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Project Honda CRX: Part 2

The perils of bodywork

Dan Barnes
Jul 16, 2002
Photographer: Henry DeKuyper
0107_03zoom+1990_Honda_CRX_HE_coupe+rear_left Photo 1/14   |   Project Honda CRX: Part 2

Long-time readers of Sport Compact Car may recall the introduction to our Project CRX Hybrid. Actually, it wasn't that long ago, only seven months. Yes, this is part two of a series that debuted in the December 2000 issue. So where has the car been all this time? The answer is a very long way of explaining why, if you like driving your car, you should avoid the body shop at almost any cost.

A year ago, Holley Performance Products and SCC teamed up to build a project car. It seemed like a good idea at the time. What arrived at our offices late one afternoon was a 1990 CRX HF. The car was shipped to California from Holley out of Bowling Green, Kentucky and it came with instructions to do whatever we wanted to do, using whatever aftermarket parts we wanted to use, and making it as cool and fast as we knew how. All the while, we were learning everything we could about making Hondas perform. In our initial installment story, Dave Coleman provided a buyer's guide to the second-generation CRX, supplying tips on how to find the best car to get to an eventual goal with the least expense.

However, the CRX that arrived at our doorstep might not have been the greatest choice to begin a project of this scale. We knew it would be a mistake for a reader to take that approach, but thought that maybe, since we knew of a body shop that would generously contribute to the project, we thought we could get away with this badly beaten CRX. We found out that we aren't above the Project Car Blues laws, after all. Our little HF has been in the body shop for what seems like an eternity. Finally, as I write this, we are a few days away from having it in our possession once again, and it's still got a ways to go.

To be fair to the body shop, the car we got wasn't in the best condition.

It had been an executive's daughter's college car, and even though it was donated to us, we paid too much. We didn't mind that the drivetrain was junk, because it was our plan all along to get rid of it first thing. However, we would have liked to have a straight body to work with. While our CRX's chassis wasn't bent, almost everything attached to it, except the roof and rear bumper, was. Both doors, both front fenders, the hood and the front bumper had enough dents, dings, and wrinkles that it was easier to just replace them with new, straight ones from Honda Auto Salvage, the all-Honda wrecking yard that HASport, our engine swap supplier, grew out of.

Even at that, we still have filler in one of the rear quarters. Instead of locating a stock front bumper, we chose to replace both bumpers with a body kit from Wings West. We aren't typically big fans of body kits, but this isn't a combat-style design. Instead, it's very similar to an old Mugen kit, designed before monster air scoops became fashionable. Since HASport supplied most of the rest of the swap, we also used its fiberglass SiR-style hood. Unlike the real Japanese-market SiR hood, this part fits U.S. headlights, so we don't have to source rare and expensive (and illegal) JDM parts, and we won't blind oncoming traffic with beams designed for driving on the left side of the road. The hood also has a bulge to provide enough room for CR-VTEC hardware, if (we want to say when) the project gets to that point.

We can't really blame Cypress Auto Body for taking so long. There's an old line that any engineer or manager has heard dozens of times, on the subject of project management. It goes, "Quality, speed, price - choose any two."

We were asking Cypress for good quality, which they delivered, and talked them into doing it just because we were really nice guys. What did we expect? We'd get busy with other magazine business and not call for a few weeks, and Cypress would get busy with paying customers' cars and back burner the CRX for awhile.

There were momentum-killing setbacks along the way, too. The first pair of front fenders that came was for a Civic, not a CRX, and Cypress had to wait for the correct parts. Also, the factory rub strips along the side of the car were removed and reinstalled so many times in the process of fitting the body kit that the clips holding them to the car began to break. So those were replaced, too. Then it was a rainy winter here in sunny Los Angeles, and painting cars was impossible for many days at a time, not exactly the conditions that get a busy body shop ahead of schedule. In fact, strangely enough, rain around here makes even more cars need body work.

Dave Coleman said last time, "When looking for body shops, a parking lot full of smooth, shiny street rods is always a good sign that they know how to do quality work." Production body shops that specialize in insurance repairs, or one-day turnaroud times, will get your car back to you in a hurry, but the results are liable to be less than satisfactory. Some guys spend half a day just masking the car once. Unfortunately, body men who do really good work are often a bit flaky, and tend to work on a car when they feel like it.

