Jomon's CRX-R Part 5 - Finishing up: Exterior & Driving Experience. VIDEO LIVE!
Updated: Oct 11, 2020
Moving to Japan in 1998, I was startled to discover the contrasting complete lack of corrosion that is the general trend with cars here, compared to other countries. I learnt this due to the excellent road infrastructure, proper drainage and a refusal to use salt on mountain roads at higher elevations during winter. Instead of using salt, studless tyres, offering good grip in snow and ice are used by Japanese drivers during the winter months.
When I came across the CR-X, without inspecting hidden locations that were not possible to inspect at an auction, I could quickly tell this car had zero rot anywhere and had been generally very well cared for. That it had the glass roof and rare but very desirable yellow driving lights were desirable bonuses.
One thing that repels me more than anything else from buying older car has, for the last 20+ years, been corrosion. Coming from an '80's background, my father’s business had been in the restoration of classics in the U.K. As a young driver - older rusty Italian, German and Japanese car ownership was something I had at first thought was just a fact of life in the U.K. By the time I was around 25, I’d seen enough to know that once it set in, corrosion is a cancer that can never be completely banished only slowed. Having seen the amount of work involved in restoring cars, its just not something I choose to be involved with. These EF-series Honda coupes often begin their corrosion beneath the side-step covers on the sills, under the rear spoiler supports, as well as in the spare wheel well, behind the tail lights, bottoms of the doors, rear arches, bonnet hinge mounts, front panel, and anywhere water is able to collect or leak into and get trapped. The paint was generally excellent, needing only a couple of panels refinished, with the rest possible to restore using professional detailing equipment & products. Upon removing all the plastic exterior trim to have it refinished or replaced, I reconfirmed that everything was indeed okay. After fitting sound deadening, but before refitting the door trim panels, I waxoyled the insides thoroughly. The chassis similarly received treatment directly and inside every orifice, whilst the car was over the inspection pit.
I’d removed the bumpers to also complete minor plastic restorative work, so whilst I had access, protected the areas usually hidden behind them, including the bumper supports. All trim clips were replaced with new items sourced from Honda and any bolts, even those with the smallest hint of surface corrosion in the engine bay were replaced. Some of the trim I wanted to replace was no longer available, so instead, it was carefully restored. Others such as the rear quarter window trims, which tend to shrink & crack from ageing under UV were replaced. This necessitated having the quarter glass removed and bonded back in afterwards.
I replaced the roof gutter trims since the originals had aged & become hardened. The door weather mouldings were fortunately still available and were also replaced. The JDM CR-X had plastic headlights as standard which had turned yellow, so these were refinished too and whilst I was there, I adapted an H4 LED bulb set and used other high intensity LED bulbs for the sidelights. The original side visor set had aged from UV, as had the tail lights, but I found a new set of USDM late-model tail lights. An enterprising young American living in Singapore had commissioned several almost exact side visor replicas (Same as OEM, only without the small “Honda” branding) which turned out to be of perfect fitment.
The correct DOHC V-Tec “Programed Fuel Injection” Decals on the doors have long since been discontinued by Honda. Fortunately, replicas were available from another enterprising eBay seller, as was the optional rear glass “CR-X” decal. These wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks before beginning to peel off, so to preserve their virtues, I carefully cut some 3M Venture Shield clear plastic protective film and applied using a clear window cleaner mist spray (to avoid bubbles) and an old plastic store card. This created the same finished product & resultant durability as OEM. To complete the overall effect I sourced and applied a pair of “Ayrton Senna” signatures, as well as 3 discreet Hond-R decals and similarly protected with Venture Shield.
The front chrome badge was removed, paint was machine polished and a red “H” emblem proudly displayed on the front, to give a discreet hint of the Type R flavour concealed under the bonnet. On the rear garnish between the tail lights, I carefully removed the “V-Tec” decal and replaced with a similarly sized pressed metal “Mugen” one. Small gold “Mugen” decals were also added to the bottom rearward corner of each front fender, to give a hint as to what the forged wheels produced by RAYS actually are (Mugen MF8’s). Now finally, the car was ready to register. I took it to the shaken centre.
With each year they get fussier. The typically eagle-eyed inspectors didn't much like the over-sized brake discs & NSX callipers. I thought at first I might have to fit smaller pre-1998 discs and callipers, but I was relieved to find they accepted these modifications as safe enough to meet standards & conditions. It passed the shaken minimum ground clearance (9cm) test by around 1cm. They didn’t approve the Nagisa Auto & Hardrace pillow upper adjustable arms, front & rear.
So I drove home and overnight changed them back to standard, retaking the test the following day. It passed, only to have the uprated components refitted of course. I'd specially ordered “* * * 8” as the registration number. Its believed by some to bring luck in Japanese culture. I chose it simply because it’s an EF8.
