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Say hello to the loudest Honda City VTEC in the country. Oh yeah, this is the Type 2 Honda City VTEC, the one that introduced India to VTEC, the one that went out of production in 2003, and the one that won 5 out of 8 races it entered in this years’ Touring Car series. 15 years out of production yet this Honda City VTEC won the most races in the most closely fought racing series in the country – pole in 3 out of 4 rounds, lap record and fastest race time in all the rounds, outright ITC lap record on the new 17-inch MRF tyre; it missed out on the championship by just 4 points as they did not take part in the very first round.
First, a disclaimer. This is not a racecar test. This car is not road legal, which is why we are not on a public road. That said, I’m not sure we are legally allowed to be here but let’s not get bogged down with the details shall we. We’re very obviously not on a racetrack so there’s no way to test this cars’ true potential – which is speed around corners – but that’s not the point of this story in any case. We are here to see just how far Honda’s B15C2 VTEC engine can be pushed, and for now this is almost as far as it can go, powering the fastest 1.5-litre, front-wheel drive, naturally-aspirated car in the world. In The World.
“First, second, third, fourth, fifth – we don’t have a 5km runway yet I’m on the limiter in top gear well before I run out of road”
Built by Joel Joseph at his Race Concepts workshop in Bangalore this engine puts out 210bhp at the crank, 190bhp as measured at the wheel. “The engine is 1573cc now and runs oversized valves, very highly tuned cam, polished cylinder head, forged crank, modified oil pump and individual throttle bodies,” says Joel. Basically, everything that the Indian Touring Car series allows, Joel has done, and everything in-house at his own workshop. That includes the revised and closely-stacked ratios in the (still H-pattern) gearbox that makes sure the car hits top speed (180kmph) in fifth gear at the very end of the back straight at the Chennai track. At the BIC it peaks at 200kmph, “But we are on the limiter half way down the back straight and then [7-time racing champion] Arjun Balu has to feather the throttle and be careful not to damage the engine”. Compression ratio? 12:1. Max revs? 8900rpm. Decibel levels? Off the charts.
Thanks to the limited slip differential on the front axle and, of course, the custom suspension geometry, race suspension and race rubber, the race-VTEC manages to put down all its power without mad wheelspin. I wince in pain as my ear drums explode but I give it everything and, good grief, in a straight line the race-VTEC is insanely quick. This is still a single overhead cam VTEC setup but with a custom camshaft. First, second, third, fourth, fifth – we don’t have a 5km runway yet I’m on the limiter in top gear well before I run out of road. Joel claims it gets to 100kmph in 5.6 seconds and dusts the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds but the thing to remember is he has also worked on the aero, worked on generating downforce to carry higher corner speeds – the key to a faster lap time. And then after we finished with this drive, Joel managed to find another 6bhp from the engine, stuck a spoiler on the boot so that Arjun doesn’t take off in the race and they won the last two races of this year’s ITC series.
That’s what Joel does, even if Honda themselves don’t believe in it. I can’t tell how much he has spent on the race cars but, believe me, he could be driving a Porsche if not for all the racing spends. But he says, “It could not have been done any other way. All the R&D from racing is what makes us such a strong engineering force.” Everything learnt in shaving tenths off the lap time, all of it goes into making even faster road cars. It wouldn’t be a stretch to label Joel’s Race Concepts as the Indian equivalent of HRC or at the very least the Indian Mugen. Maybe they should make stickers that say Race Concepts in Japanese.
“Sure you look at the thin A-pillars and pray you never, ever, get into an accident in this car but this is the essence of The Thrill of Driving – pure, unfiltered, zero bullshit”
Joel has got five of his fastest road cars, all of them driven by their owners, for me to sample (the sixth car is a stock VTEC, just for perspective). I first have a go in Anapa’s naturally aspirated silver car, for no particular reason other than he is the first to arrive. Now these Type 2 Honda City VTECs, even in bog-stock form, are still very quick. It not only accelerates quicker than the current Honda City VTEC but is actually quicker than any current C-segment car including the turbo-petrol Vento TSI. If you want a quick car, a stock City VTEC will still do the job. Give it to Joel and as a first stage he will polish the cylinder head, give the compression ratio a slight bump, alter the intake and exhaust to make it breathe better and sound even better, and slap on a Race Dynamics RD1401 standalone ECU for better control over the fuelling. “We re-profile the ports and get the combustion chamber to work efficiently,” says Joel. “We have found a sweet spot which gives us max power as well as good fuel efficiency – these are daily drive cars that people use everyday.”
I can see why Anapa would invest time and money in tuning his 15-year old Honda City VTEC. 0-100kmph takes just 7 seconds and that engine revving to 8000rpm, the sound, the revs, the super-slick gearbox, the low driving position, it all makes for an immersive and frankly very raw and direct experience that you do not get in modern cars. Sure you look at the thin A-pillars and pray you never, ever, get into an accident in this car but this is the essence of The Thrill of Driving – pure, unfiltered, zero bullshit. Lots of revs matched by lots of speed. You work the engine and it rewards you. And it costs not very much. Rs 2 lakh for a well-maintained Honda City VTEC and around Rs 4 lakh to get it to Anapa’s spec including closer ratios in the gearbox, stiffer suspension, race clutch, front and rear strut bars for better handling and a rear disc brake. Rs 6 lakh for a car that puts out 138bhp at the wheel sounds like a damn good deal, right?
