2000 Acura Integra Type R: Living A Spoon Sports Dream In San Diego
Photography by Ian Wood
Get the VTEC jokes out of your system now, because this isn’t your typical modded Honda. For one thing, it’s technically an Acura, and Josh Socito certainly isn’t the type to remove mufflers and cut springs in some misguided attempt at modification.
Like a lot of us on the younger side of the spectrum, it was a video game controller that first introduced Josh to the world of performance cars, and if you peeked into his Gran Turismo garage back then you’d find it littered with Hondas wearing the brand’s coveted “Type R” emblem. I’d imagine this badge is one of the most copied in the world, and if you attend any local import shows such knock-offs are a ubiquitous element. It’s funny how the cycle goes; Honda initially began its Type R program in the early 1990s with the intent to lighten and sharpen certain models for competition, and it started offering road cars for sale to the public with the first NSX Type R, a lightweight interpretation of the already impressive performer. Now kids buy Type R stickers to slap on the backs of hand-me-down Civic LXs—a little bit off the mark of the original idea.
Josh wasn’t so lucky to call a genuine Type R his first Honda though, and he had his fair share of Civic experiences along the way like any true fan of the brand. His first car was an EG6-generation Civic hatchback, and driving it home from his high school parking lot meant parking it next to his parents’ pair of Civics at home. They were—are—a Honda family.
That doesn’t necessitate exclusivity though, and in Josh’s case this meant venturing out into different time periods and manufacturers as he developed his tastes for cars at large. He drove a classic Mini for a time among other flirtations, and a few years after his college graduation—and with a little bit more in the wallet to play with—he moved into a modern BMW M3. Anyone who’s driven an E92 M3 can attest to its capabilities as a performance car, but opinions will likely divide on the less objective aspects of driving such a modern piece of engineering. Of course the value of such things is dependent on what you want to get out of them, so for a young guy wanting to experience the tangible rewards of long hours spent studying and late nights spent working in the job procured by all that studying, the BMW was an ample prize. Josh loved the car immediately, but it also didn’t take too long before the doubts started to wriggle in.
For someone who grew up playing with racing games and Hondas, the bug to modify had been buzzing around in his head for a while at this point, and the M3 was looking ever more standard-issue. Josh decided not to dive into his BMW though; too expensive to do it correctly, and like I said, he’s not the kind of person to take a shortcut or buy cheap parts, so instead he toyed with the idea of moving on to something new, something older.
The impetus came when he and some friends swapped a motor into an Integra a few years ago. His uncle had fallen ill and passed away, and he left his Acura behind to Josh’s grandfather—I wasn’t kidding about this being a Honda family. The car sat for a bit, largely due to the largely inoperable engine sitting under the hood, until Josh and some friends helped his grandfather swap in a new power plant. The four-banger they dropped in was nothing exotic seeing as this is a basic Integra LS we’re talking about here, but the experience itself had a big impact on Josh’s decision-making process regarding the BMW. The camaraderie involved in refreshing his uncle’s old car, time spent with old and new friends learning from each other and as they went, the comparative simplicity and cost of the parts involved, the feeling of relief and satisfaction when it fired back up, all came together to spell out a simple message: it was time to get back in a Honda. So, along with finding a new home for the Bimmer, Josh set about looking for the right car to reintroduce him to the JDM dreams from his childhood and adolescence.
The Integra Type R was first introduced in Japan in 1995 to help the company homologate the DC2-generation for Group N racing in accordance with the FIA. It was a marked evolution of the heretofore hottest trim level, the GS-R, and it was far quicker than any front-wheel drive car seemingly had a right to be. Featuring increased rigidity and amply reworked suspension while still shedding hundreds of pounds, it was an immense achievement in terms of both chassis tuning and engine development, and when it was released in North America as a ’97 model year, the naturally-aspirated 1.8-liter B18C5 boasted the highest output per liter even though it was down a few horsepower from its Japanese counterpart that put out 200 even. It had larger throttle bodies, new manifolds, trick aluminum pistons offering increased compression, reengineered and more aggressive cam profiles, and lightweight con-rods to get there, and its motors like these that have maintained Honda’s reputation as the king of little mills.
