We are on the long straight at Kari Motor speedway, turned into a drag strip for last year’s annual Drag Racing championship in a stripped out Honda City. I am riding shotgun on an original Honda seat that was temporarily bolted in place to give me an experience and we had just secured permission from the organizers of the event to do a run before the track closes for the day. There are no seatbelts to hold me in place, no roll cage for if we crash. I cling on to the roof frame as my driver builds up revs. I could hear the angry whooshes of the wastegate atop the screaming exhaust. There are no lights to turn green here, so it could be any moment from now.
And then it happens. My driver dumps the clutch and we slingshot forward as the Hoosier drag radials turn themselves into white smoke. I saw the speedo read 100kmph as it wheelspins into the next gear. I have seen this Honda City take on Audi R8s, but sitting inside is another thing altogether. The sensation of raw speed, coupled with the lack of any sort of cabin insulation or safety whatsoever, this is closest to death I have ever come across. Doing the same speeds in a supercar is fun. But in a stripped out Honda City made ten years ago and fettled by a bloke, roughly my age, whom I have seen only a few times, that’s insane.
Except I needn’t have feared so much. My driver was Mr.Joel Joseph of Race Concepts, Bangalore – a person who knows this car inside out. Not only has he been to the podium multiple times with this one, he built it from scratch. This is his pride and joy we are riding in and possibly the fastest front wheel drive car in the country. To put things into perspective, Joel claims 0-100kmph around 4 seconds and it often clocks near 12 seconds in the quarter mile run. That’s supercar performance in a humdrum family saloon from a bygone era. And this is what tuning is all about.
Now Quarter Mile holds the record for hosting the most number of Honda Citys on its cover, but it caused quite a stir in our office when it came to featuring this one. Let’s be honest, it isn’t the prettiest car out there, but then this car clearly belongs to a world where looks are secondary. The worn-out look, the misfit panels, the duct tape holding the bits at the front, the cables that run from the bonnet to the dashboard for the wideband, it all adds to the charm and purpose that it was built for. That said, Joel is working on improving the looks and tucking everything away from sight and this may very well be the last time you see it like this.
The biggest challenge in the build was the engine. There is no B-series swap to see here, Joel insisted on keeping the original engine and showing what it is capable of. The original D15 VTEC with Single over head cam that in its best day, made about 106bhp was once tuned to do its duties in a street car. It ran over two years when he decided to pluck it out and put it in the drag chassis. The motor was rebuilt with forged internals, given a custom cam, a full on cylinder head, a custom valve train with adjustable cam gear, a fully custom intake manifold with ITBs etc to go along with the forced induction. A Garrett GT32 turbo and Turbosmart boost controllers make sure there is ample boost which translates to over 430hp on the dyno. High flow 775cc injectors, an RD 0901 ECU and an uprated fuel pump ensures optimum fuelling for the engine. The engine features a race flywheel and revs up to 8900rpm. Power is transmitted via a custom close ratio gearbox that runs a stage 4 competition clutch and a limited slip differential.
What makes this car even faster is how light it is. Anything that isn’t necessary has been stripped out and that includes the interiors, the seats, the sound deadening, the HVAC, the windscreen wipers, the headlamps etc. Unlike most race car builds, there is no roll cage and the only addition to the cabin is a fire extinguisher and the battery that has been relocated there. What couldn’t be ditched has been replaced by lightweight components or has been drilled holes into. One of the headlamps is now an intake and the other is just the transparent cover of the original painted white. The wider front fenders are made to accommodate the bigger drag front radials. The doors are fibre glass and the windows are made of plexiglass. The bootlid if you look closely has been made of a thin layer fiberglass laid over the original and you can see the outline where the monograms should have been. An OMP seat and fibre glass dashboard with a three spoke steering wheel, original gauges and stock gear knob in place completes the driving environment. The Perspex windows are screwed in place and have holes drilled into them to save more weight. The rear bumper has holes and a flat under tray to reduce drag.
You have to look closely at the rear drum brakes to see the holes drilled into the outer edge to save whatever little, to know how far they have gone with the weight reduction.
Now to think that it would have been even faster without me and the seat they had put in – only Joel would know.