Chances are you've come across this Laguna Seca Blue 1998 Acura Integra RS before. Back in 2002, it landed on the pages of Super Street and was plastered across every Honda-related forum (and there were many) for years. Found at a wrecking yard, it was rescued by car builder Jay Smith of ONE Honda Specialist, who had a plan to tear the car down in order to create the ultimate JDM ITR clone. He'd go on to gain notoriety for his attention to detail and meticulous approach to this build along with his deep green hatchback project, both of which "went viral," before that was even a thing. Eternally low key, even to this day, Smith would later take an absence from the spotlight entirely but never stopped wrenching - operating his private outfit effectively off the grid and he's remained highly selective of the customers and cars he works with.
Chris Lucero knows all about Smith's infamous builds and having been friends since the late '90s, he experienced this Integra's transformation in real time and as you might expect, it left a lasting impression on a then 17-year-old. He adds, "I remember seeing it come together and it literally being my dream car. Sure, his EG was iconic and well known, but I was always fixated on this Laguna Seca Blue Integra." When Smith decided it was time to let the car go to focus on other things, he began parting it out but knowing Lucero always wanted the car, he offered the bulk of the build to him. "At the time I didn't have 2 nickels to rub together but I asked 'how much' for conversation's sake. He tells me 14k. In 2021, an 18-year-old getting 14k is somewhat doable, but for me in 2002/03, it was equivalent to 100k. Needless to say, I didn't end up with it."
Lucero wasn't in any position to spend that kind of money on a car at that time, but a friend of his certainly was, and that transaction took place soon after, followed by another a little later as the chassis found a few new homes over the years. Lucero had since turned his attention toward building a family and assorted adulting and cars were no longer a priority. Years later, after his 5th gen. hatchback was stolen, he admits he fell out of love with Hondas in general. Out of the blue, however, Smith nudged him when the car went up for sale yet again. "I thought it was his way of telling me he was going to get it back, but really he tagged me so I could buy it." A bare shell at that point, Lucero saw it as an opportunity to capture the car he'd always wanted but he had one major condition in mind before pulling the trigger. "I bought the car, but only after being assured by Jay that he'd bring it back to life for me." With that promise, Project Resurrection was underway.
As much as this Integra stands as an accomplishment for Lucero to be in a position to make this build happen and relive his younger years, it also serves as a rematch of sorts for Smith. Having put all of his time and effort into the car almost 2 decades prior, he'd been given a chance to do it all over, albeit this time for a friend and with some modern touches. The B-series mill that served him so well back then wasn't even a consideration this time around. Instead, modern Type R power in Honda's K20A would serve as the foundation. To truly get a fresh start, the block was fitted with slightly oversized FD2-spec pistons, a micro-polished OEM crank, and 4Piston Racing's ported oil pump before being fully balanced. Smith hand-ported the ITR head, intake manifold runners, and plenum along with adding an upgraded valvetrain and the head-to-block marriage is now rock solid with ARP hardware. Compression is held to a pump-friendly 11.5:1 and plays nicely with the Kraftwerks supercharger. Though it wasn't in the original plans for this build, Lucero and Smith agreed that a power adder as discreet at a Rotrex unit tucked under the alternator just made sense. Of course, cooling presents its own set of issues, but the duo had a helping hand from Robert Green of TracTuff, who took the car in for a short stint to fabricate the one-off intercooler and charge piping to work with GoAutoworks' Rotrex-specific single backdoor intercooler. Green also provided a TracTuff radiator, shroud, overflow tank and water neck. Baller genetics necessitated finishing touches like the Wiggins clamshell couplings and XRP hose.
The freshened up K20 looked picture perfect but its new home was a different story. Smith put in the hours of thorough prep time before spraying the entire bay in his home garage. He put a little extra time and effort into the rear of the car by restoring and refinishing the gas tank and undercoating the surrounding real estate. It's also there that he found a bit of a mess from a questionable body shop that had installed an ITR subframe but didn't paint it and that might have been a good thing because the paint they did apply to the area inside the spare tire well wasn't even close to matching the rest of the car. Furthermore, it appeared to be a poor attempt at covering some of the short cuts they'd taken. Smith double-backed on their work, brought it up to his standards and applied a fresh coat of paint to the subframe. Inside the cargo area he applied the same care, though he opted for a matte, factory-like finish inside. It's worth noting that prior to this re-build, the last time Smith held a paint gun was during his high school days.
With the K-swap carefully bolted in place, Smith applied more of his signature touches that included a major clean-up effort to a previously cut up wiring harness which he organized and simplified, then fed through the firewall using modified factory rubber gromets for a crispy OEM appearance. Even the Rywire engine harness is tethered neatly to the engine and transmission to maintain a unform look. Not a fully tucked harness or shaved bay by any means, because neither of those falls into his "OEM, only better" mentality.
When the car was originally built, Smith went to extremes to create an exact ITR clone using as many JDM Honda factory parts as possible, including every single interior piece, the entire front clip, wiring harness, even the doors, and all of that is still intact. The easily recognizable Laguna Seca Blue remains and is in stellar condition, and the same Spoon carbon fiber lip that graced the front end way back then is in place now (though it carries a far steeper price tag these days), joined by the brand's side mirrors. Rather than figuring out how to add more to the car's look, Lucero and Smith were far more focused on relying on a formula that's held up for so many years. Chat with Lucero for a few minutes and he's not shy about telling you how invested he is in simplicity, especially with this car's aesthetic.
The look and feel of this build, much of which is based on an obsessive attention to detail, sits comfortably opposed to an often-fickle Honda community which has seen bouts of extreme wheel fitment, hacked and overtly widened arches, extreme chassis-mounted doodads and a host of other come and go phases. Some will praise it for being simple and clean; others might say it's just a JDM fan boy build, but the fact that it still garners so much attention almost 20 years after its original debut means its impact simply can't be denied.
With that said, the resurrection wasn't always a friendly A to B affair. Lucero adds, "Throughout the build, Jay and I went through countless emotions. So much so that it almost became another part out. Thankfully, Jay being the true friend he's always been, finished the car and is responsible for what it is now. I can't thank him enough for the distance he's gone for me on this build and I'm still in his debt." For now, you can catch it on the road as Lucero spends as much time behind the wheel as possible and even has plans to move up to a larger Rotrex unit in the near future. As for Jay Smith and ONE. Honda Specialist, the wrenches keep turning for his hand-picked clientele and on his terms, the way it's always been. With Project Resurrection now complete, he reflects on the roller coaster ride that accompanied it, adding, "The process was very stressful because of all the setbacks and hidden issues. Being able to basically rebuild and take care of all the problems and neglect the car racked up over the years with different owners, all while making it better was a trying and rewarding journey. I'm definitely relieved it's over and complete, and I take pride and get great satisfaction knowing it's the best version it's ever been and street-worthy once again."