Around the time I opened my shop I started working on a piece-of-junk DA9 Integra for a customer. The body looked like a trash can. Those round things and pieces of fiber behind the back wheels were so wasted I won't even call them brakes. The power steering didn't work and neither did the A/C. There was a crack in the center console that I'm pretty sure got there from a Third gear shift gone wrong. The seats were torn, there was crash damage inside the trunk, the car didn't track straight, and it smelled like cheese inside. I'm still not sure what color it was supposed to be. The guy wanted a JDM ITR engine swap, which at the time was the most expensive thing you could stuff in there.
I realized early on that common sense doesn't suit everyone. The money he spent on the B18C swap could have gone toward paint, brakes, and a bunch of other odds and ends that could have made this crappy DA9 not so crappy, but he wanted the swap. I bolted the engine in along with a limited-slip differential cable trans and hardwired an OBD conversion and sent him packing. Trying to talk a guy like this out of an engine swap makes about as much sense as the silent alarm.
Things have changed a lot in the last 10 years or so. Builds are well-rounded. The number of turds with fancy swaps are fewer. Still, there really ought to be an order of operations for guys like this when it comes to a build though so here's mine:
Choose wisely: Common sense will tell you that a car's state of lameness is directly proportional to how much money you'll spend on it. Chances are, the cheaper the car is to begin with the more you'll spend on it. Forget about anything with frame damage and run away from any seller who mentions fire or rust.
Important things: Going fast is fun but don't lose sight of the value of being able to stop. Nobody's asking you to bolt on a big brake kit worth twice as much as your hatchback but making sure you've got fresh pads and/or shoes and unwarped rotors before making lots of horsepower is never a bad thing.
More important things: Turning and being able to go over bumps are other things smart people look for. Make sure your shocks or struts, bushings, and steering rack are in order before swapping in that K20A.
Show some effort: Butt connectors, duct tape, multicolored wiring loom, and anything that makes big promises but comes in a can are not your friends.
Almost there: Rockin' a $6,000 engine swap while rolling on factory steelies will always be dumb. Stop the excuses; if you can afford the swap, you should be able to afford wheels and tires. Besides, acceleration, handling, and braking all boil down to how good your wheels and tires are.
OK, now: This is a good time for an engine swap or whatever else it is you plan on doing to make you go faster.
And the rest: Paint and interior mods can really be done at any time. It all depends on if you want something that's fast but looks slow or that's slow but looks fast. The choice is yours.
- Aaron Bonk