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DA Resurrection: A Legendary 1991 Acura Integra LS Reborn

The Bergenholtz surname is synonymous with racing and imports here in the US, but before the Bergenholtz Racing drifting program, and even before the Bergenholtz Racing Drag program, this 1991 DA Integra was the car that started a multi-decade addiction. While the car is a bit removed from its original glory, the story behind the build is nearly as impressive as the build itself. Heavily influenced by a red Acura Integra owned by a man named Bernard, but affectionately called “Captain Neo” based on his affinity for the SSR Neo wheel that the Integra adorned, Ron Bergenholtz longed to own a DA Integra. However, his parents didn’t think that was the best idea for a kid who was in college, and Ron had to take a less direct route to get the car he lusted after.

The "Captain Neo" Acura Integra inspired Ron Bergenholtz to build his DA Integra  

Back before the internet made buying aftermarket parts just a click away, there were very few import cars with aftermarket support. While known for a long history of Hondas and Mazdas, Ron Bergenholtz’s first car was actually a Mk2 Volkswagen Jetta. The vehicle wasn’t left stock, and shortly after a GTI engine swap was dropped into the engine bay, the car started having odd electrical problems. Ron decided he was done dealing with the German car issues and was getting ready to trade the vehicle in on a new car, but his parents wanted him to drive something “more professional” than the manual Acura Integra that he wanted, which was seen as a sportier car even at the time, so he ended up with an automatic Honda Accord. That Honda Accord had a plethora of parts thrown at it, lowered as low as it could go with some “big” (for the time) 17” wheels, exhaust, nitrous, and a laundry list of other upgrades. Ron, like many other young adults at the time, would take his car to the street races to show off his car as there weren’t established car shows or even drag races back in the early '90s that catered to import vehicles and allowed enthusiasts to showcase their vehicles to their friends. Unfortunately, a tire blowout ended up totaling the Accord, which gave Ron an opportunity to get the car he always wanted.

An early stage of Ron Bergenholtz's Acura Integra

An Integra is Born

Late in 1992, the very same DA-chassis Acura Integra you see here was picked up slightly used as a non-VTEC 1991 Acura Integra LS. Over the course of the next few years, the car was transformed from a daily driver that got Ron to and from college into a full blown show car. Bergenholtz was in a car crew called Wicked Racing, and Wicked had a rivalry with Cyber Racing. Tony Fuchs, a member of Cyber Racing, had a DA-chassis Integra that effectively became Bergenholtz’s nemesis. Bergenholtz started spending every penny he had, and even $30,000+ that he didn’t have into the car over the course of a few years in the pursuit of the perfect and ultimate Honda / Acura on the scene. Engine tuning knowledge wasn’t as pervasive as it is now, and even stand alone ECU tuning was relatively unheard of, which meant a lot of ‘trickery’ had to be done to get the ECU to dump extra fuel into the engine to mate to increased air from upgrades like intake, headers, exhaust, and nitrous. Unfortunately, this led to more than a few blown engines (for many Honda and Acura owners in the mid '90s who tried to fix up their cars, not just Bergenholtz). Of course, a blown engine instantly lead to another $3,000 to $5,000 being spent on a new engine, and the cycle repeated itself many times.

Ron Bergenholtz (right) lining up alongside Stephan Papadakis's EF Honda Civic at Irwindale Speedway

Race this week, Show next week

In 1994, import icon Ken Miyoshi created the Import Showoff brand, and Ron Bergenholtz brought his Acura Integra, and got his first trophy. Unfortunately, it was a third place trophy in the Honda / Acura division, which only fueled Ron to push for a larger trophy the next time around. At some point, Ron’s younger brother Ed started getting into racing, and the Honda CRX that he ran was lighter than Ron’s Integra, which made it much faster with a similar level of power. Ed’s passion for computers lead to a career that included a higher income that could better afford expensive engine upgrades, which lead Ron to push his car more towards the import show circuit as a commitment. That same CRX became a monster on the drag racing circuit, and showing up with a set of wheelie bars at a fateful event in the late 90’s started with ridicule from fellow racers about how the idea would never work but ended with Ed holding at timeslip that was 0.6 seconds faster than any other car on that day. The same CRX ran deep into the 8 second range in the quarter mile, and eventually led to a partnership with Mazda that spanned both drag racing and drifting, and even lead to a pair of back-to-back NHRA class championships, but that’s a story for another day.

