I bought one. Had to sell a bunch of stuff, then dig through every couch in the house, mining for nickels. Then I had to talk to my wife and agree to eating ramen noodles for months, to put some slack in our household budget. I have even begun eating cut-rate versions of said noodles, because I am now patronizing stores that give a discount on bulk noodles, but only because I was unable to find any reputable noodle manufacturers who would sell to me direct.
All for a car. I feel stupid. Also wonderful.
Consider the Acura Integra Type R: Front-drive. A manic, 8400-rpm, 195-hp, 1.8-liter four. Body like a rounded door-stop. More horsepower per liter than a Ferrari F355. The first Type R Honda to officially come to America—Acura is a division of Honda, remember—and one of just two such models sold here to date. And above all, the work of Shigeru Uehara, the engineer who chiefed the Honda S2000 and the first Acura NSX. An intelligent, reserved man who became friends with Ayrton Senna, and who believed that fast Hondas should have enough rear roll stiffness to get spaz-drifty in a corner if you ignore your inner Ayrton and ease off the throttle like a dinkus.
People call these cars ITR, for short. Just 3850 were built for America, from 1997–1998 and 2000–2001. Launched just before a certain future writer hit college, pliable as clay.
The fact that I’ve wanted an ITR since is undoubtedly a coincidence. As is the Acura’s similarity to the E30-chassis BMW M3, a car so stirring, I once got drunk and told a girlfriend I wanted to club-race one precisely as much as I wanted to see her naked again. (For the record, I have yet to club-race an E30 M3. The girlfriend, you can imagine how that went.)
There are obvious parallels with the BMW, but the Acura is its own bird: One of the sharpest front-drive platforms ever made, with that corker of an engine, but also neat touches like reduced sound deadening and no vanity mirrors, for weight loss. Extra steel and body welds over a standard Integra, for rigidity. Plus Uehara, dialing it all in. Which is like saying, “Here’s this new band, The Beatles. Great musicians, and by the way, they write their own songs—maybe that’ll help?”
It did. The ITR is widely viewed as one of the best-handling cars in history. Until last year, I had never driven one, partly out of financial self-preservation. Which is how we come to my friend Colin Comer.
Colin owns an ITR. He lives in Milwaukee, an hour south of Road America. Like any reasonable person, he thus takes almost any excuse to go to Road America. Last fall, he asked if I wanted to hang out there, at the Type R Expo—a fast-Honda meet and track day. Then he offered to let me track his car.
He almost certainly regrets that.
Colin’s Type R is yellow. An unrestored, bone-stock 2001, factory paint and no theft record. All rare for a model that has long begged to be modified, stolen, or simply driven into the ground. Colin bought the car from the original owner, a Missouri woman who purchased it almost entirely on looks.
“It was cute,” she told him.
Expo Corrupting Experience One: Road America’s paddock. Too many 1990s Hondas to count. And that get-woke moment where you spin a road car past 6000 rpm and notice the engine still isn’t on the cam. The Expo was a vintage event but didn’t feel like one. Maybe because the cars were mostly from my youth, not someone else’s, and I don’t feel much older than I did at 20. Maybe that dichotomy is aging in a nutshell.
Expo Corrupting Experience Two: A passenger track ride in a 7000-mile 1996 Type R once used for factory Nürburgring testing. I was chauffeured by the car’s owner, Wisconsinite Peter Cunningham. In addition to being a friend of R&T’s, Cunningham heads , Honda’s American road-race arm. We spent several laps annihilating traffic, because Peter is Peter. The Integra batted into corners and seemed to paint only in manic colors, as if the world were a comic book.
I began texting Colin later that week. Repeatedly, almost involuntarily: Sell me the car sell me the car please sell me the car? Weeks later, only mildly annoyed, he relented. (To paraphrase General George Patton, there is no such thing as defense. There is only attack and attack and attack some more.) Colin canvassed a few experts for pricing advice. Most waffled, then asked, maybe too casually, if he would sell. No one wants those cars. I’ll take it off your hands. Do you a favor.
Expo Corrupting Experience Three: Late in the day, it began to rain. Splatty and relentless. People went home. I ended up with the track almost to myself, lap after empty lap with one of the world’s great places and a joyous lack of grip.
The experience dredged memories. I was reminded of living in the Midwest, just out of school, when I would pilgrim up to Road America every spring for track days. Perpetually iffy weather, but friends and slides and long nights at Siebkens, the only bar worth loving in the nearby town of Elkhart Lake. An Illinois guy named Ken Sax attended some of those events with a yellow Integra Type R, one of the first I ever saw. We never met, but his name stuck with me. Probably from all the time I spent hanging on the fence, watching his car bark down the front straight.
Ken’s Integra was at the Expo. I saw him with it, across the garages. The parallel meant nothing but was comforting anyway; in the bubble of a racetrack, the world briefly seemed as simple as I thought it was more than a decade ago. The chief dissonance was the knowledge that clean ITRs no longer grow on trees.
Or maybe the distance from home. I live on the West Coast now. I can’t often go back to Road America, and I certainly can’t go back to it in my twenties. But I can find the hills near my house in an 8400-rpm Honda signed off by a mad genius. An experience so vibrant and singular, it makes up for a lot. Possibly even an abundance of noodles.