Modern Classic Review – the CarAdvice team take time away from Australia’s new car landscape to look at machines we consider true modern classics.
What’s more, we’ll try to turn our focus to cars that haven’t quite fallen out of reach in terms of scarcity and affordability. Is there something on your radar? Let us know what modern classics you would like to see the team review.
Modern Classic: 1999–2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2R)
Japanese modern classics are the new hotness.
Why is that so? It's often the topic of inter-office discussions between CarAdvice's Sydney and Melbourne locations.
Generation Gran Turismo, kids raised on a diet of The Fast and the Furious Hollywood, the stuff we drove as youth – all valid reasons that venture into conversation.
Other less mentioned points relate to the cars themselves. The thing is, Japanese cars often carry a bit of a reputation. By that I mean they start, usually first go, and are easy enough to resurrect for road use from barns or old dusty garages without much mechanical work.
They're often straightforward and use common parts. Need an oil filter for your 1989 Toyota Corolla twin-cam? Any number of mainstream suppliers will have around 50 on the shelf for $10.
Spark leads for an R31 Skyline you spotted at your local RSL, complete with manual transmission, that you just had to make an offer on? Again, a quick call or online shop will yield a result, no doubt for a pittance.
Nonsense aside, they've become the thinking person's choice for a fun, unique-nowadays driver. Start them once in a blue moon, likely get to your destination and back, in an air-conditioned environment, with safety such as ABS and possibly traction control, are all things the owner of a Japanese modern classic has to look forward to.
As a result, there are now multiple tiers of Japanese modern classics ranked in terms of value and collectability. That first group houses badges like RX-7, GT-R and Supra. Shopping well in tier one is a six-figure investment.
The 1999–2001 Honda Integra Type R, known more commonly by its chassis code 'DC2R', is arguably the tier-two apex predator. Rising to true stardom only quite recently, good examples are swiftly becoming endangered in the wild. When demand is global and the production run limited, you know you have a problem.
The DC2R retailed for $39,950 before on-roads back in 1999. There's some wonderful irony here, but we'll save that as a kicker.
At that time, a 5.0-litre 1999 Holden Commodore SS manual cost $44,160. Subaru's all-paw turbocharged hero, the Impreza WRX, was $39,990. For what was a front-drive, naturally aspirated sports hatch, the Honda seemed expensive.
|1999 Honda Integra Type R (DC2R)|
|Engine configuration||Naturally aspirated four-cylinder|
|Power||141kW @ 7900rpm|
|Torque||172Nm @ 6300rpm|
|Transmission||five-speed manual with Torsen LSD|
|Price when new (MSRP)||$39,950|
But the price was justified, even when reflecting back, having driven many of its contemporary competitors. The party trick here is a one-two knockout punch of a unique yet sensational engine, and equally sensational handling balance.
Let's start with the motor.
Honda's 'B' engine is the best naturally aspirated power plant to come from Japan from this period. At this time, other brands were caught up practising the dark arts of complicated four-wheel steer, all-wheel-drive cars with multiple turbochargers.
Honda instead stuck to its master plan of building free-flowing naturally aspirated engines, complete with perfected specialist technologies aligned to this doctrine. Cue VTEC (Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control).
Let's backpedal real quick. Remember I said common parts? Well, Honda used this 'B' engine in a variety of cars, including the first-generation CR-V. Yes, the mighty DC2R shares some of its origins with the humble crossover.
In fact, this 'B' series of engine was used significantly throughout the Japanese Honda Civic Ferio range; a car we knew simply as the Honda Civic sedan. Boring, regular and anything but uncommon.
Regardless, 11 years into this engine's life it hit a new high in Australia. We got our initial taste of twin-cam VTEC goodness with the Honda Civic (EK4) VTi-R, which used a pretty standard-issue 1.6-litre 'B16A2' engine.
However, in 1999 we were blessed with the cream-of-the-crop version found only in the Integra Type R. Its 'B18C7' engine, as you guessed it, stepped out capacity to 1.8 litres. Compression was up, too, at a sky-high 11.1:1.
The difference between the Integra Type R's engine and what came before it transcends numbers and data, though. Each engine head was hand-finished, with each port carefully milled by Honda engine assembly workers one by one. No computer-aided design machines, no casting imperfections, either.
These busy-bees were also matchmakers, marrying individually weighed pistons with like-weighted connecting rods to form the ultimate bond and go the distance.
The revs are brutal, even now – 141kW of power at 7900rpm and 172Nm at 6300rpm. High-cam lobe, or VTEC engagement, from 5800rpm. Redline 8400rpm. Rev limit 8800rpm.
It's truly a masterpiece. The biggest novelty with early-gen VTEC engines is a baritone pitch change you hear from the intake tract of the engine as it crosses camshaft profile when VTEC kicks in (yo).
It's hilarious, as the decibels also increase, too. The example we were driving has been equipped with 80 per cent of the period-specific Mugen performance catalogue, including a rather fancy replacement air-cleaner system that exacerbated the VTEC cross-over.
As a side note, Mugen is the factory performance partner of Honda, having been founded by Hirotoshi Honda, son of Honda Motor Company founder Soichiro Honda.
