Somebody build me!

uffjutThe sheer strength of Honda’s performance offerings and aftermarket support often means that its mid/lower products are often left alone by the majority of enthusiasts. If its bang for your buck that your after – and it should be – then who can blame them?

Here’s a build that I think could be done on the cheap, but will land you with a unique little car that is fun to drive, curiously hi-tech, extremely flexible and very subtle.

First start with Honda’s second generation City. Dubbed model code GA1 or GA2 for the facelift, neither will be common so just pick up whatever you can that is in good condition. Although fairly rare these days, the City won’t be expensive either. To me this is one of those builds that will be so much more satisfying done cheap and smart.

CRi & CZi models could be found with an injected SOHC 1.3, outputting 100bhp in a car that weighs well under 800kg! Rumour abound the CZi is fitted with a Cusco LSD.

Of course, if I found either of these models in good condition I’d be leaving them close to stock: the joy of originality is always going to last longer than the short lived excitement of a power increase.

DSCN2205The purpose of this piece is to swap the engine though, so lets assume you’ve found a low spec model. As all the engines offered in the City are part of Honda’s ‘D’ series, there is a seemingly endless array of engines to choose from (seriously, check them out HERE

For me there can be no other option but the D15Z7; an extremely impressive little engine and a technological showcase. Featuring a 3-stage VTEC system it can operate in 12 valve mode before switching over to the full 16 at 3800, followed by the normal VTEC switch at higher RPM.

By opening just one of the 2 intake valves at low RPM, intake velocity speeds can be increased, and mixture swirl is greater, allowing the engine to use far less fuel – an operation know as lean burn. This also improves low-speed throttle response and torque and with it’s very low weight the City could be used as both an economy and performance car when running this engine.

One of the best thing about the D15Z7 is that unlike its 2-stage VTEC relatives, its rocker cover drops the VTEC casting, simply replacing it with Honda. You’d have no idea what was inside if no one told you!!!


Carrying over the theme of subtle high technology, as well as still riffling through the honda parts bins, lets move onto what rims we’ll run.

Hmmmm, how about some Honda Magnesiums? The first time I saw these I thought that they were just plain old hubcaps: flat faced, with small outer fins. As I got closer I realised the fins were rifled, the rims were an alluring gun-metal bronze color, and the sizings were stamped on the outer face.

No, these were something special.

Browsing the net turns up very little, but they appear to have been an option on a high-specced 2nd gen Prelude. Whereas ‘mags’ are a generic term for alloy wheels, harking back to days when they actually featured the rare metal – these actually ARE magnesium, and are therefore extremely light-weight.

181740300A look from behind and you can see the quality of the castings.

High tech, race derived technology veiled in a subtle ‘nothing to see here’ veneer – that’s Honda!


Skimping with Scamp

A buddy of mine recently expressed interest in making the move to something that has a little more character than their current ‘appliance’ car.

Normally I’d suggest a $3k budget is best spent on a well sorted Civic, Corolla, or 323 – but said buddy hand been there, done that, and reckons that with something a bit more interesting he’d be more inclined to maintain and take better care of it.

It’s pretty solid reasoning, and it got me thinking. With much deliberation I have come up with a selection of cars that are fun, easy to live with, inexpensive, easy to work on. They’ll provide a short cut to the joys of owning something special, but in a package that works for someone without much money, space or time.

Mazda 121 FunTop260586905

A boxy but well proportioned mini, Mazda’s 121 features attractive wide body styling – unusual for a car this size.

Named so for its electric, full length canvas roof, the FunTop has a sense of space in what is otherwise a tight package.

It’s more than just a can-opener job: interiors were re-trimmed in metallic grey with diagonal red stripes, while front and rear roof mounted air deflectors were employed to counter upset aerodynamics, and also help set the model apart from cooking spec variants.

260587824 A single cam 1.3L offers peppy performance and is easy to work on – useful, given that the 121 is the oldest vehicle here. Don’t bother with anything but tidy examples – they still exist if you’re prepared to wait.

