Who remembers the 1990s? More than the decade of the dot-com boom (and subsequent bust), it was also a seminal decade for young car enthusiasts who were coming of age in the sport compact tuner scene, where Japanese imports ruled the roost. Most of these cars were more form over function, with “fart can” exhaust mufflers and too-low lowering springs that would blow out their supporting dampers in a matter of miles. And then there was the bone-stock Acura Integra Type R (one of which we recently drove).
Other Type R exclusive changes included shortened gear ratios for the five-speed manual transmission (all Type Rs were equipped with stick shifts), lower and stiffer suspension components, a partly seam-welded chassis, and reinforced suspension and subframe pickup points. U.S. cars even received extra cross-bracing for increased chassis stiffness, which negated some of the weight-saving elements like a thinner glass windshield, and sunroof, air conditioning, and cruise control deletion, and reduced sound deadening. Even the wheel hubs were changed to a five-lug design with larger wheel bearings for strength, and the disc brakes were larger than on the standard Integra as well.
Back then, the Acura ITR was a means to an end: sporty front-wheel-drive fun at a price far lower than more “serious” and expensive sports cars. Today, the Integra Type R is a legend, with prices far eclipsing an original retail price in the low-$20,000 range. In 2018 at its Las Vegas auction, Barrett-Jackson set a new world-record price for a low-miles 1997 ITR at $63,800. In 2019, online auto auction site Bring a Trailer sold a 27,000-mile 1998 version for $68,775 with commission, then beat its own record a few months later with a 6,000-mile 1997 ITR fetching an eye-watering $86,100. Fortunately for you, examples in clean “driver” condition with more miles still hover in the low-$20,000 to high-$30,000 range—expensive, but not necessarily out of line.
To make more sense of the Acura Integra Type R market, we enlisted Sterling Sackey, a young collector car broker in Southern California who specializes in rare Japanese metal, to tell us more about what collectors are looking for when they buy Acura ITRs and why these cars have gained the status they have.
Automobile: The Acura Integra Type R has become one of the most collectible Japanese cars from the 1990s. How was it received by enthusiasts when it was new?
Sterling Sackey: The USA-market Integra Type R was released at a time when import tuner culture had already become a widespread enthusiast movement in the United States and was continuing to grow rapidly. The Type R name was known in the United States by fans of Japanese Domestic Market sports & tuner cars, and the arrival of the Integra Type R on our shores was a direct result of Honda / Acura noticing this enthusiasm amongst their American fans. As a result, the ITR was received with open arms in the United States.
A: More than 3,800 ITRs were built for the U.S. market. Was it a sales success at the time?
SS: In my opinion, the car was a relative sales success in the United States compared to other rare and special Honda / Acura products that followed it. It did not sell in anything like the numbers it did in Japan (almost 25,000 ITR coupes of the same generation were sold there), but 3,800+ units in the United States for a track-focused car like this one was a respectable production run, especially considering its MSRP of around $24,000 was considered expensive at the time, and the added mark-ups requested by many dealers only put the car further out of reach for many of the young enthusiasts who pined for one.
A: Were most ITRs treated as the collectibles they would become by their owners and driven gently, or were they thrashed and modified?
SS: The latter, by far. Most ITRs were purchased by people who wanted to use their cars as intended, either at the track or to be driven hard on the road. Additionally, most Integra Type Rs were modified at some point in their early lives, as modification parts had already been widely available for the similar Integra GS-R, and the Type R that existed in Japan. The Type R also developed an (unfortunately accurate) reputation for being stolen often. The factory-upgraded engine was extremely valuable to Honda tuners, as were the other Type R-specific parts, so the temptation for car thieves to steal Type Rs and resell their parts on the used parts market was high. As a result of these factors, the Integra Type R had probably one of the highest “attrition” rates of any enthusiast car ever. Of the 3,800+ produced, a very small percentage remain in good, original condition today.
A: When we’re talking about collectibility, which U.S.-spec ITRs are the most desirable? What are buyers looking for?