The cars also received a limited-slip differential, a host of new suspension pieces and revised spring and dampening rates, while pieces deemed unnecessary were chucked out, like the air-conditioning and sound deadening. As usual the US-spec cars were a little less raw than the ones built for the homeland, but still, the point stands: this is a serious bit of kit, not a boy racer’s backyard contraption. And as such, it was a Type R that Josh sought to replace his M3. He wanted to revive the feelings that came along with working on his late uncle’s car with his friends and family, but he didn’t want to be stuck in a base-model Prelude either.
The car shown here was found in Anaheim, CA, on Craigslist, where it had been listed for quite a long time. The reasons for its stagnation were pretty clear to Josh: the seller mentioned a transmission on its last legs, and then there was the simple fact that like almost every Integra Type R, this too had been modified. The transmission wasn’t a major issue though seeing as he could limp it home with the current unit and planned to swap it out for a Japanese-spec version of the Type R’s close-ration five-speed, and in regards to the “custom work” that scared off so many others, it was simply a Japanese front-end swap, and better yet, it was all done with the correct pieces: the bumper is genuine Honda, the HIDs were wired in correctly as opposed to a splice-job from hell, and everything lined up correctly as a result of good old genuine parts. Clearly, Josh had some plans of his own, so wasn’t looking out for an OEM cream puff to begin with.
Seeing the car that’s resulted from Josh’s ownership, you would be forgiven in imagining the kind of person with no qualms about cutting up an original stock example, however Josh is adamant that no such build would have started with a pristine and untouched Type R, and if you look at what he did create from a car in need, you’ll notice that nearly everything he’s done is reversible. So what has he done exactly?
The modifications list reads longer than this article, but it’s not hard to tell which Honda tuner it’s a tribute to. Spoon Sports, along with big players like Mugen, are among the leading names when it comes to making Hondas go faster, and the outfit has campaigned all sorts of Civics and S2000s in sanctioned competition, setting them apart from nearly every other tuner trying to cash in loud exhaust systems. Spoon provides the full package if you can pay the full price, and there’s a reason the secondhand parts stamped with their name command multiples more than their competitors. The liveries are what the company’s is best known for outside of Honda circles, and this is where Josh’s Type R comes into play.
He grew up with the virtual versions of Spoon’s race cars, but even though the Integra Type R was Honda’s second to wear the badge (after the NSX, naturally), Spoon never seemed too interested in these compared to the Civics. That said, they did build a Group N Integra in the ‘90s, and after finding some scant but definitive video evidence of such a car, Josh knew exactly what to make out of his Phoenix Yellow Integra. With the already bright Integra basically begging for this scheme, Josh got in touch with his friend Yosi who specializes in JGTC and other ‘90s Japanese racing liveries, asking him if he could wrap his car to look like the Spoon version from the video. Using the grainy footage as reference, Yosi did justice to the original and added a few custom touches along the way. One of those is the number in the box, “96” being a reference to the plaque on the interior that identifies Josh’s Integra as the 96th built for America in the 2000 model year. During the course of the transformation, Josh began talking with the owner of the original Spoon car, another enthusiast from the ‘States, go figure.
In addition to the vibrant livery, the car is fitted with a range of rare and no-longer-available Spoon Sports equipment. The list is long, but standout pieces include a first-gen Spoon drop-in filter, Spoon cams, a Spoon N1 exhaust, a Spoon rear strut brace, and a third-gen Spoon steering wheel. There are plenty of items from other brands on the car as well, like the Tanabe coilover suspension, the Crowhouse vented fenders, and Special Projects chassis-mounted splitter. The wheels are period-correct perfection, and the 16×7” Desmond Evo Regamasters are wrapped in some playful R888 rubber from Toyo to complete the track look achieved by the livery, the stripped interior, and the color-matched cage. Josh carried out the work in his garage with friends and family like he intended to, though some items like the S2000 gauge cluster had to be installed with some specialist help along the way.
The plan was to move out of the M3 and into something where the parts were cheaper and more readily available, but alas Type R items are not dime-a-dozen either, and in many cases finding the right pieces has been an even more arduous task than shelling out the high prices for Genuine BMW Tiele. Josh doesn’t care though, and he’s had some luck finding Japanese Type R parts along the way, like the four-to-one headers and the aforementioned five-speed that featured a more aggressive final drive ratio than the US version. He’s built a tribute car of sorts, but also one that’s deeply personal and connected to the genesis of his interest in such things. It’s like driving your favorite video game machine in real life; what can top that? Josh has an answer for that one: rebuild the aging motor, and take it to the track.