This trip back to my hometown was about reconnecting the past with the present. Consider the following as a bonus.
There was a weekday available for me to indulge in visiting two museums in Southern California. These are not museums that are readily open to the public, but you can arrange to visit for one and have an agenda for another. Both of these locations fly very low under the tourist radar.
Actually, with an e-mail or phone call, you can visit the Toyota USA Automobile Museum in Torrance. They have a good collection of Toyota's past products covering all three brands. There are several vehicles with their own story – one particular white 1990 Lexus LS 400 relating to a safety feature now seen on today's vehicles.
You could see how Toyota Motorsports and Toyota Racing Development emerged in IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA. There are plenty of trucks to trace through their history from the Stout to the Tundra that pulled the space shuttle Endeavor across a small bit of Los Angeles. You could also witness the history of the Land Cruiser in America and its offspring amongst SUVs and crossovers. There were plenty of Toyota, Lexus and Scion models that provoked thoughts and stories from my past.
My second stop had a bit more resonance. The Honda Heritage Museum is not open to the public. I gained admittance based on the work on this site and my other publications. A simple request turned into an extraordinary visit.
It was great to see the first few generations of Civics and Accords. They also had Preludes, CRXs and their share of motorsport highlights. Acura was also featured, thanks to two NSXs and generations of Legends and Integras. Motorcycles are also part of the collection, since Sochiro Honda built its automotive legacy on the success of its two-wheeled machinery.
Yet, one particular car held my attention. There was a white 1991 Acura Integra GS coupe on the floor. This was exactly the vehicle I was hoping to see in my visit at the Heritage Center.
As you have read over the years, my 1991 RS coupe was the best car I ever owned in my life. However, this GS looked as good as it did when almost new. The mileage was high, but you could not tell it turned six digits on the odometer.
This Integra drew me closer. I felt the lines from the hood to the hatch. Same as it ever was. The doors opened and closed better – I had a factory issue with my driver's door on my RS. Yet, I looked at it near and far – noticing the first ever application of the caliper badge for the Integra that model year.
To make this point, I did not own the GS – rather the basic RS. What the GS had were equipment I was still a bit leery to use. I did not have power windows and door locks. Not did I have cruise control, factory installed air conditioning and an audio system. My aircon was dealer installed and the audio unit was aftermarket. Still, the GS provided context to my own past, but I had to open the door again and climb behind the wheel to confirm my feelings.
To my glee, the Integra still fits. The interior condition was extremely good – no wear on the seats or anything else worth noticing. The seats were was supportive and comfortable as I remembered it to be. I sat the same way as I did in my old RS. The low step down into the seat became routine again. You would think that after reviewing many sedans, SUVs, crossovers and trucks that I would forget the drop down into the Integra’s throne. No beat was missed.
The instrument panel was exactly how I remembered it. Instead of just absorbing it, I began comparing it to my RS. Perhaps this was not a wise mood, as I should enjoy the good stuff I missed from not getting the top model instead of the cheaper one. Push buttons on the climate control, the power windows and lock switches on the door, the cruise control on the steering wheel and the standard Acura cassette system were the omissions from my RS that I savored in this GS.
Still, the automatic transmission lever was still good to the touch. My hand wrapped around it as it did many times twenty of so years ago. The steering wheel was a classic touch with the rim was thick, just like I remembered it. If there were something different about this wheel it would be the extra leather fitting for the GS model. It just looked so inviting to drive.
Opening the hood revealed a familiar sight: the 1.8liter dual overhead camshaft, four-valve-per-cylinder four-cylinder engine. This one looked so clean – just as it came from the dealer. I showed my Honda/Acura hosts the trick my former roommate/mechanic showed me on how to replace the timing belt. They were amazed how I recalled this operation – the easiest amongst cars of its time.
I examined the engine bay. Everything simply came back to me – the PGM-FI fuel injection induction system, the box air filter, the placement of the alternator and air conditioning unit. One might not need to wax poetic about such trivial parts, but in this case it was allowed.
The Integra was never meant to be a special car. It was priced to compete in the face of the Toyota Celica, Nissan 240SX, Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon, Isuzu Impulse, Ford Probe, Mazda 626 and Dodge Daytona. Yet, it was refined. I would argue that in comparison to power and performance, the Integra was meant to be both an entry into the world of premium brands with a foot in a competitive segment amongst sporty coupes.
My old RS leaned more towards the mainstream sporty coupe line, but it exhibited a striking combination of technology under the hood and the purity of iconic sports machines, such as the BMW 2002 and Datsun 240Z. The GS added the luxury part befitting of a premium brand – close to the level of a base model ILX of today.
We could talk for hours about the Integra's impact on the market some 20-25 years ago. But, to link a tangible example to the stories of the past certainly provided context to a "homecoming." Though my RS was bought in Northern California and maintained most of its use in its natural habitat, it did reach home one time. It never set foot in Reseda – a shame really.
Yet, flashes of that Concord Blue Metallic RS coupe of its first journey down US-101 remain. That first test drive on the north shore of the Tiburon Peninsula and the decision to purchase it afterward. That harrowing rainy run through the middle of the East Bay hills encountering a mudslide halfway through to Pleasant Hill from Berkeley. The dream of taking that Integra onto Sonoma raceway – once never fulfilled. They all came back to me as I sat behind the wheel of that white GS coupe inside the Honda Heritage Center.
When it was time to leave, it all became clear how much V&R's coverage of the Acura brand remains still continue with its own form of resonance. True, the TL, RDX and RLX reviewed over the past two years are indeed a far cry from the Integras of 1991. The essence remains, however.
All photos by Randy Stern