How it all started
My current project is a hybrid green 94 Civic CX hatchback. Of all the cars that I have built or tried to build, this is the most involved not to mention the fastest. It is a hybrid similar to the other thousands of hybrids here on the East Coast, however it has my semi-unique personal styling as I have always liked to be different than most. I have done extensive planning and research in order to reach a reasonable potential with this car. I set out to create a unique machine when I first started to build it, however after reading the magazines I've noticed some people actually have a very similar setup as I do. A couple of examples are Lanny Higa's Civic and Mike Miranda's SPI CRX old setup (he's using two smaller turbos now). What I'm getting at is: a turbo charged Type R head, intake manifold and throttle body on top of a GSR block.
My experience with building cars goes back about 10 years. It starts with me building an ‘82 Toyota Corolla (3TC) then selling it. I then started a project with an ‘88 VW Jetta GLI (DOHC 16v) and then an '86 Audi Quattro. I really was a VW/Audi fanatic, but I don't want to talk about those cars. After many headaches from trying to pull the best performance from those cars, I was disappointed. My initial scare is the money spent into these cars and the inability to perform when compared to competitors like the RX7s, DSMs, older Toyota Supras and MR2s.
At that time I was very much open to all of the available import performance cars and perhaps would have even been a V8 enthusiast if my older cousin had not influenced my enthusiasm with the newer watercooled VWs (16 valves when they came out in the 1987-88 years). After the ordeal with all the previously mentioned cars, I had admired and was always impressed with the Honda VTEC technology. My closest friend, Victor whom I met as a VW fanatic had his share of problems with his VW and literally burnt it to the ground (accidentally of course) and decided to start with a new beginning – he bought a 90 Integra GS. He added many available bolt-on performance parts and noticed every bit of horsepower increase available per modification. The best part of his new project was the reliability aspect versus the performance output as he modified the car.
After long sleepless nights I decided that I wanted to get into this Honda VTEC technology, so I decided to buy a 95 4dr GSR; that's when my whole story got interesting. Many of my friends realized that if I put the same heart in these Hondas as I did with the VWs, I would eventually have one of the fastest cars around.
I had to think about selling the project I was building at the time, an ‘84 Rabbit GTI with Mikuni carbs a 2.1 16v block. I liked everything there was to like about the GSR from cranking cold A/C to a fast 4-door super-market shopping machine. I slowly started trading and selling VW performance parts in exchange for performance parts for the GSR. My overall plan was to modify this car to it's fullest potential while still keeping it street-able. With this plan, I eventually sold every VW part including the Rabbit shell. I was able to order a Trust/Greddy BL series exhaust, Tokico Illumina shocks, Neuspeed (still had a bit of the VW mentality) springs, DC sports header and Iceman intake. My friend Victor's backyard (we call it MPH Performance) was the new home to building and modifying this new breed of Hondas. In one night we installed the parts for my GSR, Victor then took the car for a test drive around the block. Upon leaving his driveway, he left a 20' tire mark down the street where he took off; this was simply from flooring the gas pedal and slipping the clutch. He returned with a BIG smile on his face, and his first comment was "... you think your P.O.S Rabbit could do that? ....". I sold some more things like 3 extra 16V blocks and 2 gearboxes then took the money and bought Cusco adjustable cam gears, Type R intake camshaft (credit to Ali Jahed), JG over-bored throttle body and a Stillen fuel pressure riser. I went to a really good friend, Raz at Rampage Racing, who had just opened his shop and just literally bought a Dynojet 248C dyno and dyno'd the car for the first time.
We began tuning. My GSR had: Greddy BL Series exhaust, DC Sports headers, Stillen Fuel Pressure Riser, Type R intake camshaft, JG overbored throttle body, Iceman cold induction intake, Random Technology Cat., Unorthodox Racing 3 layer crank pulley, Magnecore 8.5mm ignition wires, and Cusco gears. I must have been tuning for a good 4 hours, because Cusco cam gears do not have index markings. In the end, I was able to pull 169.9 HP and 126ft-lbs torque.
