Putting down the first few sentences of a feature like this 1987 Honda CRX Si is a little tougher than usual. It's not the familiar story of picking up an old, used Honda, adding wheels and a drop before giving in and going all out on a full-blown build. Furthermore, to be clear, it's also not the prissy collectable, loaded with rare JDM gems and only pulled out of its protective bubble wrap a few times a year to gawk over. This car and its iconic aftermarket parts selection carry quite a bit of history. History rivaled only by its owner, Junior Asprer, who has inadvertently played a key role in the very import automotive obsession that's taken over a portion of your life. It's a strange thing to write, being that you've likely never met him and for many, never even heard of him or seen pics of his iconic hatchback, but that doesn't change the fact that he was instrumental in the growth of this ever-evolving community during its infancy.
The Early Days
Cutting his teeth in custom import car and truck culture in Southern California in the 80s, Junior's humble beginnings began close to home, about 4 decades ago. He recalls, "In '81, my cousin bought an '81 Celica. I didn't think much of the car at the time up until he lowered it, put some Centerline wheels and muffler on. My block was used to cut through a major street, so my brother and I used to always hear him and his friends with their Zs, 510s and rotaries passing through with their raspy exhaust tones and we would just stand there until they all passed by. It was a thrill for us. From that point forward, cars became a constant discussion we couldn't wait till we got our own cars."
In 1985, that first car would arrive in the form of an '85 Civic hatchback. Purchased by his brother, the two would regularly make the rounds to local shops to snatch any aftermarket catalogs they might have on hand to flip through and learn as much as they could. Though it seems like this is the direction Junior was headed, unlike his brother, he made a sharp turn toward the wildly popular mini truck movement of that time. "My cousin bought an '85 Nissan mini truck and a few months later, I had a white one. I drove it straight from the dealer to a local shop to get a set of deep-dish, 15x8 Enkeis." The rest of the mini trucking essentials were added, including a chest-thumping sound system, camper shell and the necessary drop. "I cruised that thing everywhere. A little over 2 years of owning it, I got car-jacked a few blocks from my house. It was downhill after that. A couple of months later, it was vandalized." The crossroads that Junior was at during this time is an important part of import history in that he could have chosen to keep going with the mini truck world and steered clear of Hondas altogether, or he could have thrown in the towel and turned his attention elsewhere. Instead, in 1987, he purchased an '88 Civic DX hatchback.
Setting the Record/s Straight
That innocent little Civic would go on to be something incredibly special for those of us that were around Battle of the Imports during its golden era and were lucky enough to see it in action. The consistent progression, a product of the rawest form of trial and error put forth by Junior and a host of other pioneers who constantly tinkered with any and everything they could in search of more power, traction and lightweight alternatives, unabashedly flew in the face of domestic enthusiasts who would bet their house that a measly FWD Honda would never break the 13-sec. barrier. Junior did that before his peers. Then they changed that notion and said that jumping into the 12s was impossible. He smashed that too. Eventually, guys like Junior, and there weren't but a handful, managed to jump into 11-sec. territory, his best effort a blistering 11.86 with a just a built DX long block and straight T3 turbo and yes, his was the first FWD Honda to hit that milestone as well in 1995. I was there to see it in person and can assure you that the grandstands that day were far more excited than Junior himself. Once everyone realized what they'd just seen, people lost their minds.
When in kill mode, his Civic wore gutted, mismatched body panels and like all of the fastest Hondas in the early 90s, used duct tape to cover hood to fender and headlight gaps in an attempt to stay as slippery as possible during high stakes passes. Panels and doors were found at local junkyards, still carrying the yard's handwritten inventory numbers and completely gutted to save every possible ounce. Hatches were often ditched entirely, replaced with makeshift plastic "windows" anchored by copious amounts of even more duct tape.
Off the track, Junior's DX was undeniably show quality, proudly sporting an authentic Mugen aero kit and NR10-R wheels, its engine bay looked the part, sporting polished bits.
The interior was fitted with Recaro race buckets and even the factory gauge cluster was replaced by a slew of custom aftermarket gauges - something that most had never seen before in street/drag car. He was part of a select group of "show and go" types of that era who built cars that could literally do it all, including driving to and from the track and, in some instances, back to work on Monday.
