By the late ’90s, Honda was encamped deep in enthusiast territory. The NSX had transformed perceptions of the marque; the Integra Type R had blazed its way into our hearts with its combination of fizzing VTEC engine and peachy road manners; the Accord itself was a front-runner in the BTCC, and now there was a road-going version to provide Type R thrills in a four-door saloon.
As evo Magazine’s John Barker wrote at the time, the ATR was a genuine attempt to capture the thrills of the racer in a road car. Much sanitised and oodles more practical, of course, but spirited, rewarding and focused enough to make a plausible connection between racing and the road.
Today, with decent examples available from as little as two grand, it’s one of the most affordable ways to own a genuine piece of Type R engineering brilliance. And with numbers declining as unloved examples are cannibalised for parts, the best are starting to become sought-after.
Which one to buy?
Rear aerofoil aside, the hot Accord was actually a fairly subtle machine for a road-racer, with a tasteful bodykit, handsome five-spoke 17-inch alloys and discreet Type R badges. Underneath, though, it certainly meant business. Extra bracing stiffened the shell by 40 per cent, the double-wishbone suspension was lower and firmer, and the brakes featured NSX-spec discs.
The 2.2-litre all-alloy four with its VTEC trickery revved to well over 7000rpm and produced its 209bhp without the aid of turbocharging. It drove the front wheels via a close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox with a helical limited-slip diff. To help save weight, a good deal of soundproofing had been discarded, along with the sunroof, while new kit inside included body-hugging Recaros, a leather-trimmed Momo wheel and a titanium gearknob. We loved it.
There was a mild facelift in 2001, distinguished chiefly by a slatted (as opposed to mesh) grille. All ATRs came well-equipped as standard; of the options, air-con is probably the most desirable.
Performance and specs
Engine In-line four-cylinder, 2157cc
Power 209bhp @ 7200rpm
Torque 158lb ft @ 6700rpm
Gearbox Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive, lsd
0-60mph 6.1sec (tested)
Top speed 142mph (claimed)
Dimensions and weight
• There’s nothing difficult about servicing the Accord Type R, and parts are easy to get. The engine is basically bulletproof, if properly serviced.
• The main recurring issue is failure of the hydraulic cambelt tensioner. The clue it’s on the way out is a diesel-like rattle between 2000 and 3000rpm. Ignore it and you could face a top-end engine rebuild. Specialists can offer a mechanical tensioner, which fixes it.
• Check the car’s history to see if it’s had a cambelt and balancer belt. If it hasn’t in the last couple of years, budget to get it done. Tensioner and belts cost around £420 fitted. If you get the two pulleys done at the same time – and a lot of people do – add about another £200.
• The EGR valve can get sooted-up, causing poor running, but cleaning it is a DIY job. The engines use oil, so check the dipstick – and the exhaust for smoke. The previous owner should be aware of the need to check the oil regularly. Also check for oil leaks from the sump – there’s no gasket.
• The single most common issue with the gearbox, particularly on pre-facelift cars, is the synchro on fifth gear failing. There was a recall where Honda fitted carbon-lined synchros, but proof the work has been carried out can be tricky to come by.
• It’s vital to make sure every gear selects smoothly. If it’s tricky to select fifth and the gears crunch, the synchro is on the way out. Check reverse, too. A rebuild could cost c£800, so if it’s crunching, walk away.
• With the suspension you need to check the usual wear-and-tear items. Start by looking for worn bushes, creaky springs and leaky dampers.
• It should steer and handle with real precision. If it feels loose, it’s bushes and dampers. For replacements, Tein or BC Racing are recommended – they’re comfortable but they do what they’re meant to do.
• Anti-roll bar drop-links sometimes break – listen for a telltale knocking noise – but they’re not expensive to replace.
• Rust is starting to become an issue. Look in the usual places – around the rear arches, etc. Of most concern, though, is the upper bulkhead between the engine and the cabin.
• It’s an inherent design problem, where the wheelarch meets the bulkhead there’s a water trap. So check at the back of the engine bay, looking down, then get into the driver footwell and look up behind the pedals using a torch. Pull the carpet away to see the metal. If it’s rusty, a proper fix is a dashboard-out job, and probably around £600-700 to fix.
• Also check the headlights for hazing; some of it can be polished out but it eventually becomes an MOT failure; you have to buy a whole unit, which can cost hundreds.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
In the bargain basement you’ll find cars with 150k-plus miles, multiple owners and shady histories for as little as £1200, but £1500-2000 is probably a better starting point for average- to high-mileage cars with some history. £2000-3000 should buy an honest car with a full history, and if you can stretch to £3500 you’ll have your pick of cars that have clearly been cherished. At the very top end, a 60,000-miler in immaculate condition with just one or two owners might fetch £4000+.
Words: Peter Tomalin