Building limited-edition version of standard production cars is not easy. And I’m not talking about the paint-and-tape-stripe limited edition; that is easy. No, I mean something genuinely special, with model-unique body pieces, a high performance engine and enhanced suspension.
This type of chicanery drives most companies’ production-line people crazy and costs a fortune in terms of government certifications, exhaust-emission compliance and the like.
So when a major manufacturer such as Acura invests the time and money to engineer and certify a special Integra, when it already has little problem selling 40,000-plus standard models in the U.S., it says something about the company, these people care about the enthusiast market and Acura’s reputation therein. Ford’s SVE and SVT skunk works have conspired twice over the last five years (1993 and 1995) to build limited-run, high-performance Mustangs, each dubbed the Cobra R. Acura has selected the same letter of the alphabet with which to brand its special edition performance star, the Acura Integra Type R.
This story originally appeared in a 1998 Special Series Issue of Road & Track.
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The Type R first appeared in early 1997, with a projected production run of but 500 cars. In actuality, only about 375 units were built for the U.S. market, due to some supply issues. They were snapped up faster than free lobster dinners on Skid Row. For 1998, Acura will again go through the motions and machinations to bring just 700 Type Rs t0 America.
As with those Mustang Cobra Rs, there are three major elements to the Integra’s upgrading: more engine, less weight, and suspension/appearance upgrades to complement the now-higher power-to-weight ratio.
If you’ve paid any attention to theCART series the last few years, you know that the Honda folks can build an engine. Prior to powering back-to-back CART championship entries, there was an impressive string of F1 wins; who could forget the Senna andProst days at McLaren? The basis for the Type R’s impressive powerplant is the VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) four cylinder found in the mainstream Integra GS-R. The engine is rated at 170 horsepower in that application, impressive enough for 1.8 liters, prior to its spa treatment at the Honda race shop.
Special pistons and connecting rods have been developed for the Type R, offering an increased compression ratio (10.6:1 vs 10.0:1) over that of the GS-R version. The piston skirts are coated with molybdenum to minimize friction and allow them to withstand higher rpm; there’s also additional oiling paths machined into the bottom of the pistons. The forged connecting rods are hand machined and balanced as a set, and the journals of the forged crankshaft get a special micro-polished surface for reduced friction.
A considerable amount of engine-building attention went into the DOHC 4-valve-per-cylinder alloy head. The intake and exhaust ports are hand polished for increased and improved flow, and lighter-weight (by 12 percent) intake valves are fitted. Acuras ays these special valves, along with an uprated intake valve spring, increase the Type R’s rev range by 200 rpm. The R also gets special cams with longer duration and higher lift; valve timing is cranked up by an additional 10 degrees on the intake side and 8 degrees on the exhaust side.
We’ve known and loved the benefits of VTEC ever since Acura introduced it on the NSX, and it too gets revised for Type R duty. VTEC employs three cam lobes and three corresponding rocker arms for each pair of valves. The two outer cam lobes have a profile that optimizes low-speed torque and response, while the middle lobe has a higher-lift, longer-duration profile designed to optimize high-end horsepower. VTEC electromechanically switches between the two, offering the benefits of both. While the switch over between low and high lift occurs at 4,400 rpm in the GS-R, it happens at 5,700 rpm in the Type R due to the higher-lift cams. There’s also a larger throttle body, an exhaust system offering a 30 percent increase in flow and a myriad of other detail modifications.
The Type R powerplant adds up to an interesting combination of FI technowizardry and good old-fashioned balancing and blueprinting. But it works, to the tune of 195 horsepower, an increase of 25 over the GS-R engine. That gives the Type R powerplant the highest specific output (108bhp/liter) of any mass-produced engine offered for sale in the U.S. market, so says Acura. The closest rival we can think of is the Ferrari F355’s 375-bhp 3.5-liter V-8, at about 107 bhp/liter.
Backing up Acura’s 8,400-rpm screamin’ demon is a close-ratio 5-speed manual transmission. Ratios are lower and stacked closer together to keep the engine in the fat part of its powerband, and the Type R also rates a lighter-weight flywheel and heavier-duty clutch. All in all, this was no lightweight— or low-cost— driveline re-engineering.
