Drag Strip Adventures: Why I Need To Put a GS-R Engine In My 18-Second Civic

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The D15B7 engine that Honda installed in my beater/daily-driver ’92 Civic DX was rated at 102 horsepower. Car and Driver managed to get the ’92 DX down the quarter-mile in 16.7 seconds… but that was at sea level, in a brand-new car. With its tired 200,000-mile engine gasping for air at 5,280 feet up, my Civic is definitely short on power in its new Colorado home. The good news is that I have an Integra GS-R B18C1 engine in the garage, and it’s getting swapped into my Civic very soon. That means I needed some “before” dragstrip numbers, so I can see just how much improvement the new engine will bring. Time to visit Bandimere Raceway for Test-&-Tune night!

The B18C1 came from a Texas GS-R that was rolled into a ball and hacked into the most unsafe car in 24 Hours of LeMons history. Hoonatic Racing (that is, the one guy left standing when his teammates flaked and went home) won both Most Heroic Fix (for thrashing all weekend and getting the car onto the track before the checkered flag) and I Got Screwed (for getting the car onto the track approximately 15 seconds before the checkered flag after thrashing all weekend). You can get the entire story here, but the important thing to come out of the Hoonatic Racing One Lap Integra’s adventures was that I bought the car’s engine. In Houston. How would I get it to Denver?

Fortunately, team captain Brandon of the Index of Effluency-winning ’67 Mercedes-Benz 190 of the Texas-based B League Film Society decided that he just had to drive all the way to northern Nevada and race a Jetta (which blew up about 16 seconds after the green flag) in the Goin’ For Broken 24 Hours of LeMons. Brandon was kind enough to haul my GS-R engine (plus transmission, wiring harness, and various suspension components) all the way to Fernley…

…and, even though Denver isn’t exactly on the way from Fernley to Houston, he dropped all the Honda goodies off at my place.

So, now there’s a grimy VTEC engine, complete with Neuspeed header, sitting in my garage. Waiting. Mocking me.

I’ve got every inch of the GS-R’s engine wiring harness, plus the ECM, instrument cluster, sensors, the works.

I’ve also got a bunch of suspension components of suspect, car-rolled-into-a-ball condition. All I need to do is buy the correct axles and engine mounts and get going on the swap. Of course, first I’ll need to get a new, more luxurious daily driver (torn between a Grand Marquis and a Lexus LS400 at the moment), and then there’s the ’66 Dodge A100 Hell Project demanding attention. Totally normal situation for a car geek.

So, I headed over to Bandimere on Wednesday night. It had been a few years since I’d last been to a dragstrip Test-&-Tune session, and so I spent some time checking out the more interesting machinery. Always nice to see a couple of Chrysler A-bodies with healthy small-blocks; the orange Dart on the left ended up getting consistent high-12-second times. Remember, the thin air at Bandimere probably adds a second to a naturally-aspirated car’s quarter-mile time.

The turbocharged imports were running some ridiculous times. Here’s one of a pair of street-driven Mitsubishi Mirages that knocked out mid-11-second times all evening.

The Civics were out in force, and some of them were walking the walk for real. Normally, when I see a car that looks like this one, I figure it will do 15.5 at the strip.

Nope, this Honda rode geological boost pressure to a 10.27 ET. Another Civic got well into the 9s, on an allegedly dead-stock junkyard B16 engine being cruelly force-fed by a massive turbocharger off a Cummins diesel… but then it nuked the engine doing a burnout in preparation for its second pass. Oh well, plenty of B16s in the junkyard!

Turbocharging is an amazing thing; I saw quite a few four-wheel-drive diesel pickups running 11s and 12s.

OK, diesel drag racers tend to be a bit smokier than their gasoline counterparts.

The Lakewood Police Department brought their dead-nuts-original, 383-powered Fury police car; sadly, the officers driving the car told me they’d be fired if they dared to run it on the dragstrip.

Vintage radio, shotgun, the works!

Wait, is that a Saab Sonett?

A Sonett with giant Hoosier slicks, no less.

I was ready to find a boring small-block Chevy under the Sonett’s hood, but it’s all Saab in the engine compartment: the turbocharged 2.0 liter H engine out of a Saab 900 Turbo, driving the rear wheels via a Powerglide transmission. This combination is good for high 12-second ETs.

Not every vehicle at the track was so quick; this 19-second Chevy Apache appeared to be driven by its original purchaser.

That was good news for me, because I’d have been humiliated to drive the slowest car at Test-&-Tune night. For the first run, I had Cadillac Bob in the passenger seat, a bunch of dog blankets and assorted random crap in the back, and a desire to not spit any rods out the side of my somewhat loose engine.

