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Synergism Chassis

C Sports Racer

0 > Sigma = The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.


Kent Phelps of Colorado build a Honda Civic 1200 powered CSR in 1974 and raced it in the '70s.

afton.jpg (11427 bytes)
1975 Nationals at
Lake Afton, Kansas.
Believed to be the first
Honda Civic powered
race car in the US

All of the information on this page is quoted from Kent Phelps, as provided on February 18, 2005.

"In about late 1973, I bought the chassis (perhaps PBS) and an uncut green Jim Warren fiberglass body from a widow who thought her husband was going to make something of this car - he committed suicide instead. That was the same year the first Honda Civic came out, and what do you know, I had just started working for American Honda Motor Co. The guy who put me onto the project, Ron Hunter, thought the chassis might have been PBS, but it was obviously a hand built front section, with Triumph uprights and probably a Sprite or Triumph rack. The LeGrand wheels could have come from anywhere. Ron knew Paul and Bob Swenson [of PBS Engineering] somewhat and had a sense of what their stuff looked like, but for all I know it was built by the guy who committed suicide. If he was trying to build a sports racer by himself, I guess it might be considered a mercy killing....I spent a year and a half working on it.

I had been racing a Jaguar XK-120 (in 1967) and a Formula Ford (Lotus 51) before that, but as a physicist and builder I'd always liked the idea of few rules and lots of design. So building a CSR looked like fun. The chassis was very light, and so was the aluminum Honda engine.


It turned out that a very early buyer of the 1973 Honda Civic (1173cc engine) in Colorado Springs wrecked his car on a slippery overpass and was selling parts. He was really a SAAB guy (front wheel drive, you know), and lo and behold, my roommate was the regional sales guy for SAAB. So, my roommate got me a factory SAAB Monte Carlo engine for $150, and I traded that for the Civic Engine.


Next, my good friend, race car salesman and all around rascal in Denver, Ron Hunter, had a spare Hewland Mk 8 (much stronger than I required, but it came with a lot of gears), and I mated it to the Honda engine with a 1/4 inch aluminum plate. The trick was that most starters available for the Hewland (VW) bolt pattern rotated the wrong way. In searching the junkyards I found that Nippon Denso Starters fitted to Toyotas were an exact copy of the Bosch starters, but went the other way, so a combination of the two made a good starter.

Over the next few years I created a Civic engine sleeved to 997 cc with CB750 pistons and liners, then compound supercharged with a turbo (302B35 Spearco) AND a positive displacement vane supercharger running off the front of the crankshaft using a Harley-Davidson carburetor. ran two times, but way too much technology to manage....Eventually (and a lot of engines later) I was mostly running 1237 Civic engines, and in some of them we used GL1000 domed motorcycle pistons right off the shelf (same bore, same wristpin, same deck height -and $5.37 each)


Well, Mother Mueller in California (a racer of English cars, like Jensens) built custom flywheels, so I gave him the old civic flywheel and he made me a custom aluminum job with a racing sprite clutch. Arias built me some custom 10:1 Pistons..


I would go to California periodically for meetings at Honda, and who was across the street in Gardena but - Russ Collins, the Drag racer. From him I bought a casting designed to mount two Weber DCOEs to a Honda CB750 - but the port spacing was just right and it enabled me to mount two Dell'orto 40s to the Civic.


In Gardena, who would be across the street but Iskenderian Cams? I went over one day on my lunch hour, with a Civic cam in hand, and introduced myself as sort of "being from Honda R&D", and they fetched Luther from the back lot where he lived in a trailer. He came out in a bathrobe, we talked about cams, acceleration ramps, lift profiles, etc. and he custom made me the first Honda Civic racing cam.


After fitting the fiberglass body (the car had, basically, Triumph uprights and Girling brakes at the front, very powerful, nothing at the back), mounting the engine and transmission, I built inboard brakes using Honda CB450 disks and calipers. There was no gas tank, so a friend of mine who did aluminum welding for the motorcycle trade built me a custom fitted quarter-round tank to fit in the near-side pontoon that held about five gallons, and I fitted it with an aircraft helicopter twist lock cap from Airborne Products ( a surplus company) of Culver city, Calif.

You've heard of UnObtainium for race car construction? - Well , we here in Denver, when we needed stock metal, went to Barter Scrap Metal, who had a little of everything, including stuff cast off by our aerospace industries. So, many sports racers, including mine, were built in part of "BartAlloy" -that is, whatever you could find on a given day that might work and cost 30 cents per pound....

The windshield was made of hand heated and gently bent Lexan.


