Every generation of young automobile enthusiast has a vehicle to call its hot rod.
You know, the affordable car that you could tinker with on the weekends, blow your fast-food pay cheque on and drive hard day and night. And when it blew up, you fixed it... or you bought another one and used the old one for parts.
For many car nuts through the years, the old Fords, Chevys and Chryslers provided weekend entertainment as well as an education in basic auto mechanics.
Today, little has changed. Kids still flip burgers to buy parts for their cars. Only, instead of talking camshaft swaps, aluminumintake upgrades and four-barrel carburetors, they're going on about computer upgrades, turbocharger kits, lowering kits, bigger throttle bodies and 18-inch alloy wheels. And instead of Fords, Dodges and Chevys, they're buying Hondas, Volkswagens and Acuras, among others.
And while there are still many youth who certainly appreciate a good old V8-powered machine, it's ironic the very cars that were cheap to many of us when we were young are priced completely out of reach for today's youth.
That's where affordable pocket rockets such as the Acura Integra came in. It's doubtful Honda's upscale division could have foreseen the mass appeal the Integra had on the youth of the last quarter century.
In retrospect, it's quite easy to see the attraction. While the Honda name has always been a thrifty, dependable cornerstone of family transportation, the company has also excelled in auto racing, dominating such leagues as Formula One (although not for a while) and European touring-car championships.
Much of what the company learned from F1 racing, in particular, was poured into the 1991-2005 NSX, Acura's high-dollar midengined, all-aluminum exotic sports car. As a technology showcase, it wasn't long before some of the NSX's trick pieces began finding their way into Civics and entrylevel Integras (actually a Civic offshoot) as well as other up-market Acura models.
Probably the most well-known of those achievements is VTEC variable valve timing.
Essentially, VTEC places two separate camshaft lobes at the disposal of the engine. At lower revs, the "small" lobe is used to give good throttle response, fuel economy and driveability, while at higher engine revs the "big" lobe takes over adding more valve lift and duration (time left open in relation to piston location) to help Honda's little motors (just 1.8 litres in the case of most Integras) make the most power possible.
Because horsepower is a function of engine torque at a given engine speed, to make the small, light-on-torque engines get up and go means you have to really rev them up.
All things being equal, higher revs equals more power and, as such, Integras not only provided a degree of sophisticated engine management, but a delightfully racy sound at full song, something that brings a smile to every enthusiast's face.
Certainly the other piece of race-bred technology found in Integras is the four-wheel double-wishbone suspension. Rather than a strut-type setup, the double-wishbone (derived from the use of upper and lower control arms shaped like wishbones) is lauded as the surest way the keep the tires squarely planted under adverse driving conditions. This means that, in addition to free-revving four-cylinder power, the Integra, even in stock form, was a fun pylon carver. Lower the car's centre of gravity a bit, increase the shock dampening and beef up the sway bars and you had a weekend racer on your hands.
These key virtues - along with good fuel economy - led to high interest in the Integra. Helping fuel the hot-rod Honda craze, the aftermarket has been quick to step up to the plate with everything from brake and exhaust kits to full-on racing engines and body bolt-ons to make this tight little package even better.
Perhaps, however, it's one of Honda/Acura's most popular features that entices young men and women to the Integra fold.
"It never breaks," says Troy, who owns a lowered purple 1995 Integra.
"I know that if I spend money upgrading the car, I don't have to worry that I should have saved the money for a rainy day.
"Oil changes are about all that ever needs to be done... just put gas in it and drive."
The Integra's reliability is no doubt one of the reasons the sport-compact aftermarket has become the giant it is. Less money fixing broken parts means more money for modifications to improve performance and appearance products. And, of course, reliability means less time spent under the hood diagnosing problems and more time for cruising on the weekends with your hot rod, which is what the whole thing is all about.
Add a dose of cool that the Acura name exudes and it's no wonder the Integra reached cult status with today's youth, perhaps more so than its successor, the now discontinued RSX.
Jeff Melnyhuk is Wheelbase Media's managing editor. He can be reached on the web at www. shiftweekly.com by using the contact link. Wheelbase supplies automotive news and features to newspapers across North America.