A Long-Term Commitment

Chris Ackermann’s been into cars for as long as he can recall, but if you’d told him as a teenager that years later he’d be threading a 21-year-old Honda around cones in a parking lot, he’d have laughed you out of the room. “I actually used to hate Hondas with a passion,” he says. “I was a Ford guy.” But after a stint driving a 1999 Civic on daily basis, he found his opinions changing. By the time he completed paramedic school, landed a job, and settled into a house with a garage, Chris realized he wanted to go racing – not with a Mustang, but with a Honda. After a six-month search on Craigslist and local forums, he made his pick: a much-abused 1990 CRX Si, sporting a B18 swap under the hood and the can’t-say-no price of $200. Between the car’s ill-fitting body kit and its nervous road manners on the 3-hour drive home, Chris knew he had some work ahead of him. He didn’t know quite how much, and two-and-a-half years on, he’s still not entirely sure where the end is.

Chris’s new project didn’t look like much when he got it into his driveway, but he quickly discovered that appearances were deceiving: there was even less hiding behind the bodywork. After peeling away acres of paint and Bondo, he found gaping, fist-sized rust holes all over the car. “The rocker panels were literally not even there,” he recalls. Chris wasted no time in stripping the chassis down to bare metal, and welded in replacement panels before giving the car the first of what would eventually be four do-it-yourself paint jobs. With the bodywork done, he replaced the eBay-special coilovers that came on the car with Koni Sport shocks and a Ground Control kit with custom spring rates.

With the CRX in presentable condition, Chris decided to test the waters of motorsports. His original plan was to take the car road racing with SCCA, but with the closure of his local track and an epiphany as to just how expensive wheel-to-wheel racing was, he decided instead to set his sights on autocross. “I drove in my first autocross event and from there I was hooked,” Chris recalls. Because of the B swap, Chris was initially classed in Super Street Modified, a class that is dominated by fire-breathing turbocharged RX7s at the national level. When he realized that his little front-wheel-drive hatch would never be able to keep up, Chris made the decision to jump to E Prepared. “I want to build something,” he says. “I always wanted a fast, REAL race car.”

Paradoxically, moving up to a higher class meant swapping out the B18 for a more pedestrian D16A6. In the SCCA rules structure, Prepared classes offer great flexibility in chassis modifications, but require that cars have motors derived from the car's original equipment. So Chris found a running Si motor and transmission, and put the old Integra mill out to pasture. From there he began “adding lightness,”gutting the interior and trading out the stock seats for a lightweight Kirkey racing seat. Chris has also installed a custom autocross-only harness bar made by fellow E-Prepared competitor and Community member Fred Robertson (crxmotorsports). All the car’s glass has been replaced with lightweight polycarbonate, and a carbon-fiber plug sits where the sunroof used to be. All said, the car weighs in at a mere 1600 pounds… and could be even lighter, if class rules permitted it. Chris says that he has to keep a 45-pound weight bolted into the spare tire well just to get through the weigh station at events. In the rubber department, the car sports Hoosier cantilever-wall racing slicks on lightweight 13-inch aluminum racing wheels from Spin Werkes. The latest addition to the car is a 6” spoiler made from Lexan and aluminum stock, which Chris says helps keep the back of the car planted in high-speed maneuvers. Best of all, though, is that Chris has done almost all of the work himself, in his garage at home!

From its humble beginnings with a chassis that was more Bondo than metal, Chris’s journey with his CRX has gone on for over two years now, giving him an exciting new pastime and introducing him to many fellow gearheads and CRX enthusiasts. “Autocross isn't just about cars,” he says. “It’s also about having fun and making good friends. I've met some really awesome people.” And as for his time working on the car? “It’s been a real experience... Honestly, I've never torn a motor apart or done a lot of things that I've learned how to do over the past year. …I feel the best way to learn about the car is to take it all apart and see if you can put it back together.” With that kind of attitude, it’s no surprise that Chris has got more in mind for his CRX. His plans for next season include dropping in a built, high-compression D16A6, adding a limited-slip diff, and replacing the stock Si steering rack with a quicker Quaife rack. After that, who knows? This project may never end, but sometimes that’s the best way for a project to be.

Chris Ackermann's 1991 CRX Si

Fast Facts:
Owner: Chris Ackermann (a.k.a. memphis)
Location: Memphis, TN
Birthplace: Memphis, TN
Wrenching Since: I could hold a wrench
Hobbies: autocross, bowling, baseball

Propulsion:
Stock D16A6
Si trans with DX 3.88 Final Drive
Megan Racing header
AEM Cold Air Intake arm

Suspension:
Koni shocks
Ground Control coilover kit 500F/550R
20mm Tanabe rear swaybar
Spherical bearings
13x7 Spinwerkes 82-series wheels
Hoosier cantilever-wall slicks
Skunk2 front A-arms
Hardrace rear camber adjusters

Bodywork:
All glass replaced with Lexan
Headlights replaced with blockouts
Stripped interior
EP class minimum weight of 1600lbs

Future Plans:
13:1 compression D16A6 with 75.5mm-bore Endyn Roller Wave pistons, Crane cams, and a DC sports valvetrain
Limited-slip differential
Quaife steering rack
Fixing the loose nut behind the steering wheel!