I decided to sell the cam gears and invest in a set of AEM gears. This is when I met Nino at AXZ Tuning. While I was there, I also bought an Unorthodox Crank pulley and a set of 8.5mm Magnecore ignition wires.Back to the dyno: Only GOD knows what the settings were with the Cusco gears, but the difference after tuning with the AEM gears was very noticeable; the car pulled much stronger because I was able to get more torque across the entire power band. The result: 169.7HP and 128ft-lbs torque.
At the track I was running 14.7 @ 94-96MPH time-slips on street tires (Nitto 505 Exit GS) and the stock 94-95 GSR rims. I was debating about getting or building a hybrid. I saw an ad in the local newspaper of a guy selling a 94 civic h/b hybrid. Well, I got there and the car had the same 17" Kosei Seneka wheels as seen today. The car apparently ran 15's and the guy got sick of it running like crap and now wanted to sell it. He was about $12K into the car but was so frustrated that he decide to sacrifice it and cut his losses (man, would he be sorry). I test drove the car and realized it's potential; it had a weight advantage of over 500lbs less than the Integra. I talked the guy down to $7000 and drove it home the same night.
While troubleshooting, I noticed the guy had transplanted the motor but had not redone any wiring. Well, some smelly (but friendly) guy named Adrian Teo (we now know him as the Dictator Admin) actually advised me about the wiring. I got the car running the right way after noticing a few things like no knock sensor connected, no O2 sensor connected and no secondary manifolds working since they were open all the time.
After fixing all the necessary wiring including a bung being welded for the O2 sensor, I took the car to the track, I pulled a best time of 14.34 @ 93MPH with the same wheels I used on the Integra (95 GSR wheels with Nitto 505 Exit GS tires). The modifications at the time were: Magnecore 8.5mm ignition wires, Unorthodox Racing 3 layer crank pulley, 8" K&N filter on stock GSR intake hose, and stock GSR exhaust piping with stock GSR muffler and down-pipe.
After this season, I started to really modify the car and challenged myself to be really different as opposed to simply bolting on performance modifications like I did with the Integra. AXZ Tuning offered a Type R head swap in exchange for my complete and perfect GSR head. Basically the Type R head did not have any valve-train, I called up DPR and got some stainless steel exhaust side valves, titanium retainers and inner valve springs. I already had the intake side Type R valves. Since the head was coming off, I told Mr. Teo, to get me a thicker headgasket (hinting that I could see the turbo in my near future). He got me in touch with the one and only Mr. Eric Bauer (who I still owe the shipping charge for the gasket) a Spoon two layer head gasket. I realized I was raising my compression ratio but at the same time I would compensate for the lower compression caused by the Type R head combustion chamber design when fitted on a 94+ GSR block. I did not have a turbo kit or piece of the kit at this time so I wanted to "temporarily" run the car all-motor until such time that I'm able to piece a kit together. Continuing along with the all-motor route, I had Troy at XS Engineering raise my rev-limiter in my ECU in order to rev up to 9100RPM since I did take the necessary precautions to modify the head. I then took the DC Header off the Integra and installed it onto the Civic.
I installed all the components and had my first lesson as I installed the headgasket backwards; as a result oil squirted from in between the side of the head and block. I then pulled the head off again and noticed that I did install the gasket backwards. This was a good experience though, it taught me a lesson to never install another Honda headgasket backwards ever again.
Well, with this, I made the necessary modifications to allow a Type R head to fit onto a GSR block. I drove the car around for about 100 miles when it became time to install a GSR Tranny with Type R LSD (thanks to Mr. Kenji Plennert a.k.a. Mr. Squeaky voice) which I picked up from Ferman Acura. Along with this I installed a six-puck ACT clutch disc with pressure plate and Mueller Fabrications lightened flywheel. I drove the car hard since there was no break-in period required for the clutch.