A side profile of Ron Bergenholtz's DA Integra in drag racing trim

In the mid-'90s, there was a slew of both racing events (lead by Battle of the Imports), as well as car shows (lead by Import Showoff). It wasn’t uncommon for the same cars to be racing one weekend, and showing another weekend. This gave potential sponsors a unique opportunity to showcase their products in front of a variety of audiences by working with a single car owner. At a Battle of the Imports event in Palmdale, Ron Bergenholtz was approached in the staging lanes by a representative of Nitto Tires. A partnership was formed, a set of Nitto NT450’s in 205/40/17 would wrap a set of Inter Milano 17x7.5” 5-spoke wheels when the car wasn’t racing on drag slicks, and stickers were applied to represent that new partnership. 25 years later, the partnership between Ron and Nitto is stronger than ever, having spanned multiple drag racing vehicles, a Mazda RX8 drift car, and several other vehicles. But this Acura Integra was the car that kicked that partnership off.

A current photo of Ron Bergenholtz's DA Integra, alongside the famed Bergenholtz racing Honda CRX that tore up the drag strip in the late 90's and early 00's

Going back to that original third place car show trophy along with a few lost races at the drag strip, Ron was always thinking about how he could improve the car. This focus, along with Ron’s “Mamba Mentality” to always chase something better at every opportunity, meant he pushed from that single third place car show trophy to a second place trophy at another show and finally a first place trophy a few events later. Of course, once you hit the top, you become the target, which means everyone else raises their game, which means you have to up your game to keep your spot. While a body kit might have been good enough at one show, that would lead to a full, custom paint job at the next show, and soon Ron was under his Integra, grinding down the underbody to ensure it can be repainted to the same level of quality as the rest of the body panels. This eventually led Ron to building one of the most elite Acura Integra’s of the time, eventually winning a slew of trophies at nearly every show he entered.

Sittin’ on Top to Sittin’ in the Garage

In 1999, Ron had an amazing showing at the Hot Import Nights event in Long Beach, taking home nearly every trophy his car was eligible for. Best of Show, Best in Class, Best Interior, Best Display… by the end of the trophy ceremony, Ron saw that he had taken home nearly half of all of the trophies offered, and he almost felt embarrassed.

Ron Bergenholtz has started restoring his DA Acura Integra to it's late 90's show-winning glory

He ended up talking with the show founder, Rich Goodwin, and came to the decision to retire from competing at car shows. Ron still wanted to showcase his vehicle for his partners, and would make the car available for displays, but stopped competing. Without the trophies and accolades, the car soon began sitting in a garage more than it was at events, and eventually, the car was parked at Ron’s Mother-in-law’s garage. Ron was plenty busy with the Bergenholtz Racing team, helping his brother Ed grow their relationships with partners like Nitto Tires, Honda, Mazda, Konig Wheels, Apex, Sparco, Clutchmasters, Golden Eagle, and others as well as break records and collect event wins. The car ended up sitting for around 10 years. Then, in 2012, Ron pulled the car out of the garage and washed it up, and a rush of memories came over him. Ron realized how important the car was to not only him personally but to the Bergenholtz Racing team as it was the start of many partnerships, including the relationship with Nitto Tires. He knew he needed to bring the car back to life.

Rebuild and Refresh

Ron moved from Orange County to Houston, Texas, bringing the car with him, and began the process of revitalizing the vehicle to its’ original glory. Since the car sat in a borrowed garage, it ended up being used more as a storage shelf than a vehicle, and although it had a car cover over it, it had some scratches and blemishes all over it. The car was stripped down to the bare shell, and the refinishing work began. Little by little, Ron started making a list of the work that needed to be done, and slowly started knocking it out. First was the body work, which was cleaned up before it was sprayed in the same Royal Sapphire Blue Pearl paint color that originally came on a Toyota Supra in the late 90’s by a friend in Houston named Johnny Tran (not to be confused with the character in the Fast and the Furious movie franchise). With the paint looking back to its’ former glory, this motivated Ron to continue refreshing components.

