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Chasing the Horizon

Aug 1, 2004
0410ht_00z+2001_Honda_Civic_LX+Driver_Side_Front_View Photo 1/30   |   Chasing the Horizon

John Romero and AEM endeavor to build a Civic that'll streak across the Bonneville Salt Flats to world-record glory while maintaining many of its creature comforts. first stop on this ambitious project: JD Performance for the setup of rollover protection in the econobox.

They call the Bonneville Salt Flats the fastest place on Earth for good reason. For years the expansive dry lakebed 90 miles outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, has been host to countless racing and testing sessions that have continually pushed the vehicular velocity envelope further and further. World Land Speed records have been set and broken on the 3-mile salt course. For many in the western United States, Bonneville is the Mecca of speed.

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$21,450 Base Model (MSRP) MPG Fuel Economy

For such a hallowed place you'd think more performance-addled Honda heads would show up to try and snatch a little piece of history, but surprisingly few imports of any kind ever show up to race. In fact the Land Speed racing season culminates with the Bonneville Speed Week, an annual orgy of fast cars and excessive desert temperatures, and despite the hundreds of possible class combinations available, typically only a handful of sport compacts bother to shoot the flats. If it wasn't for the Progress Group and its attempts to secure a spot in the Land Speed record books, we're not sure we would even know where Bonneville is.

This was the catalyst for John Romero, head of performance electronics engineering at Advanced Engine Management/DC Sports in Hawthorne, Calif. He saw what Progress did and knew he could build something similar to its Land Speed Civic. However, Romero did not want Progress' record in the 2-liter Blown, Gas-Altered Coupe or Blown, Fuel-Altered Coupe classes.

"They are friends of ours so we didn't want to run against them," he explains. "It seems foolish for us to bunch up and beat each other over the head in the same class."His idea was to take a B16A and drop the displacement down to 1.5 liters to go after those records. According to Romero, "We decided that running in the 1.5 liters class[es] would offer unique challenges and allow for pretty high specific power output (horsepower per liter) while still maintaining some degree of reliability. Plus, we think that the existing records don't reflect the power potential of a current state-of-the-art Honda B-series motor."

The 1.5-liter B16 will drop into the EM2 chassis of a 2001 Civic LX, but Romero didn't want to follow convention and completely sacrifice the interior of the coupe. Instead he decided on preserving as much of the cabin as possible while arranging for a full roll cage. He wanted the car fast but functional.

Handling the cage build, which we follow this month, is Josh Dawson from JD Performance in Huntington Beach. Dawson will be taking his leads on constructing the rollover protection from the Southern California Timing Association/Bonneville Nationals Inc., the body that sanctions and organizes the speed trials. It requires that all roll cages be designed to encapsulate and protect the entire driver's area from impact; the area is considered to extend from above and behind the driver's head to in front of the driver's feet, and includes both side and bottom protection.

Although it will ultimately be a six-point cage, the SCTA mandates a minimum four-point if the front hoop is continuous and directly connected to the lower frame rails. In addition, vehicles in classes where the existing record exceeds 175 mph need to use the larger tube minimum requirements, which means Dawson will be working with 1-5/8-inch outside diameter, 0.120-inch wall thickness, low-carbon (mild) steel tubing and 6x6-inch square, 1/4-inch-thick base plates. For the job he picked up about 60 feet of tube, and the bars will be assembled with a TIG welder. Lastly, the SCTA typically requires all tube junctions to be gusseted, but Dawson was able to forgo the braces after explaining how thorough his welds are and getting the OK from the association.

The long-term plan for the Civic is a pretty daunting one. This year Romero hopes to campaign the unblown car just to sort out the bugs and determine how to go fast. He believes he'll probably run in the 160-175-mph range on nitrous, which would place the coupe in the Fuel Altered Class. "That's fast enough to get a feel for how the car is going to respond to the aero loading and how I need to trim it out," he tells us. "I don't want this thing going airborne!"

Later this year Romero will tear down and put on a turbo and switch to methanol to see what she can really do. But the ultimate goal of the project is to set the official 1.5L Blown, Fuel Altered record above 200 mph. Additionally, he hopes to be able to show off the car at various events in conjunction with AEM's other racer, Steph Papadakis' Civic.


Hawthorne, CA 90250
Bob Hernandez
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