PROFILES: Sid Chiang’s 1986 Mugen Honda CRX Si

1986 Honda CRX Si Mugen 01

Sid Chiang is a long-time veteran of the automotive design world. He’s held positions at GM, where he worked on cars like as the C7 and Camaro, and before that Ford, where he was lead exterior designer on the ST44 Probe and Ford GT. Prior to today, there were only three known photos of Sid’s Mugen CRX on the internet, all mysteriously taken inside a Ford studio. Here’s how it happened in Sid’s own words. —Ben

I’ve always had the love of sporty cars, especially small displacement 4-cylinder imports. As a teenager in the 70s, my first car was a rusty 1969 Triumph GT6+ that I loved and cherished. I drove it to into the ground and as many teenagers do, ended up nearly killing myself in it. But it didn’t kill my addiction to 4-bangers. 

1986 Honda CRX Si Mugen 04

In the summer of 1985, I entered my career with Ford Motor Design Staff and was now in the position to buy my first new car. It wasn’t a hard decision as nearly all makers of British 4-cylinders had gone bankrupt or were about to. The Big Three offered pretty mediocre, lifeless econoboxes. I wanted something new that I could modify, but priced at less than $15,000.

I decided on a brand-new Honda CRX Si, and within months I began my hunt for more speed. For a car weighing in at under a ton, 86hp was brisk for the time but just adequate to me. At the time, “tuner cars” were just on the horizon and hop-up parts were very limited.

1986 Honda CRX Si Mugen 05

In the back of Car & Driver magazine I found an ad for Jackson Racing, the only apparent speed source for Hondas. They had a turbo kit to boost the power up to around 145hp. It was non-intercooled and the power was limited by the lack of pre-ignition mitigation technology. It was also a install-it-yourself kit requiring a severe case of bashed knuckles.

Next on the mod list was a set of Enkei turbine wheels and lowering springs for the rear. The front was a torsion bar design so it just needed to be cranked down to match. The result was just short of revolutionary in MoTown, where big blocks were the rule. No one was hot rodding little cars in the area. The result was exhilarating! I was never sure how much power output I had but it was keeping up with most of the local Detroit Iron. In a world of Goliath, having a li’l David was a blast.

1986 Honda CRX Si Mugen 06

All was great until “stupid” caught up with me one night on Telegraph Road, Dearborn’s main drag akin to Woodward in Detroit. , as I outran a modified first-gen Camaro. No sooner had I won the race than my radar detecter went ballistic. In a panic moment, I attempted to exit but spun a 360 instead, bashing my front left against the guard rail. My car was ruined and I got to sit in a cell till the next morning.

Months went by as my wounded CRX sat in my garage awaiting my next move. When began repairs, I found that replacement fenders cost more than a Mugen wide body kit I had seen in a Japanese publication at the University of Michigan library (this was way before the internet), so I ordered it direct from Japan.

1986 Honda CRX Si Mugen 02

The kit consisted of authentic lightweight injection-molded body panels. The front fenders were complete replacements while the rears were bonded over the existing panels. Both front and rear bumpers were made of the same composite and definitely not crashworthy. I also had to modify my flush 1986 headlamps to accommodate the older recessed design for the kit.

As a designer at Ford, I had access to the latest experimental paints being evaluated for future products. I used a pre-production BASF color-shifting hue that appeared a dark gray indoors. Outside, however, it would transition from tints of blue, purple, green and everything in between. This color was not on any vehicles on the road at the time, though eventually it was used on limited runs of Mustangs.

1986 Honda CRX Si Mugen 07

I installed Tokico gas struts and upgraded the springs. I switched the wheels to white Weds five-spokes, which were the trend those days, but wanting to be radical I blacked them out. I drew up stencils and sprayed the Yokohamas with white paint, a style that seems to have come back into fashion.

The exhaust was custom made and tipped out through a single SuperTrapp. The first turbo and engine suffered damage from the resulting crash so I acquired a donor engine from Corky Bell at Turbo Tech. It had been blueprinted with a lightened flywheel. I went out on a limb and added their big turbo intercooled kit which pumped out over 230hp.

1986 Honda CRX Si Mugen 08

The combined result was massive, in visual impact and speed! I was working on designing the second-gen Ford Probe at the time and we brought in all types of sporty cars for reference. Although not exactly in the same class as the Probe, we thought it would be fun to get some “round the clock” shots of my CRX in the Ford Design Center “Dome,” where these photos were taken. Because of my proximity to the Ford complex and the extreme nature of my CRX’s exterior, people often asked me if this was “test car.”

