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July 2014 Road Rage - The Turning Point

Aaron Bonk
Jun 9, 2014

That Evo you're thinking of unloading your Civic for, well, it might not have ever made its way to America were it not for Honda. As it turns out, Honda, or, more specifically, Acura, was just about the most important catalyst for the entire Japanese performance car movement. It's a brazen thing to say—that Honda's upper-echelon brand created in 1986 is why you're able to trade up from 2.0 liters of i-VTEC to a factory-turbocharged MIVEC engine—but it's true.

To be sure, Acura wasn't the first Japanese car entry-level tuners cared about. Mazda, Toyota, and Datsun all predated anything from Acura and its parent company. Harken Southern California's 1980s street racing scene or the first Battle of the Imports events and Honda mentionables are few. Outside of club racing, the marque was a seldom-used one. But 1986 changed all of that, when American Honda Motor Company announced what would be the first Japanese luxury car line to show face in the United States. The all-new brand launched under the guise of just two cars: the Legend and the Integra. It wasn't the Legend that performance fans and already CRX followers were interested in, though. The Integra—specifically its second-generation debut in late 1989 with its 1.8L twin-cam engine, double-wishbone suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and crisp gearset—was (even though Comptech and American Honda cleaned house with the first-generation chassis long before first-generation chassis were considered cool).

The Acura brand was revolutionary by 1986's standards. No automaker had successfully created a spin-off brand since Ford launched Lincoln-Mercury more than four decades earlier. It was also the first Japanese automaker to duly compete against European makes like BMW and Mercedes-Benz and, within two years, do so well as to rank the company as the best-selling import in America. The NSX came next, along with Acura and Comptech's IMSA GTP Lights efforts, but it's the Integra that positioned Acura and, ultimately, Honda on the radars of everyday adolescent performance fans across the United States—not the Legend or even the NSX for that matter.

Perhaps no powertrain is as poignant to the world of import performance as Honda's B Series. Even eight-cylinder militants hell-bent on disparaging anything without pushrods know the difference between a non-VTEC B18A1 and, say, the '99 Si's B16A2. VTEC has transcended from Honda-specific engineering speak to what's become a part of the daily English lexicon as well as the subject of Calvin stickers plastered to the backs of Camaros. It's also what'd arguably convinced automakers like Mitsubishi and Subaru to consider finally delivering their factory-turbocharged Evo and WRX sleds to Americans.

Technology has come a long way since we first became privy to VTEC in late 1990, though, and to be fair, almost every entry-level subcompact suitable for grandma features some sort of variable valve timing. But in the 1990s, it was enough to lay the groundwork for an entire industry—one that ebbs and flows just like any other—but an entirely new industry nonetheless. Import drag racing, time attack, drifting—they all owe a debt of gratitude to Acura and its B Series because without it, the world of import performance vehicles would be an entirely different one. It's true, the B Series has got absolutely nothing to do with drifting, for example, but just like you trading in your Civic for the Evo, Honda's 1.8L powertrain was arguably the learning platform and ultimate stepping stone for many among today's drifting paddock.

The same adoration for any current Honda or Acura powerplant isn't so evident today, though. That's mostly because Honda doesn't really offer anything but also because the other guys do. Still, even if you do choose to unload the Civic and side with those other guys, you ought to never forget Acura, its B Series, and how it helped pave the way for just about everything else.

By Aaron Bonk
389 Articles

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