So you take a 58AB flathead and swap it into a Model A roadster. Or you take a B18c and swap it into a Civic SI sedan. What's the difference? They're both hot rods. But the Honda is faster. Jeff Cheechov at the Progress Group grew up like you and me, reading HOT ROD and Car Craft, and his dad's a first-generation rodder and lakes racer who introduced Jeff to the sport through his friendship with Gale Banks. Jeff's company kicked off about the same time as the first Import Drag Wars here in L.A., where he watched seething gangs of teens who drove to the dragstrip in their hoopties, tore the seats out, and generally looked a lot like the 50's backyard hot rodders, but with baggier pants. As the sport compact trend has boomed, its moved beyond gewgaws and graphics and right into the heart of performance. These new-agers are proving themselves in traditional motor-sports, and there's none more trad than Bonneville. When Honda introduced its B-series engine into the '99 Civic Si, Jeff saw it as the perfect opportunity to go land speed racing; the most powerful (in naturally aspirated hp per liter) and well-supported engine had finally met a fairly aerodynamic body style. This allowed the car to be competitive in the Southern California Timing AssociationXs Production class. First time out with a B16-powered Civic at El Mirage, Jeff said, "The speedo said 135 through the lights, so we figured we had the record covered. Then the time slip read 114 mph and we knew we had a long way to go." That road has taken the team through a G/Production records with Honda's larger-displacement B20 engine topped with a 16 VTEC. Ultimately, the Progress Group's land-speed efforts have landed with this car, a '99 Civic Si with an Integra GSR B18C engine stuffed with a Vortech centrifugal blower and driven by gearhead photographer E. John Thawley III ( whose dad is a former HRM staffer). It's a Honda that's truly earned its deck wing with a 204.278 pass on the Bonneville Salt Flats. That's a one-way pass and not an actual record, but the timeslip still qualifies this as the worldXs fastest Civic. The question is, how? Cheechov told us. "What's surprising is how much stock stuff we use. The stock parts are beautiful." The B18C bottom end (111ci/1820cc) has the stock block and crank beefed only with ARP fasteners and Eagle con-rods. The cylinder head and intake are original Honda B16 parts heavily ported by Dan Paramore at DPR Racing in Gardena, California. But getting 320 hp per liter (509 hp at 9,100 rpm at the wheels, estimated 575ish at the flywheel) doesn't come from a single atmosphere. Instead, this Honda sports a Vortech centrifugal supercharger, an aftercooled V1 unit that was custom-built for the application and that's driven by a fabricated 8mm cog belt done by Progress Group, locating the blower where the A/C pump would normally be. It blows through the aftercooler thatXs plumbed to a 10-gallon ice chest in the trunk. The target boost is 20 pounds, a number that requires to change to the supercharger over drive ratio as the car moves from dyno time at sea level to air as thin as 7,000 feet of density altitude at Bonneville. "A big part of the learning curve is predicting boost and fuel changes with the altitude change from Anaheim to El Mirage to Bonneville." When asked why he didn't go with the predictable turbo, Jeff told us, "Mainly inlet temperature and reliability." He explained that the feels the blower offers a cooler (120 F or so on average Bonneville day), more consistent air inlet temp than a turbo, and that makes the tune-up easier because they run the Hondata computer (piggybacked on to the stock ECU) in open-loop mode, so the tune-up relies soley on the programmed fuel table and is not adjusted by input from the oxygen sensor at WOT. He also felt the centrifugal would prove easier on engine parts, as multiple wide open passes for 5 miles at a time are a Bonneville requirement. He admits a turbo would make more peak power, but made a number of choices repeatability over pure power during the buildup. According to Jeff, the only drawback to the beltdriven boost is that "Turbos don't lose as much boost with rpm drop during gear changes. With our setup, rpm drop means boost drop." And if you've ever seen a Vortech dyno curve, then you know that power just keeps climbing with rpm. As a result, the Integra B-series trans has been monkeyed with to alter all the gear-ratio splits. Jeff won't claim the gear ratios or even the final drive ratio, but the point of it all is to keep the rpm in a narrow band between Third, Fourth, and Fifth while still maintaining acceleration. The flywheel is a steel billet ZEX unit to replace the factory cast wheel to meet safety rules, but the new unit is not lightweight. Per Jeff: "I don't need a light fly-wheel for acceleration at Bonneville, and I prefer the damping and inertia of the heavy steel." Weight on the flywheel should also help prevent the rpm drop between gears. The front-drive Honda has a different series of handling and traction issues compared to rear-drive: Actually, the frontier is a lot better. As speed increases, so does down force on the front axle, thereby increasing traction. Rear-drive cars need to rely on vent rear lift and maintain traction. Like any production car, the Civic still needs a front air dam to quell nose lift ("In stock trim, it was no fun over 150 mph."), and it also has a mild spoiler to keep the tail down for handling reasons, but it does not require the heavy, slowing downforce that a similar rear-driver might. And because the Progress car carries no weight, it races at 2,600 pounds, similar to a stock Civic. The interior is gutted, but the heft of the safety equipment overcomes the shed pounds. Team Progress/Vortech made its most recent record attempt at Speed Week 2002. After the first short pass, the tuning seemed on track. Plug readings, info from the data log, and the onboard Motec digital lambda meter also looked favorable. So everyone was baffled when the engine lost power and began to burn the pistons. An on-salt thrash rebuild ensued, but there was no sense running again until they found the reason for the meltdown. It came with the help of landspeed legend Les Leggitt and the ERC Fuels team at Bonneville. The Civic had been running high-octane "blower fuel," which seemed logical. However, that fuel was formulated to vaporize at the high inlet temperatures and pressures found with a Roots-type blower and to prevent detonation in the same conditions. The supposition was that the fuel was that the fuel was not atomizing properly because of the low inlet temperatures created by the air-to-water "aftercooler." Poor atomization left the chamber lean and the suggested running a custom blend of ERC fuels, and the crew tweaked the car to a sweet 200 mph pass on the last run of the meet. So that makes this measly Honda faster than any flathead roadster, or any flathead outside of a streamliner. It's as fast as a typical NHRA Pro Stocker, faster than any American production car, and we're pretty sure it's faster than your car. So now how do you feel?
All content included in this site is property of DPR. The statements and photographs contained in this site may not be used, downloaded, reproduced, or reprinted for either personal or commercial