By 1991, I had stripped out my interior and the car weighed in at roughly 1,850 lbs. With a horsepower ratio of 8-to-1, it suffered major traction problems. Despite all the wheelspin, it managed a timed run (with an accelerometer) from 0-to-100mph at +/-13 seconds!

1986 Honda CRX Si Mugen 03

Unfortunately, all good stories come to an end. My CRX eventually suffered a mysterious electrical gremlin. The car would start up excessively rich and idle rough, until it reached a certain temperature at which point I could restart and everything would run normal, until it cooled down. Then the cycle would need to be repeated. One day, it didn’t start at all. A pending divorce from my first wife dissuaded me from debugging the car and it sat in my garage without a plan.

By 2003, I had remarried and was moving to a new home. Needing to put a resolution to this project, I placed it up for sale on a CRX forum. Within a few days, it was sold sight unseen, except for a video I made, to a guy in New Jersey who had plans to update and resurrect this once-great car. He paid me and sent a car carrier to deliver it home. We had planned on staying in touch but I eventually lost contact with him. To this day, I often regret having sold this car and wonder where it is now. Perhaps, I could buy it back someday.

Sid Chiang is currently Exterior Design Chief at Mack Trucks. Special thanks to Dennis Salnikov for introducing us to his colleague.

permalink.
This post is filed under: profiles and
tagged: , , .

15 Responses to PROFILES: Sid Chiang’s 1986 Mugen Honda CRX Si

  1. Steve said:

    Cool looking car. It has the look I am chasing for all my cars (to some extent) with the big 6″ fogs and driving lights, a touch of lowering, and nice wheels.

    Did you ever figure out the electrical/carburetion issue? My 1988 Toyota Pickup is exhibiting the EXACT same symptoms: starts up too rich to idle, spits out tons of black smoke, runs rough until warmed up, but will not run properly unless I shut it down, wait a few minutes, and then restart it. It even passes smog inspection in this state as long as the engine is warm and has been shut down once…

  2. Josh said:

    He does realize that the gt6 he cherished is a 6 cyl right?

    • Ben Hsu said:

      Sid’s owned three GT6es at various times, including a D Production SCCA racer, so I’m sure he’s aware :)

      • pstar said:

        In that case he is a very unclear writer. Coolest looking CRX (pre-del Sol) I’ve ever seen though, props. But in 1985, he should have bought a Corolla GTS. Hell, 15 grand was big money in the mid 80s, could have gotten an SVO Mustang. 4 cyl turbo power.

  3. dankan said:

    This thing is so far ahead of the curve it’s not even funny. Looking at all the Rockey Bunny and other JDM stuff that SpeedHunters are obsessing over, it’s amazing how contemporary that CRX appears.

  4. E-AT_me said:

    When did you talk to Sid? He got in touch with the new owner here:

    http://www.redpepperracing.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=35785&page=4

    That was back in 2009. We’re still waiting on the new pics though. :(

  5. Bart said:

    I’ve never been a big fan of the CRX, but this one is definitely awesome. And as stated above, way ahead of it’s time. I love the wheels and tires painted with the big “Yokohama”. Painted black, those wheels look like Oz Cronos, very nicely done. At least there are these photos!

  6. vincenzol said:

    You were so far ahead of your time it’s almost hard to fathom. Interesting to see the BMW CSL influence on top of the front fenders too. I had always been a fan of the second generation CRX but this car is hands down the best looking CRX I have ever seen. Nothing too flashy with just the right amount of bravado. Well done sir!

  7. Dave said:

    Dang, this is the gnarliest CR-X I’ve ever seen! It’s SO awesome!!! And like others said, so ahead of its time! Really would be interesting to know where/how it is now. Didn’t King Motorsports sell the Mugen CR-X Pro kits in the US back when? I wonder how many kits they sold.

    • E-AT_me said:

      You could buy them directly from the Honda dealers during this generation of CRX. We know where it is now. We know the new owner. He just hasn’t gotten back to us. You can buy a replica kit pulled from an original kit from Houseman.

  8. Chris said:

    I think…I just had a *Joygasm*, stroke, cigarette, and a nap…all at the same time!

  9. invinciblejets said:

    I hope this crx turns up somewhere.

  10. fred_gassit said:

    sure he could’ve picked up a Corolla GTS or an SVO Mustang. he could’ve also invested the money in stocks & bonds. and that’s the beauty of individual passion & drive, to take something that no one else would give the time or love to & make it stellar. sure there are plenty of really cool CRXs, but when he started this project you can’t forget that it was done before the internet. sourcing aftermarket parts was extremely difficult, especially for eastern import compacts.
    the car’s just brilliant.

Comments are closed.