“Together with a timing wheel, full-blown manifold, RD1401 ECU and larger 330cc injectors these cars make around 180bhp”
“The next step up on this is slightly more compression with forged pistons, new rods to handle the higher horsepower and take the load of aggressive downshifts, a higher tune on the cylinder head, as well as stronger valve springs with titanium retainers to counter valve bounce,” says Joel. Together with a timing wheel, full-blown manifold, RD1401 ECU and larger 330cc injectors these cars make around 180bhp. In fact the engine in the blue VTEC is the very same one in Adith KC’s Group N+ spec City rally car before the regulations were changed and N+ cars were banned. And this blue car clocked 100kmph in 6.4 seconds and was officially clocked at a drag event crossing the quarter mile in 14.2 seconds.
To take into account the higher horsepower, Joel also upgrades the suspension with stiffer springs, Koni (or similar) dampers and upgraded brakes with a rear disc setup. These cars are fast, they need to stop!
Yes. These cars are very reliable and the VTEC engine can take plenty of prodding and tuning. “The B15 engine has very good construction on the block and the cylinder head and the internals are very strong,” clarifies Joel. “This is basically a detuned B16 engine and can handle quite high revs and take a lot of compression. And it runs the right combination of valves, as in the size of the valves, which means better breathing and better port flow.” As for the newer cars Joel says they are “meant to do the job” and cannot be pushed to 200bhp in naturally aspirated state. “They do not have enough cylinder spacing, they have lighter components, the valves are smaller.”
“First and most important is the bottom half,” says Joel as he walks me round Ajay Nayak’s black Honda City VTEC that makes 355bhp at the crank and 309bhp at the wheel. “I replace the pistons with low compression ones that can handle the boost. The VTEC engine has a higher compression so the first thing we do is manage compression to avoid knocking and other issues. Once that is done, we work on the head to flow better and make an efficient ram-manifold induction system for the turbo.”
“Remain alert and you get Octavia RS-levels of performance for just Rs 9 lakh, with the added joy of a manual gearbox”
Nithin’s grey turbo-VTEC has also been built for street use and has a fat powerband that starts at 3500rpm and goes all the way up to 7500rpm. The Garret GT28 turbo develops max boost of 15-16PSI which, says Joel, “is well within the limits of what you can run without upgrading to 97 octane fuel”. Claimed horsepower is 370bhp at the crank, 321bhp at the wheel on the dyno, and when it comes on boost the kick is ferocious. With the turbo on song the revs just fly to the limiter and it is just one gear after another in quick succession, almost as quickly as the race-VTEC, with the speeds building up almost as quickly and ferociously. This is how turbo engines used to be, lots of lag followed by fire and brimstone when the wick is lit. Catch a tramline when you’re on full boost and full throttle and you better be quick with the steering to catch it else you’re off the road. Remain alert and you get Octavia RS-levels of performance for just Rs 9 lakh, with the added joy of a manual gearbox. The build includes a Greddy electronic boost controller, 750cc high-flow injectors, Turbosmart external wastegate and blow-off valve, RD ECU, intercooler, tuned exhaust and also closer gearbox ratios so that the revs never drop below 3500rpm. The turbo knocks down the 0-100kmph time to 5.7 seconds and the quarter mile to 13.1 seconds – and this is the mild turbo!
The wildest build here is Pranay’s gold Honda City VTEC that he not only uses on the street but slaps on a set of Hoosier slicks and races in drag events. On the dyno it puts out 386bhp at the wheel and 440bhp at the crank and with the boost being so high it has, what Pranay calls, boost by gear. Pranay himself tunes the ECU and it is mapped to deliver increasing boost levels as you go higher up the gears, sort of like what Ferrari uses in their turbo engines! This ensures the front tyres don’t spin uselessly when overwhelmed by a mountain of boost but as the tyres get more grip, more boost can be deployed.
“It’s utterly ridiculous that a car that went out of production 15 years ago can decimate baby Jags and Porsches”
It is, as you can expect, massively quick. In 2016 when the car was making 288bhp at the wheel, it was clocked at a drag race crossing the quarter mile in 12.84 seconds. It’s utterly ridiculous that a car that went out of production 15 years ago can decimate baby Jags and Porsches. “The powerband is from 5000-8000rpm,” says Joel. “The turbo also kicks in fairly high and the gear ratios are taller. Pranay takes the car for drag races regularly so we have tuned it accordingly. It runs a very tall first, does nearly 75kmph in first at 8000rpm.”
Much like the racecar, Pranay’s road car too is a continuous work in progress. Over the past two years a further 100bhp has been squeezed out of the engine, that now runs fully forged internals, 21PSI of max boost and 800cc injectors. Of course a front-wheel drive chassis can only generate so much grip – it spins its fronts in first, second and even third gear – and the quickest it can get to 100kmph (with all the wheelspin) is 5.3 seconds. But once you’re on the go, once you go up the gears, once VTEC kicks in, all hell breaks loose, yo.
Stock Honda City VTEC
105bhp at crank
91bhp at wheel
Cost now Rs 2 lakh
155bhp at crank
138bhp at wheel
Build cost Rs 3.5 lakh
NA with N+ motor (BLUE)
180bhp at crank
153bhp at wheel
Build cost Rs 7.5 lakh
355bhp at crank
309bhp at wheel
Build cost Rs 8.8 lakh
370bhp at crank
321bhp at wheel
Build cost Rs 9.5 lakh
440bhp at crank
386bhp at wheel
Build cost Rs 11 lakh