Honda will tell you the Civic is the best car of all-time. Versatile, affordable and certainly fun, with models like the Si and Type R. Dealerships around the world have sold tens of millions of Civics in its almost fifty years in existence; however, for performance car fans, there's a different contender for the best Honda ever and that is the 3rd generation Integra.
Touted for its exceptional handling, affordable performance and sportier style (over the Civic), the Integra was and still is regarded as the best front-wheel-drive car of all-time by many journalists. As for project car builders and grassroots track guys, the Integra has always been one of the best bang for your buck vehicles with an abundance of aftermarket support. In fact, it was even a bigger favorite among enthusiasts ahead of the faster and more modern RSX, which was the exact case for Terry Suvonnarith. Nearly two decades ago, Terry not only put all his chips on this 2001 Integra over the RSX, but he's continued to evolve the car year after year to remind us why the Integra is still spectacular to this day, and why you also shouldn't sleep on the GS-R model, which lived in the shadows of the Type R.
THE UNDERRATED GS-R
The GS-R didn't get the ITR's 195hp B18C5 out of the box, nor bigger brakes, deleted sunroof (to save weight) or a torque-sending limited-slip differential. It also wasn't offered in the iconic Championship White and Phoenix Yellow paint colors. It did, however, come with a 1.8-liter DOHC 16-valve VTEC inline-four engine (B18C1) rated at 170hp, as well as a close-ratio five-speed manual. Its 0-60mph time wasn't too impressive at eight seconds, but weight made up for it tipping the scales at 2,600 lbs. It was just as fun to throw into the corners and with some suspension tweaks and tire upgrades, you'd forget all about the Type R in no time.
In 2001, the GS-R was listed at $22,500 brand new—about $2K less than the DC2 Type R, but just like all great condition ITRs, GS-R models are still holding a premium 20 years later; in fact, one with 18K miles and TE37s from Washington just sold for $28,500 on BringATrailer, another example the Integra is still as awesome in 2020 as it was when it hit the scene more than 20 years ago.
SUPER STREET & MEGUIAR'S BEST OF SHOW AWARD
I didn't officially meet Terry until he pulled up to last year's Super Street at LeMay car show with Meguiar's. Located in Tacoma, Washington, the show featured 120 of the best modified Japanese and European cars of the Pacific Northwest. Out of all competitors, Terry's Integra was unanimously awarded best of show. On the outside, it was super clean with a JDM front-end, a subtlety shaved exterior and J's and Spoon carbon.
The exceptional taste in style and attention to detail followed under the hood and into the interior. A rebuilt B-series sits in an immaculate engine bay with ITBs, custom oil catch can and remote battery terminal setup, plus all the finest hoses, fittings, wiring and other hardware you'll ever spot on a Honda. The cockpit is motorsport-inspired with an eight-point rollcage, Bride buckets and GReddy steering wheel, while still keeping its composure for the street retaining the stock interior panels and carpet.
Terry's Integra is the type of car that you could stand at a car show and just admire for a solid thirty minutes, enjoying its flawless execution and the great balance of all its parts. It's not an all-out track car but can hold its own against any FF Battle contender. It's not a full show car, but it'll give the trailer queens a run for their money. As Terry would put it, it's simply a "street car," his first project car and first love and, if you ask us, there's nothing that represents the Honda community and helps solidify the Integra as the best Honda ever made than this car.
THE COULD'VE BEEN HONDA ISSUE COVER
Terry's Integra GS-R was featured ten years ago in Honda Tuning, where we first learned how a string of bad luck and accidents prompted his B18C1's engine rebuild. What I admire about Terry is that he's continued to evolve the car and after talking with him, he'll never be done with it despite owning it for 19 years and having it go through hundreds of different changes. It's truly a build that would've landed on the cover of our annual Honda Issue if the print magazine was still around today, which is why felt compelled to design this cover to give you an idea of what it would be like to see Terry's Integra on the newsstand.
1-ON-1 INTERVIEW WITH TERRY SUVONNARITH
How'd you get into the cars in the first place, Terry?
My cousins, Jack and Pow, and our older friends James with his 1966 Caprice and Seth with his 1970 Impala. Imports weren't a thing in our area in the early nineties and it was all about lowriders. Jack and I would hang out at a local hydraulic shop in White Center when we were in 5th or 6th grade. We were just young kids that wanted to be down with the older kids. We didn't have internet back then, so it was all about the magazine rack at the stores and being around it. Eventually, as I got older, it slowly transitioned into imports/Honda and it went from there. The Integra I currently own is my first project car.
How's the Seattle Honda scene stack up against rest of the world in your opinion?
It's relatively small compared to the rest of the world, but it most definitely has been holding its own and making their own niche within the scene. I feel in this city and region, we are limited on resources compared to everyone else, yet we are still able to create and execute some amazing builds that exceed other cars with more readily available and easily accessible resources.
And your Integra is definitely proof of that! When did you pick it up?
I'm the original owner of the car. I got it in 2001 brand new from a local Acura dealership and have been working on it ever since. I still have the window sticker that was on the car and all the original paperwork, pamphlets and brochures. This was the time when the Integra was being phased out for the new RSX. They were really pushing the RSX hard because it was that "new, new". I could've picked up a RSX but it just didn't do it for me and I just wasn't feeling it. The Integra just felt right overall.
What about the Integra won you over?
