If you've noticed a large number of Honda enthusiasts ditching their Civic or Integra project for an S2000 lately, you're not alone. It seems that the little roadster has caught the eye of many as they search for a new challenge to overcome. Due in part to their age and falling sticker price, the S2K has transitioned from being a pipe dream for many, to being a reality for the average buyer. Searching online for a few months, I found this 2001 Spa yellow AP1 for under 14K, which, just a few years ago, was unheard of. A clean title, spotless Carfax, and absolutely no body damage combined with low mileage proved to be too much to pass up. For the past few months I've driven the car in completely stock form, and each time I'm behind the wheel it gets better and better. But the time has come, as with any car I've owned, to start making changes.
Essentially, the mission is to build an S2000 that's comfortable on the street, and capable of putting a smile on my face during open track days. If it turns a few heads on the local freeways, I won't complain. The first installment of the build focuses primarily on suspension and braking, as well as wheel and tire fitment. In future installments I'll begin adding bolt-on performance parts, cooling and efficiency upgrades, and a few aesthetic improvements to balance everything out.
Braking And Basic Maintenance
As with any used car, the basics must be investigated to insure you're not risking your safety with something that isn't road worthy. I could have jacked the car up in my driveway and crawled underneath, but luckily my friend Shaun "Old Skool" Joseph is a mechanic by trade, with access to a lift. We put the car in the air for a detailed look at every inch of the chassis. Under scrutiny, the car showed no signs of body or chassis damage whatsoever, which is a big plus. All of the belts and hoses were in excellent condition and none of them needed replacement. Areas that did need to be addressed however were fresh fluids in the motor and tranny, along with new brake pads and rotors. As always, I opted for Royal Purple's synthetic oil and filter for the motor, and their Synchromax tranny fluid which, surprisingly, managed to cure a slight grind from first to second.
To get the braking up to par, I sourced a set of EBC drilled and slotted rotors and "RedStuff" pads. These pads are noted as being perfect for street driving, and good performers on the track, with very little brake dust. EBC has been around for a long time, offering brake upgrades for just about any make and model you could possibly imagine. Not feeling inclined to upgrade to a big brake set-up just yet, the EBC replacements offer more performance than the OEM units, without breaking the bank.
While inspecting the brakes, we did notice the brake lines looked somewhat brittle, and decided a new set would be a good idea. A quick search on www.cyberauto.com located a set of stainless brake lines by Techna-Fit. These are a direct replacement and are sized specifically for the AP1, so no trimming or customizing is necessary.
Time To Get Hiper!
The search for the perfect set of coilovers could take years. There are a number of options available from both the U.S. and Japan. Rather than flip a coin, I decided to see what the big boys were running, and compiled a list of what many claimed to be the best in terms of quality, ride comfort on the street, and overall performance utilizing street tires. After a few weeks of going through countless reviews online, I noticed quite a few S2K enthusiasts pointing their finger at a guy named Rob Walker, who coincidentally, has worked closely with Evasive Motorsports and HKS. His lap times and overall track experience both speak for themselves. I was able to find a review he did on Evasive Motorsport's blog page about the Hipermax III kit from HKS. With over 35 years of experience in helping to build some of the meanest machines in the world, HKS is one of the most advanced tuners around. Their Hipermax III kit is shock-body adjustable, meaning that a vehicles height can be adjusted without sacrificing spring rate or piston stroke; an important factor for a street car. With Walker's positive words used to describe their performance both on and off of the track, I was confident these would be ideal for the AP1 build.
You've probably seen far too many suspension installs printed in the magazines before, so we'll spare you the minute details.
The Hipermax coilovers come pre-set at HKS' recommended ride height. Though I was still on stock wheels and tires, I wanted to snap through a few turns to get a feel for the new legs. Surface streets and freeway cruising were smooth and with the damper set low, most passengers would probably assume the cars suspension was stock. However, when pushed, the car felt noticeably sharper while entering and exiting turns. I was impressed by the handling of the AP1 in stock form, but the fun factor was greatly increased with the HKS coilovers. I was positive more performance could be coaxed once a wider set of tires were mounted.
