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Our Cars: The story of my Acura Integra GS-R, part 1

Kamil Kaluski November 19, 2013 All Things Hoon, Featured 20 Comments

1994 acura integra gs-r type r wheels

Every decade has its genre of cars. Think back to the 1950s and images of big-finned land yachts come to mind. The 1960, quintessential muscle cars. The 1970’s, well, there were a lot of drugs and brown cars, and now everyone is doing their best to forget that decade. In the 1980s America’s love affair with the car was making a come back with more European choices. The 1990s were the beginning of the currently ending horsepower wars, but with a heavy Japanese influence.

Whatever the decade, the cars of that decade always had influence on the young people of those years. With each passing year those people get older but the vehicles that influenced them in their youth remain deeply embedded somewhere in their mind. Those were the cars they knew and the cars they understood, and they will never make cars like that again. Next time you go a local cruise night notice that most cars are within fifteen years of its owners’ age.

I graduated high school in 1995. Think about that year; the beginnings of the internet, beepers and first affordable cell phones, good economy and job market, grunge. Now think about the sports cars; Mustangs and Camaros were cars that were driven my forty-year-olds. The most prominent German sports car was the E36 BMW M3 but that was not exactly affordable, and neither was the amazing 993. Volkswagen’s Corrado was cool but somewhat complex. The Japanese sports cars such as the Supra, the NSX, the RX-7 were fast, reliable (not so much the rotary), and could keep up with the Germans in the curves, but those too were not affordable.

engine

The previous decade exposed people my age to vehicles such as the Shelby GLHS and Volkswagen GTI. The most memorable car magazine cover had a Jackson Racing modified Honda CR-X Si taking on a freakin’ Ferrari. It should be no surprise then that in the 1990s the affordable, well made, front-wheel-drive Japanese cars were favored by much of the youth, and me.

Right after high school I owned a yellow ’89 CR-X Si, much like the one on the cover of that Road & Track. I loved that little car, but it was a little too slow, too small, and a little too yellow for my tastes. In late 1996 I became the owner of a Milano Red 1994 Acura Integra GS-R coupe, and it was perfect!

CRX ferrari

It was perfect because it wasn’t yellow, because it had seats for my friends, and trunk big enough for skis and mountain bikes. It was also much faster, and offered the possibility of being much much faster with a few choice after-market parts. It handled great, its 8000rpm redline was higher than most Ferraris’, Honda reliability (just think of DSMs of that time), and girls loved it! They really did! Win, win!

Not including my current car, the Integra was the vehicle that I owned the longest. Over its time with me I auto-crossed it twice, drag raced it many times, and loved it every day. Like any car-guy in his early twenties I modified it, but tastefully,  limiting myself to performance-orientated modifications; exhaust, intake, suspension, brakes, ignition, clutch, short shift kit, and a nitrous-oxide kit which I never had the balls to use. Before each thing I did, I studied what other people did, what worked for them, and what would work for me. I did all the work myself and there were almost no crap modifications on that car, not even a huge exhaust tip, which was unheard of at the time.

During college I worked at a mechanics’ shop as a monkey/assistant. One of the many things I have learned while working there, and on this car, was that OEM parts were the best parts. Perhaps this is why when it came time to upgrading brakes I chose to go with parts from the awesome, and not yet hyped-up at the time, ’97 Integra Type R, which a friend of a friend wrecked within a few moments of ownership. I was probably one of the first people ever to perform the now common 5-bolt wheel/big-brake/hub swap.

By the late 1990s, the whole import craze was in its peak. There were a ton of magazines dedicated to it, and events, shows, shops, and races were seemingly everywhere. All of that was compounded by the then new internet medium, which all the kids were into. There was even the first proper racing videogame, Gran Turismo, the sixth generation of which will come out any day now.

1994 acura integra gs-r type r wheels side

With all of this, unfortunately, also came jealousy, hate, and theft. Because of the simplicity of swapping the Integra powertrain and suspension bits into any Civic, a much more affordable and lighter car, the GS-Rs and the super rare Type Rs became an instant theft magnets. My beloved red Integra was stolen in the summer of 1999.

It was recovered a few weeks later at a chop-shop in nearby Paterson, New Jersey. It was dirty and beaten up. The interior was gone, as was the engine and the transmission. Surprisingly, the 5-bolt Type R wheel/brake conversion remained on the car because I had a locking lug-nut on each wheel stud and the socket/keys were in my garage. Stupidly, because I couldn’t afford it at the time, I had no theft insurance on the car. I ended up selling the very decent shell of a car for surprisingly good money, which allowed me to buy a much needed laptop computer and a ’91 Civic DX.

I wasn’t angry about the car being stolen, but I was sad. I knew that things will get better; I had my fun with this Integra, I learned a ton, and I made some of my best friends. In the end, it was just a car, and it was just money lost. I knew that hard work and perseverance would pay off, and in April 2001 I picked up my brand new BMW 330i. I wanted an Integra Type R, I wanted a Honda S2000, but I needed something different, and this was a great choice. It was closure, it was moving on.

Weeks after the recovery of the car, by coincidence, I learned who ended up with my engine in their car. Despite my best efforts, the lazy police detective in my small New Jersey town would not help me bring this, ironically popular and well-liked in an online forum community, person to justice. This was really disappointing, but I was fine with that too. And no, I did not go around trying to find him and beat his ass – people like him bring that upon themselves on their own.

