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1988 Honda CRX HF - Old Dog, New Tricks

Over Two Decades Old and the CRX is Still Breakin’ off the Competition

Jonathan Thompson
Apr 11, 2011

Charlie Rhyu's '88 CRX HF
How did an ’88 Rex bust out the fastest counterclockwise lap time for a naturally aspirated, front-engine, front-wheel-drive car on racetrack configuration #13 at Buttonwillow Raceway? Charlie Rhyu of Long Beach, California, knows the answer, and it’s simple: an ’88 CRX HF plus a built K24A2 bottom end, K20A2 top end, all dialed in with a DC5 ITR tranny equals an unofficial, official time of 1:53.525 seconds. Of course it’s never really that simple. It’s not the prettiest example of Honda’s legendary two-seater icon, but this CRX is built for one thing and one thing only--total domination.

Htup 1105 01 o+1988 honda crx hf+passenger side profile Photo 2/7   |   1988 Honda CRX HF - Old Dog, New Tricks

Racing for a number of years, Charlie frequents Buttonwillow as much as he possibly can, and recalls how things all got started, I began tracking my ’92 hatchback and it felt good to just push the car and not have to worry about the police, unlike when I used to street race back in Chicago. Just hanging out with friends who built their Civics, tracking the car and seeing what it felt like, then changing something and going back to the track to see how those changes affected the car. It felt good.

Charlie owns a few other records with his white ED8. For the Super Lab Battle, he has the second place title in the FF Unlimited class. In the Redline Time Attack series, he holds the record in the FF Unlimited class. I got most of my experience by racing in high performance driving events such as at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, and at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois, he adds. Friends helped Charlie along the way to get where he is today. One close friend built the custom 10-point rollcage that protects him during heated runs. Another buddy installed custom mounts to position the K-series engine in a truly unique locationall in the search for better lap times. Milo performed machine work on the engine, including honing, cleaning, a valve job, and he threw in some bronze valveguides. Charlie sought out strategy advice from Dan Phan of R-Crew Racing. He also supplied me with all of my K-series parts. If I had questions on something in particular I would call and ask him. I used his experience and his opinions, he says. Other than that, Charlie drew upon his own skill set to perform the majority of the build.

Htup 1105 02 o+1988 honda crx hf+front view Photo 3/7   |   Not exactly a beauty, this little monster is a terror on the road course. Note the RBC intake manifold peeking through the hood.

Going up against the likes of fully built and supercharged M3s and monster turbo S2000s, with a naturally aspirated K24 meant Charlie had to put his CRX on a serious diet in order to improve his power-to-weight ratio. The interior is completely stripped down to its bare naked sheetmetal, the doors and windows have been replaced by fiberglass and Lexan, respectively, and even the bumper supports were substantially modified to shave additional love handles. The result: 1,880 lbs without driver and a full tank of gas.

The ED8 spends most of its time on the road course, and there’s a long list of memories to go with those highly competitive track days. One particular moment comes to Charlie’s mind upon reflection. There was a Honda Michigan Meet at the Gingerman Raceway. A 900-horsepower NSX from LoveFab was tearing up the track. My friends were calling me from the event telling me how crazy fast this NSX was. Well, I pulled an all-nighter on my CRX to make it to the track the next day. I passed out on my shop floor and woke up to drive all the way in the rain, with no wipers. In one of the advanced sessions, I ended up passing a bunch of cars and caught up with the LoveFab NSX. I ended up passing that and a GTS Viper that happened to be at the all-Honda event, he describes. An inside cabin video camera captured the epic battle. Visit www.youtube.com and search Top Setup CRX EF8 K20A engine swap. The footage is simply amazing.

Htup 1105 03 o+1988 honda crx hf+top setup rear spoiler Photo 4/7   |   1988 Honda CRX HF - Old Dog, New Tricks

Charlie no doubt knows how to tune a track monster, but unlike the majority of others on race day, he takes the piloting duties into his own hands rather than relying on a professional driver. Beyond that, he’s one of the very few that actually drives his registered track car to and from the track. No trailers, no limping, just a long, boring drive in a sheetmetal shell that’s as loud as it is uncomfortable over the long haul. When asked why his car performs so well, he states: What makes cars fast are good drivers, seat time, and your car’s setup. He uses a distinctive suspension setup that sounds like voodoo the way he explains it. It doesn’t work for everyone. I dial in my toe, caster, spring rates, damping, and other suspension components, and there’s plenty of trial and error until I find the right combination. To add to his personal research and success, a judge from the coveted Best Motoring American Touge racing series rated Charlie’s originally crafted ’92 hatchback a perfect 100a feat not often achieved, especially for Hondas.

Htup 1105 04 o+1988 honda crx hf+k24 block Photo 5/7   |   A naturally aspirated K24 block/K20 head Frankenstein combo relies on Hondata’s K-Pro to call the shots and pull the 1,880lb chassis around the track.

Unlike most builds, Charlie intends to stick with the record-holding Rex. My immediate plans are to have fun with it, track it, modify it, and repeat the cycle in that order, he says. And rightfully so. He’s performed the majority of the work and paid for the entire build himself. His only sponsor is Toyo Tires. That’s right. Only one sponsor, yet he holds the fastest lap time for CW#13 at Buttonwillow Raceway in his class.