Though the Integra’s chassis is competent even in its base model form, Acura gave it a straightforward but effective upgrading for Type R duty. Special springs are 22 percent stiffer than standard and also make for a 15mm reduction of ride height. Taking a cue from the aftermarket, the front strut towers are tied together via an aluminum brace. Shock-absorber damping is increased and several suspension bushings are swapped for those with stiffer material. The front 24-mm anti-roll bar gets ball joints instead of the usual rubber bushings and the rear anti-roll bar goes from 13 mm to 22 mm. Additional chassis rigidity is provided via steel cross braces at the rear end of the underbody and at the lower arms of the rear suspension.
The rolling stock is also Type R specific; the standard 4-bolt wheels are replaced by lightweight 5-bolt units with a 5 mm wider offset. These 15×6-in.alloys come only in white, and only wrapped by Bridgestone Potenza RE010 tires developed specifically for this model. The Type R also earns a new ABS braking system, the hardware of which is 12 lb lighter than the standard Acura unit, and comes with larger front brake discs and calipers. A considerable amount of sound deadening was removed and a/c is optional, all in the name of weight saving. But the difference shows up at the scale; the GS-R we tested last year weighed in at 2,667 lb, while the new Type R tips the Toledos at about 100 lb less.
In typical Model T fashion, you can have a Type R in any color combination you like, so long as it’s Championship White with a black interior. The front and rear fascias on all ’98 Integras get some minor reshaping, and the Type R also wears a prominent basket-handle wing out back. Inside, special sport seats wear a comfortable and grippy suede material with handsome red stitching. Full instrumentation, set in a carbon-fiber-look nacelle, is easy to read through the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Given its special build status, each Type R console wears a serial number ID plate.
Unlike racer specials such as the old L-88 Corvette, you do at least get a radio, and in this case it’s an excellent AM/FM/CD unit with six speakers. But you won’t spend much time listening to it. More likely, you’ll be orchestrating the Type R’s engine through the gears, reveling in its VTEC-instrumented, reedy intake tones. In short, this little sucker screams. Don’t expect a mountain of low-end torque—the peak is only 130 lb-ft, and that comes at a lofty 7,500 rpm—but the close-ratio cogs ensure a crisp enough launch. No, the beauty of it is in the upper octaves, from where theVTEC hits the cams at 5,700 rpm, right up to its nearly stratospheric 8,400-rpm redline. We bounced the needle up near 9,000 rpm once or twice, and this mini F1 motor seemed as though it would rev forever.
The handling package is amazingly effective. At first, we questioned Acura’s election to stay with 15-in. wheels and tires, as so many of the tarted-up Integras we see on Southern California streets and race tracks are running 17-and even 18-in. rolling stock. But we shouldn’t have speculated prior to driving the Type R, as the grip comes in spades. The suspension mods are keyed to the knowledgeable driver, reducing both body roll and lawyer-pleasing understeer. This car is as close to neutral as any front-driver I’ve sampled, and you can bring the tail out a bit if that’s your pleasure. The heavy suspension brings with it a penalty in ride quality and overall noise levels are higher, but neither so that the Type R wouldn’t qualify as an everyday car.
Steering is hair-trigger quick with good road feel and just the slightest hint of torque steer, but only when coming out of a tight corner at full throttle in 1st or 2nd gear. Braking is strong and progressive, with the ABS cutting in at just the right time, and with an unobtrusive amount of pedal kickback.
The ’98 Integra is unusual in that it breaks the Honda/Acura pattern of anew model every four years. But the platform, which came to market in1994, has aged well and, save for a few styling details, still looks fresh. A new Integra is at least a year or two away, but this model’s inherent goodness comes through. The Type R is a performance sport coupe in every sense of the term. Though a fervent aftermarket exists for the smaller Honda andAcura models, the Type R’s performance and balance could not be duplicated for the price. If you like a high-revving canyon runner, or your weekend includes a bit of club racing or slalom competition, you may want to consider being one of those 700 lucky people who will join the Type R club this year.