Project CRX would be ready to leave the body shop, but now that it's mostly put back together, there are some pieces missing, despite there having been extra pieces when the car came apart. What happened to the parts and where the new ones will come from are mysteries at this point, but we're going to take the car and put the engine in it anyway, just so we can keep the project moving.

We chose to change our CRX from mini-fridge white to Y57, the paint code for a yellow Integra Type R. The first time we saw the car in yellow, we freaked out. Dave and I got out of the yellow Type R that has been the Eight Great Rides test car for two years, walked over to the CRX, and both nearly got whiplash from the double take. Type R, CRX, Type R, CRX...wait a minute, the CRX looks like a school bus! First, we were sure Cypress had gotten the paint code wrong. Then the owner of Cypress, Tom Rodriguez, read the right number back to us. Still, we were sure there had been a screw-up, because the yellow Type R we were driving was a much paler, less orange shade of yellow. Then we finally saw another yellow Type R, and it was exactly the same color as our CRX--it turns out it's the press car that's odd. Project CRX's paint isn't the color we expected, but it is correct. And it's smooth, after being buffed out.

We can't wait to have our CRX running and go get rock chips in it. Though we're big fans of ugly cars that go really fast, we don't need every car to be ugly. It's just that we mean to drive this thing a lot, and we're excited to get started. There's obviously a lot of work to be done before that happens, though. Like tracking down the missing body parts and putting an engine in it--you know, the remaining 90 percent of the project; the little details needed to make it run. If things go as planned, it will all be together and photographed for the next issue. If things go as usual, we'll have to scramble to finish the engine installation and get it moving under its own power so it can be photographed in time for our deadline.

Fortunately, we've had a lot of time to prepare for the next month. Almost all the parts we'll need for the initial buildup are already here, getting in our way as we try to move around the office. We'll break it down into several installments, but here's the basic plan: For the initial buildup, we're going to have a stock B16A engine, supplied by P&G Auto Parts, bolted into the chassis using off-the-shelf parts that anyone with opposable thumbs and a phone can buy and screw together. We have a ZDyne single-wire B16 conversion ECU, while all other wiring, shift linkage, mounts, axles and whatever else is needed are being provided by HASport. Measuring a performance baseline with stock HF suspension and brakes would be silly, so we're upgrading to later and larger Civic discs, courtesy of Honda Auto Salvage, supplemented by an EBC/Goodridge upgrade package provided by The Progress Group. Suspension will be from Neuspeed and Koni, while wheels and tires will be feathery SSR Competitions, provided by The Tire Rack, and Toyo Proxes T1-S. The interior will stay ugly and stock for awhile. Our plan is to get around to that once the mechanical upgrades are assembled, sorted out, dialed in and tested. At each step, you can count on SCC being completely obsessive about the little details, weighing everything, and comprehensively evaluating the performance of the car once it's together. Then we're going to hate a bunch of things about the car and set about fixing them. It's what we do.

What We Learned
The obvious way to avoid having your car stuck in body shop purgatory is to avoid body and paint work completely. One of our contributors, John Thawley, has gone this route, taking his Civic hatchback from a contentedly daily-driven stocker, with no fancy plans, to a completed LS/VTEC torque monster in a fraction of the time our car has been in the shop. John's Civic is a clean car, and he's not touching the paint, even to put on a spoiler.

The next alternative is to learn how to do the work, and do it yourself. At least two staffers have promised themselves that if they're ever in charge of a project being painted, that's how it's going to happen. One of them happens to have a car with an assumed market value of zero, but plenty of sentimental value, that he wants to make a project out of. It needs some dents repaired and faded paint made shiny and red again. The other staffer already got a sweet deal and still spent $2,400 getting his old "first good car" repainted (imperfectly), so a DIY paint project could happen.

The last possibility is to be ugly and be okay with it. Some of us actually see a lot of appeal to a car that's fast and ugly--nobody will accuse you of posing. People will sound really dumb talking about how ugly your car is when you just schooled them at the track. There's a kind of car that goes to the track all the time. In fact, that's really all you want to do with it. It's not pretty, but it doesn't need to be, because it's so good to drive, it always leaves you satisfied. If you decide to build a car like that, though, be warned: To be ugly and cool, being fast isn't good enough. You have to be dang fast.

