'The R stands, literally, for Racing.’ So proclaimed the brochure for the Integra Type-R upon the car’s arrival in the UK in late 1997. Perhaps Honda thought it needed spelling out, for while Japan had been enjoying the ‘Racing’ Integra for two years – and a small run of NSX Type-Rs before that – this was the first time the Type-R badge had reached our shores.
It was the first time the Integra had made it here, too. Launched in 1985, this front-wheel-drive hatchback and saloon sat above the Civic in Honda’s model line-up and in America served as the entry-level model for the Japanese firm’s upmarket Acura brand. By 1993 it had reached its third generation, which was offered with a choice of a 1.6- and 1.8-litre engines, the sportiest being the 170bhp 1.8 found in the GS-R. An impressive power figure for a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine at the time -– and still not to be sniffed at today – it was made possible by the adoption of Honda’s then relatively new VTEC variable valve timing and lift system.
But Honda’s engineers knew the GS-R’s ‘B18C1’ engine could offer even more power. By introducing molybdenum-coated aluminium pistons, high-strength but lightweight conrods, reshaped intake valves, a larger throttle body and a bigger diameter exhaust, they created the ‘B18C Spec-R’. Ported, polished and assembled by hand (which would ultimately limit production to just 25 units per day) and topped with a red cam cover, this engine would rev to a heady 9000rpm and put out 187bhp at 8000rpm. Still with a capacity of only 1797cc, this meant it offered an incredible 104bhp per litre – one of the highest specific outputs ever seen from a naturally aspirated car engine.
Clearly a pretty special chassis was needed to accompany it, particularly as the car would be homologated for Group N racing. To this end Honda strengthened the Integra bodyshell in various key structural areas with thicker-grade steel in readiness for the extra forces it would have to endure. The front and rear double-wishbone suspension was then lowered by 15mm over the GS-R, firmer bushes were introduced, the rear anti-roll bar was swapped for a thicker item, aluminium strut braces were added at both ends of the car, and the wheels were replaced with modest 6 x 15in alloys shod with sticky 195/55 R15 Bridgestone Potenzas. Perhaps most significantly, drive would now pass through a torque-sensitive helical limited-slip diff, ensuring uncanny levels of traction for a front-wheel-drive car with so much power.
To further enhance the performance there would also be a long list of weight-saving measures. The windscreen glass would be thinner, most of the sound deadening would be removed and even the cover for the spare wheel would be deleted. Meanwhile, in keeping with the Type‑R’s sportier character, inside it would gain supportive Recaro seats (complete with holes for race harnesses), a titanium gearknob for the short-throw gearlever and some carbonfibre-effect trim, while outside there was a new chin spoiler, a large rear wing, red-backed Honda ‘H’ badges and Type-R graphics.
Hardcore it may have been, but the hottest Integra was an instant hit when it was launched in Japan in 1995. Not only did it promise a 0-62mph time of just 6.2sec (down from the GS-R’s 7.0sec) and a top speed of 145mph, but it mated it to quite sublime handling. When it was eventually released in other markets – including the UK, where it would at first be offered only in Championship White, as sported by Honda’s first Grand Prix-winning car of 1965 – more praise followed.
And it hasn’t stopped since. Indeed, in 2006, some six years after production of the original Integra Type-R had ceased, evo didn’t hesitate in including it in a test of 15 all-time front-wheel-drive greats, pitting it against the likes of the 205 GTI, Clio Williams, Clio Trophy and Mini GP. And after commending the Type-R for its ‘organic feedback’, ‘tremendous traction’, ‘miraculous’ grip levels and ‘searing pace and total involvement’, we named it the greatest front-wheel-drive performance car ever.