Gorgeous 1998 Acura Integra Packs a Modern Supercharged Heart
An OCD level of detail and a "less is more" approach allows this tuned Acura Integra to stand the test of time.
If you've been at all involved in the Honda aftermarket over the last few decades, give or take, you've probably come across this Laguna Seca Blue Acura Integra before. Back in 2002, it landed on the pages of Super Street and was plastered across every Honda-related forum (and there were many) for years. It was rescued by car builder Jay Smith of ONE Honda Specialist who found it at a wrecking yard. Smith had a plan to tear the car down in order to create the ultimate Japanese Integra Type R clone. He'd go on to gain notoriety for his attention to detail and meticulous approach to this build, along with that of his deep green 1992 Honda Civic hatchback project (both of his Honda projects "went viral," before that was even a thing). The eternally low-key Smith would later take an absence from the spotlight entirely, but he never stopped wrenching. Instead, he operated his private outfit effectively off the grid, and he still remains highly selective of the customers and cars he chooses to work with.
Admiring the Details of This Integra
Chris Lucero knows all about Smith's infamous builds. Having been friends with Smith since the late 1990s, Lucero experienced this Integra's transformation in real time, and as you might expect, it left a lasting impression on a then 17-year-old car enthusiast.
"I remember seeing it come together and it literally being my dream car. Sure, his EG was iconic and well known, but I was always fixated on this Laguna Seca Blue Integra," Lucero said. When Smith decided it was time to let the car go to focus on other things, he began parting it out. Knowing Lucero always wanted the car, though, Smith offered the bulk of the build to him.
"At the time I didn't have two nickels to rub together but I asked 'how much?' for conversation's sake. He tells me $14K. In 2021, an 18-year-old getting $14k is somewhat doable, but for me in 2002/03, it was equivalent to $100k. Needless to say, I didn't end up with it."
Lucero wasn't in any position to spend that kind of money on a car at the time, but a friend of his certainly was, and that transaction took place soon after. It was then followed by another changing of hands a little later, with the chassis eventually finding a few new homes over the years. Lucero had since turned his attention toward building a family. Cars were no longer a priority.
Years later, after his fifth-generation hatchback was stolen, he admits he fell out of love with Hondas in general. Out of the blue, however, Smith nudged him when the Integra went up for sale yet again.
"I thought it was his way of telling me he was going to get it back, but really he tagged me so I could buy it," Lucero explained. The car was a bare shell at that point, but it was an opportunity to capture the car Lucero always wanted. There there was one major condition he had in mind before pulling the trigger, though.
"I bought the car, but only after being assured by Jay that he'd bring it back to life for me." With that promise, Project Resurrection was underway.
As much as this Integra stands as an accomplishment for Lucero to be in a position to make this build happen and relive his younger years, it also serves as a rematch of sorts for Smith. After putting all of his time and effort into the car almost 20 years prior, Smith was given a chance to do it all over—albeit this time for a friend and with some modern touches.
The B-series mill that served him so well back then was discarded for more modern Type R power by way of Honda's K20A. To truly get a fresh start, the block was fully balanced after being fitted with slightly oversized FD2-spec pistons, a micro-polished OEM crank, and 4Piston Racing's ported oil pump. Smith hand-ported the ITR head, intake manifold runners, and plenum. He also added an upgraded valvetrain and the head-to-block marriage is now rock solid with ARP hardware. Compression is held to a pump-friendly 11.5:1 and plays nicely with the Kraftwerks supercharger.
Lucero and Smith ultimately agreed that a power adder as discreet as a Rotrex unit tucked under the alternator just made sense, even though it wasn't in the original plans for this build. Of course, cooling presents its own set of issues, but the duo had a helping hand from Robert Green of TracTuff, who took the car in for a short stint to fabricate the one-off intercooler and charge piping to work with GoAutoworks' Rotrex-specific single backdoor intercooler. Green also provided a TracTuff radiator, shroud, overflow tank, and water neck.
Surprise! (Not the Good Kind)
The freshened-up K20 looked picture-perfect, but its new home was a different story. Smith put in the hours of thorough prep time before spraying the entire bay in his home garage. He put a little extra time and effort into the rear of the car by restoring and refinishing the gas tank and undercoating the surrounding real estate. It's also there that he found a bit of a mess from a questionable body shop that installed an ITR subframe but didn't paint it. This might have been a good thing because the paint the shop did apply to the area inside the spare tire well wasn't even close to matching the rest of the car's hue.
Furthermore, it appeared to be a poor attempt at covering some of the shortcuts taken by the shop. Smith double-backed the work, brought it up to his standards, and applied a fresh coat of paint to the subframe. Inside the cargo area, he applied the same care, though he opted for a matte factory-like finish inside. It's worth noting that prior to this re-build, the last time Smith held a paint gun was during his high school days.
U.S. Enthusiasts Want JDM, Japanese Enthusiasts Want USDM:
With the K-swap carefully bolted in place, Smith applied more of his signature touches that included a major clean-up effort to a previously cut-up wiring harness, which he organized and simplified and then fed through the firewall using modified factory rubber gromets for a crispy OEM appearance. Even the Rywire engine harness is tethered neatly to the engine and transmission to maintain a uniform look—not a fully tucked harness or shaved bay by any means because neither of those falls into his "OEM, only better" mentality.
