From the early days of the Mini-Cooper, Lancia Fulvia and Alfasud, the world began to accept that front-wheel drive had its place in competition, while the more hard-edged hot hatches of the 1980s moved the game on – bringing fun and a genuine alternative to the traditional sports car. The Integra Type R was one of the first genuinely hardcore front-wheel-drive cars when it was launched in 1996, but it wasn’t just about being fast. Here was a car that could involve a driver in the same way as a BMW M car or RS Porsche: stripped and honed for the track, but involving and hugely capable on the road.
In today’s age of turbocharged engines, super-wide low-profile tyres and electric power steering, the Integra remains a unique proposition. It followed on from the Honda NSX-R – the first ‘Type R’, now 25 years ago – which was lighter, stiffer and painted Championship White, just like the first race-winning 1963 F1 car. To homologate the front-wheel-drive Integra for FIA Group N competition, Honda followed the same ethos.
At the heart of the transformation was a new ‘Spec-R’ version of its variable cam-timed VTEC engine, assembled by hand, with polished ports, lighter conrods, stronger pistons, reshaped intake valves and a larger throttle body, teasing out a staggering 187bhp at 8000rpm. That’s 104bhp per litre.
It’s all about the revs with Honda engines, and in this case it’s a defining characteristic. Below 6000rpm, this Honda might as well be a run-of-the-mill shopping car: tractable, if a little flat, and you might even be underwhelmed were it not for the throttle response. Probe beyond that 6000rpm spot and Honda’s clever VTEC system comes on song, turning this docile unit into a full-on BTCC legend in the blink of an eye. It will then furiously buzz its way past the 8000rpm redline – pulling harder and faster all the way to just shy of 9000rpm.
Honda ripped the rest of the Integra down to its raw components. Sound insulation was stripped to a minimum, the wheels were lighter and the windscreen thinner, saving enough weight to allow for extra seam-welded sections in the shell and front and rear strut braces.
Like many of its ilk, the Integra is such good fun yet so usable day-to-day that many have been worn out, abused and crashed. A lot were broken for spares when values dropped below £2500, so today numbers of tidy, original UK-market examples are surprisingly small.
Which one to buy?
Two versions of the Integra Type R were produced. The first, known as the DC2, was available in subtly different guises around the world. UK market cars can be recognised by quad headlamps, while JDM cars featured more conventional rectangular items.
Mechanically, JDM cars built from 1996-’98 are largely the same as UK cars, save for different alloy wheels, smaller disc brakes (262mm discs vs the UK’s 282mm), and a different exhaust manifold design. JDM cars from ‘98 onwards gained the larger brakes.
Power outputs vary around the world, due to different fuel maps – the JDM car is optimised to run on 100 octane fuel, so quoted power outputs are around 10bhp more than the 97 RON UK versions.
The DC2’s replacement, the DC5, was based upon the later fourth-gen Integra chassis. A new engine, a 2.0-litre unit, produced 217bhp and 152lb ft of torque – gains of 30bhp and 21lb ft over the previous version. It remained just as frantic, though, revving keenly up to its 8400rpm redline. A six-speed gearbox was fitted in place of the previous five speed of the DC2.
The new chassis and body shell were much more rigid than the previous version, and the springs and dampers were stiffened significantly allowing for greater body control. Wheels now measured 17 inches in diameter, which combined with wider 215-section tyres improved grip significantly. The larger body and improved crash structure resulted in a 72 kilo weight increase over the first gen model, but the increase in power helped it achieve a similar 0-62mph time.
Unlike the DC2, the DC5 was never officially imported to the UK as it was feared it would steal too many sales away from the Civic Type R.
Performance and spec
||1797cc inline four
||187bhp @ 8000rpm
||131lb ft @ 7300rpm
Dimensions and weight
● Engines are reliable if treated properly, but must be warmed through before heading into the VTEC zone. They like to burn oil, even when in rude health, so regular checks are vital. Smoke from the exhaust is likely a sign of abuse, and worn piston rings.
● These cars are often used on track, and on the whole they stand up to the punishment fairly well. However, a clutch is always going to suffer from track abuse, and the 2nd/3rd gear synchro can wear
● Likewise, the gear linkage can become slack with repeated beatings. If the shift quality feels anything other than rifle-bolt precise, then the linkage might need changing.
● The standard-fit Recaros are wonderfully supportive, but their flared bolsters mean that they often wear, particularly on the driver’s side.
● UK market models can suffer from rust on the rear arches, a symptom of water creeping below rubber seals in the inner arch. Many owners remove these (they aren’t fitted to JDM or US-spec cars anyway), which goes a long way towards preventing the problem.
● Ideally you want to view the car on a bright, clear day to inspect the quality of the paint. Red cars tend to fade badly and white cars lose their gloss and become dull.
1995: DC2 released in Japanese market
1996: DC2 released in UK market
1998: JDM DC2 gains subtle mechanical revisions
2000: DC2 production ceases
2002: DC5 released in Japanese market only
June 2006: DC5 discontinued
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• type-r-owners.co.uk/forums – Forum for all things Type-R
• www.itr-dc2.com/forum – Online forum dedicated to the DC2 Integra
• www.itr-dc5.com – Members club for DC5 owners
• www.autotorque.net/honda-specilaists – Honda specialists based in Ayelsbury, Buckinghamshire
• torque-gt.co.uk – Import brokers who source a wide range of Japanese market performance cars
Summary and prices
Cheap DC2s are no more. Higher-mileage and modified examples in need of cosmetic work start from £5000; £8000 should find a great sub-100,000-mile example. Full Honda dealer service history is highly valued. Perfect UK cars are rare: budget £12,000-plus.
Consider importing from Japan. The exchange rate is less favourable than it was, but you can get a relatively fresh-feeling car into the UK for about £8000. The Integra was offered up to 2001 in Japan, and generally the later the car you buy, the better the spec you will get.
Imported DC5s tend to start from around £7500, rising to £14,000 for cars with fewer than 50,000 miles on the clock. With ‘a much greater selection available in Japan, it may be worth contacting an import specialist to increase the choice available.