The same night after the tranny install we visited the local street drags and it was where I encountered my first victim, an ‘88 VW GTI Callaway Turbo. This guy bragged so much at the races since he was able to beat quite a few hybrids, both hatchbacks like mine and a couple of Accords with the Prelude VTEC swaps; he also beat-up on some really modified Integras too. He was getting ready to race a friend of mine in an M3 when my friend told him to come and ask me for a run and if he beats me then he'll race the M3. I spanked him by quite a few cars in 1st through 3rd gears but by the end of 4th he was at my rear quarter panel; he said he had mis-shifted and wanted another run. I raced again and beat him a little less than before. The Civic ran quite lean at the time (I used a Voltmeter to check this), so I installed the Stillen Fuel Pressure Riser from the Integra; the difference was remarkable.
I took the Civic to the track the following weekend just in time for the next Import event and ran a consistent best time of 13.61, 13.61, 13.63 and 14.80 with trap speeds of 98-99MPH. I did make it into the Frantic Four and had qualified to run against a 12 second VW Bug that kicked my buns badly. Although I did get a nice little hole-shot on him when I pulled about 2 cars ahead, it was nowhere close with a 14-second run which also resulted in a broken ACT pressure plate from the constant 9K RPM launches. There was a fairly common problem with the straps breaking on the earlier ACT pressure plates under high RPM abuse, however ACT does re-weld them free of charge and add a 4th strap in order to make it sustain the higher RPM launches.
After this fix, I was still in 13.6's which is exactly where I expected to be. I then wanted to upgrade the 2" exhaust I was running all this time. I had slowly started to bring the Integra back to stock since it was my wife's daily driver. I did take the Greddy BL exhaust from the Integra and modify to fit on the CX chassis. My trap speed had increased from 98-99 MPH to 100-101MPH, however my times stayed at high 13.5's to low 13.6's. The problem was my launching where my 60' times were not as good as before (probably has to do with me spending more money if I broke something again). I worked on my launches and was able to run a 13.49 @ 100.03MPH; this was the best naturally aspirated time I had ever gotten. In that time period, I had already bought a used turbo kit and Arias pistons and AEM Cunningham steel rods for my motor rebuild. I did need other miscellaneous parts which I had already ordered plus I was also being sponsored by AXZ Tuning; with this I slowly built up an inventory for the future installation. AXZ gave me one of their Kook's 4-1 header (to use temporarily until I installed the turbo) in order to make our first Import event to be held in February 1999. So I did some tuning with the fuel riser and AXZ Headers, but was missing adjustable cam gears (I was too lazy to take them off the Integra). Anyway, with the new tuning, the car was ridiculous! It was a lot faster than before, I confirmed this when I raced two forced induced Integras, a Drag Turbo equipped and a JR S/C equipped Integra. I was able to beat both of them over and over, however driver skills was the main factor plus it did not help that these guys just talked so much crap so I just had to give them an ass-whipping. The next Import event came around and I was really ready to run (and without a doubt ready to break in high 12's with this setup); unfortunately the event rained out and I never got to run. With no extra time to spare before our next even at the end of March 1999, I took my block apart for rebuild and turbo installation – I would never get to find out if this car could actually hit a 12 sec. E/T. I did all the work at Raz' shop, Rampage Racing.
It took me about 6 hours to break the motor apart and strip it completely for machining and rebuild. The most time consuming exercise was labeling Zip-loc bags with every set of parts, bolts, etc. AXZ Tuning would take care of the machining and assist in their special block preparation and safe-guard technique.
I spent a total of two months taking my time to get everything done the way I wanted; no one task took very long; I just took my time to make sure I ended up with a good product. This is when people started calling it the Frog. The other thing that delayed this project was coordinating our first Honda dyno day. I did spend much time along with Jeff Taylor (WING on the Hybrid page) coordinating this. It took much planning but had very positive results as I made new friends that seemed as though they liked me and for some reason were especially nice to me when I was getting ready to tune their cars on the dyno (hmmm). After it was over, I would return to finishing up the long overdue Frog.