Long-time readers of Sport Compact Car may recall the introduction to our Project CRX Hybrid. Actually, it wasn't that long ago, only seven months. Yes, this is part two of a series that debuted in the December 2000 issue. So where has the car been all this time? The answer is a very long way of explaining why, if you like driving your car, you should avoid the body shop at almost any cost.

A year ago, Holley Performance Products and SCC teamed up to build a project car. It seemed like a good idea at the time. What arrived at our offices late one afternoon was a 1990 CRX HF. The car was shipped to California from Holley out of Bowling Green, Kentucky and it came with instructions to do whatever we wanted to do, using whatever aftermarket parts we wanted to use, and making it as cool and fast as we knew how. All the while, we were learning everything we could about making Hondas perform. In our initial installment story, Dave Coleman provided a buyer's guide to the second-generation CRX, supplying tips on how to find the best car to get to an eventual goal with the least expense.

However, the CRX that arrived at our doorstep might not have been the greatest choice to begin a project of this scale. We knew it would be a mistake for a reader to take that approach, but thought that maybe, since we knew of a body shop that would generously contribute to the project, we thought we could get away with this badly beaten CRX. We found out that we aren't above the Project Car Blues laws, after all. Our little HF has been in the body shop for what seems like an eternity. Finally, as I write this, we are a few days away from having it in our possession once again, and it's still got a ways to go.

To be fair to the body shop, the car we got wasn't in the best condition.

It had been an executive's daughter's college car, and even though it was donated to us, we paid too much. We didn't mind that the drivetrain was junk, because it was our plan all along to get rid of it first thing. However, we would have liked to have a straight body to work with. While our CRX's chassis wasn't bent, almost everything attached to it, except the roof and rear bumper, was. Both doors, both front fenders, the hood and the front bumper had enough dents, dings, and wrinkles that it was easier to just replace them with new, straight ones from Honda Auto Salvage, the all-Honda wrecking yard that HASport, our engine swap supplier, grew out of.

Even at that, we still have filler in one of the rear quarters. Instead of locating a stock front bumper, we chose to replace both bumpers with a body kit from Wings West. We aren't typically big fans of body kits, but this isn't a combat-style design. Instead, it's very similar to an old Mugen kit, designed before monster air scoops became fashionable. Since HASport supplied most of the rest of the swap, we also used its fiberglass SiR-style hood. Unlike the real Japanese-market SiR hood, this part fits U.S. headlights, so we don't have to source rare and expensive (and illegal) JDM parts, and we won't blind oncoming traffic with beams designed for driving on the left side of the road. The hood also has a bulge to provide enough room for CR-VTEC hardware, if (we want to say when) the project gets to that point.

We can't really blame Cypress Auto Body for taking so long. There's an old line that any engineer or manager has heard dozens of times, on the subject of project management. It goes, "Quality, speed, price - choose any two."

We were asking Cypress for good quality, which they delivered, and talked them into doing it just because we were really nice guys. What did we expect? We'd get busy with other magazine business and not call for a few weeks, and Cypress would get busy with paying customers' cars and back burner the CRX for awhile.

There were momentum-killing setbacks along the way, too. The first pair of front fenders that came was for a Civic, not a CRX, and Cypress had to wait for the correct parts. Also, the factory rub strips along the side of the car were removed and reinstalled so many times in the process of fitting the body kit that the clips holding them to the car began to break. So those were replaced, too. Then it was a rainy winter here in sunny Los Angeles, and painting cars was impossible for many days at a time, not exactly the conditions that get a busy body shop ahead of schedule. In fact, strangely enough, rain around here makes even more cars need body work.

Dave Coleman said last time, "When looking for body shops, a parking lot full of smooth, shiny street rods is always a good sign that they know how to do quality work." Production body shops that specialize in insurance repairs, or one-day turnaroud times, will get your car back to you in a hurry, but the results are liable to be less than satisfactory. Some guys spend half a day just masking the car once. Unfortunately, body men who do really good work are often a bit flaky, and tend to work on a car when they feel like it.

