Phillip DeMarks, or "Chief," as friends and fellow forum dwellers know him, isn't your average Honda guy. He didn't choose the most popular chassis to modify and certainly doesn't fit into the 18-to-25-year-old crowd. His current stable, beyond the Element you see pictured, consists of a Cadillac Allante Northstar 'vert and a Plymouth Reliant K LE. His résumé includes a '56 Bel Air coupe lowrider, Corvette 427 Tri-Power, and a number of Porsches and Mercedes. In total, he's owned over 40 vehicles that he's either restored or customized to varying degrees. So how did this mature motorhead land himself in the driver's seat of Honda's utilitarian toaster?
In 2003, Honda hit the massive SEMA show in Las Vegas hard. Among the list of American Honda display vehicles were Skunk2's RSX project, King Motorsports' S2000, a Comptech-enhanced NSX, and a concept car known as the "Element." Chief adds, "The Element concept vehicle was beautiful! I genuinely thought that when it hit the showroom floors it was going to look like that. Needless to say I was extremely disappointed when I went to my local Honda dealership and saw the actual production model." Not a huge shock to most enthusiasts, the concept vehicle is typically sleeker, more powerful, and laced with every cool gadget imaginable for the ultimate in first impressions. The production model, in stark contrast, is usually watered down and sports only mild nods to the original designers' vision. Rolling into 2004, Chief paid a visit to the Chicago Auto Show and, once again, that well-dressed Element show car was on display, enticing him even further. But alas, another visit to the dealer resulted in a sour taste in his mouth. "I guess the third time is the charm, because it stayed on my mind and I returned to the dealership in 2005, and this time I drove out in a new Element EX!"
While this Element was never expected to receive the long list of mods that it currently has, initially, the ride height bugged its new owner right from the start. He states, "The rudest awakening I received was that I found there is virtually no aftermarket support for the Element." A set of Eibach springs were eventually sourced, and a more respectable ride height achieved as a result. After that, with some sound advice from his son, PJ, the mod list began to materialize in rather short order. "Because I've never believed in show and no go, I've always started with the mechanical on any vehicle I've owned. You should be able to put your key in the ignition and drive across country at a moment's notice if you have to!" Knowing that a low-restriction intake and free-flowing exhaust system can reap a slight increase in power, he installed an intake/exhaust/high-flow cat/header combo. Shortly after that, upgraded injectors and a new set of plugs served as a catalyst to Skunk2 cams, a new head, port and polish work, and a reflashed ECU to tie it all together. "I kept doing a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit morebefore long the engine was halfway torn down." The end result of the new upgrades resulted in a major increase in midrange and 230 peak crank horsepower from the 2.4L mill.
With the increase in power and plans for audio in the future, Chief opted for a set of coilovers with heavy-duty shocks that work in conjunction with antisway bars, a subframe brace, and a number of alignments to get the car where he wanted it. The 20-inch DPE wheels are the fourth set, after the first three wheel choices were deemed unsatisfactory according the Chief's keen eye. In order to avoid rubbing, or worse, Auto Fashion expertly trimmed the thick rear fender wells to allow for sufficient tire clearance.
In an attempt to capture the essence of the concept Element he'd fallen in love with, Chief opted for a three-tone paintjob based on Mercedes and Porsche factory colors. He also admired the sleeker SC model bits, and decided to borrow the look by swapping out the rear bumper and entire roof line trim for a sleeker, more refined appearance.
You should be able to put your key in the ignition and drive across country at a moment's notice if you have to!
Inside the cabin, rewrapped factory seats and an OEM Pilot steering wheel are joined by a South Coast Accessories carpet kit, OEM navigation, and aftermarket audio touches to keep Chief entertained.
As with a true enthusiast of any age, Chief is nowhere near being finished with his Element, dubbed "Darth Raider." Future plans call for a new intake manifold, throttle body, and fuel rail, as well as a custom front fascia that Auto Fashion is currently working on. Oh, and then there's the big brake kit he's already started on, and he's even toying with thoughts of a Jackson Racing supercharger. "I kept trying to fool myself that I was done with the modifications, and that was that. But as any real car guy knows, it's a disease and it's really never over!"
Bolts & Washers
Eagle ESP rods
Skunk2 Stage II cams
Skunk2 Tuner Series valvesprings
Beck Arnley rocker arms
Ported/polished TSX head
Hybrid Racing timing chain tensioner
CT Engineering injectors
ARC Super Air Induction box
DC Sports RSX header
Injen cat-back exhaust
Sebring Tuning exhaust tip
Bosal high-performance cat
TSX ignition coils
ARC polished aluminum cooling plate
ARC high-pressure radiator cap
ARC titanium spark plug cover
Tein Basic coilovers
Tein Heavy Duty rear suspension package
Revalved Heavy Duty shocks
Suspension Techniques antiroll bars
Energy Suspension bushings
Eibach alignment kit
Beaks subframe tie-bar
Ingalls front camber bolts
EBC slotted and drilled rotors
EBC "Green Stuff" pads
Wheels & Tires
Dynamic Performance Engineering GT10s 20x9.5 +41.3 offset
Toyo Proxes 4 tires, 225/35-20 front, 245/35-20 rear
Custom paint by Premier
Top: Mercedes black with blue pearl
Middle: Mercedes Arabian gray
Bottom: Porsche Pearl Platinum silver
Rear fenders trimmed by Auto Fashion
JDM front fenders
JDM fuel filler door
Element SC roof cladding
Element SC rear bumper
OEM optional side steps
OEM optional front bumper trim
OEM optional rear spoiler
Weathertech window vents
NRG Innovations hood dampers
Two-tone leather-wrapped seats
South Coast Accessories carpet kit
Billet aluminum e-brake handle
Custom-stitched brake handle boot
OEM Pilot steering wheel
Blox Racing antenna
Ursa Minor dead pedal
S2000 engine start button
JDM Element hazard button
Black Cat Customs red gauge faces
Carbon-fiber center dash/door handle inserts
Regi and Liza at Island Motor Sports for always being there for me, my son PJ DeMarks who talked me into going with a JDM type of build, Al Lorterino for all of the hard work and effort he put in to help me, Freddie and Elroy at Auto Fashion in San Diego for the work on my rear fenders and the custom front fascia they're building for me now. To my buddy Jerry Kimmel of South Coast Accessories, all the fine people at NRG Innovations, I'm very grateful to Mike Brown who is one of the people I consulted with the most on the "what if" questions of the build. Serious thanks to my buddies Norm Buben, Joe Dixon, Jeff Smith, and Hector Consuegra for always being there with major encouragement, also for supplying me with mental and technical support, especially when I needed it the most. And a very special shout-out to my crew over at Elemental Motorsports and DaYUUM.com!
1971 Mercedes 280 SE 3.5 convertible
Inspiration for this build
My son PJ, who introduced me to the import scene
I'm buying another '98 Odyssey EX (VTEC)
Is That An Automatic??!
Why yes, yes it is. Because this Element was built with comfort and a user-friendly nature in mind, the automatic transmission was kept, but thoroughly reworked. Chief explains, "We replaced the reverse gear, fourth gear, and the reverse selector on the countershaft. The control valve assemblies were custom calibrated and new 'sintered bronze' aftermarket bushings were installed along with a hardened differential cross-shaft and new reverse fork. New one-way clutches were also added. The main shaft, countershaft, and secondary shaft were tested for stress with ultrasonic sound, as well as the transfer gears and the differential ring gear to reduce the chance of fracturing." Slush box? I think not.