At this time, DRT (Drag Racing Technologies) one of the advanced tuning shops here in NY, had noticed my dedication to drag racing Hondas and offered to help as they've built hundreds of turbo and naturally aspirated Hondas.
I took them up on that offer and made it understood that I liked to do EVERYTHING on the car and what I don't know I'd like to learn. It got a bit complicated and awkward at first but things relatively progressed. I later realized that Ralphy (chief mechanic and partner of DRT) was also an internet-junkie like myself. I also noticed he was part of the hybrid page as Ed (Mr. "show-me-those-vacuum-hoses") pointed him out.
As I started to get things in preparation, Ralphy would help tremendously; Raz later mentioned to me privately that he never saw Ralphy help anyone that way and perhaps this guy was fond of helping me because of my dedication to the sport. Being a skeptical person, I was a bit hesitant thinking this guy will want my first born when this project is over; fortunately I was totally wrong and since I helped them, they did the same for me. I had them do the entire intercooler piping and exhaust for this project. As it turned out, I was very satisfied and although it did cost me a bundle, I was appreciative.
At this time the motor was installed and I finished almost everything. I had the block cemented inside the water-jacket and a NUFORM block-guard sitting on top of the cement; the head was o-ringed and block had the receiving groove; a copper head gasket from AXZ Tuning and ARP head studs were the two things holding these bad-boys together.
I used Arias 8.5:1 (stock bore) pistons with AEM/Cunningham steel rods. I had AXZ Tuning use their machinist to fully balance everything, which included AXZ 4 puck clutch/pressure plate/flywheel package, stock Crank pulley and crank/piston/rods.I decided to use the stock crank pulley as advised by DRT. They blew one of their blocks because the Unorthodox pulley was a bit loose even with the bolt fully torqued to spec, however we think this was enough to kill the oil pump (located right behind the pulley) when making 527HP to the wheels (DRT's record). Although I don't; have plans to make that kind of horsepower, I did not plan on taking that chance.
Two weeks later we completed the block as I took a few days off from work. I got everything back into the car in about two days. As I went through this process, the Rotary-heads who are always visiting Rampage would not let me work in peace. Basically they tried to return the annoying comments I always gave them about rotaries being slow and very unreliable and that they should have bought a Honda, etc. etc. They got me back by annoying me every two seconds, "hey Greg, you sure you don't wanna just slap a 13B in that green thing ? it'll be a lot faster; it's never too late..." of course my reply would be "so how would I be able to adjust my cam sprockets?" "cam what ? what the hell is that? You mean Cam2 gas?" I could go on and on about our humorous conversations, but that's just the problems with car enthusiasts, if you hang with the VW guys, there are arguments, Domestic guys, arguments, DSM guys, physical violence, you get the idea. Don't even ask about their comments regarding my cheap Craftsman tools.
I decided to start the car with the stock ECU in order to not have conflicting problems if I were to install the DFI now. We started the car and oil started to shoot from in between the head, man talk about déjà vu ? I swore I placed the copper head gasket on the right way. Within a half hour (once again not a bad time for a banker) I pulled the head off; I did put the headgasket on the RIGHT way, unfortunately I was given a non-VTEC B18A/B headgasket instead of a VTEC. Anyway, another week delay until the following Saturday when I was able to continue and another import event I missed. I fixed the gasket, started up the car. Another problem came about; coolant started leaking from behind the water pump and for those familiar with the very accessible (sarcasm) nice rubber o-ring that connects the solid coolant hose (located behind the block) to the back of the water pump, well it was cracked !!! Anyway, after a few hours it was fixed and the car was driven. The car was driven as a normally aspirated one last time over to DRT to get the intercooler piping and exhaust fitted and installed.
