In the midst of installing my new Fortune Auto 500 Series coilovers and Pro Car Innovations suspension goods on my 1992 Honda Civic VX project recently, I took a step back and thought about the old days for two reasons, the first realization being that the modern-day aftermarket landscape dwarfs that of the mid-'90s. In an era that we often refer to as the "golden age," there were certainly suspension options, but they pale in comparison to what's available now, as you might expect. With time comes progression, and newer technology brings about more advanced options.
The second thought that crossed my mind is just how simple things are with Honda's '90s-era suspension packaging. Having recently worked on all aspects of a 10th gen. Civic, I quickly realized how much more involved making basic bolt-on changes really is. With this car, swapping out the coilovers is so quick and simple that I found myself shaking my head, as I haven't done a suspension setup in an older car like this in a few years. The amount of space in the wheel well combined with the simple mechanics of just a few nuts and bolts to unfasten along with direct access to arms and sway bar mounts and the absence of any sensors makes you remember just how much Honda engineers unintentionally made things easy for us back then.
Preparing for Gainz Season
This car was originally put together by Import Tuner magazine back in 2011 to try to squeeze as much MPG as they possibly could from the stock 1.5L, and from that it already had some suspension changes. The idea was to lower the center of gravity and also correct some of the weaknesses of the VX's factory suspension using a set of coilovers, rear LCAs (lower control arms) and rear adjustable camber arms, along with adjustable front upper control arms. And while the coilovers held up just fine, they were set up for a much tamer road feel and intended to support that tiny VX 1.5L engine and wouldn't work well with a heavier 2.4L engine. The bushings from the other pieces have deteriorated, which is a bit shocking being that this project only had a few thousand miles on it before it was retired and sat untouched in storage.
Having already established themselves in both the Japanese and European markets, Fortune Auto has a ton of experience in both street- and track-tuned suspension. They've found success in a number of motorsport playgrounds, including World Challenge, Time Attack, drift, and club racing, and serve as the official suspension of Global Time Attack. For Honda nerds like myself, you'll remember their logo plastered along the side of William Au-Yeung of PZ Tuning's dominant 9th-gen. Civic Time Attack coupe as it earned fastest lap honors just about every time it was unleashed on the track.
Street to Track
In the overall Super Street Network community, many know the brand for their slick Air Piston Lift System that allows the end user to lift their car by about two inches on command in order to get over obstacles and does so without sacrificing any suspension performance. Their line of coilovers spans multiple makes and models and covers mild street cars all the way up to extreme competition vehicles, like PZ Tuning's coupe.
The staff at Fortune Auto pride themselves on being one of the very few suspension groups to actually engineer, assemble, inspect and service their product right here in the U.S. Fortune hand builds each kit to order and that process includes calibrating and matching to their shocks using a Roehrig state-of-the-art shock dyno.
Like any moving part that will take considerable abuse, rebuilding or revalving in the future is something long-term coilover users want to keep in mind. With the availability of nameless, bargain-priced, bottom-level suspension options floating around your favorite auction and fulfillment sites, rebuilding isn't an option. For others, the suspension often has to be sent overseas, leaving you with additional downtime. In the case of Fortune Auto, the group handles rebuilding duties in-house, right out of their Powhatan, Va., facility.
The Fortune 500 Club
The 500 Series I installed feature aluminum T6 6061 mounts and are loaded with 12K front, 10K rear springs with a Monotube damper. Fortune bakes in its Flow Digressive Technology, which grants stiff low-speed compression and rebound force to give the end user plenty of control, while the kit delivers a supple response to bumps and rougher roads at faster stroke speeds.
The dampers are 24-way adjustable via top mounted knobs that have a solid "click" to provide some haptic feedback even while wearing gloves.
Initial set up is as simple as choosing your ride height by twisting the body up or down and setting the pre-load. In my case, the springs are 7 inches tall and Fortune recommends 1/4-in. of tension in the front and no more than 1/8th in the rear. A small "window" allows you to see how much of the threaded shock body is still available.
