He makes no qualms about being the "older guy" in the Honda industry, and he's probably one of the friendliest individuals you could possibly ever meet. The countenance of face conveys genuine interest whenever a motorsport-related topic is brought up. His eyes carry an air of wisdom that seems to be lacking in our ever-changing industry. The name, undeniably household in the import world, is one that carries a ton of weight.
From the early days of modern age Honda building, very few of the coveted pioneers have managed to maintain a respected level of participation in our community. A tough industry in almost every aspect-from peer competition, to economic blasts that seem to strike without mercy-most of the individuals that helped plant the seed for us have moved on. But there are a select few who have not only remained relevant over the past 20 years, but have actually pushed the performance envelope further than anyone could have possibly imagined. One of those trend setters happens to be Oscar Jackson. And more impressive than his reign as one of the heavyweight innovators during the "golden age" of import tuning, is the fact that his history with the Honda brand stretches back to the early '70s. And if you ask the man himself, he'll no doubt tell you that he's just getting warmed up.
While his friends and peers were spending every available hour under the hood of V8-powered muscle cars, he was busy tinkering with what many referred to as "those little imports." Oscar states "I raced motorcycles in the late '60s and saw firsthand how Honda went from a small motorcycle company to the world's best motorcycle company. When they introduced the Civic in '73, I envisioned Honda doing the same thing and dominating the other car makers." While in college studying to become an attorney, Jackson quit school and went to work for a Honda dealership in Costa Mesa, CA. During the evenings and weekends away from the nine-to-five, he began building high performance parts for his own Civic. With so many projects taking up far too much space, he outgrew his garage, and was forced to rent an 800-square-foot industrial building for store and work space.
While Honda enthusiasts are frothing at the mouth these days, excited for any bit of aftermarket performance, this wasn't always the case. In the early '70s, customers weren't exactly beating down Jackson's door in search of more power from the gas miserly Civic chassis. "I truly believed in Honda's mindset, and although they weren't a performance car company at that time, I was confident they'd eventually get there, so I stuck it out," he adds. And it paid off. As the oil crisis of the '70s forced Americans to wait in painfully long lines on select days for the chance to fill up their gas guzzlers, many turned to the gas sipping Honda brand for relief. However, once they became accustomed to excellent gas mileage and poor performance, Jackson's business quickly began to prosper. In 1973 he introduced a performance header and camshaft for the Civic 1200, and eventually developed a dual side draft carburetor kit, big valve cylinder head, and by 1975 he'd already begun turbocharging his Honda.
But how do you sell an unknown product to people before the internet or magazine attention existed? "It might sound funny, but I used to cruise to the local movie theater on Friday and Saturday nights revving my engine, doing burn-outs, and participating in a few "unsanctioned" races. It may seem impossible, but at that time it was my only form of promotion." Eventually, Jackson began competing in Solo II events and earned a reputation for himself.
Fast forward to the early '90s, when the '88-'91 Civic/CRX chassis had managed to recruit a whole new generation of fans everywhere. A blossoming aftermarket, still in its infancy, began to take notice of the cult following, and parts were starting to become available. There weren't many power adders available at the time, so most relied on a custom exhaust system, aftermarket header (only a select few in existence at the time), and a filter-on-a-stick combination for power. Those looking to stay ahead of the pack might venture into nitrous territory, and even fewer pieced together homemade turbo kits. Seeing a need for an off-the-shelf upgrade that would make a dramatic difference in power, Jackson began researching roots-style superchargers. The compact size and overall efficiency seemed perfect for the tiny Honda engine bay. Once completed, the Jackson Racing supercharger kit proved to be the most complete forced induction offering the industry had ever dreamed of. Pictured on magazine covers and praised by the masses, its 50-state legality and precision engineering earned Jackson the coveted Specialty Equipment Market Association award, and only added to his impeccable resume.
Passing the Torch Tall with sharp spiked hair, sporting black-framed glasses, and seemingly deep in thought anytime he's near a motor and four wheels, you could say that Oscar Jackson's son, 21-year-old Oscar Jr, is a chip off the ol' block. Essentially born into the import industry, Jr was kept away from motorsports during his early childhood. That is, until curiosity got the best of him. "Whether it was motorcycles or cars, I wanted to be around engines. I knew it was what I wanted to do for as long as I can remember, and every summer I was at the shop working in the back. If I had a day off from school as a kid, I was down at the shop working and learning," Jr recalls. Not wanting to waste any opportunity, Jr was focused on learning ECU basics from the likes of Doug McMillan of Hondata. While the master tuner spent countless hours at the Jackson's Westminster garage, Jr was busy taking notes and soaking up the knowledge that seemed to pour through the facility. "I think I was just fascinated at the concept of improving power, and I grasped it at an early age. Engines just always made sense to me. The dyno tuning side has always been a favorite of mine. No matter what is done to an engine, it's the tuning that makes or breaks your product, and in turn, helps you win races."
The next phase of the Oscar Jackson saga More interested in go-fast parts development than paperwork and cubicles, Jackson licensed the Jackson Racing name and website to another company. He then "retired" to his ranch in Colorado. However, when you're talking about someone as passionate as Oscar Jackson, you realize there's no way he'd ever kick back and stop creating. It was during his hiatus that he found the Rotrex supercharger. The revolutionary unit offered the reliability and consistency of a belt driven supercharger with the compressor efficiency of a turbo compressor, without all the heat and back pressure issues associated with turbos. Thoughts of starting fresh with a new line of bolt-on supercharger kits ended Jackson's pseudo-retirement, and with the help of close friend Dave Hsu, Kraftwerks was born. Already making a name for itself, Jackson says the sky is the limit for his new venture. He adds, "It's my dream, as well as Jr's, to continue the Kraftwerks brand, and potentially, the Jackson Racing badge."
Industry icon. Trend-setter. Pioneer. Family man. All are words that describe one Oscar Jackson Sr. And, if history serves as a guide, there's little doubt that Oscar Jr. will follow in those huge footsteps.
Ever wonder how much testing goes into one of Oscar Jackson's products? Mrs. Jackson calls herself the dyno widow for a very good reason. Her oldest son and husband spend countless hours testing and tuning their kits before they're ever introduced to the public. "We estimate that we did over 200 dyno runs on our S2000 kit alone during its development," Jr. states. And what about real world reliability testing? One of the Jackson's most grueling road test involves driving the car from SoCal to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The car is run across the desert then directly up the mountains to 10,000 feet. In the summer, the desert temperatures flirt with the 115-degree mark. Follow-up testing is done in the winter at zero degrees in order to test cold start drivability. The trips are done multiple times to make sure the kit performs safely, and so that customers never have issues with a bad tune at different elevations. You'd be hard pressed to find another company in the import industry that puts that much time and effort into insuring their product performs at its absolute best.
It's a boost party, who's invited?
Currently Kraftwerks offers supercharger kits for all S2000s and the first generation Honda Fit. Non-Honda applications include many different Mazda Miata years and models. Also available is the K-series race kit that will fit all K-series engines. And currently undergoing rigorous durability testing is the highly anticipated '06-'09 Civic Si model-slated to be released in the very near future. With so many Si's roaming the streets, this kit is almost guaranteed to be a sensation.