How The Acura Integra Type R Became A Tuner Favorite

Fast versions of economy cars have always been a favorite among automotive enthusiasts. The Buick GNX started life as a Buick Regal not dissimilar from a retiree's car in Florida. After GM's engineers performed their magic, the humble Buick was transformed into a Lamborghini killer. The Dodge Omni Shelby GLH-S was a boxy compact hatchback in a former life before it was turned into a turbocharged hot hatch that "went like hell."

Honda has turned the practice of souping up commuter cars into an entire business model with the Honda Civic Type R. A base Civic is equipped with a somewhat boring but efficient CVT (continuously variable transmission) and 158 horsepower. That could be described as "adequate" and "enough." The Type R, on the other hand, has well over 300 horsepower, a big wing that looks like it came off a Cessna, and a six-speed manual transmission for all the speed freaks out there. In the United States, the Type R has only been around since 2017. But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Honda debuted another spruced-up version of a cheap car perfect for tuning, the Acura Integra Type R.

More than just a Honda

Everywhere else in the world, the Integra was just another Honda. But in the United States, the Integra was badged as an Acura (via MotorTrend). While the U.S. market Integra had been around since the 1980s, the spiced-up Type R variant arrived on American shores in 1997 and left in 2001. A base Acura of the same vintage produced 140 horsepower from its 1.8-liter four-banger. The Type R was equipped with a hand-built engine of the same displacement that had a redline of over 8,000 rpm and produced 195 horsepower. With the exception of the wing and Type R badging, the Integra didn't look particularly ostentatious on the outside.

The badging and factory aerodynamic upgrades made the Type R stand out in a grocery store parking lot, but the design itself was uncluttered and sleek. The quadruplet set of round headlights was simple and gave the Integra an almost friendly face, not unlike older Mazda Miatas. The car's simplicity combined with its out-of-the-box performance allowed it to act as a blank slate for tuners all over. In fact, so many Type Rs were modified inside and out, that it's newsworthy when a bone stock one appears out of the ether. 

A tuner's dream

Despite its relative rarity with over 3,000 models produced, the Integra Type R was the perfect candidate for tuners who wanted their build to be seen from low orbit. According to MotorTrend, an untold number of Integras of all kinds were subjected to poorly thought-out builds that "featured" goofy aerodynamic upgrades, annoying exhaust sourced from the canned goods department, and a host of other "upgrades." Tokyo Drift wannabe builds aside, the Integra Type R was a clean and quick compact that allowed enterprising gearheads to get creative and turn their Acura into whatever they wanted it to be.

Although the Acura Integra Type R of yore departed the United States over 20 years ago, the tuning legacy lives on. Acura itself even acknowledged the model's modding heritage with the newest iteration of the Integra when it allowed tuning aficionados from all over to work their magic on a 2023 model.

Nostalgia isn't cheap

Unfortunately, for anyone wanting to pick up a stock Integra Type R on the cheap, you may be out of luck. The automotive world took notice of the Type R and prices have skyrocketed over the years. A Phoenix-Yellow Type R sold for over $112,000 when it rolled across the virtual auction block earlier this year. A similar white Type R broke $88,000 at auction in July. You would be hard-pressed to find any U.S. market Type R for a price even remotely approaching anything reasonable. In some cases, a down payment on a new house is less expensive than a 20-plus-year-old Honda with less than 200 horsepower.

With price tags approaching six figures, the Type R might be a textbook case of "never meet your heroes." Ridiculous prices aside, the Integra Type R is fondly remembered by most automotive enthusiasts for its simple styling, unbusied appearance, and classic Honda reliability.