You've done more than your fair share of coilover installs on your own cars, so I won't give you a step-by-step for the thousandth time, but installation is quick and painless, and Fortune includes the specs and info about your kit, and the appropriate spanner wrenches you'll need to make your height and pre-load adjustments.
There are also brackets for the front coilovers to support brake line anchors for proper routing. Using the previous coilovers as a guide, I set the ride height slightly lower on the new Fortune 500 Series coilovers since the springs are about twice as stiff now, and I expected they'd lift the car considerably if I set them exactly the same.
With the old coilovers out, before installing the Fortune Auto 500s I added a set of Circuit Hero's dual horizontal shock tower bars both front and rear. I used one of their 2-point front shock tower bars on an S2000 project I worked on earlier this year and was very impressed by not only the quality but the precise fitment.
So precise, in fact, that installation requires dropping the studs that hold the coilovers in place down by a few inches in order to feed the studs through the mounting holes on the bar ends to secure it in place. In my case, I was bringing in the new Fortune Auto coilovers so it was the perfect time to add this to the install.
The tight fit is for very good reason. Being non-adjustable and requiring dropping your suspension slightly means that the bars will actually do their job of stiffening the chassis without compromise. No pivot points or moving parts that can take a break during hard cornering.
Not All Heroes Arrive Coated
I opted for the raw mild-steel version, which is intended to be painted or coated, but Circuit Hero also offers a painted mild steel and a nice stainless-steel version for S2000, 5th and 6th gen. Civics and 3rd-generation Integras (3-point front version also available for Civic/Integra).
Like most of the rest of this build, both inside and out, Downstar Inc. hardware was used to cinch up the bar and coilover combo and dressed up with their anodized red billet washers.
Available in kits, like the "strut hardware and upper control arm" version that is shown here, or in individual pieces, it's a low-cost way to improve the look without sacrificing quality. As Downstar has continued to progress, the number of slick applications and direct-fit options have increased exponentially.
Pro Car Innovations
Much like Fortune Auto, Pro Car Innovations, or PCI, takes a very hands-on approach with their product. The small, Anaheim, Calif., outfit has long run alongside race teams and various brands (since 2002) offering support, clever performance components and concepts to help push the performance envelope.
In '07, their self-engineered and in-house tested products became available to the public, and today they've become well-recognized by track and performance-minded enthusiasts for their suspension and aero goods as well as their seat brackets. You've also definitely seen their side skirts in 3-, 4- and 5-in. versions on the flanks of track and street cars.
PCI's suspension lineup is incredibly popular. So much so, that parts are often sold out as quickly as they become available. Fortunately, I was able to get a set of their rear LCAs and rear camber links along with front upper and lower control arms. Once you get your hands on PCI's suspension pieces, you quickly understand why they're in such high demand.
In the simplest terms, picking up and holding PCI's LCA then doing the same with the aftermarket arm that was previously on the Civic is incredibly telling. From the precision cuts and smoothed edges to the overall solid, quality feel, I would expect that based solely on feel and appearance alone, PCIs version would cost double the other brand, if not more. Surprisingly, that's not the case. Pricing on PCI's LCA is incredibly low for what you get, hovering just above the average "brand X" component. Admittedly, it's not for everyone. Being that it's a spherical setup rather than a rubber or poly insert, these probably wouldn't be your best bet for a mildly-modded, A-to-B daily commuter. Then again, the deteriorated bushings of the previous arms suggest that perhaps they weren't, either.
Produced in 6061 T6 aluminum, these front and rear LCAs are loaded with 304 stainless steel spacers that facilitate 4130 outer race spherical bearings. The maintenance-free bearings are resistant to harsh weather, track and street conditions, and fully re-buildable.
With rubber bushings taken out of the picture, much more precise suspension adjustments are obtained.