During the constant one-upmanship that took place at every Battle of the Imports event, Junior and Redline - a car crew of close friends that he and his brother established officially in 1988 with 6 cars and eventually grew the group to over 20 - came up with plan to push import racing to a completely different level. He adds, "As BOTI started getting more national attention and companies started to buy into the import market, I started thinking ahead. Swaps were happening more frequently and although trap speeds were getting higher, traction was the issue. Although I knew that it would eventually get ironed out, I wanted to bypass all that and take a leap forward. Imports were not still getting the respect they needed. I thought why not go somewhere where nobody can touch us and set the precedent with the import scene and also be the face of Hondas. Let Redline be the one to put Honda at the top of the import drag racing scene and then maybe we get the respect we needed from the domestic market as well as compete with any RWD Imports."
Junior's plan was to tear his pristine Civic completely apart to create a bonafied Civic dragster that included a tube frame chassis, turbo V6 and RWD. "Yes, it was going to be RWD, but it was still powered by Honda and still retained as many parts from the original car as possible. I had this mindset that drag cars had to be RWD and seeing FWDs doing burn outs seemed so odd at the time. I just couldn't see FWD competing at the next level, but more so, able to compete at the NHRA level. That was the goal - to be on the big stage."
The jump to that stage wouldn't come cheap, as a completely custom tube frame chassis and one-off engine swap, not to mention all of the custom parts to build an engine platform that had essentially no support, needed plenty of funding. "I was still in college at that time working odd end jobs and there was no way I could do it on my own. I approached a few of Redline guys that
I've known from the start and I pitched the idea of making my car a tube chassis RWD and taking the leap with me. We would basically just put all our eggs in one basket and collaborate as a team. My car would be 'our car.' We would have control and be accountable for all of our successes and failures. Kali Nahaku, Orly Alcalde and Calvin Courtland bought in."
Not So Underground Anymore
Ultimately, the RWD program wouldn't fully materialize, with far too much money still needed and Junior's constant battle with sponsors who seemed to be tryig to take control of the car and the Redline team - something Junior would not stand for. As a result, progress came to a halt. With maxed-out credit cards and an import drag racing industry that had gone from an underground wild child to entering its teenage angst era that seemed to sit on the fence between young outlaw and potential corporate golden child, Junior walked away. One of the pioneers of an industry that was about to explode, who'd established milestones behind the wheel and, along with a select group of early standouts, handheld an entire community as its sometimes-sloppy transition to legitimacy began to really unfold, felt he'd had enough. "The underground feel started to fade, and some people had a sour taste for the growing industry that we started. Import drag racing lost its grassroots feel. Some folks benefited, but most did not. Some of those who didn't were the ones who put import drag racing on the map. Deep inside, I knew that was going to happen and I was not surprised. We were just not prepared for that, so I exited early and cut my losses."
More 1st. Gen CRX Features:
In the era that followed his heavy involvement in the import drag racing world, Junior slowed things down considerably and focused on himself, rather than chasing ETs and trying to move things to the next level. He'd always been hands-on with his vehicles, and he was looking for something new to get creative with. Some are tied to a specific make or model but in Junior's case, he's got a knack for being able to adapt to whatever it is he's working on, and it's remarkable. What followed was a long list of builds that included 2 and 4-wheel projects. "It started with sport bikes, then a couple of '81 Celicas, '69 rotary Datsun 510 wagon, '00 Civic Coupe, '98 Carrera C2S, '62 impala, and an '85 Corolla hatch. Bored and itching for something new, I purchased a Harley Davidson Softail Deluxe in late '07. It was an entirely new world for me - new people, new culture, new community, etc. One thing that never changed was the ability to continue to do what came naturally for me, which was to customize and build."
Being the first to hit multiple FWD Honda milestones doesn't lend itself to building magazine-worthy Harley Davidsons. It just isn't a common occurrence being that they're worlds apart. However, break them both down and you might see the correlation as both the Honda community in the 90s and Harley Davidsons at just about any point in time, have a long list of inaccuracies that surround both the vehicles and the people that love them. Both are often misunderstood, mocked, and oftentimes, when done properly, can completely change a naysayer's mind in an instant. "Not only was I able to create something new but it was the culture that intrigued me. It wasn't a competition of who had the best custom bike but rather a comradery of bikers sharing the love of building, riding, experience and just having a sense of 'freedom'. Not to say that you can't have the same experience with the car culture, because you surely can, but it was different. Owning a Harley is not like owning any other motorcycle. It's deeper than that and you definitely get that partnership with yourself and other Harley owners. It's really hard to describe the feeling but it allowed me to find who I was, have a conversation with myself and think on my own. It was like my therapy. Diversity is a big thing for me. Although the car culture is also diverse, you're somewhat separated by the kind of car you own. You have your Japanese, Euro, American muscle, classic, and exotic communities. With the Harley community, everyone is connected by just the love and passion for the Harley Davidson brand, the heritage and history behind it."