Rock N' Rollers
Wheels tend to be a sensitive area. They can make or break the look and performance of a car, and with so many options available, you can lose your head when trying to narrow down a set. To make my decision ten times harder, I headed over to RB Wheels in the City of Industry. If you love wheels as much as I do, I'd advise you to visit their website rather than going straight to their facility. In person, there's far too much temptation taunting you. Row upon row of high quality Japanese wheels in every size, offset, and color stand neatly stacked upon one another just begging you to take them home. As I stumbled through the labyrinth of aluminum heaven, daydreaming about what set would suit the AP1 best, I stumbled upon one of my old favorites; Blitz O1's in 17x8 and 17x9 (+45 offset). They're not the lightest wheel ever produced, but they're strong and they carry a classic look that I've always been fond of. With over ten years of abuse, they'd certainly seen better days. Luckily, RB offers complete expert wheel refinishing for all of the wheels they import and sell. To contrast with the yellow paint, I decided on a gunmetal face with polished lip, and less than a week later, the wheels were ready for pick up.
Old school wheels and high quality coilovers won't get you very far if you're running lame tires. In the past, with my Civic build, I relied on R compounds to get the job done. Sticky, unbelievably loud, and fast wearing, I gave up a little comfort in exchange for performance. This time around I wanted a tire that could do it all. I'd heard good things about Nitto's NT05 model from a couple of (very competitive) close friends. One drives an S2000 with regular track visits, the other owns a BMW and drives like a madman on local mountain roads. Both assured me I wouldn't be disappointed, but as always, I went online in search of reviews. Finally satisfied by enough positive input, I picked up a set of NT05's in 255/17-40 and 235/17-40, and had them mounted to my freshly refinished Blitz wheels.
Fitting a 17x9 inch set of wheels in the rear of a lowered S2000 isn't difficult.....unless you want straight fenders. In order to avoid a fender disaster, I raised the car about 3 inches once I installed the new wheels. This was a temporary fix that I relied on for a few days, until I could get the car to Evasive Motorsports for a serious fender massage. It's as embarrassing as it sounds, but I had a choice; roll around looking like Big Foot, or look cool until I hit a bump and destroyed my fenders. I chose the monster truck approach.
A Little Road Time
With my suspension installed (although still at stock height) and new brake pads broken in, I headed to a local back road. The first thing that I noticed with the NT05s was their extremely quiet demeanor. Even with the top down, the tires aren't nearly as loud as I would have expected. The ride is smoother than the factory tires, but unlike the stockers, freeway wander is totally eliminated. Previously, grooves in the freeway would sometimes cause a nasty twitch that I thought I would just have to learn to live with having a rear wheel driver car. Thankfully, the Nittos took care of the cars nervous tick. As I made my way through a series of turns, the tires came alive as the temperatures began to rise. Rather than losing their cool without warning like my old R compounds, the NT05's are quite predictable. Braking with the EBC set up was a night and day difference over the worn factory pads.
Down To Earth, On The Straight And Narrow
It's no secret that a proper alignment is important, especially after swapping in new suspension components. But do you have any idea just how important it is? Mike Chang of Evasive Motorsports states "one of the most important factors when building a car to handle well is a proper alignment. You can have the best quality parts and the stickiest tires, but if the car isn't set up properly, it won't perform well at all. It's something that a lot of guys overlook....big mistake." Now some of you have never had your car aligned (you know who you are), and probably have no idea what it looks like. Take a look...
Mike noted that the cars toe settings were a bit out of whack when I arrived. After Kel finished making adjustments, the numbers looked much better on paper. Once I left Evasive, I took the surface streets home to get a feel for the car. The most obvious change was how straight the car drove. I could let go of the steering wheel and it would travel straight ahead, rock solid, without any signs of veering. Hitting the 180 degree on-ramp sent chills down my spine as the car hugged the road tightly without any signs of tire rub. I would never expect such a dramatic improvement with just an alignment, wheels and tires, and coilovers. The NT05's and shock-body adjustable HKS coilovers are simply amazing as a pair. Ride quality remained exactly the same, even though the car was over three inches lower than when I arrived at Evasive.
I've collected a few parts that need to be sent to the paint shop. These should give the AP1 a little more aerodynamic efficiency, not to mention a slight facelift.
Mike Chang has expertly rolled more fenders than he can remember (think triple digits). His specialty is S2000 fenders, though he's worked on just about everything. After hearing so much praise about the fender and alignment services offered by Evasive Motorsports, I decided to pay a visit and see what it was all about. Follow along as Mike goes to town on my virgin AP1 arches.