Project CRX would be ready to leave the body shop, but now that it's mostly put back together, there are some pieces missing, despite there having been extra pieces when the car came apart. What happened to the parts and where the new ones will come from are mysteries at this point, but we're going to take the car and put the engine in it anyway, just so we can keep the project moving.

We chose to change our CRX from mini-fridge white to Y57, the paint code for a yellow Integra Type R. The first time we saw the car in yellow, we freaked out. Dave and I got out of the yellow Type R that has been the Eight Great Rides test car for two years, walked over to the CRX, and both nearly got whiplash from the double take. Type R, CRX, Type R, CRX...wait a minute, the CRX looks like a school bus! First, we were sure Cypress had gotten the paint code wrong. Then the owner of Cypress, Tom Rodriguez, read the right number back to us. Still, we were sure there had been a screw-up, because the yellow Type R we were driving was a much paler, less orange shade of yellow. Then we finally saw another yellow Type R, and it was exactly the same color as our CRX--it turns out it's the press car that's odd. Project CRX's paint isn't the color we expected, but it is correct. And it's smooth, after being buffed out.

We can't wait to have our CRX running and go get rock chips in it. Though we're big fans of ugly cars that go really fast, we don't need every car to be ugly. It's just that we mean to drive this thing a lot, and we're excited to get started. There's obviously a lot of work to be done before that happens, though. Like tracking down the missing body parts and putting an engine in it--you know, the remaining 90 percent of the project; the little details needed to make it run. If things go as planned, it will all be together and photographed for the next issue. If things go as usual, we'll have to scramble to finish the engine installation and get it moving under its own power so it can be photographed in time for our deadline.

Fortunately, we've had a lot of time to prepare for the next month. Almost all the parts we'll need for the initial buildup are already here, getting in our way as we try to move around the office. We'll break it down into several installments, but here's the basic plan: For the initial buildup, we're going to have a stock B16A engine, supplied by P&G Auto Parts, bolted into the chassis using off-the-shelf parts that anyone with opposable thumbs and a phone can buy and screw together. We have a ZDyne single-wire B16 conversion ECU, while all other wiring, shift linkage, mounts, axles and whatever else is needed are being provided by HASport. Measuring a performance baseline with stock HF suspension and brakes would be silly, so we're upgrading to later and larger Civic discs, courtesy of Honda Auto Salvage, supplemented by an EBC/Goodridge upgrade package provided by The Progress Group. Suspension will be from Neuspeed and Koni, while wheels and tires will be feathery SSR Competitions, provided by The Tire Rack, and Toyo Proxes T1-S. The interior will stay ugly and stock for awhile. Our plan is to get around to that once the mechanical upgrades are assembled, sorted out, dialed in and tested. At each step, you can count on SCC being completely obsessive about the little details, weighing everything, and comprehensively evaluating the performance of the car once it's together. Then we're going to hate a bunch of things about the car and set about fixing them. It's what we do.

Fixing a Dent
Most of the work done to our CRX was done while we were somewhere else, getting other work done. One day, we sent a photographer to Cypress Auto Body to show what was being done to the car. That day, it turned out to be boring and not very informative, so they used one of the original front fenders to demonstrate the process of fixing a dent. Ideally, a good body man will get the metal nearly perfect. The reality is that that takes far too much highly skilled labor to be justified for any but the most valuable collector cars, and filler is used. Even filler takes time, however. With the labor rates most shops must charge to pay for their overhead, it is generally best to do as we did, and simply replace a dented panel, if possible.

These are some of a body man's most basic tools. A dual-action sander, the big one, rotates slowly while orbiting in very small circles, to remove material at a gentle, controlled pace, and leave a surface free of deep scratches. The angle grinder is a big axe in comparison, and will cut through paint and filler and dig deep into metal quickly. Hammers, rasps and sanders are self-explanatory. The curved block of metal is called a dolly, and is used to support sheet metal while it is being hammered on, so the basic form of the metal is not distorted while flattening a minor ding.
0107scc_projcrx02_zoom Photo 2/14   |   Project Honda CRX: Part 2
0107scc_projcrx15_zoom Photo 3/14   |   Project Honda CRX: Part 2


0107scc_projcrx14_zoom Photo 4/14   |   The general shape of the fender is restored with a slapping spoon and dolly.
0107scc_projcrx13_zoom Photo 5/14   |   Smaller high spots are flattened with a pick hammer while supporting the panel from behind with a toe dolly.