In 2008, Junior met up with fellow Redline members Calvin Courtland and Kali Nahaku to take a look at a 1st gen. CRX that Calvin was thinking about buying. The owner at that time was early model CRX guru and owner of Heel Toe Auto, Marcus Di Sabella - a name that Junior wasn't at all familiar with having been away from Hondas for so long, but he knew everything about the "extras" included in the potential deal. He recalls, "Fortran AssoA301 wheels. To this day, I have never seen an actual set, nor do I know of another car that actually exists today with these wheels. I'm sure there is another, but I have no knowledge of it. This is as rare as it gets." Along with the wheels, the deal would include an old school HKS turbo kit and laid out inside the garage was a complete Mugen Aero Line body kit with its appropriate hardware. Calvin purchased the car and its rare goods, balanced and blueprinted the engine and put everything back to stock under the hood so as not to upset the emissions Gods. From there, Junior didn't see the car or hear another word about it. "Over the years, we got together for gatherings and not one time was that CRX a topic of discussion. While participating in random forum and social media discussions, I was often asked if I would ever build another Honda. My answer was always 'No'. However, on a few occasions I let Kali know that If I were to ever to get myself back into Hondas, it would have to be Calvin's car."
Friends in High Places
Last year, Junior missed a random call from Calvin, which was unusual being that the two communicated almost entirely through text, so the change was cause for alarm. "I felt a bit afraid that something bad had happened. I called him back and we started to chat and catch up and he offers me his CRX. He knew if there was one person to finish what he started; it would be me. I was reluctant at first since cars were not part of my agenda but here was my opportunity to own a car that I told myself would be the one to get me back into the car scene, so I couldn't pass it up. I knew that if I did, I'd regret It. Besides, after ruining my civic, this car would fill that empty void I'd felt all those years." Several lengthy discussions took place so that Junior could get an exact rundown of what was and wasn't done to the car in order to plan his attack. While waiting for the car to change hands, he started diving into Honda-related social media to gauge the environment and enlist the help of some old friends as well as new ones in order to track down additional parts.
Once the car was signed over, Junior spent a week behind the wheel taking notes to address any issues he found. He connected with Marcus from Heel Toe who proved to be an excellent source for some necessary OEM parts and the momentum continued. "It wasn't long before my garage started to up fill up with boxes of all shapes and sizes containing parts ranging from missing and damaged interior, exterior and engine bay brackets, to panels, hardware and hoses - even a pair of Gen1 seats to replace the 2nd gen. CRX seats that were in the car." Those incredibly rare Fortran wheels, along with a set of Mugen CF-48 were refinished and with Kali's help, the two went over the entire car to iron out any shortcomings and had the 33-year old CRX looking and running better than it ever had.
It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint
The engine bay maintains an almost completely stock appearance and its level of cleanliness, even after 3-decades of service and the many street miles that Junior puts on the car, just doesn't make sense. It's spotless. Dig into the balanced and blueprinted block and you'll find 10.5:1 JE pistons and ARP hardware, joined up top by factory injectors that received an RC Injectors flow treatment. Hiding under the front panel is a Mugen header that leads to an almost non-existent Mugen dual exhaust. None of those parts are installed in the name of competition, but rather updating the native powerplant and keeping in line with the owner's interest in reliability and longevity, but sure, a few extra horsepower never hurt anyone. Besides, Junior's had enough competitive race action to last 3 lifetimes and his sights these days are set on simply cruising and enjoying his therapeutic, personal time machine.
Rolling Mugen Catalog
As clean as the engine bay is, it's the exterior that has everyone talking. A complete 11-piece Mugen aero kit and rear wing aren't all that easy to come by, as you might imagine, and more than just the name and rarity, is the transformation the kit bestows upon the '80s 2-seater that keeps demand so high. The widened, boxed fenders go a long way in adding some much-needed bulk to the CRX's lean hips and shoulders and the lower, more pronounced front bumper replaces the factory overbite.
It'd be tough to find another Mugen rear deck spoiler and Junior just so happens to have a back-up version still in its original packaging, with no interest in parting with it. Stubby EC Works N1 side mirrors help play into the stocky, buff feel of the Mugen-converted Si. The Fortran Asso wheels that you might've never known existed are satisfyingly fitting for a throwback build done this well in terms of both execution and attention to period-correct detail.
