of the engine bay don't really resemble what Acura originally had in mind, a fresh coat of familiar Aztec Green Pearl was laid down, but not before the Hush Performance three-piece front end with Downstar hardware was bolted on.
Those nine-second passes didn't come right away, either. Once in full race trim, Romero says the car went from 12s, to 11s, to 10s as quickly as he could've hoped for, but breaking into that nine-second club would take him a whole year to do. "About a year and half ago I met David Nguyen of Import Auto Pros at the track," Romero says. "He was my competition but he gave me advice and offered to help." Help by way of Nguyen tuning the Integra's AEM standalone and offering trackside support that led to a 9.8-second pass their first time out together. According to Romero, "It's been chopping away at the nines ever since."
That the short-lived second-generation Integra GS-R is rare isn't lost on Romero. It's just that, for Romero anyways, preserving a semi-collectable compact car will never be as exciting as scooting down a track at 171 mph in one. And, in many ways, it's a whole lot more unique the way it sits. "I'm one of [only] a few people who choose to drag race this chassis," he says, before going on to say that, rare or not, it's the fastest second-generation Integra the world's ever seen and that an eight-second pass is his would be a GS-R is for the taking.