The Frog was fitted with a 3" downpipe, 3" Summit free-flowing catalytic converter and 3" Race Magnum resonator also from Summit. It was topped off by a 3" Apex Dunk muffler. I asked for 2½" intercooler piping from the intercooler to the turbo. The intercooler is an older HKS 3-core which is efficient to about 500HP.
I bolted up a Bosch inline fuel pump grabbing fuel from the stock Civic CX fuel pump and a boost-sensitive fuel pressure regulator; because of this I'm boosting a maximum of 10psi. When I find the time to install my SX fuel pump and regulator, I'll be able to boost higher. I drove the car back and forth from NY to NJ and put about 800 miles before starting to fully rev it out.
We were preparing for an IDRC event at Island Dragway the following weekend; in order to make this event we would stay up the entire Friday night at Rampage Racing trying to get two of the Rampage Supras ready for the event. I took advantage of that time and started installing my Apex AVC-R boost controller and fixing all the check engine codes from the ECU. There were three things that I could not fix that night which affected my boost level and the car's performance. The car would only boost between 5-6psi because of a cut intercooler hose and a leaking HKS wastegate flange; I did not have an O2 sensor bung on the downpipe so I could not connect the stock O2 sensor. The stock ECU was doing one of two things, either dump more fuel (good) or retard ignition timing (good) either way I kept it running like that although I realized I was not getting the true potential of the car. The O2 circuit and wiring was also disconnected (from taking out the Halmeter AF30 a/f meter). Despite these issues, I was still curious to dyno the car and see it's output:
I decided to run at the event to measure it's performance anyway despite the O2 sensor, cut intercooler hose and leaking wastegate flange. The best time I managed before my crank pulley literally fell off during a burnout was a 13.41 @ 111MPH. I was planning on at least taping the intercooler hose so I could boost a little more, however that's when the crank pulley fell off – I never torqued it to spec, just with a regular 3/8" ratchet temporarily but forgot to torque at a later time. With all the rushing, I screwed myself royally ... big mistake.
The following weekend after the event I had set aside some time to fix the broken intercooler hose and wastegate flange. The car was a totally different beast altogether; the turbo spooled up a lot quicker and there was much more power as reflected by the wheels just breaking loose at WOT in any one of the first 3 gears. I was actually able to break loose 4th gear for a brief moment with an encounter I had with a C5 Vette. This only resulted because it was during the night when the air was really dense; oh I spanked him everywhere except take-off where he took me out of the hole about 4-5 cars. Although it sounds absurd when I mention wheels breaking loose, I use that as my personal measurement to guess HP output.
It was time to install some other components such as Oil Pressure gauge, MSD6AL ignition (I already had the Blaster SS coil installed), monster Tach, MSD shift light, MSD two-step switch and a Fuel pressure gauge, Greddy Turbo timer, MSD two-step switch and my Bazooka tube with amp.
I also started wiring up the DFI system. I did everything myself and consulted with Ralphy for wiring information. Ralphy then programmed the DFI for startup and to run decent until I completely got everything installed for further tuning. He also showed me how to take the entire harness apart to utilize only the necessary wires. It was quite simple in my opinion, the toughest part is phasing the ignition timing, initial program startup and re-adjusting the idle screw. I also installed some RC injectors (I thought they were 550cc when I bought them, but it turns out they may not be). Actually Ralphy is the one who noticed that I had smaller injectors when he tried a program from another car (11.6 Sec CRX) which also had RC 550cc injectors; the car could not start with that program, it had to be modified to work with the injectors I had. Until such time that I can find 82 lb/hr. injectors, I'll have to maintain a low to medium boost (if I'm lucky 14-15psi) with the current ones. The advantage is I can control injector duty cycle with the DFI and "max out" the injector; Rampage also is the proud new owner of a Motec "blackbox" and wideband O2 sensor which I'll have access to.