Suzuki X90 647506777_f22a77747b_o

The X90 is defined by its quirky, symmetrical styling which features a short cabin ending directly behind the driver and passenger.

Combined with a wide, sharply raked C-pillar and removable glass T-top (stows away in the boot), this is surely an urban homage to Fiat’s mid-engined X-19 – itself a vehicle which despite a sporting bias made its name as a wholly practical offering.

X90 shares its underpinnings with the reliable and proven Vitara, retaining the 1.6L 16 valve engine; manual/auto options; and selectable 4WD system, complete with automatic free-wheeling front hubs, and manual drive selection lever between 2WD, 4WD high and 4WD low.

Regardless of whether you consider the lack of rear seats an inconvenience or blessing, the increased rear visibility, combined with power steering, ABS, electric windows, dual airbags, central locking and optional air-con make this a very usable and practical run around that can also used for day trip adventures beyond city limits. og1qk

Mitsubishi RVR Open Gear

Small by modern people-mover standards, the Open Gear is the ideal vehicle for someone switching from hatch-back to hauler, but hasn’t quite given up on life.

Its subtle, front-seat-only sliding roof adds fun to an otherwise unnoticible platform.

They could also be found with the 4G63 turbo-intercooled engine and drivetrain from the Lancer Evolution. Wild, but certainly not included in this list.. 6114894728_90ae5d8e27_b

Toyota Sera

Although easy to initially brush aside as just another one of the many leafy front wheel drive coupes from the 1990s, the Sera is actually extremely unique.

While no more sporting than the 1.3L naturally aspirated Starlet which donates its underpinnings, it featured exotic butterfly doors, an expansive glass canopy cockpit, and could be optioned with an immersive 10-speaker stereo system. Offbeat luxury at its finest.

Watch it, buddy!

Go back a few years and the idea of watching online videos of people playing video games would seem completely mad to anyone who’d ever experienced the agonizing wait for ‘their turn’ on a computer on console.

Indeed, modern technology throws up interesting cross-media links, and any gamer or ten year old will be able to tell you about the thriving cottage industry built up around viewing other people play video games.

Online news publications; amateur ‘how-to’ videos; and at the thick end of the curve:, an online portal for real-time streaming of over 100 games, with some attracting upwards of 100,000 viewers! Yup, watching others play games is now a very real part of actually playing yourself.

With this in mind I figured it high time to share with you, limited readers, a few of my favorite motor-racing game videos.

In the one below, Youtube user Yorkie065 talks us through a 20 minute race on next-gen car sim Assetto Corsa. With a calm style and considered actions it’s a masterclass not just in gaming, but real world driving – demonstrating impeccable race craft and strategy.

Spoon EK9 Honda Civic 10,000rpm

This is one of my all time favourite car videos!

Although raising the rev limit on tuned track cars is not uncommon, in this build it seems to be more about altering the overall characteristics of the car than merely chasing more power. It’s fascinating to have the reasoning and purpose behind the modifications explained beyond the usual ‘we stuck this on cause it’s faster’.

A comparison with a standard civic, with both cars running stock gear ratios, allows us to see the true characteristics of the tuning more than a dyno readout or final lap time comparison ever could. It’s all topped of with a nice review by the drivers.

There’s a higher quality version (480p vs 240p) of the video available HERE, but I suggest you watch both as the one below has an engine overview with a Spoon Sports engineer. There are also slightly different sub-title translations given and while they are virtually identical, it just gives the whole story a little bit more colour.

What’s never cleared up is the actual rev-ceiling of this engine, with references made throughout to it actually being 11,000rpm. This is never reached; perhaps because it is a hypothetical limit which, while obtainable, sits beyond the actual usable power band (likely); or because this is a development car, as demonstrated by the ECU failure.

“The rod went through the block, knocking the wires off the back of the ECU”, my father would joke.

There’s a nice little writeup (from 1999 no less) featuring the oil pan/block brace (as they call it in the video below) in prototype stage, check it HERE.