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2004 Acura RSX Type S - Kunoichi Wa

Who says beauty need only be skin deep?

Luke Munnell
Aug 17, 2010
Photographer: Somya Siva

There's a Japanese proverb, or kotowaza, that's valuable to mind when assessing things at first glance: Saru ni mo ishou. Literally translated, it reads, "Even a monkey can be dressed up." Think, "Don't judge a book by its cover," and you get the idea. What you see here isn't some powerless, over-built show car, bogged down heavily by ICE and dressed up in livery paid for by the latest video game sponsor. This is not a fox borrowing the skin of a tiger, as another saying goes, but a tiger built by a fox (yes, by the girl on the last page) whose knowledge and discipline-like the performance at the heart of her RSX Type-S-runs far deeper than you might expect. But let's hear it from her . . .

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"My family has always had Hondas in our driveway-either here in New York, or wherever we lived in Japan where I spent my early childhood (mostly Yokohama). I learned to drive with my father's automatic Legend, but watching my brother, Hide, and sister, Michiko, modify their EF Civic hatchbacks made me want to get a CR-X for my first car. After months of looking through used car ads, I finally found a clean, five-speed '90 CR-X that met my budget. I'd never driven a stick before I bought it, but somehow drove it home by myself. After I got the hang of it, I remember thinking, 'this is for me!'

Around the same time, my sister upgraded to an EG Civic sedan and started hooking it up with her boyfriend (now her husband), who had a heavily modified EG Si hatchback. This was my first exposure to Hashiriya, or modifying in the tradition of Japanese street racers of Shutoko and the touges: for performance, without really caring about appearance. In 2000, after going through the common Euro lights/Indiglo gauges/mono-wiper phase, I was introduced to a shop called Ultima Performance in Long Island, NY, where my boyfriend's brand-new EK Civic hatchback got the first B16B motor swap we'd ever seen. I traded my CRX in on a '00 Civic sedan and started hanging out more with the shop crowd, and going to street races at places like Hunts Point in the Bronx where the fastest and cleanest cars at the time could be found. I researched what the Japanese builders were doing, and decided to go after a JDM Ferio look for my Civic because not too many people were doing it back then. I added all the bolt-on parts and some JDM stuff . . . the car looked 'clean', but being my only car, I didn't have time for hardcore engine work.

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In 2004, I went to a dealership to test drive an Acura TSX. I wanted to stick with a less-popular sedan, and planned to go with Accord Euro-R styling for mine. But as soon as I stepped into the showroom, a white RSX Type-S A-Spec caught my eye. Once I sat in the driver's seat, I had to have it. The magic of a coupe had gotten me once again, and the six-speed trans felt so much more natural than my automatic Civic. My friends and I worked on our cars and entered random shows over the next couple years, always just for fun. The RSX had basic bolt-ons, a suspension, a Modulo lip kit and some other little stuff, but I never imagined it would receive any recognition without neon lights, Lambo doors, and tons of audio. That is, until HIN Nightshift in NY, in August of '06. I was B.S.ing with my friends and packing up during the award ceremony when I heard the MC struggling to pronounce a name: 'Neyokeekee Onsheenee.' It was my name! Well, kind of . . . but I had just won Second Place Female something-or-other! It was the beginning of being recognized for doing something different, and the start of my mission to build my car the way I like it."

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A student of architecture and a practitioner of interior design, Naoko has learned to appreciate the aesthetic and practicality of balance between subject and surrounding. The Chinese term for this, Fung Shui, dates back to the Jin Dynasty around the year 300 A.D. The earliest recorded name for Japan, Wa, dates back even further, and for the past 12 centuries has come to mean "peace, harmony, balance". Whatever you call it, Nao tells us it's been the reigning principle of her build since the beginning.

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"My theme with the car has always been 'form follows function', which means that a properly built car takes form around what it was built to do. When I got started, the dongara or 'gutted racer' look was popular with the hardcore performance guys in Japan. In the states, the major trend was JDM, or building a car to match its showroom stock counterpart in Japan-cool, but without much personality. And the ricey look of crazy paint jobs, excessive ICE, and over-modification was still winning shows here. Performance was still my first priority, but I planned to keep my RSX streetable while incorporating some aspects of the show scene. I didn't worry about appearance at first; I decided to let the form develop on its own.

