Project CRX Part 2: Autocross shakedown and some simple upgrades

This project car update was published on June 28, 2010 on my original WordPress site.

The following is a conglomeration of two pieces, originally written in April and May of this year. In an effort to get back on a current timeline sooner, I decided to combine the two. This meant I had to eliminate some parts and the result is a bit dry. With the return to the current timeline, I promise that any new updates will be written in the old, more friendly style.  —Chris

In the last installment I introduced you to my latest project, the 1991 Honda CRX, and gave my early impressions.

Not long after, I got my first opportunity to see what the car could really do, as auto-x season opened in South Jersey on April 11. I decided to treat the event as a true shakedown and run the car without any changes, with one exception. I switched my wheel and tire combo to the 14-inch steel wheels and BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sport T/A tires that I had bought for the rusty Civic.

Some of you may be wondering why I made this change, given that I heaped praise on the 13-inch Goodyears in the last installment. The answer is simple really: the g-Force Super Sport is one of the best all season tires I have ever driven. As good as the Goodyears are, they don’t hold a candle to the BFGs in terms of all-weather control.

And, as an added bonus, I also gained a larger contact patch, going from a 175/70R13 to a 185/60R14.

Now, some of you more eagle-eyed readers may be inclined to call me out, since stock class rules dictate that you must run the standard width and diameter wheel. So changing to the 14s might be considered cheating by some. Well, my answer to that is a 185-series tire will easily fit on my 13-inch wheels, so I gained no competitive advantage from any changes in size. And anyway, I didn’t expect to be running anywhere near the front, so that little skirting of the rules didn’t really matter.

Turns out those low expectations were a bit misplaced.

Some deficiencies manifested themselves early and often under these harsher driving conditions. Despite that, though, the car ran at the front of the class until the last lap of the day, when an ’04 Civic Si that had been nipping at my heels all afternoon found a better gear at the bottom of the track and picked up a full second.

Though disappointed at the last-second loss, I was genuinely impressed with the potential of the CRX. I had clearly picked a platform with which I could be competitive.

But first I had some issues to address, and the biggest was the brakes.

As I mentioned in the last installment, I had some doubts from the beginning about the age and quality of the parts already on the car. Those doubts were confirmed by the soft pedal feel and sloppy performance on the track, and strange noises coming from the rear on the way home.

I knew that new pads and rotors would be a necessity up front and I had been reading good things about Project Mu B-Force pads. Though a bit pricey, they have developed a reputation as an excellent street and light-duty track pad. A set of Brembo solid rotors would provide the consistent performance I wanted while keeping me eligible for stock class competition.

While I was waiting for the parts to arrive for the front I checked out the rears. Clearly this was something I should have done much sooner, as it was quite a mess back there. The shoes were almost non-existent and the drums were visibly deformed. Some quick measuring determined that they were way below spec for cutting, too. With a sigh I decided to buy all new parts for the back as well.

Rear drums, though, do so little work under heavy braking that high-performance parts are unnecessary. My local auto parts store had original equipment quality parts, in stock and dirt cheap.

While I was there I also ordered a K&N direct replacement air filter element to improve airflow into the engine.

By the time everything arrived and I had finished installing parts and flushing the old dirty fluids, it was time for the next event.

The results this time were, sadly, much the same as the last. Despite running strong all day, the CRX just wasn’t able to close on the EP Si, who had upgraded to Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 tires. Both of our times improved steadily during the course of the day, but the gap remained consistent. The Dunlops had given him a clear advantage.

This, in combination with heavy wear on my own tires, reinforced a nagging suspicion I had developed at the last event: that all season tires just weren’t going to be enough to win. Worse, the damage from the heat and extreme demands on my own tires was worrying.

Though it will be expensive to upgrade to a dedicated high performance tire, it will actually be less so than potentially ruining my street tires every two or three races.  Also, using the original 13-inch steelies for the upgrade will ensure that I once again clearly meet the letter of the stock class rules.

So look for that in my next update. Until then, happy motoring!

Parts added in this article:
Project Mu pads:
Brembo rotors:
K&N filter element:

About Chris Nelson

Chris is a writer and communicator with backgrounds in public relations, communication, political science and automotive technology. He holds an M.A. from Rowan University and a B.A. from Susquehanna University in addition to a certificate in Auto Tech from Lincoln Technical Institute.

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