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FF Battle 8 - The Answer is Always Honda

Why 20-year-old Hondas are still the best

Aaron Bonk
May 24, 2017

Last November, we celebrated our 8th annual FF Battle with Continental Tire, and another FF Battle means more '90s Hondas (and one pretty fast Ford Focus ST) going at each other's throats. You think '90s Hondas are cool, but it turns out there are a whole lot of reasons why they continue to rule just about any FWD-based track event, including last season's FF Battle.

CIVICS AND INTEGRAS (OLD ONES)

Honda's golden age is as follows: It started with the '84 CRX and finished with the '01 Integra. This isn't up for debate. Yes, spectacular cars existed before and after this period, but no other moment in time laid claim to so many great Hondas.

They're cheap. Civics and Integras of the era weren't expensive and they still aren't. "Everything about '90s Hondas is what's fun about cars," says Duane Bada, who shared driving duties with his girlfriend Julie Yeh, and the couple secured a 10th place finish in her '90 Civic hatchback. "They're cheap, they can make power with just a simple build, and you can still have fun." Hasport's Brian Gillespie, whose son, Carter, drove the company's second-generation Integra toward the third fastest time of the day, explains why cars like those '88-'91 Civics, for instance, are so inexpensive: "One of the things that makes them so cheap is that Honda sold so many of them," he says. "The cars were reasonably priced and, by far, the best front-wheel-drive platform of the day."

They're light. Golden-age Hondas don't weigh much. For Bada, it's his Civic's 1,900-pound curb weight that allows him to keep costs down and retain the car's original SOHC engine. "We just don't need a whole lot of power to go out on the track," he says. "Part of Honda's initial performance formula was to make a lightweight and aerodynamic car," Gillespie continues. "They had cars that were getting 50 mpg in the '80s, and a lot of that was accomplished by light weight and good aero."

Ff battle 8 civics integra Photo 2/13   |   Looking for a proper FWD-based track car? Nothing beats Honda's golden age, which is made up of just about every Civic, CRX, and Integra from '84 to '01.

They're simple. If you're good with Legos, the chances of you not biffing up a B16 swap into a '92 Civic are good. Golden-age Honda engineering just makes sense, which means things like changing an oil filter are as easy as changing an oil filter. "You'd think those compact engines would be difficult to work on, but they're not," Gillespie says about the D- and B-series engines of past. "They didn't require a bunch of emissions control devices because they were so clean burning." According to Bada, it's that simplicity that "allows the owner or the driver to be very involved with the build; they can do almost everything themselves."

Ff battle 8 80s 90s era honda engine Photo 3/13   |   If golden-age Hondas are one thing, they're simple. According to Hasport's Brian Gillespie, since '80s and '90s Honda engines operated so efficiently, there wasn't any need for all sorts of complicated emissions ancillaries and add-ons that other cars of the era had.

They're supported. It took a little while, but by the late '90s, aftermarket parts makers that didn't offer anything for cars like the '94-and-up Integra were the crazy ones. "These cars have been so well developed," Gillespie explains. "They've been popular for 25-plus years, so almost anything you need to make them a good track car is available." Today, there's almost nothing you won't find for any golden-age Honda. "There's so much proof out there, and everything has been tested," Bada says, "so you know what will make sense in terms of modifying and what won't."

SUSPENSION IS KEY

The golden age coming to an end around the same time Honda ditched its double-wishbone suspensions for MacPherson struts is no coincidence. But all you care about is what the differences are between the two most common suspension layouts and whether or not any of that matters to you.

Ff battle 8 80s 90s era honda suspension Photo 4/13   |   Ff Battle 8 80S 90S Era Honda Suspension
Ff battle 8 80s 90s era honda suspension Photo 5/13   |   The battle between old and new Hondas comes down to one very important thing: their suspension. Older Hondas incorporated a double-wishbone design that introduces negative camber when the shock compresses. All you care about is that the results mean better traction. New, MacPherson-based suspensions are fine for your mother and provide all sorts of extra room for your legs, but they don't have the same sort of dynamic camber-changing capabilities.

Double-wishbone: Here, unequal-length upper and lower A-arms connect the unibody and the rest of the suspension to the knuckle and, in Honda's case, encapsulate a coil-over shock assembly. The double wishbone lends itself to all sorts of camber gain and is precisely the reason why you didn't even know you liked it. In other words, when that suspension of yours compresses, negative camber's introduced, which leads to better traction and better handling.

MacPherson strut: Unlike the double wishbone, here there's no upper control arm and the steering pivots directly off of the strut. All this means to you is that this takes up a whole lot less space, costs less, but doesn't allow for the sort of dynamic camber changes that a double-wishbone setup does. If you want more negative camber, you've got to introduce it yourself-and permanently.

NEWER HONDAS ARE PRETTY GOOD, TOO

But don't let a pair of front shocks stop you from considering something like an '06 Civic Si. Golden-age Hondas have never heard of things like K-series engines and six-speed transmissions, both of which make cars like, say, the RSX Type-S something you should probably think about.

Ff battle 8 late model civic Photo 6/13   |   There's a case to be made for later-model Hondas, like the eighth- and ninth-generation Civic Sis, for instance, that have the K-series engine and six-speed gearbox you already want.

They're kinda cheap. You'll spend more than eight grand for something like an eighth-generation Civic Si, but you'll be glad you did when you don't find yourself having to do a $4,000 engine swap. It can also be enough for you to nab second place in an FF Battle like it did for Ken Suen, who drove a slightly more expensive ninth-gen model.

