Tip of the Iceberg
Rob (RetroCRX) started his CRX experience at the same time so many of us get into a rex - college. Just after his second year of college (about 10 years ago) he became owner of a Canadian first gen. A 1986 "DX" with the 1.5L 12 valve carburated motor. In his words - "this thing had a manual choke and a 2 barrel carb, not exactly a high performance unit!" However, this was just the tip of the iceberg in this CRX story.
Date with Destiny
Rob ended up with the first gen in quite a roundabout way. The car had been sitting in a neighbors driveway for a few weeks and had not moved since it arrived. Rob decided to go over and ask the neighbor what his plans for it were. The encounter went as follows:
"basically he said he wanted to drive it, couldn't figure out why it wouldn't start and he was going to get rid of it. I offered him $500 for it and he accepted. In the end I paid $400 for the CRX. Seeing as I lived 3 doors down, I pushed it home, got it on the driveway, pulled the choke out and it started first crank!"
The CRX appeared to be fine - the neighbor just didn't know that the choke needed to be pulled to start it! Obviously bringing Rob and the CRX together was destiny.
Just a Start
Once home, the car spent all summer in the garage where Rob replaced the shocks, rear springs, sway bar bushings, and head gasket, as well as welding numerous patches into the floor and rocker panels to render it structurally sound. Rob said "The Canadian winters and salty roads had taken their toll on this little car. However I had her back in tip top shape and running strong for the start of college year 3." You can come to expect nothing less from this CRX enthusiast in the making. In Rob's words, "It was this first experience with the CRX that started the obsession."
Rob drove the "little Red DX" for several years in which he completed college (Mechanical Technologist/Designer) and found his first full time job. Every car guy's dream is disposable income, and Rob exclaimed "NOW I HAD SOME CASH COMING IN!!!"
Rice Boy Woes
The search was now on for a new project car. Initially Rob focused on the Mazda Miata:
"...drawn by the temptations of rear wheel drive and endless available modification possibilities! However, at the time, a decent Miata was too far out of the price range. My search came back to CRXs. Initially I was leaning towards a 2nd Gen CRX but could not find a solid car that hadn't already been molested by some poor misguided rice boys."
Again, so many of us can feel Rob's pain in the difficulty of finding the right car.
Continuing his search, Rob states
"My best bet was to find a solid 1st gen Si that someone had but didn't really know WHAT they had....This decision was made much easier when I ran into a guy at Mosport International Raceway who made a fiberglass fender flare kit for the 1st gen. Ever since I had seen a race car with that kit I had wanted my car to look the same!"
Rob located his future car in Owen Sound, Ontario and made arrangements to meet with the seller in Collingwood, splitting the distance each would have to travel. They met at a local Tim Horton's donut shop, where Rob looked over the car in the parking lot, and handed over the agreed upon $1100 - the deal was done!
The car was not flawless - it had some rust, the interior was a bit dirty with nicotine stains and the motor was tired - but overall it was a good starting point for what Rob had in mind.
And what, might you ask, did he have in mind? Nothing less than a "TOTAL AND COMPLETE RESTORATION!" Yeah, we were hoping he'd say that!
The Sweetest Thing
Within days Rob began disassembly. In about 2 weeks he had the car down to a mostly bare shell, with only the hard brake lines and several under-hood components remaining. The body was in decent condition, however, "some areas were better than I'd hoped and others were worse.....MUCH WORSE! Having looked over the car in a snowy parking lot, I missed several things that would likely have made me pass on it, but now I had to deal with it!" A good lesson for anyone searching for a classic Honda, indeed.