To be continued…

PART 2 IS HERE!

  • CoastieLenn

    Great story! I love how you so eloquently described the passion you had for that car. It makes it easy for us readers to understand and almost feel your love for it.

    As a 7 time DSM owner, I can understand your point toward their reliability, er… lack thereof. I will note though, that when running perfectly (meaning nothing broken), they were hard to beat until the late 00's when you could get a turbo kit for a B-series for <$1000 on ebay.

    • Thanks!
      Yes, I knew plenty of people that had DSMs running into the 11s in full street trim – they just needed a special kind of owner.

  • "Stupidly, because I couldn’t afford it at the time, I had no theft insurance on the car. "

    Damn!

  • TheAnnM

    My brother had one of these, and I always thought it was SOOO cool. I miss that little car.

  • As soon as I saw "Integra GS-R," I knew it'd end with the car getting stolen and stripped.

    Too bad the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™ anti-theft hidden ignition/fuel pump interlock for your 90's Honda wasn't popularized until recently.

    • I used to just unplug the whole ECU, but I obviously did not do that in my driveway, where it was stolen from.

    • wunno sev

      yeah that was my first thought too :[

      i like 90s-era hondas, but i'd live in perpetual fear of having one stolen, especially a clean integra, and especially especially a GSR.

  • vinny

    Awww I miss ZOE =(

    • Me too! I'm ready for a house and a dog.

  • Justin

    I share your nostalgia; my first car, a '94 SE-R, was rolled with me and my newlywed wife inside. I replaced it with a '99 GS-R in black that fared a little better than yours. I loved that car. It was replaced by a '02 330i. Now the point of this—what came after your bimmer? Any chance you drove an MCS?

    • No. I got a WRX after the 330i and I did not like it at all.
      Then I continued with BMWs.

      But a good friend of mone did go GSR -> 330i -> MCS -> 911

  • Catacid119

    If he was popular and well-liked on an online forum, you could have taken him. I would have found him and beaten his ass on general principle.

    Looking forward to the next installment, regardless.

  • Synchromesh

    Good article. These are great cars to learn on. My previous car was a 2000 GS-R but the much rarer sedan version. It really was a great car! Small, nimble, high-revving, good on gas and handled well. Aside from aftermarket MP3 player and a couple of minor clip-ons I never modified it. It was absolutely great from the factory, why mess with perfection?

    But unlike you I was well aware of these being on a Top Stolen list for many years so I swapped the wheels, removed the DOHC VTEC sticker from the back and covered the leather sits so from afar it looked like a regular no frill LS/GS version. Had it for 6.5 years before trading it in about 2 years ago with no problems. Only trouble I ran into was rust. But not much one can do in New England. It was rusting in 3 different places when I gave it to the dealer.

    The only time that I was surprised by someone was when I was sitting on a parking lot near some super market with engine running waiting for my mom to come out and a guy pulled up on a Prius asking me if I want to sell him my GS-R. I looked at him puzzled and asked him how he knew since badges/twisties were not on the car. He said he could hear the sound of the engine. 🙂 Of course I declined (his price was a bit low anyway) but that's when I realized there are some real pros out there.

    • You're going to like part 2. 🙂

  • racer139

    I almost bought a 99 or 00 gsr in that odd silvery greenish color. The one thing that stopped me was the highish km for a two or three year old car and no matenence records or receipts. It was 25k km over its recommended timing belt change and it was not done so I passed.

  • kvs678

    I am in high school and thinking of picking up a used GS-R so I can learn/drive stick.
    From what I've heard/read, that 8000rpm redline, sweet shifter, and sharp/lightweight handling are very tempting – new cars with that kind of direct, mechanical connection to the road are almost nonexistent.
    But a good condition, decent mileage 01 GS-R commands around $6k even today.
    What are your thoughts? Even for a car enthusiast, do you guys think it's worth it, over a 02/03 RSX Type S which can be had for ~$1k more?

    • joshwebster84

      I'd rather have an Integra over a RSX personally.

    • They're different but very similar. Buy whichever one you find in better, as original as possible, condition.
      Keep it original, don't modify it enjoy, learn to drive it… and you have a lot to learn. 🙂
      Good luck.

      • kvs678

        Thanks for the reply.
        What are your thoughts on the Prelude?
        The base Prelude and the SH also fall into this price range, actually a bit less than a GS-R. Supposed to be a bit more refined but heavier at over 3k lbs vs the 2600-2700 for the Integra. And has a slightly lower redline, with the H22 engine vs the b18 in the GS-R.
        What is your input, as far as Prelude vs GS-R, with the 'Lude being slightly less pricey than a well-kept GS-R?

        • Preludes are great, just don't put any wheels bigger than 17" on them as they're heavier, and with this sidewalls you'll easily bent your rims.

          Don't worry about getting the SH, there is nothing special about it; same engine, same suspension, the difference was in the steering rack or something… total bullshit.

          You can't go wrong with either, really. Both the Integra, Prelude, and the RSX are great first cars. I wouldn't worry too much about getting the top-line GS-R, SH, Type S either… it's your first car, you want to learn and become a better driver. That, and all are slow by today's standards; a new Camry will spank all of those.

          I'd buy whichever you find in the most original condition, preferably one owner, free of major accidents. Don't buy anything that's extensively modified.