Previous vehicles owned: Skyline GT-R.
Cost to build? Too much.
Estimated value? Priceless.
What are the most unique features about your vehicle? Chop-top Civic hatchback.
What problems did you encounter? None, we've already done a car like this before.
OK, so these aren't the everyday answers that we find on the Super Street tech sheet. And no, we didn't make them up. Not this time. These were penned in by someone who makes us very, very jealous. Which, in reality, isn't a very difficult thing to do. A look at our own personal project cars (past and present) reveals a rusted out 240Z, a Civic hatch still awaiting its B16, and a suffering Probe with a long-damaged rear quarter-panel. Actually, it feels blas-phemous to mention these cars with Signal Auto's second chop-top drag car. (That's because it is.-JW)
Named Chop Top 2, this venture is old hat for Signal in every regard. Inspired by, ahem, the old hot rod style of lowered roof lines, Osaka-based Signal Auto came out with the original chop-top Civic three years ago. Signal shipped the car to America at the end of 1998 and raced a full schedule the following year, ending the season with a stout 9.98 run at the IDRC Finals in Pomona. Meanwhile, back in Osaka, Signal president Kousuke Kida was putting the wraps on the sequel.
Signal Auto's second time around required less patience. After dialing in Chop Top 2 at the 2000 NIRA Finals in Vegas, Kida took the car to Palmdale for the IDRC Finals and finished First in a stacked field. In Japan, Chop Top 2's heritage is even more impressive. With a best of 9.74, the dragster is second fastest in that country to the HKS's heavily-modified (think engine placement and weight distribution) Celica. And it far exceeds the Celica in popularity. In Japan, Chop Top 2 makes more magazine appearances than Britney Spears.
Up close, Chop Top 2 looks more like a very expensive toy than a professional race car. The diminished dimensions don't seem so much a modification as they do an illusion. And the truth of the matter is that despite the 530hp power output and 9-second quarter-mile times, the low roof line will forever be Chop Top 2's claim to fame. Well, until the next one comes out.
For some tuners, an oversight of the amount of engineering put into the car may be considered a harsh disappointment, but for Kida, it is an acknowledgement of an original idea, one of few that the import industry has seen in recent years. What isn't original is the trusty formula Signal Auto has put together under the hood: a sturdy Honda motor blown to the hilt. In this case, the popular Honda B16 powerplant is built up moderately with Crower rods, JE pistons, and Total Seal piston rings. The head has also seen a nice port and polish job and has been outfitted with Toda cams (along with Toda cam gears).
Signal Auto outsourced the turbo setup to FasTrax. FasTrax owner and chief engineer Jon Kuroyama went with a custom Garrett T-Series turbo. Compressed air mixes with fuel fed to the motor via RC Engineering injectors, a Bosch fuel pump, and STR fuel rail-all of which are managed by a Motec M4 Pro system. Signal Auto also saw fit to build a custom exhaust and stainless steel manifold. The entire turbo combination is good for 530hp @ 9,500 rpm, which sounds a touch stacked on the low end. On the track, Chop Top 2 has yet to see its best pass.
In other areas of the car, Signal Auto chose to partner up with fellow Osaka locals Rays Engineering and Tanabe Racing Development. Lightweight forged magnesium Volk Racing TE37 wheels and Tanabe Sustec Pro Racing coilovers garnish all four corners. Again, it's a long proven combination-why mess with a good thing? It didn't work for Coke. (Note: The preceding allusion/attempt at a joke was meant only for our '80s readership, all others please ignore and forgive and move on)
For 15 years, Signal Auto has been the name of the game in Osaka. The tuning company encompasses every automotive arena, from body work and paint to high-horsepower experiments (just check out our April 1999 and September 2000 cover cars). The two chop-tops reveal this diversity, which the company has now expanded into the States with its new facility in Torrance, California. This season, both chop-tops are going head to head competitively. Right now, going against the norm, the sequel seems to be better than the original.