John Wilson's 2010 Honda CR-Z
All things considered, enthusiasts should be overjoyed by the Honda CR-Z. It's got that retro/futuristic look that older CR-X fanatics and newer Honda fans can both appreciate. When the concept CR-Z was first introduced, it received rave reviews and people couldn't have been more excited by the thought that it might one day be available to the general public. By all accounts, this is the next-generation Honda CR-X-sort of. While Honda was busy pushing the whole "sports hybrid" angle, consumers and enthusiasts alike just weren't buying it. Sure it had a manual six-speed transmission, which was cool; people just weren't accepting the power, which would ultimately determine the "sport" side of their campaign. Most were confused; was it a sports coupe or a hybrid? Because it definitely wasn't a combination of the two. Consumers and the performance-minded segment of the Honda community could, however, agree that the car was a hit in the appearance department. Enthusiasts in particular, were sold on the car because many of their favorite Japanese aftermarket companies began developing parts for it. The idea that it could eventually be a "sports car" far outweighed the whole hybrid/environmentally friendly feel.
Let us not forget that the Honda CR-X didn't shoot right out of the box as a sports car either. The legend of the CR-X developed over the years, after people began to heavily modify them and they were able to hold their own against stiffer, more expensive competition. At the onset of the CR-X's life, it was marketed as an economy car that had a sporty-stylish look. So in more ways than one, the CR-Z parallels the CR-X. Also like its predecessor, people began to conjure up wild ideas as to how to make these cars their own and to build them into something that Honda could never get away with.
John Wilson is one of those individuals. He's got an unlimited supply of crazy ideas, but the difference between him and so many other enthusiasts is that he has the ingenuity to actually pull them off. He has the knowledge and expertise to transform his dreams into a reality. You may not be very familiar with John Wilson the person, but if you're a true Honda enthusiast, you probably know of his business name: LHT Performance. If it rings a bell, then you know your Hondas and you're also an avid Honda Tuning magazine connoisseur. His other project was featured on the cover of this publication just two years ago and was known as the "K-Sight." Yes, a K-powered Honda Insight. So you can probably figure out by his previous work where this story is headed. The thing with having a K-swapped hybrid is that it's always better to have two of them. There are people who constantly criticize the CR-Z and say that it should have come with a K20 powerplant from the factory, but there is only one man, John Wilson, who has actually gone and done it. And like many of LHT's other projects, the car is so perfect in its transformation that it would probably catch most people off guard.
"I was interested in the CR-Z ever since I first saw the concept photos of it floating around in 2009. I've always loved the CR-X chassis and I have owned many of them over time, all of which were modified in some way," Wilson says. "I even built the K-Sight back then because to me, the Insight looked like a future version of the CR-X. When I was able to locate a white EX six-speed CR-Z, I sold my newly built turbo S2000 and jumped on it. After a couple of drives and a date night with my wife, I tore the engine out with less than 200 miles on it and got to work."
While you may think that pulling the engine out of a CR-Z is easy, it definitely is not. It's not like your typical B- or D-series swap because the engine in a ZF1 chassis acts as a giant magnet, and without the proper tools, hands could easily get crushed or even severed just getting the motor out. "It takes some ambition and a whole lot of balls to do this to a brand-new car, not knowing if a swap like this will even work 100 percent," Wilson explains. "I felt that if this was to be the new CR-X, it should have a K-motor in it. It only makes sense, and it gives this platform endless tuning possibilities.
"Rather than building a stripped-out race car with a loud exhaust, I wanted to build something as close to OEM as possible. I had a stock K20Z3, but it would retain the stock airbox, have a custom header, and a nice quiet exhaust to give it a very stock look. The goal was to have everything working correctly; the gauge cluster, ABS, VSA, power steering, and climate control should all work, and I believe I've accomplished that."
The biggest hurdle in this operation was just getting the K20Z3 to fit inside the CR-Z. The chassis was never designed to house such an engine, and the issues that LHT Performance encountered expressed that. Engine fitment was extremely tight, requiring several test fits. Portions of the engine bay had to eventually be cut and re-welded for clearance as well as cutting and reshaping the factory core support. It was no simple task. LHT Performance wanted a factory fit, so they utilized modified factory engine mounts as well, and while the K20 finally managed to fit, another issue arose in that there was no room for a radiator.
"The proper engine position and axle alignment left us no room for a radiator so we had to make our own. We custom-built an aluminum radiator, which is positioned under the core support, moving it 4 inches forward from the stock location. The A/C condenser was also moved forward. Shifting the K20Z transmission was also something that we had to deal with. To make sure that the KR-Z shifted perfectly, the factory shifter box had to be modified and new shifter cables had to be created."
Another bump in the road would be the electronics of the CR-Z communicating with the new K20. After countless hours and a number of headaches, the dash and all of its accompanying sensors and lights is fully functional. In fact, the only light that appears out of place on the dash is the original IMA system indicator. Obviously eliminated with the removal of the original hybrid motor, the tiny indicator is the only clue from the cabin that this isn't your average CR-Z.
Being the first to accomplish anything usually comes with many hurdles. No one else has attempted it so there is no knowledge of whether or not anything will work. To be able to come through and turn ideas into reality is a badge that John Wilson and LHT Performance wear proudly. "There was definitely a real learning curve, being the first to do something means that there is usually very little information available. Blazing a trail can be a lonely one, especially when you're trying to keep things under wraps. I think my crew and I shocked a lot of people. The Internet world still believes that the photos of the KR-Z are doctored or fake. Trust me, it's alive and it runs perfectly. I might even boost it in the future and shoot for around 300 horsepower; that's when the car really gets fun."
Bolts & Washers
LHT Performance custom engine mounts
LHT Performance 4-to-1 stainless exhaust header
LHT Performance custom stainless exhaust w/center exit tip
LHT high-flow cat
OEM airbox with K&N air filter
K20Z3 transmission w/ LSD
LHT Performance custom shifter cables
Clutch Masters Stage 2 clutch
OEM DC5 Type R flywheel
The Driveshaft Shop custom axles
Ground Control coilover sleeves w/ custom spring rates
Wheels & Tires
17x7 HFP wheels (+50 offset)
215/45-17 Dunlop Direzza Z2
Cut and re-welded engine bay
OEM optional rear diffuser
"KR-Z" embroidered OEM seats
Electronics Hondata Flash Pro
Steve, the best wiring guy on the planet
My wife and newborn son
Paul for paint and bodywork
Screen name or nickname
Building Hondas for how long
My CR-X past/CR-Z modern looks
Turbo Integra Type R, 2008 Corvette Z06, Toyota Tacoma
What's playing in your iPod/CD/MP3 player right now Muse
Greatest movie of all time
LHT Performance is a shop based in Tampa, Florida, that has been around for over 10 years. Their specialty, as you can see from their K-Sight and KR-Z, is custom fabrication. Both cars were trailblazers and are a prime example of their hard work and dedication. Not only do they do engine swaps and custom exhaust pieces, they also specialize in turbocharging-with reliability in mind. Their goal is to build custom turbo kits that enable the car to retain complete driveability as well as all A/C and power steering functionality. Being that the engine fitment is as tight as it is in the KR-Z, it'll be interesting to see what their plans are when they decide to boost it. If anybody can pull it off, it's definitely LHT Performance, and you can be assured that it'll still retain all the amenities that came on a factory Honda CR-Z.