The cars we loved.
Most car buffs know the story behind Acura. As the first premium Japanese auto brand, it introduced American and the World to a concept that has forever changed the auto industry (for the better). One of it’s first products was the compact Integra sports coupe and sedan.
With cars like the Celica and 280ZX moving upmarket, most manufacturers still opted to market their higher end products under their traditional brands. Honda, who’s own Prelude was becoming more luxurious saw the direction the market was heading. Realizing that a premium sports coupe might be a hard sell as a Honda proper, it decided to create a brand to market its more upscale products. In Japan Honda dealers were split up in to segments with names like Clio, Verno and Primo for more upmarket Honda products. Honda’s new Acura division would borrow from the best of those Japanese home sales divisions to offer customers more than what a typical Civic, Accord or Prelude could deliver.
Acura’s first two products would be a large luxury sedan and a sport compact coupe and sedan. First sold in Japan as a close derivative of the Honda Quint in 1985, the Integra would be about the same size as the Civic sold in the US, but would have more standard equipment. By 1986 the Integra was in US showrooms and was available as a 5 door or 3 door hatchback. It’s styling closely resembled the coupe version of the 3rd generation Accord with its pop up headlights, yet it shared similar compact dimensions with the Civic.
The Integra was first and formost a performance oriented car. It’s zippy 1.8 L four-cylinder engine was the same one in the CRX Si, but with DOHC. With 115 hp propelling just 2450 lb. (loaded), the Integra could reach 60 mph in just 8 seconds. The sport tuned double wishbone suspension was similar to the one in CRX also, but was tuned for a more compliant ride. Where the shorter wheelbase CRX could feel choppy, the Integra was a bit more composed, very much like the Prelude. The Integra quickly made a name for itself. Stomping much of the competition on just it’s build quality alone. The first generation cars were named to Car and Driver’s Ten Best in 87 and 88. The Integra/RSX would go on to be named to the list four more times to the list. Nothing in the $10 to 15k price range quite match the Integra’s blend of performance, efficiency and high build quality. Cars like the BMW 318 had suddenly began to look overpriced.
Both the sedan and coupe offered practical hatchback versatility, although it was not immediately apparent that the sedan had a hatch. Interiors were cloth, but featured two-tone interior colors that more closely matched expectations in a more upscale car. Like any Honda product, the Integra’s dash and control surfaces were well laid out and executed.
Only a few major changes would occur to the first generation cars. The first being a major engine modification that would divide cars into two camps. Identifiable by valve covers: Browntops (86-87) or Blacktops (88-89). Blacktops have used an electric advance distributor vs a vacuum system for a gain of 5 hp to 118. While US cars got very few important changes, European cars seemed to get even fewer. Some were sold with carburetted engines and nearly all Honda badged Integras were stripped down as opposed to the US bound cars which were more likey loaded fitting the upscale aspirations of Acura. The lighter European cars were more agile and were just as popular with the press as they were in the US. In Australia, the Integra was sold as a Rover that was closer to the US cars than the stripped down European models.
The Integra would not take off immediately, but with sales of over 228,000 cars (mostly in America), Acura was encouraged by the initial success. Although the first generation is difficult to find on the roads now, the popularity of all Integras blew up after the 2000 release of the film The Fast and Furious. The market for second-hand Hondas was never quite the same. Oddly enough the trail blazed by the Integra was not followed. Toyota kept it’s Celica/Supra within its brand, while new luxury marques like Lexus and Nissan had no direct equivalent to the Integra.