There are those things that never should have been and those things that never came to be that should have. The automotive world abounds of the former. Donks come to mind. So do Wright brother-inspired boy racer wings and Lambo doors on anything other than Lambos. Convertible conversions should fall neatly into place here too but somehow don't anymore. No, we're not excluding silly minivan chop-top conversions but, as for first-generation CRX ones, consider those excused. This is all because of Florida native Steve McClesky and auto customizer Straman Coachworks. Steve's CRX is by no means an anomaly though. Straman whipped up a good 310 Honda convertibles in the mid-'80s. Other customizers followed suit but Straman remains the original rex converter. Of course, Steve's is a Straman.
If you remember 1984, then it's likely you remember the hype surrounding Honda's newest sports car and the convertible conversion frenzy stirred up by Road and Track magazine. Steve does. He was hockin' pizzas out of his Pinto wagon for Domino's when he first took a liking to the 'vert. Unfortunately, even in the '80s, pizza money and new cars didn't jive, not to mention with Straman-converted ones at that. Steve later settled for an '86 DX, which was then traded for an '87 Si. Dreams of ragtops still haunted the delivery boy at night but the realities of a pizza-funded bank account always seemed to circumvent such dreams.
Life got in the way and 15 years or so went by before Steve happened upon an '85 convertible CRX ad. Fortunately for him, the pizza trade gave way long ago to a career as a Honda master technician, which, needless to say, is a bit more lucrative then delivering pies for a living. Steve refrained from excitement during the hour-long trip to visit the car. He fully expected some "backyard hack job" but what he found was a genuine Straman-converted rex. Yes, the seats were torn, the wheels were dorky and the steering wheel was funny looking, but Steve bought it anyway.
Yeah, it took him 15 years to acquire his very own Straman CRX but it only took Steve a year or so to build it up to his liking. In many respects, his DX is the epitome of era-specific. The 14-inch Mugen CF-48s prove as much as do the Lightspeed Racing torsion bars and rare Honda accessory center reflective rear panel.
Those familiar with the '85 DX know that it's carbureted and those familiar with 20-year-old carburetors know they can be finicky. A B16A engine swap would be nice, Steve thought, but he'd first have to source one and then deal with the carb-to-EFI conversion. As luck would have it, a fine specimen of a B16A was already tucked away in the corner of Steve's garage, awaiting installation into his other CRX, a '91. As you might imagine, plans quickly changed and he decided to focus his attention toward the first-generation along with that B16A.
Even swap experts will agree that first-generation DX B16A swaps are no picnic. Despite Steve's master technician status the swap still took a good 12 after-hours days and weekends. To be fair though, there's a lot involved. An '88 Integra engine harness paired with two '87 CRX Si body harnesses were used to create an injection-friendly loom. High-pressure fuel injection lines were routed throughout the chassis and a pickup was installed in the gas tank. Keep in mind, all this did was convert the car to EFI status-the engine swap had yet to begin. As the savvy might expect, Hasport engine mounts and axles were used but, prior to that first-generation Integra hubs were bolted up. The Integra hubs feature provisions for larger axles and also accommodate the EG rotors and calipers and AEM pads later installed. Speaking of stopping, Steve decided to forego the more common rear-disc swap and instead fit the HF's lighter aluminum drums in place. The engine went in as expected and a super-rare set of TEIN Super Street Medieval Pro dampers, scored from www.heeltoeauto.com, was bolted all around for an arguably well-rounded swap. Shortly after, the ECU and distributor were upgraded to OBD-I status for a soon to be reliable ride. The ol' rex fired up and all was good...for a while anyway.
If you're tired of dumping Benjamins into your Honda then stop going to Honda meets. This is, after all, where the seeds of envy develop. Such was the case for Steve. It was at a local CRX meet where he laid eyes on another first-generation, also with a B16A swap, only turbocharged. John Wilson, friend and owner of LHT Performance, was called upon to help deal with Steve's forced-induction frustrations. Under the auspices of John, a Garrett GT2871R was mated to a custom LHT exhaust manifold and complemented with an LHT intercooler and GReddy Type RS blow-off valve. Blow-ups have been avoided with the addition of a Walbro fuel pump and Precision 550cc fuel injectors bossed around by a Hondata S100. All of this is good for 265 whp mind you.
Steve doesn't drag race the 'vert and he doesn't track it. No, it's simply too precious for that. A dust collector it is not though. Steve tells us that he does fire the CRX up just about every sunny day, which in his part of Florida, is more often than not. Could one possibly expect less from a guy who's waited 18 years to own something only 309 others have? We think not.