During his disassembly process, it became apparent that there was significantly more rust than was initially assumed. This wasn't necessarily a problem for Rob as he had a welder and metal working tools on hand, but it was going to delay the eventual progress he had hoped to make. Rob slowly worked his way through the body, welding in new panels on basically EVERY section of the car. He made panels for the floor, firewall, spare tire well, rocker panels, rear quarter panels, the jack points, and he even replaced the rear crossmember that houses the infamous panhard bar mounting point. (Who else feels like Honda should give Rob an award?) Along the way, Rob added braces and seam welded the body to increase rigidity, using his handy mechanical design background to help work out the most effective modifications. You have permission to faint, now...
Once the body was structurally sound, Rob was about one year into the project. He was spending every spare minute on the car. His take on the situation: "Foolishly my girlfriend at the time tolerated not seeing me at all during the week. She only saw me during the evenings on the weekends. It must not have bothered her much because we're now married with a little girl!" Apparently Rob's skills at nice finds aren't limited to cars!
Anyway, with the ongoing project, it was now time to progress to the mechanical systems. Rob had been accumulating new parts as funds allowed while he had been finishing the bodywork. Once finished, he had: new shocks, torsion bars, springs, full urethane suspension bushing set, sway bars, adjustable panhard bar, a complete set of parts to convert to an Integra braking system, a ZC motor, ZC transmission, new gas tank, new fuel lines, as well as numerous other "bits and pieces" - clutch, driveshafts, etc! Did he get fries with that?!!!
In total, it was nearly another year before Rob put the motor in and completed the wiring, plus getting everything else cleaned, painted, and reassembled. Now the final stretch of the project could begin!
The last 6 months of the project was the bodywork/interior and final setup. Rob set to installing the fiberglass flare kit. He managed to get everything attached, blended, and primed before the car was off to the body shop for final prep and paint. In addition to paint, the body shop was also going to reinstall all of the glass and the window trim. No agonizing, back and forth decisions on color choice here: "I flipped through the DuPont paint catalogue and picked out the brightest blue I could find in the book and left them to it. In 2 weeks I had my baby back and she looked spectacular!!"
About 2 weeks later the car was in roadworthy condition. Rob said, "I had a few minor teething problems like the injector seals were leaking and the IACV needed some TLC but other than that, it basically started first crank, needed the timing tweaked a little bit and she was off!"
The whole project lasted about 2.5 years to completion at considerable cost. How much you ask? Rob says, "GOD ONLY KNOWS how much it cost (I could add up all the reciepts but I'm afraid to). It was appraised for insurance at $17,500.00 about 6 years ago and is due to be appraised again soon so I can put it on a classic car insurance program." Talk about one of a kind!
Life After the Build
"Since the initial build RETROCRX has seen many an adventure. First was the water pump fiasco! I had to replace the water pump.....no problem right?! Well got everything apart easily and were reinstalling the new one when one of the 4 mounting bolts broke! FUN!! After much cursing and swearing I managed to dig enough of the broken bolt out of the hole to affect a fix. With a little help from JB weld I bonded a stud into the block in the place of the broken bolt! All has been well with this fix for 6 years now!" All hail the magic that is JB Weld.
"In another such adventure, a track day resulted in a spun rod bearing and complete engine rebuild!! Not to mention a $350 tow that ended at 3:00am by the time we made it home!"
Along the way there have been great moments, too. RETROCRX won the Best in Show award at the Niagara N10 meet, is consistently among the quickest street tire cars whenever autocrossed, and is a true head-turner anywhere she goes, parked or in motion. (One look at the pictures, and we can't agree more!) Rob has also shown up at Mid Ohio at the SCCA Runoffs on one occasion. Of that experience, he says "Never again might I add because I had trouble walking after driving that distance!!" Perhaps cruise control is in the future for this rare rex?
Rob sums up his story with this touching quote, "Every year I look forward to the warm 6 months I get here in Ontario so I can take her out for a spin! Every winter she sleeps without complaint and every spring, without fail, she fires up on the first crank eager to go out for a thrash! Would I do it all again? [long pause] For a Honda, probably not...but will I need to? I think RETROCRX and I will grow old together! I hope my wife doesn't mind."