You've certainly heard the good and bad about spherical bushing replacement and its usually as simple as "they're real loud" or "they handle better." Diving a bit deeper, PCI's spherical LCAs do away with the inherent slop you get with rubber bushings as well as alignment changes and issues you're likely to experience during hard braking. Out back, those benefits start with bronze plain bearings installed to mount the rear shock that promises to do away with the rotational deflection that comes as a byproduct from using heavy aftermarket anti-roll bars.
When PCI set out to design these, one of the main areas of focus was the sway bar relationship that just about everyone upgrades, and their efforts equate to the rear sway bar being forced to "load up" immediately during body roll, in turn holding the sway bar far more accountable.
You've just lowered your car and added a wheel and tire package, and if you're interested in having those tires last you for a while you're going to need an alignment, and there's a very good chance your camber setting changed quite a bit with that drop. In addition, if your focus is on track performance, you'll want to dial in your camber accordingly. That's where adjustable rear camber links come in. If you sift through the web for a few minutes, there are dozens available for this chassis and most popular Honda platforms, many of which are based on questionable materials and quality control.
As you might expect, based on their incredibly well-built LCA program, PCI's rear upper suspension links cut no corners. CNC machined 7075 T6 hex aluminum turnbuckles ensure their thread strength, while the CNC'd stainless steel spacers and shaft join 3-piece 4130 steel rod ends for yet another solid suspension piece that, when scrutinized along with this car's previous kit, makes you realize just how far ahead PCI really is.
The most obvious benefit is the ability to adjust camber plus or minus 2.5 degrees as compared to OEM in order to even your tire wear and temps. These will also help get rid of the suspension deflection your stockers exhibited, and like their LCAs, will also help control those wheel-alignment changes.
Half the weight of your stock front lower control arms, PCI's spherical-equipped aluminum front control arms look more like a showpiece than a dedicated performance upgrade. The angular cuts and additional material in noted high stress areas add rigidity but not at the cost of clearance, as the arm-to-brake rotor distance remains factory-like. Like their rear counterparts, the front LCAs avoid unwanted deflection and geometry changes that you get with rubber or even urethane options.
PCI notes that increasing caster (up to 2 degrees) with their lower arm rather than only relying on the top arms improves suspension travel due to the fact that the upper arm remains centered for improved clearance and grants more travel. In addition, if you're dialed in on your ideal alignment, the spherical setup will maintain those settings, as they won't compress or start to sag over time and after abuse.
As with the rear LCAs and camber kit that sat on the car when I pulled it out of storage to bring home, the front upper control arms were looking pretty rough. Both ball joints had significant play and their boots were torn. Also, the arm on the driver's side was missing a camber adjustment screw and the degree of camber was extreme on the left and almost centered on the right.
That old setup relied on a familiar system using allen head adjustment screws on very thin aluminum to select camber settings. However, the PCI upper control arms are about as far on the other end of the spectrum as you can possibly get.
The zinc plated 3/16-in. steel arms of the PCI control arms are extremely stiff and, using 10.9 grade hardware, attach to a CNC machined, 7075 T6 aluminum adjustable bearing block. The welds that run along the edge of the arms are a far cry from the stamped pieces you're used to dealing with and any sort of flex that you did or didn't know was happening beneath your wheel arches isn't part of the PCI equation.
These upper control arms eliminate the traditional ball joint and work alongside the other PCI upgrades to help with tire wear and temps while improving handling, hard braking and even throttle response. Like the other suspension upgrades added on this round of the build, these are completely rebuildable and maintenance-free. Camber adjustments are made by loosening the four heavy-duty bolts and you can add 1.5 degrees of positive or 2.5 degrees of negative camber.
Installation of all of the PCI components was as easy as it gets. There's no trimming or modding of any of these components, they're a direct replacement for your stock pieces or, in my case, aftermarket pieces that were already on the car. There are a number of other components that they offer that I'd like to add to the build as times goes on, including spherical toe links and their front compliance kit. Modernizing a 25-plus-year-old chassis should really start with braking and suspension, both of which have now been addressed. Next up is bolting in the swap and adding axles along with wheels and tires as the Project K24 build continues.