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The "California Type-R" Conversion - Tales From The Old School

Reachin' Back

By Joey Lee, Photography by Joey Lee

The "California Type-R" Conversion Nothing said "I have no means to source this" or "I can't afford it" better than the California Type-R conversion of the late '90s/early 2000s. While the real JDM front end conversion was in its infancy and barely on the radars of the masses, someone thought it would be a good idea to start shoving non-Integra headlights into USDM bumpers. The Cali Type-R was about as Japanese as a California Roll. It screamed "I might be Japanese, but okay, I definitely am not."

That era of tuning and modification was all about big fiberglass body kits and headlight/taillight conversions. If you wanted to be a "baller" you didn't have to buy rare, expensive JDM parts. All you had to do was custom fit any light that didn't belong on your car, onto your car. Most of the time, these were almost as pricey, in some cases more expensive, than today's generation of having an excess of all things JDM. Often times they were just plain odd. Lexus RX300 taillights onto your Del Sol meant that you didn't have to own a Lexus anymore. Just the fact that you went out and bought OEM Lexus lights from the dealer was good enough. Funny thing is, people didn't seem to mind the fact that the lights wouldn't function the way they were designed to or even aim in the correct general area. No, it was all about style.

The Cali Type-R was so easy to come by, and such an easy conversion to do, that many didn't bother hunting for the real JDM conversion. While the real deal required welding, replacing the core support, and installing new fenders, hood, and front bumper, the Cali Type-R just required a bit of cutting and lots of fiberglass. Enthusiasts were body kit crazy and fiberglass was extremely easy to work with. This meant that the CL headlight/Integra front-end conversion was a match made in fiberglass heaven. The Acura CL was also terribly unpopular, which made it easy for people to get their hands on the headlights for a reasonable cost.

There were two options for this conversion. Purchase the Cali Type R kit that included headlights, a bumper, and questionable brackets, along with Ikea-like instructions from one of the many body kit companies around at that time. Or, you could source a pair of CL headlights, cut two big holes in your Integra front bumper (fiberglass kit or not), insert headlights, and hope that they fit after a little massaging and a healthy dose of Bondo. What about headlight brackets? Self-made pieces from Home Depot or local body shop visits to attempt some sort of makeshift fabrication seemed to be the norm. Like anything else that doesn't belong on something, the Cali Type-R proved to be more of a hassle than a stylish lady killer. The headlights usually rattled around so much that the fiberglass or Bondo eventually cracked around them.

The Cali Type-R definitely opened doors for many other conversions during that era. People began putting Accord headlights onto Integras, OEM Integra bug-eyes were molded into Civics, or a third bug-eye was added for no apparent reason. Then, to step things up, people even began putting real JDM Integra headlights onto Civics, Preludes, and Accords. It became one huge identity crisis at every car show. Attendees spent more time trying to figure out what kind of car they were looking at, than they did enjoying the show.

Today, the JDM Integra headlight conversion is still a universally accepted mod, and for some, considered a standard. The Cali Type-R conversion however, not surprisingly, has faded away into absurdity. Some say that all trends eventually come back into style, but we're not holding our breath on this one. It should ride off into the questionable-modification-sunset with white vinyl interiors and cotton balls in the wheel wells.

By Joey Lee
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