As I was still writing this article (Joe R is probably having a cow by now) I made plans for the July 4th Summerslam races at Englishtown. I took the Friday off from work to tune the DFI and prepare the Frog for the Sat/Sun races. Once again, being the good guy I am, I had to help my friend Victor (DXR95 on the Hybrid page). Victor had decided to sell his chassis to a friend of mine. He kept the motor and all the necessary parts to swap into another chassis (try a 90 CRX Si). Well, I ended up spending the day-off taking the parts and motor out. That left no time for me to tune my car so I made it to the main event on Sunday.
I was able to run a 13.00 @ 108MPH; 12.90 @ 108MPH and a 12.60 @ 114.99MPH. The last run was a result of me tuning the DFI for the 100+ degree weather. The car did not perform as best as it could but nevertheless it was still a bit fast. Because I was in the "Quick" class (IDRC Event), I got to run against other full blown race cars, like the Buscher sponsored Starion race-car owned by Eric Plebani, John Turismo's Civic coupe, etc. (like I really was a match for these guys). When it all came down to the semi-finals, there were DRT's Civic coupe, Turismo's Civic coupe, Bergenholtz' CRX and me – the Frog. Well, I walked away with a nice trophy and $250 and called it a day when Turismo knocked me off. I did feel special since I was the only car of the 4 which could be driven on the street and could pick-up Z100 and Hot 97 on the radio; I drove the Frog home with yet another trophy.
After driving around with Ralphy to fine tune the DFI, we got the car to pull hard. We drove to the Sunoco in Long Island to fill-up with 110 octane race fuel, with this we pumped up the boost and tuned further; the car responded very well. We headed back to Rampage to make a couple of dyno runs. The rotary boys were still dynoing which is a disadvatage for us. The reason for this is when the RX7's reverse on the dyno and shoot the smelliest fumes (and flames too), we the Honda gang have to place our hood where their exhaust was, so we tend to inhale less oxygen which therefore yields less HP. Despite this, we still dynoed, the furst run from how Ralphy tuned on the street yielded 396HP. Too bad I didn't have a camera to take a picture of the rotary "boy's" faces when they saw this.
At the following month's event in Maple Grove, PA, I was ready for more battle and was really excited to run with the new tuning. Because Maple Grove is so far away, I decided to tow the Frog using my wife's 99 Toyota 4Runner. When the event was over, the bottom line was me winning money at yet another event. It was unfortunate that my best time was low 12's (12.1 @ 118MPH). I was a semi-finalist once again, but I redlighted against a Yellow 3Gen Integra turbo. There were a number of problems I was having, one of which was a failing throw-out bearing which caused the car to move forward when I prepared to launch; for my runs throughout the day I used the handbrake, however the rear drums could only take so much before it gave-way. The another problem was a broken rear tranny mount where I had to wait for the motor to drop backwards for everyshift, by that time the RPMS had dropped to between 3-4K RPM; I would then have to wait to build up boost and switch the cam profiles (I had it switch at 5200RPM). Another problem was a broken Type R LSD which gave me a best 60' of 1.8 seconds. The most severe problem was the car running on the lean side down the track. Apparently the fuel pumps (CX and Bosch inline) were not able to feed enough fuel at high RPM's to the RC injectors (they were 550cc injectors). I had also figured out that the reason the CRX DFI program did not work on my car was because of the different fuel pressure (the 11 sec CRX had an aftermarket Paxton fuel pump and regulator). I was satisfied with the car's performance nontheless, the bottomline was that I won money at every event I made with the Frog, this tells that the project was becomming more and more successful even though it was not at it's fullest potential.
UPDATE: I have since modified the fuel pump to a Paxton 1100HP external fuel pump and run it through -8AN lines to the fuel rail. I'm currently awaiting an STR fuel rail in order to install a Paxton regulator. I have also upgraded to 720cc injectors. The Frog is also in the midst of getting a KAAZ LSD from Ray at Newport (KAAZ' U.S. Distributor). I currently have the GSR tranny open and should be completing the install by the time this article is published.
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