Realistically, the Honda Civic FD2R, weighing just 1,264kg and with 220bhp on tap, is a potent formula for the track. Imagine what happens when the equation is tweaked with a 500kg weight cut!
From the factory, the stock Mk1 is no slouch. With 177bhp from a 1.8-litre Rover K-series engine and a kerb weight of less than 800kg, it will hold its own against most sports cars. The Lotus-honed chassis, coupled with a body shell that gives some 20kg of positive downforce at 160km/h, make it a formidable weapon.
But that’s just the starting point for this owner, who came across a conversion kit in Southern California to transplant a Honda K20 engine into the Lotus. It included all the required engine mounts, electronic harnesses, exhaust manifold and driveshafts. Just add an engine/gearbox and you’re done.
Sounds simple enough. But getting the right mechanic/workshop to carry out the conversion was tricky. It obviously hadn’t been done before, so the workshop had to have a sublime mixture of interest, knowledge and experience to undertake the project, while providing vital support once the conversion was done. Furthermore, the owner had one vital request: The car had a working air con, and the conversion didn’t allow for it.
The Mk1 ended up at KC Autolink in Sin Ming. This workshop had already done some deranged projects, such as stuffing a Daihatsu YRV engine into a Copen and a Honda F22 (from the S2000) into a Miata.
For the Mk1, they sourced a DC5 Integra Type R half-cut from Japan. And after lots of head scratching – there weren’t exactly step-by-step instructions – and MacGyver antics, the Exige received its new heart. An upgraded aluminium radiator, oil cooler and stainless steel exhaust system (which saved 10kg over the standard item) were also bolted on.
Mission accomplished, then? Well, let’s just say the Mk1 made its way home from testing at the Sepang circuit on the back of a flatbed trailer “a few times”.
Yes, the car was fast – KC Autolink’s resident test driver clocked a 2:33 after just five laps. This was with hardened road tyres, and without any substantial modifications made to the chassis. But reliability was a big issue, and handling was a bit tricky. So it was back to the workshop, for a while.
With all that go, bigger brakes were a must. Since the car did not weigh that much, AP Racing aluminium 4-pot callipers with 295mm slotted discs were used up front. The original factory front callipers were moved to the rear to grip on 290mm slotted rear discs. All the brakes discs were of a two-piece floating design that prevented warping, and allowed the centre hat to be made of aluminium, reducing unsprung weight. Together with the upgraded braking system, an AP brake bias valve was installed. This allowed the rear braking power to be reduced by up to 66 per cent. An upgraded brake master cylinder and stainless steel-braided hoses helped to ensure a firm centre pedal.
Now that the car could stop better, (even) more power was needed, naturally. A Hondata K-pro engine management was installed, together with ram air intake drawing from the passenger side air scoop. The driver’s side air scoop channelled air to cool the engine bay, and hot air exited via a mesh grille where the rear license plate sat under normal circumstances.
The target for the car was to lap Sepang in the 2:20s, so a lot of work went into fine-tuning the handling to find those elusive seconds. The owner lucked out, as Nitron 1-way adjustables (no separate controls for bound/rebound, which is easier to set in real world conditions) became available.
So a quick ratio steering rack was installed, together with the sinfully expensive alloy hubs ($5,ooo for four hubs!). In layman’s terms, the hubs allowed the car to run on a much lower ride height, without causing the suspension geometry to go out of whack.
Stiffer, adjustable anti-roll bars were fitted with little detriment to ride quality. But they significantly reduced body roll at speed. Aftermarket lightweight steering arms with zero bump steer – as the wheel moved up and down, the toe-in and toe-out didn’t change – were installed to make the car less darty when hitting bumps mid-corner.
I had the pleasure of driving the car around Sepang before the brakes and handling mods were installed. I also drove it after the modifications at the fabled “Orchard Gudang”. Around the track, the car was awesome.
The biggest challenge lay with the driver having to brake very, very late into the curves and work the unassisted steering at speed. Being naturally aspirated, and having the gearing made for a car weighing 30 per cent more (it came from the DC5), one was rarely ever off the powerband or in the wrong gear.
Even if you were slow, the soundtrack from the engine sitting inches behind you was enough to impress the Ah Lian in the passenger seat.
(Drifting to impress was a strict no-go, as there was just too much mechanical and aero grip. And “spinning out”, as the owner has been told countless times, was not considered drifting.)
Driving the car again after the mods in Singapore, I couldn’t really appreciate all the handling goodies – save for the brakes, which are a lot more positive now. The nicest part must be the Hondata, which remapped the fuel/ignition curves. The car now pulls strongly – even more vigorously – past the stock Exige stack tachometer’s marking of 8000rpm.
Close to $40,000 have been spent on parts, excluding labour. However, the quest for the Holy Grail is far from over. A carbon clutch and LSD is probably being fitted as you read this. And, after that, probably more power with the fitting of aftermarket camshafts. Which will probably result in more mods being needed to make it all work. As Honda puts it: It’s the power of dreams.
Honda K20 from Integra Type R (DC5)
Honda 6-speed gearbox with factory helical LSD
Hondata K-Pro engine management
BMC air filter with ram-air
Oil cooler with remote oil-filter
Eliseparts 45mm twin row core aluminium radiator
Eliseparts 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust system
Lotus factory supplied Sparco seat with 4-point harness
Defi gauges for oil presure, oil temperature, water temperature
Eliseparts fire extinguisher
Diffuser air vent spacer
Mesh behind rear license plate for additional cooling on track
Yokohama A048 195/50R16 (front)
Bridgestone RE55 225/45R17 (rear)
AP Racing Pro 5000+ 4-pot front
Lotus 1-pot rear
Upgraded master cylinder with 1mm larger bore
AP Racing aluminium bells
AP Racing 290mm slotted rotors rear
AP Racing brake bias valve
Nitron 1-way adjustable dampers
Nitron springs – S325lbs front, 400lbs rear
Nitron quick-ratio aluminium steering rack
Eliseparts stiffer and adjustable front and rear anti-roll bars
Eliseparts reduced bump steer lightweight steering arms
Eliseparts aluminium GT hubs front and rear
Eliseparts uniball toe-link kit