The inside of this CRX shouldn't be as clean and complete as it is. 9 times out of 10, the cabin of these mid-80s wonders are faded beyond recognition, the plastics hanging on by a thread or completely cracked. Not the case here as every surface feels like it came out of a poly-bag. A single Mugen S1 bucket seat and SW-36 wheel with horn pad are joined by the brand's shifter and sport pedals. No complex navigation or Bluetooth system on board as music in this picture-perfect interior is supplied by a period correct Alpine deck. If you didn't have those 6 mint-colored keys on your audio head unit at that time then you were coming up short.
The CRX build could be referred to as a comeback, but it feels more like a continuation of sorts. "As I started working on the car, I saw how massive the Honda community and the entire car community has grown. I reconnected with old friends and felt 'wanted' and 'missed'. There was sort of a new spark. It's been a humbling feeling. It's surreal looking back to when I first started and watching the evolution to what it's become today. I've never even attended a car meet until earlier this year. After browsing and following more car-related social media pages and listening and watching podcasts, vlogs, and blogs, I realized how much I've missed and it's actually a big learning curve for me. Since getting the CRX, I've reconnected with old folks, made new friends and it's been nothing short of an awesome experience in such a short amount of time. The amount of love and welcome that I've received from folks has been humbling to say the least. I've been approached directly and indirectly through DMs and PMs and it's great just talking about my past, answering questions and helping out as much as I can by curating the next generation. I wish I could have done more of that even when I wasn't active. It's so easy to get caught up with social media that I want to encourage the positive aspects of it all and how to use it to promote a positive community. We all know how social media can bring out the worst in everyone and bring down a community, so I feel it's my responsibility to help educate and facilitate positive action. It's the least I can do."
Moving Past the Past
Regarding his venture into the wild RWD-converted, V6-swapped drag Civic - if you view that series of events as a failure, there's a good chance you've never truly stuck your neck out for something outside of your comfort zone. The risk taken went well beyond the financial turmoil that ensued. It's a scary space, occupied by passionate movements and sometimes impulsive behavior but one that, if taken entirely out of the equation, doesn't allow for a community to progress, whether you agree with it or not. It doesn't lend itself to breaking pre-established stereotypes and certainly doesn't land physics-challenged econobox FWD cars in 11-second territory at a time when it was widely determined that these cars would never muster more than a comedic scurry down a domestic-dominated 1320.
It was a different time then. Finding success with a build both on and off of the track required far more effort than it does today and avenues of communication in the '90s are considered ancient by today's digital standards. Junior has adapted to these modern, "speed of light" interactions and seems to have found a comfortable slice of the modern tuning era with his pristine throwback build - a project that undoubtedly helped him to make peace with that wild industry ride that took place back in the 90s. And as more and more people find him on social media and learn about his deep-rooted history in this industry, a certain level of appreciation and respect has been garnered without Junior ever having asked for it. That didn't come from his own shameless self-promotion or shoving his resume of high-level 2 and 4-wheel builds in our faces, but rather his willingness to share his experience from the earliest days and offer a bit of wisdom - and the result of that is Junior Asprer getting his just due. Know your roots.
Car 1987 Honda CRX Si
Owner Junior Asprer
Engine Fully balanced and blueprinted long block w/fresh OEM gaskets, seals; ARP hardware; JE 10.5:1 pistons; RC injector service; K&N air filter; Mugen Sports Muffler kit, header, oil cap, gas cap
Suspension Heeltoe Auto V1 Medieval-Pro damper kit, torsion bars; Energy Suspension urethane bushing kit
Braking 1st generation Integra front and rear discs; stainless lines
Wheels & Tires 15x6 Fortran AssoA301; 15x6 Mugen CF-48; 195/50-15 Toyo Proxes R888R
Exterior Complete Mugen Aero Line body kit, Air Spoiler, N1 side mirrors by EC Works; JDM corner lights, taillights
Interior Mugen S1 bucket seat, SW-36 steering wheel w/pad, Formula shift knob, pedal set; Alpine Cassette deck, speakers
Thank you: I would like to thank all the 'era originals' of my time and today's 'era Originals' who continue to pave the way for the new generation, car meet organizers, Vlogger, Bloggers and the like, Independent shop owners and to those who I've connected with through social media platforms. You all know exactly who you are. I appreciate the welcome, direction, education and support after my long absence. I'm thankful for all that you have done to keep the car community alive.
Special thanks to my wife Michele and the kids for allowing me to relive a bit of my pastime and Calvin Courtland for blessing me with this car. This would not have been remotely possible. I hope I was able to fulfill your plans for this car. Thank you, Kali Nahaku, for all the continued help and support. I couldn't have done this without you.
And thank you, Rodrez, for this opportunity to share a little bit of my story, history and showcasing my car.