0107scc_projcrx12_zoom Photo 6/14   |   When the metal is as smooth as the technician can reasonably make it (a judgement determined by available skill, time, and money), it is power-sanded with a very coarse grit on the angle sander.
0107scc_projcrx11_zoom Photo 7/14   |   This rough surface allows the filler to get a solid grip on the metal.


0107scc_projcrx10_zoom Photo 8/14   |   Filler should be used in very thin layers, for smoothing only--not for actually filling dents. If a thick layer is required, the metal should be shaped more thoroughly. Filler will shrink and crack, similar to dried mud, if it is applied too thickly. Plastic-resin fillers like this generally have about a five- year life span on the car. Metal-resin fillers are more expensive, but are said to be essentially permanent. Follow the instructions carefully when mixing filler, then spread it on smoothly over the entire area of the repair.
0107scc_projcrx09_zoom Photo 9/14   |   When finished, the filler should look like cream cheese on a warm bagel. If it begins to set and becomes more difficult to spread than creamy peanut butter, stop working it. Let that set, grind the surface, and add more from a fresh mix where needed. Working the material after it begins to stiffen weakens the resin and introduces porosity.


0107scc_projcrx08_zoom Photo 10/14   |   After it has hardened, the filler is sanded with a long board to follow the contour of the car. Be careful here; it is always easier to take off a little more after checking the shape than to add more filler and start over.
0107scc_projcrx07_zoom Photo 11/14   |   Armstrong-type sanding is done with a very coarse grit for rough shaping, then, several steps of progressively finer grit papers.


0107scc_projcrx06_zoom Photo 12/14   |   The dual-action sander is used with finer grits to remove sanding scratches left by the sanding board. The end result should be perfectly smooth and follow the original contour of the metal.
0107scc_projcrx05_zoom Photo 13/14   |   The repair is then ready for primer. Most states require paint to be sprayed in a fully enclosed booth. This article isn't about all the different kinds of paint and how to choose and use them, though, because a whole issue could be filled by the topic.


0107scc_projcrx04_zoom Photo 14/14   |   If priming on the car, any part of the car that is not going to be primed and painted, such as windows and trim, must be masked to eliminate overspray. Once the body reaches this point, it is ready for total priming and sanding with a guide coat in preparation for the color coats.
Sources
Cypress Auto Body
Hawaiian Gardens, CA
Phone (562) 938-8836

Hasport Performance
Phoenix, AZ
Phone (602) 470-0065
Fax: (602)470-0516
www.hasport.com

Honda Auto Salvage
Phoenix, AZ
Phone (602) 470-0065

King Motorsports

Sullivan, WI
Phone (262) 593-2800
Fax: (262)593-2667
www.kingmotorsports.com

Koni North America
Hebron, KY
Phone (869) 586-4100
Fax: (869)334-3340
www.koni-na.com

Neuspeed
Camarillo, CA
(800) 423-3623
(805)388-7171
www.neuspeed.com

P&G Auto Parts
Rialto, CA
(800) 566-4855
(909)873-2790
(909)873-2791
Fax: (909)874-2827
The Progress Group
Anaheim, CA
Phone (714) 575-1193
Fax (714) 575-1198
www.progressauto.com

The Tire Rack
South Bend, IN
Phone (888) 981-3957
or (219)287-2345
Fax (219) 236-7707
www.tirerack.com

Toyo Tire (U.S.A) Corp.
Cypress, CA
Phone (800) 678-3250
or (714)236-2080
Fax (714) 229-6186
www.toyo.com

Wings West

Newport Beach, CA
Phone (800) 222-6995
or (949)722-9995
Fax (949) 722-9997
(800) 493-4105
www.wingswest.com

ZDyne LLC
Canoga Park, CA, Arizona
Phone (818) 888-5360
www.zdyne.com
By Dan Barnes
78 Articles

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