The Honda community is one that doesn't sit still for very long. Constant progression and experimentation over the years have only helped bolster the car's appeal to the average tuning fan, and that's one of the reasons you see modified examples at every show and track day, parking lot and city street. Being as popular as they are, they're open to constant berating as the digital witch-hunt continues to spread like a California wildfire. Other than the flagship NSXs and S2000s of the world, the majority of Honda's lineup—both old and new—rely on a front-wheel-drive configuration with a host of physics working against the vehicle's full potential, and there's an entire anti-Honda army to remind you of that. However, there's also a new crop of enthusiasts willing to go to extremes to even the playing field.
The mere idea of converting a Civic or Integra to all-wheel-drive status has gone from pipe dream to experimentation, and more recently, almost commonplace. A surge of custom builds that utilize grunt at all four corners has sent eager do-it-yourselfers searching high and low for used parts that make up the necessary components to complete the process. As a result, the cost of a transmission from an all-wheel-drive donor like select CR-V models, once considered useless to builders, is now fetching top dollar, and the supply and demand tax will no doubt continue its ascent.
Rest assured, the latest wave of all-wheel-drive builds isn't the first, as a few versions in varying degrees of power output and success have been around for years. The difference is that now a sort of blueprint has been established, and more and more builders are giving it a shot—guys like Allan Robinson, who claims he's the first to successfully put together an all-wheel-drive Integra in Canada and, to his knowledge, is still the only one in the Great White North.
This '98 DC transitioned from front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive 6 years ago, based on Robinson's own design, which required 2 years of research and development. He adds, "Back when I did this, there were only three people who had ever done it, and none of them did it to an Integra. I had to make all the components myself, as there was no market for all-wheel-drive Integras and Civics."
In the beginning, the car's original B18 wasn't cutting it for Robinson, so he pieced together a B20/VTEC and slapped on a turbo kit. Not surprisingly, he ran into traction issues at the dragstrip. The slippery launches led to the idea of going to all-wheel drive and minimizing wheel spin in order to maximize the 2.0L's output.
The first item to go was the native transmission, replaced by a CR-V five-speed that helps send power to a '90 Civic Wagon RT rear differential. A one-off tubular subframe joins a custom driveshaft and rear axles along with solid differential mounts, while clutch duties are handled by an Exedy twin-disc. It's not as simple as gathering parts and bolting them into place—something Honda builders have become accustomed to with the modular design of cross-chassis integration—but rather a combination of OEM all-wheel-drive components, custom fabrication, and a bit of well-sorted theory.
As expected, completely changing a vehicle's drivetrain layout will usually result in some growing pains, and Robinson's Integra was no exception. "Axles and transmissions were my weakest link in the build. Last year, I was breaking rear axles about every third quarter-mile pass and transmissions lasted about 10 to 14 passes." He turned to his good friends at A1CVTECH in Gatineau, Quebec, and the crew was able to create custom axles that are said to withstand up to 800 all-wheel-drive horsepower. They've been put to work, thus far having held up well to 5,500-rpm launches at a healthy 25 psi. With downtime in store for the cold winter, Robinson plans to tear into the transmission and install a hardened gearset and stout dual carbon synchros to unleash in 2019.
The 25 psi of boost this Integra belts out is a result of a Garrett GT35R dual ball-bearing unit, rebuilt by Forced Performance, which sits atop a PLM turbo manifold and feeds a Skunk2 90mm throttle body and Ultra Race 5.5L manifold. ID2000 injectors and GSC T1 turbo cams do their part to help produce the 490 hp that exits the front bumper via a 5-inch exhaust finisher.
As modified as the engine and drivetrain layout are, you might expect wild aero, high-dollar wheels, and a custom interior. However, Robinson keeps things extremely simple. Shaved moldings, an ITR wing, and optional side skirts covered in Championship White make up the outside. Inside the cabin, Prosport gauges, a staging brake handle, and ITR seats are the only mods.
Being one of the first is both a blessing and a curse. The trial and error, frustration, and lost dollars that come with experimentation can be overwhelming. On the other hand, being that Robinson was the first in his country—and quite possibly remains the only owner of an all-wheel-drive Integra in Canada thus far—it's a major accomplishment. For 2019, the power output goal is 700-plus-horsepower based on a whole new engine setup as well as a custom rollcage and slicks all around. And while this latest wave of modern-day all-wheel-drive Honda builds is just getting started, Robinson is already well ahead of the curve.