My first meaningful experience of the Honda Integra Type-R was over the Christmas of 1998.
As a motoring journalist working for Auto Express magazine, I had been given the keys to Honda’s press car for two whole weeks. As the holiday period began, I sunk into the red Recaro driver’s seat and plotted a course for Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk shoreline, where my parents would be roasting turkey and hosting Christmas.
A RIOT OF A CAR
Those next two weeks were a blur, not because I hit the sherry hard, but because of the Integra Type-R. It was a riot of a car, the equivalent of holding your own in the front row of a Clash gig. It was full of energy, felt as instinctive as recovering your balance, and would leave your ears ringing and head zinging for days after each extended drive.
In those days, Auto Express editorial guidelines dictated that objectivity was the name of the game. So as a journalist, I had to admit the car’s shortcomings. Namely, it looked underwhelming, came pitifully equipped, and would have most passengers asking if they could get out after just a few miles. But as a car enthusiast it was the more reason to love it to bits, frankly.
CAR OR KITCHEN?
Skipping on a few years, to the start of my career as a freelance journalist, I bought a Nissan Note diesel for the family (“But think of the fuel economy, darling,” I told my unimpressed wife) and a Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5 16 for yours truly. The latter was truly special, held memories for my dad and me, and was as good as bullet-proof. That was sold to pay for a new kitchen. Big mistake. Within a handful years, it would have risen in value fourfold, but the money was needed.
WHY I BOUGHT A HONDA INTEGRA TYPE-R
When the next opportunity arose to buy another car, I wanted something that would be just as robust, dependable and special as the ‘bahn storming Benz. But at the same time it had to be completely different and similarly affordable. Enter the Honda Integra Type-R I now own.
Truth be told, I broke every rule of browsing and buying a used car, especially a classic. Drive many, goes the saying, and get a feel for the good, the bad and the downright ugly. I spotted the Integra for sale online, dropped in to see it on the way back from an airport, and slapped down a deposit after a test drive.
However, I did it after making enquiries about the vendor. A friend worked with him, and told me (before I went to see it) that his cars were renowned for being fastidiously maintained.
HOW MUCH I PAID
It was (and remains!) immaculate. I bought one of the most expensive Honda Integra Type Rs advertised – an entirely original, low mileage, UK-spec car – because I wanted something that was as it was the day it left the factory and wouldn’t need money spending on it.
It cost me just under £8,000. That was four and half years ago, and prices have been creeping up, slowly but surely. This is partly because of the Honda’s long-held reputation as being something special, and partly thanks to a new generation of journalists and influencers who are only discovering it for the first time.
THE MAN WHO MADE THE INTEGRA TYPE-R
You have to appreciate this is a car that was fathered by Shigeru Uehara, the chief engineer of the NSX and, later, the S2000, and said to be a close friend of Ayrton Senna. With the Integra, however, he and his team went to town.
At the Suzuka factory, around the corner from the race circuit, the Type-R version of the Integra underwent a dramatic transformation reputed to have resulted in Honda lose money on every model sold. There was seam welding, reinforced suspension mounting points, bracing beneath the car and in the boot and engine bay, lighter glass, and less sound proofing. Then came the icing on the cake: a handbuilt engine with piston speeds that were higher than the Formula One and Indycar engines Honda had been making a few years earlier.
NOT ALWAYS PERFECT
Conversely, all this goodness means it can at times be a bore to live with a Honda Integra Type-R. For example, the five-speed gearbox and short gearing means the engine drones away at 4,000rpm at 70mph. Not ideal for long motorway journeys.
As hoped, the Honda hasn’t missed a beat in the time I’ve owned it. The car is known for running like clockwork, assuming all scheduled servicing is adhered to. And the fixed prices at the family-run Honda business I take the car back to – where some of the technicians have worked on the Integra since it was new – mean I know exactly where I stand.
HONDA INTEGRA TYPE-R RUNNING COSTS
A major annual service has cost me £260, the minor annual £150, and it’s all backed by Honda’s guarantee. Time-related jobs have included the timing belt (£210) and changing the gearbox oil (£70), while the only problem to date has been a weeping slave cylinder for the clutch, replaced at a cost of £176.
It’s also cheap to insure and doesn’t guzzle super unleaded. A good job too. Because whenever you escape for a drive, the chances are the VTEC will be kicking in…
In summary, then, I don’t regret buying the Honda in the slightest. For with my Integra Type-R I have a vehicle that, in the right conditions, is able to deliver the intoxicating intimacy of some of the very greatest sports cars, all for a fraction of the price.
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