October 1999 bookended a memorable decade for performance Hondas.
After the NSX had emphatically demonstrated its supercar credentials at the beginning of the decade, the $39,950 Integra Type R arrived as a Honda sports car that could provide driving thrills at the lower end of the budget spectrum.
This was the Australian debut for the company’s Type R performance badge, as previous hot Hondas to wear it – the NSX and Civic – had been limited to other markets.
With ‘R’ standing for Racing, the Type R took the Integra’s acceleration, braking and handling capabilities to another level as Honda engineers sought to capture the essence of a race car.
A higher compression ratio (up from 10.0 to 11.1), low-friction pistons and a high-volume exhaust system helped to extract even more performance from the high-revving 1.8-litre four-cylinder, boosting the power output by 16kW to 141kW compared to the version used in the superseded Integra VTi-R.
The engine continued to use the Honda’s clever VTEC valvetrain technology also used in the NSX, while a 27kg reduction in overall weight – to just 1087kg – enhanced the Type R’s power-to-weight ratio.
Engineers modified the Type R’s slick-shifting five-speed manual gearbox to cope with the higher power output, revising the (closely stacked) ratios, bearing design and the clutch.
“The drivetrain was an absolute ripper,” wrote renowned motoring journalist Mike McCarthy in his regular ‘God or Dog’ column for Wheels magazine in August 2007.
“The 1.8-litre screamed to maximum power at 7900rpm and was still delivering at the 8400rpm redline, or even a bit higher. The icing was a great five-speed gearbox with ideally close ratios to keep the engine in its sweet spot, and a clever limited-slip diff to put all that energy to the ground.”
Yes, the Integra Type R was declared a ‘God’!
Handling was as integral to the Type R experience as performance, even if a no-compromise chassis – including double-wishbone suspension all round and 282mm ventilated front brake discs – did mean owners were rewarded (handsomely) for living with the stiff ride by driving the Integra as Honda intended.
Carpoint was among media outlets to note the “sporty ride” yet ultimately heap praise on the car, appreciating the exhaust note, responsive throttle and engine, and tenacious grip of this “true sports coupe” that it scored 8.9 out of 10.
"It has no right to be quicker point to point than a front engined, rear drive coupe like the 200SX, but it is. It has no right to take you along your favourite twisty bit with all the aggression and attack of Arnie on a steroid binge, but it does. It has no right to be thrown into tight curves faster and faster and still be able to get the power down through the front wheels, but it does.
“There’s no obvious reason why the Honda Integra Type R should be better than the WRX or the 200SX on paper, but in the flesh – it is.”
In its first drive of the Type R, in December 1999, Wheels magazine joined the addiction.
“The Integra Type R is the ultimate drug-free high … [it’s] the most fun you can have for under $40K. Race-bred suspension and brakes match the VTEC heaven to create one of the best-handling front-drive cars around.”
Greg Crick, the racer who took the NSX to back-to-back victories in the 1992 and 1993 Targa Tasmania road rallies, entered the 2000 event in the Type R, taking class honours after an epic duel with Neal Bates in a Toyota Celica – and finishing seventh outright.
Sydney Morning Herald motoring correspondent Bob Jennings also competed that year in a Honda Australia Finance-backed Type R, finding himself enthralled with the sports car after finishing 23rd despite some testing conditions.
"Driving the Integra Type R in the wet is just as much fun as driving the Type R in the dry,” said Jennings. “It handled beautifully in all conditions. There isn't just one factor that stood out during the event – the Integra Type R's cornering ability, reliability and handling were ideal for the Targa Tasmania roads."
A race car influence extended to the car’s exterior and interior design. For the Type R, the Integra’s coupe body was revised with a high-wing rear spoiler, body-coloured side sills and a chin spoiler.
Inside, a race-car-style cockpit was created with hip-hugging Recaro sports seats, carbon-fibre-effect panels, a titanium gearknob and a MOMO steering wheel.
Other standard features included 15-inch alloy wheels, electric side mirrors, central locking, electric windows, dual front airbags and ABS.
Launched nationally at the Honda Indy 300 motor race staged on the streets of the Gold Coast, the Integra Type R was available in four colours: Championship White, Starlight Black, Milano Red and Sunlight Yellow.
A limited edition model in 2000 added air-conditioning and racing-style alloy pedals, valued at $2500, before a new Type R – as part of the next-generation Integra range – was introduced in late 2001.
Pricing had inevitably crept up passed $40,000, but among multiple improvements, the new model featured a bigger 2.0-litre engine, new six-speed manual gearbox and a quick-ratio power steering system.
The Type R legend continues today – with the latest Civic Type R widely regarded as the world’s best-handling front-wheel-drive car.