What drew me to the Integra was two photos I saw way back in the day before I could even drive. The first, I can't remember what magazine it was, but it showed a red integra with a Wing West RS kit sitting on red/chrome Momo Ferraris at a car show. I want to say the car was from Hawaii. The second photo was the old Suspension Techniques ad of a black Integra with a Wing West RS kit sitting on chrome Momo Arrows. After seeing those two cars, I knew the Integra was the car for me.
Well it looks like you grew out of the Wings West and chrome phase. What was your overall goal with the car?
To be a clean, aggressive street car. I never intended to track or show the car and anyone who knows me can vouch for that. I admit the car does have motorsport and show features, but it was more of a personal challenge for me to see if I can make things work and still have everything be functional.
Let's talk about the engine bay first. You decided to keep the stock GS-R B18C1 and also not go turbo or supercharger...
Initially, I didn't have a set direction for either going all-motor or forced induction. When Tom was at Golden Eagle MFG, he asked which piston I was going to run because he needed to hone the block to the correct piston. I got back to him one month later after letting fate be decided by a coin flip. Whatever the coin decided wasn't going to be easy or comfortable and I would have to work towards the vision I had at that time. I told myself if it lands on all-motor, I'm doing ITBs. I didn't want to do a platinum manifold setup because I felt ITBs had more appealing characteristics and features that suited me. In the end, the coin landed on all-motor which lead me down the path to what you see now.
Despite the coin landing on all-motor, was there ever a thought about a K-swap?
The thought about swapping out the engine for a K-series did come up. While I entertained the idea, I opted not to go K because the look of the K-series in an Integra at that time didn't grow on me yet. At the time, K-series was just coming up and wasn't popular yet, so the support wasn't readily available in this region. The only sources we had around here were friends with their trial and errors and limited information from car forums online. Ultimately, I just felt the B-series was best suited for the direction I was going for.
The car makes 233hp, 153 lb-ft at 9,500rpm and redlines at 10,000rpm. I was more focused on drivability and longevity of the motor, so I didn't aim or plan for higher horsepower. In my opinion, there's not many ITB cars on the street with reliable drivability especially when it comes to partial throttle. For peace of mind as well, I wanted it to be tuned on pump gas so that I don't have to plan on where to fill up. These factors contributed to the overall goal of the build which was to be an everyday performance street car.
I noticed the engine bay has a lot more dope details from the catch can setup to the plumbing and hardware. What was your thought process behind all that?
For me, I always wanted the engine bay to be the focal point of the overall build. I wanted the outside to be clean and simple, kind of like an OEM-plus look, I guess you can say. If you look at old pictures of the car from '07 and compare them to now, the exterior has not really changed after all these years. However, if you look at my engine bay from then and now, there's definitely more noticeable changes.
Speaking of changes, I understand you debuted this look at Wekfest Seattle 2019. Can you highlight the car's biggest changes?
It would have to be the Safety21 cage, fabrication and work within the engine bay, and the custom J's Racing fenders.
Can you elaborate more on the fenders?
I must give credit where credit is due... The custom J's fenders were not an original idea of mine. I got the idea from Ronald Khamp with a white Integra Type R who's also from Seattle. The only noticeable difference is that he kept the side marker while I eliminated it. I wanted to give the car a slightly more aggressive look while remaining subtle.
What color is the car?
For the exterior, it has been resprayed due to all the body work that was performed, but remains the original color, Vogue Silver Metallic. The engine bay has been painted Battleship Gray just to give it more of a pop and that motorsport feel.
The wheels complement everything quite well. It's actually a surprise to not see TE37s used.
The Volks were not my original wheel choice... While I like Volks (because who doesn't), I would still rock my old set of 18" Racing Hart C2 three-piece if I had the choice. The Racing Hart C2s have been one of my all-time favorite sets of wheels. Unfortunately, they do not clear my big brake setup so I had to go a different route. I prefer to run a conservative fitment so running an aggressive offset or setup wasn't going to work out for me, so I opted for the Volks to pair with the brakes.
The interior is one of my favorite parts of your build, maybe because most of the Integras I see are stripped out...
The thought process behind building the overall interior as it currently sits was one of my many, "F*ck it, I'm going to take a gamble and see if we can make it work" moments. I always told myself the only way I was going rock a 'cage is with full interior. I feel that stripping the interior and adding a 'cage wasn't me. I prefer a full interior and I also like my moonroof. Anyone can remove stuff to install something, but I feel there's more appreciation and value added to making stuff work with what you already have. The idea was to make the 'cage look very low key to where you wouldn't even really notice it.
Definitely a job well done! What would you say would be the most challenging modification to your car?
Man, that's a hard one... I feel one of the biggest challenges was putting in the 'cage. Making a JDM non-moonroof Safety 21 eight-point 'cage fit through the dash with full complete interior, working moonroof, all vents functional for climate control system, without modifying the 'cage or the moonroof frame, was a challenge and not fun. All this while trying to make the 'cage look likes its integrated with the interior while keeping everything functional and clean.
What do you feel stands out most about your Integra compared to other Honda builds today?
I would have to say the longevity and overall body of work.
Lastly, what's next?
I'm very pleased with the current state of the car overall. There are no real plans for future upgrades at this moment. Usually ideas just happen on the fly. Until then, I just plan on cruising around in the car and appreciating it in the moment.