The radiator was from a Suzuki three-cylinder 500cc water cooled motorcycle radiator, small as a postage stamp, but very efficient (I got a lot of my parts from the motorcycle crowd). I never had much in the way of cooling problems. In fact, one day at the races (in Southern Colorado in August), I was having a little bit of a heating problem and a friend of a friend turned up who was an ex-navy aircraft mechanic. He asked if I had any tinsnips, which I did, and he took a 1 gallon metal can, and in the space of fifteen minutes made a miniature wing which we pop-riveted over my radiator exhaust area on the body to make enough of a negative pressure region so as to draw more air through the radiator ... problem solved .... You just never know who you'll meet at the races...


I made the car right hand drive, since most of the tracks were clockwise, and that put me inside the CG. Shifting with my left hand was no trouble. In fact, since the Mk8 was 5 speed, I would often load gears where third and forth were only one tooth apart - on certain turns I would shift 2-3-5 and on others I would shift 2-4-5; whatever it took to get to peak RPM coming out of a corner, but you had to be paying attention.....

Chassis tuning was interesting - the car was so short (maybe 80" wheelbase) and light and wide that it was easy to spin, so what I did was increase the castor in the front end a lot - like, to maybe 15 degrees, so that, when in a real turn, you had to work at getting the car turned in (because you were raising the front end). But, if you felt a slide coming, the first instinct is to release pressure on the steering wheel. So, rather than force the driver to actually counter-steer to head off a spin, castor would do it for you as soon as you released pressure, and give you the advantage. Just *thinking* about countering a spin had the desired effect.

Where Is It Now?

Last I heard (maybe ten years ago) the car was in Arkansas with no engine. I originally shipped the car to Texas when Honda promoted me to Zone Manager in Dallas 1978, and I also shipped a GT40 Kellison clone I had on a VW floorpan with a Corvair Turbo engine. So eventually I ran into another Honda guy who also had a naiscent Sports racer, and he knew someone with an Elva Mk IV formula car - so in a three way trade, I give up the Synergism and the GT40, he gives up his sports racer, I wind up with the Elva.

Turns out, a guy who worked for me in Dallas comes out to the house one day, sees the Elva, and says "that's my old car" - meaning, he crewed on it in the 1960s, in Juarez. He knew the history of the car, and it was Jim Hall's first race car in 1960, an Elva Mk Iv Formula Junior. I still have it.

Race Stories

In a race at La Junta, CO that I won in 1975, I had a unique achievement. During the race the rather flimsy fiberglass "doors" required by the rules ripped free of the hinges (originally designed for bi-fold closet doors) so that on my victory lap I had to stop at a couple of corner stations to retrieve my doors. I believe that I am the only racer to blow his own doors off.

Most of my real competition were Elvas powered by Cosworth DFVs and such, so I felt pretty good when I won one. I remember doing pretty well at Lake Afton in Kanas one year, when in the chicane on the backside of the course an Austin Healey Sprite hit some barrels and did a 180 degree loop right over my front bodywork, but pressing on the accelerator drove me out from underneath him before he crashed to earth.

In 1976 or 77, I was actually the first recipient of the Colorado Region PUKCUF award (spell it backwards) for a season in which I

  1. Froze the engine of my Chevrolet 1 ton transporter and broke the block
  2. Cut my right hand tendons on the sharp edge of a civic block necessitating a wrist cast
  3. Borrowed a motor home to go to Lake Afton only to
  4. Have a driveshaft failure on the MoHO 30 miles out of Denver and then lose a fan belt (the inner of three) in eastern Colorado and have to change it with a cast on
  5. Blow a rear tire in Goodland KS on the way to Lake Afton, so we got to Lake Afton Nationals at 5am in a huge fog and didn't find the track until 6 am, where we slept for an hour and then got the car thru tech
  6. While having to use a leather ski mitten in August over my cast to make tech happy about safety, and then
  7. Got punted off the course in the first, furious lap. Sigh.

After the CSR, I raced a Civic GT4 for a few years, winning overall the Austin Street races in 1978 and a few SCCA races. Sold that car in 1980 to buy an ocean-going sailboat and sail the pacific.

Then there was the time that I was a driving instructor and my student (and good friend) was borrowing a driving suit for driver's school from my other friend who was racing on Sunday, but on Saturday night he (the first friend) ran into a pit girl who was very well endowed and they struck up a conversation and this led to that, and by Sunday morning when he didn't show up and we didn't care about that except that we didn't have a driver's suit so we had to go to the motel and bang on the door and demand that the driver's suit and helmet be thrown out so we could use them. Well, those were the days....

These days, I restore old English cars and sort of race a Spec7 Mazda ... but SCCA is more difficult to work with, and I think I'll go vintage racing instead ...."


Revised: February 18, 2005.

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