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Cool Story - Road Rage

By 1996 I could cram a B16A into an ’89 Civic and convert it to OBD-I status in less than two days.

Aaron Bonk
Jul 5, 2011

I first laid eyes on Joe Pettitt’s High Performance Honda Builders Handbook in 1996. Back then, Honda information was limited; few online resources existed as did fewer books and magazines that mentioned the brand in any sort of technical capacity. Pettitt’s “Honda bible,” as we often called it, arrived at precisely the right time—for me at least. My small, two-man shop, where I spent the better part of the 1990s and early 2000s swapping Honda engines back and forth between different chassis—Holeshot Racing—was building momentum. By 1996 I could cram a B16A into an ’89 Civic and convert it to OBD-I status in less than two days. Nearly 15 years ago, that wasn’t all that slow considering we had to fabricate and weld its engine mounts into place and hard-wire its OBD conversion directly under the dash. Stretched across the Transportation aisle at Barnes and Noble, flipping through the pages of Pettitt’s handbook until I valued it worthy enough to pay for, reading of industry pioneers like Oscar Jackson who shared what were once considered trade secrets, I thought to myself I’d one day do the same were I to have the opportunity and but a fraction of the information to share.

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Seven years later I authored Honda Engine Swaps, a book that was, incidentally, laid to press by the same company that published Pettitt’s classic, although I never have met him. Among the three books, hundreds of editorials, and countless articles I’ve since penned, perhaps none were as satisfying as this first book, though. Experience-wise, I was the wrong guy for the job. I had the mechanical know-how, but lacked any sort of writing credentials outside of high school term papers and the occasional college English paper.

During the late 1990s, Honda Tuning ’s original staff as well as most of Sport Compact Car magazine’s crew regularly found themselves within the walls of Holeshot Racing, where we sorted out more than a few of their complicated, time-consuming projects like engine swaps and LS-VTEC conversions, and even answered the occasional silly question. For better or worse, automotive journalists often found themselves out in the field a bit more during those days, as the chances of finding accurate Honda info on the web was slim. Best of all and, arguably why I’m writing this right now, Honda Tuning and Sport Compact Car ’s headquarters were conveniently located just a couple of miles down the street.

For one reason or another, we closed up shop in early 2003. The engine swap market had become more of a do-it-yourself one, leaving less opportunity for us to crank out multiple transplants per week like we once had. Upon my cleaning out my desk and just days from my transitioning away from the Honda performance industry for good, I thought of that old Honda handbook. Suddenly, drawers full of notes and wiring schematics seemed useful once again. Parts lists for common as well as some of the most obscure Honda engine swaps you’d ever heard of, quite possibly some of the first OBD conversion pinout diagrams ever, and all sorts of chicken scratch charts and diagrams now taken for granted, each listing which chassis and trims are compatible with which engines and transmissions, no longer seemed like rubbish. I began assembling all I had into some sort of meaningful order and pitched the idea of my engine swap handbook to my media friends. I looked for a coauthor at first, someone who could put my thoughts to paper in ways I couldn’t…or so I thought. Growing impatient, I contacted various publishers on my own, still looking for my coauthor. I’ll never forget that phone conversation, though, as CarTech’s then-editor-in-chief bluntly asked me, “Why don’t you just write this yourself?” Not more than two weeks later and I was under contract to have Honda Engine Swaps completed in just nine months. On my own.

I don’t pretend to live my life in order, and this story is no exception. After authoring my engine swaps guide I went back to school and traded in an education in mechanical engineering for one in journalism. I began writing and shooting cars for most of the popular Honda-related titles of the time, including Sport Compact Car, Honda Tuning, and Turbo & High-Tech Performance magazines, before taking on a full-time gig for that now-defunct title just a few years later. Editorial positions at Honda Tuning came later and, well, the rest is history. The funny part is that best-selling book, that high point, came first.

I’m not sure what might’ve happened were I to never pick up that first High Performance Honda Builder’s Handbook, and I’m not so sure my copies of Smokey Yunick’s Power Secrets or David Vizard’s How to Build Horsepower would’ve inspired me in that very same way—both exceptional books in their own rights that still hold valuable bookshelf real estate, make no mistake but, then again, they’re no Honda bibles.

By Aaron Bonk
413 Articles



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