With the prices of the most popular JNC models entering unattainable status for many younger enthusiasts, it’s time to highlight another painfully overlooked yet still affordable (for now) model. Welcome to another Consider the Following installment, in which we ponder the original DA1-4 Acura Integra.
The year is 1986. You’ve been hearing rumors of Japanese carmakers establishing luxury offshoots, but haven’t seen any of those products yet. Then, one day, whil on a drive through the backroads near your house you hear the hushed blast of what can only be a high-revving 4-cylinder engine, followed by the silhouette of an unknown sports coupe. You catch up to it at the next intersection and see that it isn’t an Italian car or a facelift of the Dodge Daytona. It’s an Acura.
The Acura Integra combined the cheap thrill of a hot hatch with enough luxury refinement to make you feel like an adult. While we know the later models for being benchmarks of front-wheel-drive performance, the spec sheet of the original Integra may seem a bit quaint. However, DA1-4 Integra was anything but.
Before we dive into the Integra, we need to understand where it came from and the Japanese dealership system. Here in America, you expect to see fully loaded Accord Tourings next to base model Fit commuters at a Honda dealership. Japanese dealerships, on the other hand, had boutiques that specifically catered to particular segments like economy, luxury, and so on.
In the late 1980s, Honda had no less than three dealership chains in Japan. Verno offered upscale and sporty cars, Clio provided more traditional economy cars, and Primo concentrated on the Civic, superminis and kei cars. Additionally, there were Honda Access stores that sold OEM accessories, some of which are highly collectible today.
Much like the Nissan Pulsar, the Integra was birthed from a generic early 80s hatchback, the Honda Quint. The original Quint was a slightly upscale Civic aimed at young families and was sold in Europe as a captive import for BL Rover. It would last for only a single generation before Honda completely rethought the Quint.
With a design exclusive to the Verno dealership network, the updated Honda Quint Integra was originally released in 1985. It was meant as an affordable, slightly upscale sports coupe based off the Civic’s architecture, instead of a redundant quasi-Accord. With 80s visual cues like straight lines, sharp angles and pop-up headlights, the Quint Integra was the halo of the Verno line. While most economical sports cars of the era didn’t have the grunt to back up the looks, the Integra was quite the opposite.
Its torsion beam suspension was derived from the Civic of the era, but improvements were made in all the right places, allowing its relatively archaic bones to out-corner nearly all its competitors. The rear brakes became discs, which was a really big deal in 1985. Under the hood, the Civic’s piddly 12-valve 1.5-liter mill was replaced with a tightly wound 16-valve DOHC 1.6-liter 4-cylinder — stats written out on the quarter panel.
The engine was so rev-happy that you didn’t notice that you barely had 120 horsepower, you were too busy watching that tach zoom it’s way up to 7,000 rpm. Its performance was akin to the much-revered 16-valve Toyota 4A-GE.
The Quint Integra was Honda’s offering to upwardly mobile younger buyers. It had an attention-grabbing look, but wasn’t so frou-frou and expensive that it was unattainable. The combination proved a sales hit and was irresistible to buyers. The beauty of the car was its offering of MR2 performance from a FF drivetrain without the spatial sacrifice that comes with an two-seater layout.
Meanwhile in America, Honda was gearing up to launch their new Acura marque for 1986, and needed a car to accompany the Legend flagship model. While Lexus and Infiniti went on to use smaller sedans to accompany their top-spec models, Honda wanted to use that second model slot to sell a drivers’ car that was more inspirational than a Civic Si and not just a rebadged Prelude.
What better car to showcase your brand to the youth than with a slightly upscale but inexpensive sport coupe with pop-up headlights and a whiz-bang, high-revving DOHC engine? It was the exact thing you’d want in a new car brand, so Honda dropped the awkward “Quint” from the beginning of the name and sent it here simply as Acura Integra.
It was a perfect combination. Upon release, any similarities to the Civic platform were nary mentioned and were likely completely unbeknownst to most reviewers at the time. Its quick and peppy engine paired with a lightweight body allowed it to outperform even the Prelude, which in 1986 was the ultimate in Honda performance.
The Integra outsold the Legend, which was surprising to some at the time. It was widely expected that Acura would have troubles escaping its Honda roots — what many feared to be “VW Syndrome,” where a brand attempts to move upscale but sales suffer due to the brand’s economy reputation. Instead, the Integra introduced younger buyers to the Acura brand, and many of them would go on to become lifelong Acura owners.
Being directed at younger buyers, the car found it’s way into the hands of early import tuner culture. The DOHC engine had significantly more power than the Civic without being much heavier, there was significant aftermarket support from the Japan for those who were able to source parts, and American companies were busy building a racing pedigree for the car.
When Acura introduced the Integra, they were sure to get it into the hands of racers. King Motorsports, Mugen’s official US distributor, was given the Integra RS to race with Mugen-supplied engines, transmissions, and suspension components. The cars went on to win their IMSA class championship two years in a row.
Within only a few years California’s import culture began to grow rapidly, and USDM aftermarket shops were opening almost daily to support early Honda platforms.
After the release of the second-generation Integra, the one more commonly referred to as a DA, the prices of first gen cars dropped precipitously and made them even easier to procure. The engine from this car was very close to the Japanese Civic Si ZC engine, and they mutually grew in popularity as a powerplant to build on, since the new B-series were still largely unknown and very expensive. Companies like JG Engine Dynamics, AEM, and STR were among many that would develop this engine to be the most cost effective way to build a fast Honda in the early- to mid-1990’s.
Today, a lot of these parts are highly sought after and worth their weight in gold due to rarity. The Mugen Circuit Form body kits and exhausts are a prime example of this, but a large portion of old school parts command a high price. That being said, although not as robust as the later model Integras, there is still a modern aftermarket for these 80s heroes.
Nowadays parts can be sourced for the Integra from a number of companies. For engine mounts, HASport makes B-series conversion engine mounts for those considering an engine swap. Coilovers can be adapted from a third-generation Civic or CRX and Chedda’s Auto sells a multitude of suspension components, as well as an intake manifold conversion kit that can adapt modern aftermarket D-series intakes to the older ZC/D16A1 head. If you want to get really wild, Kaminari still will make their original 1988-89 Integra body kit that predates the Wings West era and looks really good.
While a quality example of a 1G Integra is getting harder and harder to find, a decent number still exist. The car enjoys a small but devoted following. A handful of Integras do reside in collections, as the RealTime Racing collection has their own white Integra, as does the official Honda collection, but in silver.
In a world where Civics and later model Integras are becoming increasingly rare, the DA1-4 Integras offer a cost-effective alternative. They can still be found in good condition for around $2,000 regularly. If you want a concours quality car, though, be prepared to spend nearly $10,000. It’d be worth it though. For those who are steeped in the world of Honda performance, this is the godfather of modern Honda tuning and is in a league of its own.