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Honda VTEC Engines - Editorial

Engine Swap History

Jun 1, 2009
Htup_0906_01_z+honda_vtec_engines+honda_del_sol_view Photo 1/2   |   Honda VTEC Engines - Editorial

My friends and I thought about swapping a DOHC VTEC B-series engine into one of our '88-'91 Civic hatchbacks not long after Honda began selling the '92-'93 GS-R. We were pimple-faced, young and awkward, and a bit overzealous, but none of that got in the way of us saying amongst ourselves, "Hey, why not? The chassis looks similar to the Civic's, so why wouldn't it work?" But we never did find any B17A GS-R engines. Instead, the first DOHC VTEC engine I ever swapped into an EF chassis Civic came from a del Sol, shortly after the car was released. The Civic was a base-model, '89 hatchback, one that we'd almost settled on swapping a ZC into, maybe even a B18A if we could find one-but both of those had been done already. Besides, the problem was that B18As weren't all that abundant in 1994. I visited a couple of local engine yards in search of one, but what I found at a wrecking yard in nearby Fontana changed everything. Perched up high on a rack of smashed metal was a nearly new but beat-up Honda del Sol VTEC, complete with its B16A engine, ECU, and hydro transmission. We bought it all, everything we needed to do the swap and, in hindsight, all sorts of things that we didn't need...like the transmission...and the ECU...and the under-dash wiring harness. Never mind the fact that the del Sol's hydraulic transmission wouldn't work in the old hatchback (nobody really knew that at the time) or the fact that the ECU wouldn't plug in (nobody knew that either), we had ourselves a real-deal twin-cam VTEC engine, and we were going to make it fit.

Shortly after unloading it in the garage we realized that the engine would bolt in similarly to the B18A swap we'd just finished-our first one ever-but the transmission wasn't happening. Although it's obvious now, we failed to consider the fact that the del Sol transmission uses a hydraulic-operated clutch fork while the Civic's uses a cable-operated one. To be fair, the hydro stuff had only been out for about two years and few of us had the opportunity to work on them since they were so new. Of course, the mounts are entirely different from one another too. We got lucky and found a repair shop that was "nice" enough to trade us straight across for the cable gearbox that we needed. Keep in mind though that in 1994, hydro gearboxes were a bit more valuable than the cable ones, but nowhere near as expensive as they are now since there simply wasn't a demand for them yet. From there, the engine and transmission went in as you'd expect, that is, if you were doing this sort of thing back then: we welded on a DA Integra chassis bracket to the transmission-side frame rail after chopping off the Civic one and used '90-'93 Integra mounts and brackets to bolt it all into place. I even remember making a front mount for this thing, which consisted of a DA front mount and two metal tabs welded to the crossmember. It was crude, but it worked. Keep in mind that early aftermarket engine mount manufacturers like HCP, Place Racing, and Hasport were still a few years away from making anything, let alone from having phone numbers and signs on their doors, so if you didn't have access to a MIG welder and some metal cutting tools, you weren't doing a swap like this. In fact, Honda engine swaps in general were still very new and very uncharted territory.

Htup_0906_02_z+honda_vtec_engines+spoon_sports_logo Photo 2/2   |   Honda VTEC Engines - Editorial

But the wiring is were we really got confused. The B18A/Civic Si swap we'd just completed was simple, but the del Sol/Civic swap we were looking at now was anything but. Of course, the ECU plugs were different, as were the firewall connectors. Today, you'd find yourself an OBD-0-to-OBD-1 adapter harness, reuse your old engine harness, wire VTEC, and call it a day, but we were under the impression that we had to use the del Sol ECU and engine wiring harness, no exceptions. Who would have thought that an old '89 Civic engine harness would work on one of these fancy, new VTEC engines? We didn't. And I don't need to tell you that adapter harnesses were still several years away. As such, we went back to the wrecking yard to purchase the del Sol's complete under-dash wiring harness and then proceeded to graft it onto the Civic. The end result-after several weeks of wiring-was quite possibly one of the first OBD-1-converted '88-'91 Civics ever. We were even able to use the del Sol's gauge cluster-since it plugged right in-years before swapping gauge clusters was considered cool.

About a year and several swaps later we realized what fools we were for swapping the entire under-dash harness into place and began cutting and splicing in permanent OBD-0-to-OBD-1 ECU conversions for customers (still years before plug-in adapter harnesses). Of course, this allowed them to keep their existing wiring harnesses but use the newer ECU. It also saved them from having to buy $500 worth of wiring harnesses just to get a B-series to fit. Who knew?

In a way, I'm glad that adapter harnesses and shiny billet aluminum mount kits didn't exist in the early days. There are few better ways to learn than by trial and error.

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