You log onto your favorite automotive website or flip through the pages of pbskids and see various well-executed builds sporting top notch parts that seem to be incredibly fun to drive on the street or track. The inner workings flawlessly cooperate in a blissful, trouble-free environment. But like they say, every build has a story, and it's not always the user-friendly build-up that clicks together seamlessly like a pre-built Lego kit.
Omar Morel, owner of this '98 GS-R has a story for you. What looks like a slick, well-rounded Integra that carries a more subtle and understated style rather than an in-your-face version of Acura's sporty icon, didn't happen during a month-long garage thrash with a group of friends. Instead, this DC2 has been by Omar's side for over a decade in various states of tune, and spent much of its early life limping or stowed away in the garage nursing wounds. That is, until he took matters into his own hands...literally.
In 2007 Omar approached a local dealership to get a closer look at a Civic on the lot. The closer he got, the less interested he became as battle scars and a poor general condition turned him off. On the way through the lot, he'd taken notice of a black GS-R, but without a price or a dealer plate he assumed it wasn't for sale. A quick chat with a salesman produced an introduction to the car's owner and some back and forth resulted in a deal being struck on the spot and Omar picking up his new Integra the following day.
Mild intake and exhaust upgrades, the type that most anyone starts off with, made their way onto the Integra and during an impromptu "spirited drive" alongside an Eclipse, the B18 waived the white flag. Omar states, "My car was making a funny noise. At the time I wasn't mechanically inclined and didn't know what I was looking for. I ended up taking it to a mechanic to find out that one of my cylinders had little to no compression. I was stressed out because at the time that was my only car—I had no other way to get to and from work." The injured 1.8L was barely operational but with no other options, continued to be used for the daily commute. Saving up enough cash to fix the issue, the shop Omar went to informed him that a chunk of one of his valves was missing. With the head already off the car, a Skunk2 valvetrain and cams were added to the repair bill along with CP pistons and ARP studs. The savings account allowed for parts and labor but weren't enough to get the car properly tuned. "Once everything was installed the only tune I had was with an A'PEXi VAFC. It ran like crap but it took me from point A to point B."
Not the ideal setup, but the Integra was once again reliable ... for a year, at least, before it suddenly shut off and showed no signs of starting back up. Though he began attending UTI automotive technical school he had to pull out of classes once his wife became ill. Omar had to borrow an oil burning Ford Escort station wagon from his mother until a new daily could be purchased. By this time the Integra had been stagnant for over 6 months and selling it was all but guaranteed. That is, until he and his wife attended a local meet and Omar explained to his wife that he envisioned his Integra with similar mods. He recalls, "my wife told me to make a list of parts and she was shocked at the price and I didn't even include labor. She encouraged me to do my research on how to do everything I wanted to the Integra and we agreed on spending the money for parts but only if I figured out how to install them myself." For the next four months Omar went online and absorbed every bit of knowledge that he possibly could and after his good friend Noel turned him on to The Chronicles website, he spotted Michael Cristi's GS-R and the inspiration came pouring in.
You've heard the "built vs. bought" argument time and time again, and it's not hard to find solid ground on both ends. In Omar's case, this stage of the build simply wasn't going to happen without getting his hands dirty. "One day I decided to go to the garage. I started to look around the engine bay for a few minutes and just started disconnecting plugs." A visit from his friend Noel had the two working side by side and in no time they had the engine and trans removed and took note of why the car wasn't starting: a broken timing belt. Fortunately, none of the valves were damaged and new gaskets and seals were installed to freshen up the engine. To achieve the "Bluetooth" engine wiring look of Cristi's build, Omar spent hours going through his stock harness and modifying it to run outside of the bay. With everything re-installed, the engine fired up and was once again roadworthy, though a mismatched tune allowed for way too much fuel and Omar was changing plugs monthly.
A guy goes from zero technical knowledge to being able to remove, rebuild and replace his engine, complete a wire tuck and more after having spent hours online researching—that could be the end of the story, but Omar hit a low point personally, having separated with his wife, he turned to his garage for a bit of an escape. Taking a long look at the Integra, he was content with his progress but wanted more and this time around, he decided to bring in an experienced builder. "I ed a friend that owns a local shop named XMP and told him about my plans on redoing the entire car and once I had it completely taken apart, he came to pick it up." XMP shaved the bay, tucked the brake lines and resprayed the car while Omar ordered more parts in preparation for the GS-Rs second debut. Parts that included Kinsler ITBs, Hondata's coil-on-plug conversion and a Wilwood brake package.
Omar took to both sides of the built vs. bought debate and in the process, learned about his car, managed to successfully perform some major work to it himself, and with help from XMP, completed a build that he couldn't be happier with. "It gave me the confidence to help build other cars and also fix some of my friends and families cars. I owe so much of my success to my wife—if it wasn't for her pushing me to build it in the first place, I wouldn't have the knowledge I do now."