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Project #OGiantKillerCRX: Engine Build Begins

  • Posted: 03-21-2016 01:05 AM
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Well now, it has been quite a while since we've given an update on the #OGiantKillerCRX project. We WERE going to look at turbo options in this iteration, but so much more progress was made on the engine, we'll pick up there. Without further ado, we'll happily get you up to speed!

Where we left off, the engine in the CR-X had been partially exposed, with the removal of the radiator and exhaust manifold. We'd also just received some parts from Japan, including a new cast turbo manifold!

A comprehensive project like this one comes together with multiple simultaneous channels converging on the finished product. We'd like the #OGiantKillerCRX to be ready to show at JCCS in September so the under hood fab, engine work, body work, and more all must be scheduled such that the car doesn't take a year to finish. One way to cut total time was to build a replacement powertrain instead of the one currently sitting in the car. We'd have preferred to keep the drivetrain as original as possible, but the existing block is not original and we won't be using the original cylinder head under any circumstance (more on that below). So changing it all out is really not going to be harm.

Enter, this 1989 Acura Integra LS 5dr.




This car was purchased as many Integras bought by Civic/CRX owners are; for parts. The engine and transmission are obvious items of need, but also valuable are the axles, steering knuckles with hubs, brake calipers, and the entire rear axle with disc brakes. These parts are all able to directly bolt into a Civic chassis for chassis upgrades and needed parts for engine swaps. It's a shame pulling apart a decent car like this for parts. One day Integras may pull higher values as vintage vehicles due to this sort of salvaging.



But right now, we need a replacement powertrain and time is a-wastin'! With 180,000 miles on the dash and 27 years on the clock, the D16A1 in our donor car is a typical Honda engine; after all this time it runs like a sewing machine. We looked in the cap, and drove it around the block. Seems to run fine enough and the price was OK (if a bit more than we preferred), so we bought it!

And promptly pulled out the engine.



On a car like this one, the process is extremely simple. No subframes needed to come out. Heck, we never even took the wheels off.

We occasionally stop and notice some great parts for our restoration. Check out the great condition of this grounding wire!



It seems silly but a well-done restoration needs to have replacement parts like this, especially where they can no longer be bought new. Salvaging bits is an ancillary priority.

In contrast to the engine oil, which looked rather horrid, the transmission fluid was a clear and clean.



This is either really good or really bad. If the trans fluid was changed regularly then we may find it to be a suitable part for rebuilding. But if it was recently changed with some kind of friction modifier added to quell grinding, then this trans may not be a good candidate for rework. More to come on this.



It only took a couple hours of relaxed-pace wrenching to get the powertrain resting on this interesting jack-stand system.

This engine is what is known as a "black-top" D16A1. The D16A1 came in two main variants in the USA. The 1986-87 Integra came with a "brown-top" engine, which was topped with an olive/brown colored head cover as seen in our previous blog post on this build. Brown-tops had a cylinder head which accepted a mechanical-advance distributor on the intake cam: The distributor on the brown-top used a combination of manifold vacuum and springs to advance the ignition timing as the RPMs rise. Given this was effectively the first application of fuel injection on a Honda road car, they did about as well as they could.



Because the ignition timing is such a critical part of performance engine tuning, vacuum-advance is fairly undesirable. Honda themselves knew this and only a couple years later the first generation PGM-Fi injection system was upgraded for 1988 to include a distributor with electronic ignition timing control (as an added bonus, the ignition coil was moved to inside the distributor housing from the previous location on the firewall). The cylinder head casting was altered to accept the new distributor, and the cylinder head cover color was changed to black. Hence, the "black-top" engine we have here.

There is more to the D16A1/ZC engine legacy which will be covered another time, but for now the important take-aways are:

  • We’re using a '88-89 spec engine, which uses a revised distributor with electronic control and internal coil. Losing the distributor's vacuum tubes and external coil will clean up our engine's appearance, and electronic advance will give better tuning ability.
  • The new distributor cannot be controlled by the computer we have or its current corresponding HKS F-CON piggyback system. So we need to upgrade the computer in the car as well.
  • The brown-top and black-top engines from the Integra models all have the same engine mount and head cover attachments so we'll be able to bolt the complete black-top engine into the CRX but we'll be able to use a more-correct brown-top cover for a great build compromise between "restoration" and "modified" (resto-mod?)
  • When it comes to these old cars and engines, Heeltoe knows what's up.

With the engine out of the Integra we did a bit of a tear down. First, the head came off.



We made sure to bag up the cam caps and such to protect them from loss or damage.



The composite head gaskets that Honda used on these engines sealed ok, but leaked oil externally. You can see the residue on the deck of the block. We'll be hunting for a Multi-Layer Steel (MLS) for our build.



The chambers on the head show quite a bit of ugliness, although as near as we can tell the mechanicals are sound.



With these parts at the limit of our ability to mess with, we loaded them up for a trip to some really experienced professionals to care for them.



The block ended up at DSport, who is best known for their excellent periodical. Lesser known is the Hard Media state-of-the-art machine shop. The engine will be completely blueprinted here.



And the cylinder head was taken to Portflow Design. Tom here is about the best in the business. With a history of working Honda heads stretching more than 18 years, his track record speaks for itself. The valve job will be done here with all new rebuild parts.



We'll be hunting down parts again, to give to DSport and Portflow to continue their work. We're also working to line up a turbocharger and chatting with some folks about fabbing up some new charge piping.

Thanks for checking in! We'll update again before much longer.


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