Smith originally went to extremes to create an exact ITR clone using as many JDM Honda factory parts as possible, including every single interior piece, the entire front clip, wiring harness, even the doors, and all of that is still intact. The easily recognizable Laguna Seca Blue remains and is in stellar condition, and the same Spoon carbon-fiber lip that originally graced the front end remains in place (though it carries a far steeper price tag these days). It's joined by Spoon side mirrors.
Rather than figuring out how to add more to the car's look, Lucero and Smith were far more focused on relying on a formula that's held up for so long. Chat with Lucero for a few minutes and he's not shy about telling you how invested he is in simplicity, especially with this car's aesthetic.
The look and feel of this build, much of which is based on obsessive attention to detail, sits comfortably opposed to an often-fickle Honda community that has seen bouts of extreme wheel fitment, hacked and overtly widened arches, extreme chassis-mounted doodads, and a host of other come and go phases. Some will praise it for being simple and clean; others might say it's just a JDM fanboy build, but the fact it still garners so much attention almost two decades after its original debut means its impact simply can't be denied.
Oil Is Thicker Than Water
With that said, the resurrection wasn't always a friendly affair. "Throughout the build, Jay and I went through countless emotions. So much so that it almost became another part out. Thankfully, Jay being the true friend he's always been, finished the car and is responsible for what it is now. I can't thank him enough for the distance he's gone for me on this build and I'm still in his debt," Lucero said.
For now, you can catch it on the road, as Lucero spends as much time behind the wheel as possible. He even has plans to move up to a larger Rotrex unit in the near future. As for Jay Smith and ONE Honda Specialist? Well, the wrenches keep turning for his hand-picked clientele and strictly on his terms—the way it's always been.
With Project Resurrection now complete, he reflects on the roller coaster ride that accompanied it. "The process was very stressful because of all the setbacks and hidden issues. Being able to basically rebuild and take care of all the problems and neglect the car racked up over the years with different owners, all while making it better was a trying and rewarding journey. I'm definitely relieved it's over and complete, and I take pride and get great satisfaction knowing it's the best version it's ever been and street-worthy once again."
Vehicle: 1998 Acura Integra RS
Owner: Chris Lucero
Engine: K20A Type R swap; Hasport mounts; micro-polished DC5 crank; ATI damper; 86.5-mm Nippon Racing FD2 pistons w/hard anodized domes; fully balanced rotating assembly; Skunk2 Pro Series valve springs, retainers, seats, 74-mm throttle body, Ultra Street intake manifold w/0.5 liter spacer; Jay Smith hand ported intake manifold runners, plenum, head, multi-angle valve job, back cut valves; Kraftwerks C30-94 supercharger; TiAL 50-mm Q-series blow-off valve; R*Crew header; custom 3.0-inch exhaust tubing; Vibrant flex pipe, resonator, muffler w/V-band; custom exhaust scavenge crankcase vent; Go-Autoworks custom single backdoor intercooler; TracTuff intercooler piping, charge pipe, mounting brackets, radiator, shroud, overflow tank, water neck, thermostat housing, coil pack cover; XRP hoses; Wiggins clamshell clamps; SPAL 14.0-inch slim fan; 4Piston Racing ported oil pump; ARP head studs; Circuit Hero lower chain guide; Grams 355 lph fuel pump, 1150-cc injectors; Hybrid fuel rail, pressure gauge, regulator, lines
Drivetrain: Y2M3 transmission, OEM LSD; S2000 clutch master cylinder; Hybrid Racing V3 shifter, shifter cable bushings; Exedy Hyper single clutch
Suspension: Tein HA coilovers; OEM DC2 front/rear sway bars, complete ITR rear subframe; HardRace bushings, rear LCAs, end links front; ASR spherical end links rear, Revolver trailing arm bushings; Spoon Sports front/rear shock tower bars, Rigid Collars; Skunk2 spherical compliance bracket, front LCAs
Braking: ITR five-lug conversion; 88 Rotors CSR front/rear rotors; Spoon Sports Twin Block front calipers, brake pads; Goodridge stainless lines; Motul 660 RBF
Wheels and Tires: Regamaster Evo 16x7 +45; Falken RT615K 215/45; Spoon Sports lug nuts
Exterior: Spoon Sports front lip, mirrors; VIS carbon fiber hood; Aerocatch hood pins; Willywerx painted hood, fenders, front bumper, side skirts, wing; Jay Smith prepped and painted engine bay, trunk, and rear subframe w/full undercoat
Interior: ITR interior conversion; Momo Monte Carlo Alcantara steering wheel; Honda Access pedals; K20Mart shift knob; Works Bell Rapfix GTC flip-up system, short boss, hub; Spoon Sports rearview mirror
Thank you: There were six people that really made this build possible: Jay Smith @jay__smithers, Paul Ross @paul4505, Robert Green @tractuffrob, Katman @jkatman, William Galan @willywerx, and David Andrade @dpk_david. Without them, I'd be passed out. Also want to thank my wife Monique Lucero @bombsicles, without her I probably wouldn't have finished and parted the car out. My good friend @detailapproach for the primo paint correction, full detail, wash, clay, and ceramic coating, Armen Bourmaian @armentuned for the tune, Driver B @driverb for the dyno time, Abraham Uribe @slowap2_yaki for pulling strings to actually get the car tuned, H&C, Steve @HMO, Sam @younggun1performancecoatings for all of the powder, ceramic and Cerakote needs, Matt @icbmatt, Brian Nichols @mr_nichols for the RPM calculations, Roger @rogers_exhaust_shop, @rodrez, and everyone who supported me throughout the build. Can't forget the man upstairs for continuing to bless me when I'd hit a wall during the build.