Not exactly the optimal weight for a car with 1500 CCs under the hood and 580-treadwear tires skipping and chirping all over the place.

My car is number 74, in the right lane. Ugh, 19.479 seconds? And there’s really no need to discuss my sloth-on-Quaaludes-grade reaction time.

After kicking Cadillac Bob out of the car (and handing him my camera), I was able to knock almost three-quarters of a second off my embarrassing first attempt. Even better, I managed to beat the camper-shell-equipped Dodge truck next to me. The hard-as-teakwood tires were spinning quite a bit off the line, and the elderly D15B7 started to misfire above 6,000 RPM, so I figured I could get better at the launches, shift earlier, and maybe pick up some more fractions of a second.

Being a little less aggressive dumping the clutch and then shifting at 5,800 or so got me another 0.18 seconds. At this point, my goal was to crack the 17-second barrier. Probably impossible, but it’s good to have a goal.

I figured some weight reduction was in order; I hadn’t thought to bring any tools, so I couldn’t remove all the seats (and maybe the hood, hatch, and doors), but I could pull out the spare tire, jack, and assorted crap littering the car and dump them in a friend’s pickup.

Meanwhile, the Ununquadium Legend of LeMons-winning Rocket Surgery Racing mid-Golf-engined Renault 4CV joined us, and the 2,100-pound/100-horsepower Renault looked like it had a good shot at beating my Civic’s best time.

Head-to-head Honda-versus-Renault racing. The spectators probably figured they’d have time to watch the start, go get a hot dog, and get back to their seats in time to watch the finish.

Unfortunately, the wonky shifter linkage in the Renault (which involves a very long rod, supported by springs and running all the way back to the rear-mounted Audi transaxle) caused a third-gear launch, which limited the 4CV to a disappointing 19.125-second ET. But hey, I managed to get the Civic within spitting distance of 17 seconds!

18.235 seconds, which was with minimal wheelspin and shifting just before the point of engine misfire. If I could solve the high-RPM misfire problem and/or remove another couple hundred pounds from the car, 17 seconds could be mine.

It’s probably just as well that I didn’t have the tools to perform radical weight-loss surgery on the car, and tracking down the misfire could easily be a many-hours-long task. 2,360 pounds with me and a half-tank of gas in the car was about as light as the Civic would be able to get that night.

The Rocket Surgery 4CV went back around for another try… and promptly died on the track a few hundred feet from the starting line.

Such humiliation!

Fortunately, the problem was just a busted CV joint. Cheap and easily replaced. However, with no spares at the track, the Renault’s night of drag racing was over.

I decided to do one more pass. A 17-second time wasn’t going to happen without a sudden hurricane-force tailwind, but perhaps I could top my 18.235 ET.

Damn, 1/1000th of a second slower! So, it appears that 18.2 is about the best I’m going to get out of my car at this altitude with its current engine. This forces me to move up the timetable on the GS-R engine swap.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • CougarXR7 CougarXR7 on Aug 24, 2011

    So what sort of time should I get with a gutted, fiberglass-nosed '77 Monza with a 383 or 406 cube small block, Edelbrock Performer aluminum heads, mild 260-270 degree Comp hyraulic roller cam, and a single 2 1/2" exhaust with an aftermarket high-flow cat, stock 2-barrel carburetor ( necessary if Cali-smogia )and factory closed element air cleaner with custom ram air ( ducted from empty headlight opening to air cleaner snorkel )? Would I make a fairly decent showing or be embarrassed?

  • Caboose Caboose on Sep 16, 2011

    Patience. You'll break 17.5 once it turns cold and the air gets dense. I'm sure I heard that somewhere.

  • MaintenanceCosts You expect everything on Amazon and eBay to be fake, but it's a shame to see fake stuff on Summit Racing. Glad they pulled it.
  • SCE to AUX 08 Rabbit (college car, 128k miles): Everything is expensive and difficult to repair. Bought it several years ago as a favor to a friend leaving the country. I outsourced the clutch ($1200), but I did all other work. Ignition switch, all calipers, pads, rotors, A/C compressor, blower fan, cooling fan, plugs and coils, belts and tensioners, 3 flat tires (nails), and on and on.19 Ioniq EV (66k miles): 12V battery, wipers, 1 set of tires, cabin air filter, new pads and rotors at 15k miles since the factory ones wore funny, 1 qt of reduction gear oil. Insurance is cheap. It costs me nearly nothing to drive it.22 Santa Fe (22k miles): Nothing yet, except oil changes. I dread having to buy tires.
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  • Duke Woolworth Weight 4800# as I recall.