1991 Acura Integra LS rear top view

All suspension components were removed and refinished, with many parts being powdercoated by Powder Garage in Houston. All factory rubber bushings were replaced with ESM spherical bearings, removing any play from the suspension joints. The Skunk2 Pro coilovers were refreshed, and all the Skunk 2 adjustable suspension arms were inspected, cleaned up, and reinstalled. The Racing Hart C2 17” wheels, which are nearly impossible to find, were wraped in a fresh set of Nitto NT01 tires in 205/40/17 on all four corners. The original custom car audio setup in the trunk, which consisted of Image Dynamics speakers being powered by Alpine amps, was still working and just needed a little cleanup. The biggest challenge comes in the engine bay, where Ron is hoping to maintain the original show-winning style while upgrading a few specific components, including integrating Downstar hardware at every point possible throughout the build.

The Racing Hard C2 wheels, currently wrapped in Nitto NT01 tires, are the same wheels that Ron used to win shows back in the late 90's

Back in the late '90s, Ron had polished the entire Honda B18 block and head, which was a very time consuming and tedious process that resulted in a lot of points on the car show scoresheet. Ron updated the engine by adding a GSR head, which meant adding VTEC, but required re-polishing the new cylinder head to match the previous polished block. While the head was off, the Arias pistons and Crower Rods were inspected and re-installed, and new Skunk2 cams, cam gears, and valvetrain were installed in the new head.

The engine bay of Ron Bergenholtz's Integra is slowly being refreshed, and now features a VTEC head for the first time

A Skunk2 intake manifold hangs off of the intake side of the head, but the exhaust side is awaiting the final fabrication of a new turbokit. With the advances in turbocharging technology, Ron knew that his old turbo setup was due for an update. When we shot the car for this feature, the details of that turbo setup were still being sorted out, but it will definitely include a Garret turbocharger. Part of the complication of designing the turbo setup is that Ron plans to street drive the car, and plans to add air conditioning back into the car.

A Skunk2 intake is mated to the VTEC head on Ron Bergenholtz's DA Integra, and polished to match the polished engine block

Fountain of Youth

While rebuilding the car is a passion project for Ron – he doesn’t have a show or race on the schedule when he plans to debut the car – he tells us that the project feels like a fountain of youth for him.

The audio setup in the back of Ron Bergenholtz's DA Integra is largely untouched from the 90's

“Every time I spend time in the garage working on the car, it brings back all those good memories from the good ol’ days back in the 90’s” says Ron. “This is the car that launched Bergenholtz Racing, and it’s been more than 20 years of racing ever since! Not many people can say they’ve been racing for 20 years, but I’m very fortunate in that regard, and this car is very sentimental to me because of that”. Ron tells us that he hopes to have the car back on the road by the end of 2021. We look forward to seeing that happen!

front end of 1991 Acura Integra

Spec Sheet: Ron Bergenholtz’s 1991 Acura Integra LS

Hometown: Houston, TX (Originally from Orange County, CA)
Engine: Golden Eagle sleeved B18 LS Block with GSR VTEC head, Arias 10:1 compression pistons, Crower rods, Skunk2 Cams, Skunk2 valvetrain, Skunk2 intake manifold, Skunk2 cam gears, Aeromotive fuel pump and fuel pressure regulator, FCS fuel cell, K Tuned fuel rail, Injector Dynamics injectors, HA Sport engine mounts, Speedfactory coils, Motec M800 ECU, Autometer Boost and Fuel Pressure gauges molded into the firewall, Sebring Tuning exhaust
Suspension: Skunk 2 Pro coil overs, Skunk2 adjustable suspension arms, all rubber bushings deleted and replaced with ESM spherical bearings, K-Tuned front radius arms, all crossmembers and suspension arms powder coated by Houston Powdercoat, Downstar beauty washers, nuts, and bolts throughout complete build.
Drivetrain Clutchmasters twin disc clutch, Driveshaft Shop axles, AEM 2-piece drilled and slotted rotors
Wheels & Tires: Racing Hart C2 17” x 7.5” wheels
Nitto NT01 205/40/17 tires
Interior Recovered leather seats by Classic Soft Trim, Pioneer Premier head unit, Alpine amp, Image Dynamics speakers and subwoofers, Momo steering wheel, Momo shift knob, Motec CDL8 advanced data logger and digital dash
Exterior: AMS 3-pc rear wing, Wings West molded side skirts, shaved badges, JDM one-piece headlights, full respray in Toyota Supra Royal Sapphire Blue Pearl
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