Htup 1105 05 o+1988 honda crx hf+sparco pro2000 seat Photo 6/7   |   1988 Honda CRX HF - Old Dog, New Tricks

For the 2011 race season, Charlie wants to take the 23-year-old CRX and knock on the door of 1:49-1:50 territory at Buttonwillow. I’m not claiming I’m going to do it. I just want to try, he calmly asserts. Sticking to his tried-and-true method, I’m going to do it all-motor. No turbo, no supercharger, no nitrous. None of that. This seasoned Rex and seasoned driver are well on their way to incredible heights this year. Long live the underdog!

Bolts & Washers

Propulsion
K24A2 engine
K20A2 cylinder head
Bore: 87mm bore
Stroke: 99mm
Compression ratio: 12.9:1
Custom engine mounts
R-Crew Racing camshafts
R-Crew Racing valvesprings
R-Crew Racing retainers
Bronze valveguides
JE pistons
JE piston rings
Carillo connecting rods
RSX-S oiling system
RSX-S oil pan
AEM dry-flow air filter
Top Setup 3-inch cold-air intake system
DC5 ITR throttle body
RBC intake manifold
R-Crew Racing exhaust manifold
Top Setup 3-inch exhaust system
Walbro 190-lph fuel pump
RDX fuel injectors
Magna Flow fuel pressure regulator
AEM fuel rail
Earl’s Performance lines and fittings
DC5 ITR transmission
Exedy Stage 2 clutch
ACT Pro-Lite flywheel
Cabonetic 1.5-way limited-slip differential
Top Setup 36mm axles
Top Setup 36mm hubs
Top Setup radiator
Custom radiator hoses
Hondata K-Pro ECU

Stance
APR coilovers
A’PEXi springs
ARC front antiroll bar
ST rear antiroll bar
APC alignment kit
Custom frame stitch welding
Resistance
Wilwood front brake discs
Wilwood brake calipers
Hawk HP brake pads
Motul RBF600 brake fluid
Earl’s Performance lines and fittings
ITR brake master cylinder
ITR brake booster

Wheels and Tires
Race Setup
Front: 15x9 949 Racing (+36 offset)
Rear: 15x7 949 Racing (+40 offset)
Front: 275/35-15 Hoosier R6
Rear: 225/45-15 Hoosier R6
Street Setup
Front: 15x7.5 Rota SlipStream (+40 offset)
Rear 15x7 Kosei K1TS (+38 offset)
Front: 225/45-15 Toyo R888
Rear: 205/50-15 Toyo R888

Exterior
House of Kolor white paint
Custom hood inlets
J’s Racings front fender flares
Vision side mirrors
Top Setup front lip
Top Setup front splitter
Top Setup rear spoiler
Top Setup rear bumper support
MB fiberglass doors

Interior
Sparco Pro2000 seat
Sparco 3-inch seat harness
Personal steering wheel
DC5 ITR shift knob
Top Setup shift kit
Innovative data logger
Marshal 10,000 rpm tachometer
Auto Meter water temperature gauge
R-Crew Racing K-Series PNP harness
Custom 10-point rollcage
Stripped interior
Fire extinguisher

Props
My family, Dan Phan, Tim Dempsy, Ken, Prayin C. Mantis, Kevin EK, Supertwin John, Katman, Mr. Novak, Evo Matt, Alan T., R-Crew Racing, West End alignments, Church Automotive, FF Sqaud, Tokyo Auto
GT Channel
NWP Road Race Section
SLB and Speedventures HFF Challenge
A’PEXi USA

Htup 1105 06 o+1988 honda crx hf+steering wheel Photo 7/7   |   1988 Honda CRX HF - Old Dog, New Tricks

Owner Specs

Favorite Website
www.topsetup.net

Screen Name Or Nickname
TOPSETUP

Building Hondas For How Long
13 years

Your Dream Car
GT500 Honda HSV-010

Build Inspiration
Tskuba Lap Battle

Current Stable
’92 Civic CX, ’94 Civic DX

What’s Playing In Your iPod/CD/MP3 Player Right Now
Fugazi

Greatest Movie Of All Time
The Running Man

N/A vs. Boost
It’s the never-ending argument that takes place at every track day, whether it’s drag or road race, every meet, and every automotive forum. There’s no denying that power produced by a turbo or supercharger setup has a massive advantage over a naturally aspirated one. However, when it comes to road racing, harnessing the power and finding the correct combination of driver skill and handling plays a major role in the car’s overall performance. In this case, Charlie chose the NA route, and with a super-light chassis, stout suspension dialed in to perfection, and good ol’ fashioned driver ability to push his CRX to the top of the Super Lap Battle food chain. One for the underdogs? Perhaps. But more importantly, a lesson in clever engineering vs. brute force.

Sources

AEM
Hawthorne, CA 90250
800-992-3000
http://www.aempower.com
Hondata
Torrance, CA 90503
310-782-8278
http://www.hondata.com
Advanced Clutch Technology
Lancaster, CA 93535
661-940-7555
http://www.advancedclutch.com
Toyo Tires
800-442-8696
www.toyotires.com
Auto Meter Products
Sycamore, IL 60178
815-899-0801
http://www.autometer.com
By Jonathan Thompson
48 Articles

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