Honda’s high-end Acura brand has become known for its unique combination of performance and luxury, but few vehicles embody Acura performance as completely as the Integra Type-R. With pure intentions to achieve high levels of performance in a compact size, Acura introduced the Type-R option package for its Integra in 1995. The rest, as they say, is history.
A Honda with the Soul of a Mustang
First released in America in 1986, the Acura Integra was marketed as a mid-sized luxury sedan with a small, fuel-efficient engine and plenty of space for the whole family. As Acura evolved into a more performance-focused brand, the Integra changed a bit –- but only just a bit. It was only in 1995, when the Type-R was added to the line, that Acura finally entered the game of modern muscle.
At the core of the Type-R was the B18C engine, a version of Honda’s well-known inline four cylinder DOHC line. An improvement over the B18B engine that powered standard Integras, the B18C boasted output to 200 horsepower, an improvement of 47 percent. Featuring hand-polished ports, lighter rods and inlet valves, and high-performance exhaust intake, it was an engine designed with both power and durability in mind.
What made these big horsepower gains possible wasn’t just the polishing and lightening of engine components but also the addition of the Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control — better known as VTEC — system. This new valve system, the first of its kind, made Honda’s B Series engines much more efficient, allowing them to increase power without significantly increasing the size or weight of the engine. Though Honda had been placing VTEC engines in its North American cars since 1991, the Type-R was the first to utilize the powerful system in conjunction with other performance-oriented upgrades.
Coming to America
After two years in Japan, the Integra Type-R finally made it to the U.S. for the 1997 model year. It was far from your typical luxury Acura, with features like sunroof and air conditioning eliminated in order to shave off extra pounds. Along with the rest of the Integra line, the Type-R received the familiar pair of small, round “bug eye” headlights set into the body, but unlike the others, it came with a high rear spoiler, alloy wheels, and just one color option, white. In another nod to performance over sales, it was only available with a five speed manual transmission.
In 1997 and 1998, the Type-R sold very few units in the States, which was puzzling given its solid performance (0-60 in 7 seconds, the quarter mile in 15). In subsequent years, when the Type-R would become one of the most sought-after tuner cars on the market, those who passed up the opportunity to buy one off the lot in its initial two years would regret the missed opportunity. As a response to low sales, Acura did not offer the Type-R in 1999.
In 2000 the Type-R returned, now based on the fourth generation Integra platform, a design with a more ample body. With nods to commercially successful features such as standard air conditioning and color options, and with the same great engine, sales of the latest model were slightly better this time around, but not well enough to justify continuing the line.
A Rare Beauty
More than fifteen years after its debut, the Type-R is still held in high esteem by tuners and enthusiasts for its smooth blend of appearance and performance, but most of all for that B18C VTEC engine. With less than 3,000 sold in the United States during its three-year run, the Type-R is a very rare car on this side of the Pacific (it sold better in Japan where it is more easily available).
With years passed, it is now clear that the Integra Type-R was a special car. Its roots were with the stripped-down muscle cars of the late 1960s — cars like the AMC AMX which fit a lot of performance into a relatively small and simple package. In the endless battle between advocates of American muscle and Japanese quickness, this is one car that everyone should be able to appreciate: a fast car with humble intentions.