I choose to stay naturally aspirated because the idea of releasing the trapped power of the K20A motor without adding an external power source enhances the RSX's original design. This is also why I decided to go with individual throttle bodies (ITBs), like the naturally aspirated circuit racers in Japan who need to get every last horsepower out of their setups. But because of ITBs' sensitivity to temperature, humidity, and elevation, I knew it would be difficult. This is probably the single biggest reason why ITBs are not popular in the Northeast, aside from the obvious fact that forced induction makes more power. The circuit racers in Japan can afford to re-tune before each race, but 4-thro (for 'four throttle') tuning is big even with the street crowd over there, and Japan's climate is a lot like NY's-I wondered how they were doing it with such success.

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Yuki Imamura from Spoon Sports helped me immeasurably by tracking down hard-to-find parts and teaching me the tricks to VTEC tuning he learned over 20-plus years as an enthusiast racer. When I mentioned my concerns with ITB tuning to Yuki, he directed me to M&M Honda in Fukuoka. I went to their website and discovered their Super Intake Carbon Box, which fits over the velocity stacks of a TODA Racing Sport Injection Kit (ITB setup) to stabilize airflow like a traditional intake manifold. The first words I read about it were, 'Have you ever wished you could experience the power of 4-thro with the comfort of having A/C, on the street, at the circuit, anywhere you want?' I had found my answer! After placing an order (with a reference from Yuki) and a few months' wait time, John of Wired Electronics in NJ tuned a Hondata K-Pro to give me the turn-key reliability I'd been dreaming of.

I never really cared for vinyl graphics on cars. I always associated them with corny show cars or The Fast and the Furious (even though we all love that movie!), until Team Emotion's Minho Kim debuted his sakura-themed 350Z and created an entire show presentation to go with it. I remember thinking, 'this just looks . . . good!' I started researching traditional Japanese art and its crossover into the automotive world, and eventually became friends with Hiroshi Sawada, creator of Art Factory Graphics in Tokyo, whose artwork can be seen in Need for Speed Underground (1, 2, and Shutokou), on the iconic Kazama Auto, RE Amemiya, and J's Racing cars, in the giant Tokyo Auto Salon draperies, even in logos of Japanese manufacturers like Greddy, Weld, and Xanthic Design. When I mentioned Minho's car and that I was considering a graphics package for mine, he quietly said, 'I designed that for Veilside's Auto Salon booth in 2004. I can do something for you, too.'

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He asked about all my mods, my goal with the build, and my personal history. Working with the French 3-D artist he collaborated with for the NFS series (who goes by the name 'Sha Do'), he adapted his Kunoichi, or 'Ninja Girl', series with a design that he felt would best paint my story and preserve the balance of my car. The techniques required for installation were so sophisticated that I had to fly him out here, and for three days in Linden, NJ's GrafX facility, he applied his special multi-layered vinyl wrap, printed vinyl, cut-outs, and clear film to my RSX, using methods he probably wouldn't want me to disclose. He brought only the amount of vinyl needed to do the car right the first time, so there was no margin of error. Many parts of the car-like my side mirrors and each rear quarter panel-were wrapped in one full sheet, as opposed to several cuts. Two years later, the finish is still perfect."

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During the past three years, Naoko and her RSX won 35 trophies and awards at major shows throughout the Northeast-mostly "Hottest Female Ride" and "Best graphics", with a few "Best of Show" honors thrown in-and still managed to attend additional events and parking lot meets just for fun. We normally end features by asking car owners of their future plans, but in Naoko's case, we asked what advice she'd pass on to those of us just getting started. "Better than a thousand days of diligent study," states one final kotowaza, "is one day with a great teacher."

"This entire car has been a humbling learning experience. Everyone likes to say, 'I got into building cars by myself,' or, 'I did everything my way and didn't listen to anyone,' but that's never the case. You're always influenced by people before you. It's OK to be stubborn and cautious, but choosing who to listen to and learn from makes all the difference. Don't believe everything you see in advertisements or hear from people in the forums. Just because someone has a ton of posts to their name doesn't mean they know what they're talking about. Don't count on sponsors to build your car for you; you need to take the first steps in building a car they'd want to sponsor, and once they do, remember that it's a business agreement and you need to hold up your end. Lastly, start with a plan and a goal and be patient! Spending money to add parts you don't need rather than saving for the big ones you do will waste time and money in the long run. Most importantly, enjoy the journey-it will show in the finished product."