They're sorta light. Compare something like the RSX Type-S and its near 2,800-pound curb weight to a 1,800-pound CRX and you're in for disappointment. Pit it against something like an Evo X, for example, that can weigh several hundred pounds more and, all of a sudden, that RSX doesn't seem so bad.

They're pretty simple. OBDII electronics and CAN have complicated newer Hondas, but all of that nonsense has existed long enough for the aftermarket to have sorted it out. Mechanically, you've got a subframe to deal with and a return-less fuel system you're not familiar with but just about everything else makes sense in the same straightforward sort of way Honda's always intended.

They're just as supported. Nowadays, wherever there's a Civic there'll be aftermarket support. At no time in history have Civic parts been so readily available for current models as they are now.

Ff battle 8 jackson racing supercharger system Photo 7/13   |   Today, there's just as much aftermarket support for newer Hondas as there is for the classics. Never in the last 30 years has it been so easy to do something like bolt a supercharger onto a Civic as it is now.

PARTS BIN ENGINEERING

Honda wasn't the first carmaker to practice parts bin engineering-the process in which a single seal, for example, is used on everything from an Accord to an NSX-but it's perfected it. It's also what's made things like B-series swaps and cylinder-head conversions so dang easy. Carmakers often dip into the parts bins of existing models when devising up new cars. Do it right and you've just made an Integra GS-R cost a little bit less. Do it wrong and it'll look like your Corvette's got door handles from an Oldsmobile. You can thank Honda parts bin engineering for everything you love about '90s Hondas, right down to those Integra disc brakes that bolt right onto Civics and can't help but make you wonder whether or not anybody knew just how important all of that would be.

Ff battle 8 kristian wong integra Photo 8/13   |   Ff Battle 8 Kristian Wong Integra
Ff battle 8 d series swapped integra Photo 9/13   |   It's parts bin engineering that's, in part, made golden-age Hondas as popular as they've become. Kristian Wong's reverse-swapped (D-series Civic engine) Integra is proof of the sort of compatibility Honda ensured among its various models.

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER FF BATTLE

For the eighth time, Super Street called on the best of the best front-engine, FWD, street-trimmed track cars (or at least those who felt like showing up) to participate in our annual FF Battle, returning to the 1.6-mile, 14-turn circuit of Streets of Willow and once again using a control street tire from Continental. And once again, the field was nearly all Hondas, with 14 out of 15 competitors driving some sort of Civic or Integra.

It was Joel Etrata's Integra that took the win with its naturally aspirated, 2.4L K-series engine swap, not just posting the fastest time of the day but beating out the FF Battle record holder of two years prior. Six generations of Civics and both second- and third-generation Integras made up the field, only one of which was turbocharged and another two supercharged. Engine swaps were also a familiar sight, including Kristian Wong's DC2 Integra anti-swap that makes use of a D-series Civic engine. Need proof that golden-age Hondas make the best FWD track cars? Stay tuned for this year's FF Battle.

Ff battle 8 joel etrata integra rs Photo 10/13   |   Joel Etrata's K24-powered '94 Integra RS recorded the fastest lap with a 1:25.427.
Ff battle 8 da integra Photo 11/13   |   You don't see many DA Integras at the track, let alone one with a supercharged K24 swap. Hasport does not disappoint!
Ff battle 8 mike ghadimi eg civic Photo 12/13   |   Mike Ghadimi built one of the cleanest EG Civics in North America, gracing our cover back in November '10. It was good to see him finally take his Urban Green, B18-powered '92 Civic on the track at FF Battle!

Conti's Control Tire

Ff battle 8 continental tire Photo 13/13   |   Ff Battle 8 Continental Tire

All entries also had new, grippy soles on their shoes courtesy of event title sponsor Continental Tire, namely the Ultra High Performance (UHP) ExtremeContact Sport. Aimed directly at enthusiasts, ExtremeContact Sport rubber is a new tire that replaces the ExtremeContact DW and was developed in conjunction with five IMSA pro drivers. It received glowing reviews across our FF Battle field. Drivers lauded the amount of traction in Willow Springs' dry conditions and stickiness that persisted throughout the day.

THE RESULTS
Streets of Willow Springs, WSIR, Rosamond, CA
1.1:25.427'94 Acura Integra, Joel Etrata
2.1:25.527'13 Honda Civic, Ken Suen
3.1:25.618'93 Acura Integra, Brian Gillespie
4.1:28.014'95 Acura Integra, Tyler Mikesell
5.1:28.558'15 Ford Focus, Jonathan Lugod
6.1:28.632'02 Honda Civic, Phil Nguyen
7.1:28.691'94 Acura Integra, Kristian Wong
8.1:28.841'93 Honda Civic, Yuta Akaishi
9.1:30.616'98 Honda Civic, Lance Uchida
10.1:31.027'91 Honda Civic, Julie Yeh
11.1:31.366'01 Acura Integra, Joey Sengsavat
12.1:34.974'00 Honda Civic, Albert Donkor
13.1:35.375'06 Honda Civic, Devyn Bandonillo
14.1:35.562'00 Honda Civic, Henry Fierros
15.1:42.353'92 Honda Civic, Mike Ghadimi

Sources

Continental Tires
www.ContinentalTire.com
By Aaron Bonk
367 Articles

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