VTEC is quite simple. Let me explain by stripping it back to basics and not using jargon.
An engine's camshaft is a long piece of metal, more modernly found in the top end, that controls the opening and closing of its valves. Valves are the things that either let fresh air in or expel dirty air out.
In this case, the engine's camshafts connect to its valves by simply leaning on a connection, or bridge, that opens and closes them. As camshafts rotate in a fixed, single position, they use an odd-shaped lobe to function that sort of resembles the profile of an egg.
Think of how an egg would roll – makes sense, right? The fat end of the egg-shaped lobe closes the valve, and the tip end of it pushes it open.
Honda's original VTEC system, as found here, focused on the camshaft that's responsible for opening and closing valves that let air in. This particular camshaft has two different egg-shaped profiles, one larger than the other, which also remains disconnected.
The engine uses a complex magnet to manage the connection called a solenoid. When conditions are right, this solenoid moves a metal pin in the bridge connecting the camshaft to the valve, which locks in the second, larger egg shape on the camshaft, thus letting more air in.
That's all it does. It also explains why the audible VTEC changeover is most heard as increased air-induction growl – as that's the section of engine that's being most manipulated.
I hope that goes some way to explain the function of Honda's clever technology, circa 1988, that's undergone much advancement since.
If you want generic engine buzzwords to explain its power delivery, linear, eventful and revvy all come to mind. If you want something meaningful, it's an engine where its performance-led engineering manifests in reality.
Many modern cars implement engine technologies that are imperceptible. Sometimes that's good.
If you find yourself searching for those engineering quirks in a modern performance car, that's possibly not good. There is an even worse scenario, though, which is when you spend your time trying to distinguish fact from fiction. Read this for more information.
Honda's performance tech, as cast into its engine cover, is impossible not to perceive. VTEC, in this case, results in the car going faster, sounding faster, and feeling faster, all at once, at the same time, every time.
Now, the chassis.
Like that engine, a lot was changed to meet the stipulations of 'R' designation. DC2Rs use thinner glass to save weight. The rear subframe area is significantly reinforced so as not to tear itself a new one. The front engine member was also uprated for parity's sake.
Honda even went so far as to reinforce the shifter linkage and use a dual-bend gear-shifter stick, which decreased its action. I wouldn't describe it as notchy, more positive, but also short laterally, as well as up and down.
The donor car that created the Type R was already good to begin with, however. They didn't need to adjust too much, as even the regular versions featured a double-wishbone suspension set-up. A highly complex arrangement that you rarely find in the mainstream today.
Steering was incredibly well sorted, too, with a short-ratio hydraulic power-steering system that oozes feel. The weighting is spot on, and its ratio just right for the dimensions.
I believe equal to what you find in a BMW E36 M3. When you consider it's front-wheel drive, the realisation dawns on you how close to perfect Honda managed to get it. You feel hyper-aware of what the car's doing as a result, and how it's reacting to changes in input.
The driver-car bond is strong with this one. A quick punt around Sydney's Olympic Park refreshed my memory of how so. We didn't explore the car too much, but it reminded me of how positively driver-focused the DC2R remains.
If I had more words, I'd go into the aesthetically charged argument of our quad-headlight cars versus the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) twin-rectangle headlight design, but we've run out of time.
Whatever front end your Integra Type R has, it'll be a gem. The later version, called 'DC5R', didn't have the sharpness or aggression as found in Honda's first Type R.
After this generation, Japan kept the best version of the Integra Type R for itself. Criticism that the DC2R was too firm, too unrelenting, and too focussed led to export markets getting softer and less powerful DC5R Type R variants.
Later Civic Type Rs (EK9/FD2R/EP3R/FN2R series 2) all featured varying degrees of DC2R in them, and are likely to be more affordable, easier to find, and readily available.
Is this modern classic for you?
Buying a 1999–2001 Honda Integra Type R...
I'll keep this short.
The car we tested was a two-owner car, had 110,000 original kilometres on the odo’, and wore its original paint, which happens to be the most desirable of the lot – Honda's F1 duco, AKA 'Championship White'.
You'd need $50,000, and some, to pry this car from its owner. That's after he's removed a handful of incredibly rare Mugen parts from the car.
That steering wheel seen in the photos now fetches USD$10,000. That's not a typo, either.
When the owner asked me to remove my wedding ring before driving, I inquisitively asked why, while committing the cardinal sin (sorry wife). After understanding that, I asked if he had gloves, too.
Finding a DC2R is difficult, hence the price tag. Many have been crashed, or poorly modified, or a dire combination of both. The realistic choice now is a high-ish miler, up close to 200,000km, with tatty yet original paint.
Expect to pay anywhere from $18,000 upward for such a privilege. Even as a high-kilometre driver, they remain easy to work on and do not suffer from any major issues. Timing belt and water pump maintenance are critical, but that's about as big as it gets.
On top of that, regular maintenance is worth looking for under the bonnet, as the fifth or sixth owner would probably lack comprehensive documentation to prove such things.
It's the best of the second-tier Japanese metal, and worthy of your garage.
Modern Classic Rating: 8.8
Thanks to the generous owner, Kenny, for supplying the Integra Type R for our test and review.
MORE: Everything Honda