Honda's del Sol got a bum rap from the start. It never delivered on being the CRX replacement it was supposed to be. Its front-wheel-drive bones meant it'd never check the boxes for roadster shoppers. And it was never given the chance it should've gotten.
Today, it takes a self-proclaimed nonconformist to appreciate the Civic-based targa—the sort of guy whose last car was a VW Vanagon. The sort of guy like Austin Hironaka. And Austin's all about nonconformity. You'll know it not just by his del Sol but by the CR-V he's built up that, together, are a whole lot better than any '80s Volkswagen.
Aside from that Euro bus, sticking with Honda's pedigree is protocol for Austin. But not just any Honda. "I'm an oddball, someone who has to do things differently and in my own style," he says. "The CR-V came [about] after I tried to step away from the Honda world." Which led to that Vanagon, and which led to something that'd give him that same sort of utilitarianism, only with VTEC. "I had to come up with a plan that would allow me to crack V in a Honda but still be able to drive to the mountains on a moment's notice and not worry about gettin' stuck or having to chain up," Austin says, who spends just as much time snowboarding throughout the state of Washington as he does doing things like swapping cylinder heads and bolting on coilovers.
The del Sol that came along later was the culmination of everything Austin's ever wanted in a Honda. "There were things [I'd] always dreamt about having on my builds as a kid, and I felt it was time to put all [of] them into one project: right-hand drive, five-lug, a big motor, seats, etc.," he says. "It was all a dream back then but [later] became a goal."
A goal that took shape by way of a 2.4L K-series engine that's good for just under 500 hp and with the Recaros, the Volks, and the paintwork those dreams of Austin's were made of, most of which he handled on his own. "I've been modifying everything from bicycles to RC cars to pretty much everything else I've owned since I can remember," he says about how things developed. "I grew up around my old man who's into old-school hot rods, so hot-roddin' is in the blood." In the blood since '04, at least, when Austin got himself his first of many Civics.
It's all those Civics that've made his CR-V what it is, though. The Type R short-block, the GS-R top-end, the Precision turbo, the Volks, the K-Sports—they're all the sort of mods you'd expect to find on something like a '92 CX and not a '99 SUV only more difficult to make happen. "At the time, nobody was hot-roddin' CR-Vs," he says about the lack of information when it came time to do things like swap the rear diff from an Element into place. "Plus, hunting for parts was damn near impossible." Impossible-to-find parts like the RHD clip he was never able to get imported and the JDM Fullmark exterior conversion that he was.
And all of that's OK because that's what the del Sol is for with its K-swap and its overseas exterior conversion that's made up of headlights, bumpers, and fenders by way of the Japanese model. "The K engine was a totally new thing to me when I started building the motor for the del Sol," Austin says, who went through a high-compression, naturally aspirated version of the K before moving on to the supercharged mill he has now.
"There are some areas that I needed help on and, luckily, I've got the right friends for the job." He's talking about the boys from SpeedFactory, who did everything from help sort through that engine build to squeeze the 486 hp out of it. And don't think for a minute that Austin doesn't use every bit of that 486 hp as often as he can. "Within the five years that this car has been on the road, I'm on the fourth motor and third Rotrex charger," he wants you to know. "I'm by no means gentle with these cars, and I drive 'em like I stole them."
Austin isn't sweating those blown-up K engines, either. Neither the del Sol nor that CR-V is his primary mode of transportation, which means a piston wanting to burrow itself out the front of the block every once in a while for the sake of going faster is OK by him. "The car always [comes] back better and stronger than before," he says about the setbacks, "and I think it's finally there."
The del Sol isn't at the top of too many people's Honda wish lists, and the CR-V isn't the first thing you think of when you go looking for the proper home for that Type R block of yours. And that's pretty much how Austin wants it. "I had already had a few EGs and everyone else was running the same chassis. I had to do something a little different."