SS: The most desirable in terms of average transacted price is the ’97 model, of which only 320 units were produced, all in the iconic Type R-specific Championship White. The ’97 used the earlier pre-facelift Integra design, which would be updated for all ’98-and-up Integras including the Type Rs. The next-most desirable are the ’98 cars, of which around 1,000 were produced, with the facelifted body but still in Championship White only. The ITR went away for ’99, then came back for ’00-’01 with very minor updates and exclusively in Phoenix Yellow and Flamenco Black Pearl (’00) / Nighthawk Black Pearl (’01). Out of the ’00 (around 1,350 cars) & ’01 (around 1,160 cars) range, yellow cars typically sell for a bit more than the black cars, but overall condition, history, mileage, etc., are much bigger factors than color as with all ITRs.
Those paying big dollars for an Integra Type R today typically want a car that is as original as possible, with a known history. Many buyers also have a preference for a specific color or year, often due to an emotional attachment to what they owned or pined after two decades ago when the cars were new.
A: How about the Japanese-spec cars that began in 1995? How do these compare in spec with U.S. cars, and do you see a flood of imports now that the earliest JDM cars are U.S.-legal? How might values compare with a U.S. car?
SS: Japanese Integra Type Rs are most noticeably different from the U.S. cars in that they have a different front-end look, which had been adopted on all Japanese Integras after the “4-eye” front end (that we continued on with in the U.S.) was not received well in Japan. Additionally, they have features such as Recaro bucket seats and a sportier steering wheel that we did not get on the U.S. model, amongst other small mechanical differences. The U.S. cars are mechanically based on the 1998-spec Japanese Integra Type R, which had some upgrades from the early JDM cars such as 5-lug wheels and incremental suspension tweaks.
I think it’s likely many Japanese-spec Integra Type Rs will be imported to the U.S. in the coming years. Their look and specification are different enough from the U.S. cars to have a unique appeal. That said, I don’t think the importation of JDM ITRs will have too much effect on the U.S. ITR market, as our cars are uniquely specced, specially numbered, and much rarer than the JDM cars. Additionally, I think the nostalgia factor here is very high for the U.S.-spec cars because they are what most enthusiasts in the early ’00s had access to. The JDM cars will likely occupy a lower price range in the U.S. market, for all but the very best collectible examples.
A: We‘ve seen tremendous rise in the value of ITRs, along with other low-production Japanese sports cars like the Acura NSX Alex Zanardi edition and Honda S2000 Club Racer. Where do you see the future of ITR values headed and where do these cars place in the Japanese collector hierarchy?
SS: I think the rise that has already occurred is representative of where the cars should be in keeping with the wider market, and I expect they will continue to rise at a slower rate going forward versus what was seen over the past few years. In the Japanese collector hierarchy, the Integra Type R is a staple car that will always be respected and well-liked, and looked to as a bellwether for the Japanese market as a whole.
A: Do you see a future for period-correct “tuner” cars? Say, a Sport Compact Car cover car from the 1990s? Would a period-modified ITR evoke nostalgia in buyers or will stock, original cars almost always be worth more?
SS: That is a fantastic question—I think it’s very possible. However, what creates high value in collector cars is often their ability to be documented / legitimized by a well-regarded & esteemed source. In other words, the reason completely stock and original cars will always do well is because very few can argue with the way a manufacturer produced any iconic car—conversely, it’s easy to argue whether a modified car was done right. If a modified car that was done in-period by an extremely respected source came to market (not unlike an original Alpina for BMW, or an original AMG for Mercedes), I think it would do very well.
1997-2001 Acura Integra Type R Highlights
- 195 horsepower, 8,500-rpm redline
- Exclusively sold with five-speed manual transmission
- Weight savings measures including lighter glass, reduced sound deadening
- Stiffer chassis and suspension
- 3,823 U.S.-spec Acura Integra Type Rs sold
- Top auction sales price: $86,100
|1998 Acura Integra Type R Specifications|
|PRICE||$23,500 (base when new)|
|ENGINE||1.8L DOHC 16-valve I-4/195 hp @ 8,000 rpm, 130 lb-ft @ 7,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, FWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||22/28 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||172.4 x 67.3 x 52.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.2 sec|
|TOP SPEED||145 mph|