How often have you witnessed a longitudinally mounted Japanese five-cylinder scream to its redline while the fully-independent double-wishbone-suspended chassis carves through hairpins and strikes down apexes? You haven’t? I didn’t think so. You probably aren’t alone save for the handful of Honda engineers who put together and tested such a car in the late 1980s.
To help spread some awareness of Honda’s long-gone, slightly-bizarre late-80s engineering, I decided to bring my 1993 Acura Vigor GS 5-speed to the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research for the “Apexfest 6” High Performance Driver Education day. Apexfest 6 was only my second time driving in an HPDE event and I was excited to go. Last year, I attended Apexfest 5 with my 2004 Acura TSX and had an absolute blast, but this year’s event was very different. I was driving a manual transmission car, something I have very little experience in doing, and driving a car I haven’t had much seat time in to begin with.
The Vigor needed some attention to get things track ready. With only four days to spare, I started by bleeding the four-piston front calipers of old brake fluid, replacing it with Motul RBF660. The cooling system had several leaks from degraded hoses and tired clamps, which I also addressed. The front suspension had a few issues with full-lock cornering and mid-corner bumps causing tire rub on the front fenders. I knew the adjustable Koni Yellow struts were close to hitting the bump stops despite being at their highest perch. Knowing NCCAR and its tight corners, I decided to install some 30mm top hat spacers, giving the front proper clearance to match the rear. After a fresh alignment, the final touch before the weekend was a quick oil change ensure adequate oiling for the next day.
With the car emptied of all unnecessary equipment, I set out on my first and longest trip in the Vigor, bringing just a duffel bag with basic tools and other supplies. It was a two hour drive from Mebane, NC to Garysburg, NC where the track waited, but it seemed to go by in thirty minutes due to my nervous excitement. Once checked in, I unloaded my stuff with a friend in the paddock and headed to tech inspection. From there, it was time to attend the drivers’ meeting and meet my driving instructor. We headed back to the paddock where we checked over our cars one last time before starting the first twenty minute driving session. I started out in the “Green” group, the entry level of the three. “Yellow” was for intermediate drivers, with more passing zones, and “Blue” for advanced drivers, allowing open passing and solo driving without instructors.
I went out for my first session having left the car as it was set for the street, and almost immediately regretted it. The Vigor leaned through corners like grandma’s sofa. Initial turn-in felt heavy and numb, with understeer showing up with even the lightest throttle mid-corner. I was also getting some mild mid-corner lift-off sliding from the rear. I decided to just pay more attention to what the car was doing, how I was driving it, and what I could change. After all, it was a new car to me. I finished out the session unsatisfied and knew something wasn’t right.
Back in the paddock, I had 40 minutes to do any tweaking. I adjusted the front struts from their softest setting, up about a quarter of the way to their stiffest. I wanted to make gradual changes to help avoid any surprises. I figured I should leave the rear on its softer setting as it was already feeling playful. Some time playing Forza Motorsport made me think that having the rear too stiff in relation to the front could result in some unexpected lift-off oversteer… I don’t think I’m ready for that yet!
Back out for my second session, the car felt much better mid-corner but still lacked the steering turn-in I was used to from my TSX’s tighter rack. I made the rookie mistake of not checking my tire pressure until after this second session where I quickly realized pressures were too low. Warm, right off the track, nothing was higher than 31 psi. I had ran 40 psi front, 35 psi rear on the TSX last year with great results. I had an air pump, but my car’s power outlet wasn’t working. Too shy to ask neighboring drivers in the paddock for help, I decided that I would just have to be mindful of my inadequate tire pressure and try to adapt to the car’s behavior.
I left the car unchanged for the rest of the day, and worked with how it handled. I ended up getting a good sense of the car and was having a lot of fun with it. Still fighting with understeer on turn-in, I did manage consistent 1:50.xx lap times according to the Harrys Lap Timer app. My fastest lap ended up being a 1:47.91, which is a whole second faster than last years best lap in the TSX! The car didn’t exactly feel as great as my stock TSX did, but I know the TSX so well in comparison and will need more seat time with the Vigor to learn it.
I came away from the event with a good foundation, and ideas to make the car better. I think my choice in the Eibach Pro springs was incorrect for the cars purpose – they are fine for a daily driver, but too soft on track, allowing a lot of body roll despite the huge front and rear sway bars.
Judging by my tire wear, I don’t think more pressure alone could have saved them. The car only has -1.2° of camber up front and 0.2° in the rear, between an SPC camber kit and the slight increase that comes with lowering the car. Adjustable rear toe and front camber kits, some new springs with stiffer rates and some poly filled suspension bushings are all at the top of my list. Once I have those bits installed, I can better dial in the cars alignment and hopefully fix the turn-in feel while reducing understeer.
Despite the challenges, I am still extremely pleased with the Vigor. The brakes felt great all day stopping from 110mph, and I got pretty good at downshifting while braking. The car performed consistently and sounded great. My instructor gave me some driving tips and with them I was able to move up from the Novice group to Intermediate after my first two sessions. The amount of people who came to me in the paddock and at the drivers meeting to ask questions about the car and compliment it was really rewarding. Not only was I having fun, but I was surprising a few people and giving them a glimpse of Honda’s oddball five cylinder in action!
As I look toward the future, I would like to join NASA and maybe even compete in Honda Challenge with the car one day! I have so much to improve, between myself and the car’s setup, but I feel like this is a start to an interesting and rewarding journey.