One of the most memorable first drives was a little over a year ago at a Christmas meeting, with old and new friends driving once around some of Tokyo’s highways at night. This included such cars as a 991 GT3, a Cayman S and an Alfa Romeo 4c.
As I followed, the GT3's Cup headers sounded glorious and inspired. I couldn’t resist but to change down, overtake and let the V-Tec sing a bit. This had the desired effect of escalating speeds from cruising to brisk. He pulled out & stuck close behind and so it began. I’m under no illusion that had I not been the most familiar with these roads, the CRX-R wouldn't have shaken them off, but was surprised as we pulled back into a rest area that out of 6 cars, only the GT3 had managed to keep up. Later, as we resumed our social chat, some expressed surprise the CRX-R had accelerated and cornered so well. Truth be told, I'd been driving it hard and the brakes had gotten properly hot, exhibiting plenty of vibration. I'd thought at first I might have warped them, but once cooled thankfully they returned to normal.
The 9,000prm rev limit is something some, who've never experienced these high-revving V-Tec's sometimes fail to realise, actually makes a major performance difference. Whilst others, say with higher power cars, but lower rev limit run out of revs and have to change gear, the V-Tec just keeps on accelerating. Not needing to change gears till later, means less temporary lulls in power delivery. For a 1.6, the engine pulls indecently well, especially during colder weather. The transmission feels immediately better than an original box would’ve felt when new, with the carbon-lined synchromesh making for clean changes, irrespective of how fast you shift. I don’t think it’s ever ground a gear once since completion of the rebuild. The handling of a standard SiR CRX is usually known to allow for the rear to cock the inner wheel and allow the car to slide manageable (The DC2 Type R does it too). The aforementioned Ohlins shocks and Mugen springs help improve suspension control, but larger anti-roll bars - front & rear, adjusted so the settings encourage some independence of wheel travel between opposing sides, whilst being balanced to encourage neutral handling beyond the limits of adhesion, have resulted in a car that has strong cornering abilities, whilst still ultimately lifting a rear inside wheel, especially when combined with trail braking. Driving this CRX-R with enthusiasm on familiar country roads, I’ve never yet found the handling to exhibit snap oversteer, which can happen with uprated rear ARB'S and softer front, especially if set to lift a rear wheel whilst negotiating tight corners. Grip levels are such that its rare for the rear to step out on the CRX-R, although on open roads its not really driven at 10/10ths, for safety reasons.
It hasn’t yet exhibited understeer, either although trail braking tends to reduce such possibilities. I’d describe it as exhibiting neutral and confidence-inspiring handling with the ability to slide the rear mildly, given sufficient provocation. If I were to use it on the circuit, it would benefit from some weight reduction, a set of custom-built coil-overs and an oil cooler with the removal of air conditioning, etc, but unlikely it'll ever see such use, realistically. Weight, or the lack of it, even in a fully dressed car as small as this, is a big advantage, compared to heavier and larger cars. But sometimes, different cars can deceive with perceived size and weight, where in reality it isn't all that different. Performance is clearly similar in the CRX-R, compared to the DC2 Integra Type R in terms of handling, braking and engine characteristics, which isn’t surprising bearing in mind the DNA & now very similar power/weight ratios. It would be interesting, if not a lot of fun to compare side-by-side. The Integra would be slightly more intoxicating of the two, I suspect. Although this isn’t a detailed objective comparison, I have often compared in my mind, whilst driving either. To pick between the two it would be a sad day in hell. I love them both for their virtues. The CRX-R is the prettier design in my eyes, but with a longer wheelbase with more interior & trunk space, more torque and greater overall package, the Integra remains my favourite. This speaks volumes about how good a DC2 Type R really is as an OEM package, rather than being a criticism levelled at the CRX-R.
They’re both keepers & I wouldn't consider parting with either of them. The Integra can and has carried 4 adults for days at a time. On a couple of occasions so far, the CRX-R has carried my wife and both kids for short trips (With their shoes off and feet on the seats), but as they continue to grow up it'll soon become too small but I suppose size, or the lack of it is part of the attraction. The CRX-R is now completed and will be used from time to time for fun. It'll cover less than 2,500km per year, I expect.
The passion for CRX’s remains alive around the world and people continue to tune them. Nostalgia can lead car enthusiasts, myself included, to make some irrational decisions.
Indeed the build that has culminated in the CRX-R becoming a reality, is a direct result of it.
Author: Miguel Varella-Cid
Founder & Director of JOMON CAR RENTAL. Don't miss out on the next VIDEO series, driving the best roads around Mount Fuji, to be published soon!... Subscribe, to be kept informed.