Behind The Build

Name.
Naoko Onishi

Hometown.
Bronx, NY

Occupation.
Marketing/Interior Design

Build time.
For-ev-er! [six years]

Hobbies.
Snowboarding, graphic design, illustration, photography, music, cooking, good food & wine

Feedback.
sukalia@hotmail.com

Quote.
"The right time to do it is when I want to do it!"

'04 Acura RSX Type-S
Output: 230 whp @ 8,100 rpm / 167 lb-ft of torque @ 6,500 rpm

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Drivetrain Buddy Club short shifter; Exedy Stage 2 Cerametallic clutch, lightweight flywheel

Suspension Tanabe S-OC Sustec Pro coilovers; Spoon Sports front and rear strut braces, rear lower tie bar; Cusco side pillar bars; J's Racing C-pillar bar; Comptech front and rear camber adjustability; JDM DC5 Integra Type R front and rear anti-roll bars

Wheels/Tires 18x8 Work Emotion XD-9 wheels, RS lugs; 235/40-18 Toyo T1R tires

Brakes Spoon Sports front mono-block calipers, pads; Hawk HP-Plus rear pads; RB slotted front rotors; Brembo rear rotors; Goodridge stainless steel brake likes

Exterior C-West N1 II front bumper, side skirts; Modulo lower rear lip (zenki); Xanthic Design custom silver carbon fiber hood; JDM DC5 Type R rear wing, headlights, emblems; Bellof 6,000K HID lighting; Art Factory graphics, applied by Hiroshi Sawada

Interior Bride XAX II front seats; Sparco four-point harnesses; Recaro door inserts; JDM DC5 Integra Type R suede rear seats, door sills; JT Bodyworks custom carbon fiber interior panels; Spoon Sports steering wheel; NRG quick-release hub; Skunk2 shift knob; Razo pedals

Electronics Defi BF Series gauges (oil temperature, vacuum pressure, water temperature), control unit; JDM DC5 Integra Type R gauge cluster; Apex'i V-AFCII Controller Module; Kenwood KVT-717 DVD head unit; Alpine PDX-F4 amplifier, Type-R front and rear speakers; Bazooka amplified subwoofer

Gratitude Hiroshi Sawada from Art Factory Graphics; Yuki Imamura from Spoon Sports; Toshiyuki Maijma of M&M Honda Racing; Mike Shin from Toyo; John and Nino from Wired Electronics; Kazu Takahashi of Xanthic Design; Jeff and Nick from GrafX; Tsutomo and Ryan from Camber Toe Performance; Siva, David Hruska, Di Lai, Pete Kozinski, Hamid, Matt Romano, Brian Chin for recommending my car to Luke, Somya for the location and shoot, and everyone who supported me!

Vinyl 101
Do you like what you've seen here-a well thought-out, meticulously applied vinyl graphics package that enhances an already impressive project car? Are you debating a similar treatment for your ride, and want to know just how it's done? Or are you simply concerned with the wrangling of chickies flossing such livery will enable you to do? We've got you covered, by covering the entire process of covering our homeboy Ken Takahashi's entire xB, including outtakes from our photoshoot with Sasha Singleton and Lisa Kaye that went down after the wraps went on. Check out the tech section of www.importtuner.com.

Sources

Toyo Tires USA
800-442-8696
www.toyotires.com
New Image Motorsports
http://www.newimagemotorsports.com
Camber Toe Performance
516.872.6400
http://www.cambertoe.com
JT Body Works
+81.079.441.9099
http://www.jt-bodyworks.com
Grafx
908.523.9050
http://www.grafxnj.com
Xanthic Design
+81.45.595.0180
http://www.xanthicdesign.com
Wired Electronics
Linden , NJ 07036
908-474-1150
http://www.wirednj.com
M&M Honda Racing
+81.092.923.1955
http://www.mandm-honda.com
Art Factory Graphics
+81.42.520.2408
http://www.artfactory-inc.com
Spoon Sports
http://www.spoon.jp
By Luke Munnell
294 Articles

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