I like to think of myself as something of a Honda Civic connoisseur. I mean, I’ve had 5 of them. But these 4 are of the much sought after vintage. Yes, these pedestrian little cars are now much sought after, particularly due to their low weight and ability to swallow much more powerful engines with little fuss. More importantly, these cars had the wonderful double wishbone suspension, done away with by Honda due to cost – at great expense to handling ability. Of course, finding one of these rust free is nearly impossible up where I live. So, lets start our journey.
First up is my 1997 Honda Civic DX hatchback.
I purchased this car from the dealership where I was working as a companion to my GSX. Where my GSX was lucky to score 20 mpg, this thing easily returned 40 mpg in mixed driving – and it never needed to go into the shop for tuning or fixing. Impressive fuel economy for a stock car, especially considering the manufacturers today still can’t do that without a hybrid. Yes, they’ll hit 40 on the highway – but this was an honest 40 in mixed driving all the damned time. The formula was so simple – light weight, few accessories, small engine, good gearing.
I kept this car stock. It was low mileage (under 60,000), in pristine condition, and rust free. It was purple. It wasn’t the most inspiring car to drive, but it never failed me. Honestly, it had very little get up and go, and the handling was not spectacular – although I would find out later that making these cars handle or go is incredibly easy.
Maintenance was simple, nothing broke, and efficiency was high. You could fit a ton of crap in the car as well. As a commuter from Virginia into DC I could ask for little else. Plus, I never really worried about parking incidents. I sold this car to a friend of a friend for nearly what I paid for it, and in hindsight I should NEVER have let it go.
My next foray into Hondas came a few cars later when, once again, I required a reliable, steady and stable vehicle as a complement to my completely unreliable and inefficient toy of the week (turbocharged RX-8).
This time around I sprung for a fully loaded 1998 EX Coupe that I found on eBay. Just like the hatch, this car had a 1.6L SOHC engine, except this one came with VTEC! Unfortunately, it was no faster than my hatch simply because it was an EX – power windows, sunroof, power steering, air conditioning – quite a luxurious little thing compared to the hatch but the extra 300 lbs or so meant the additional 19 horsepower were quickly soaked up by the pork. Fuel economy suffered as well. Not by much – it would still do 40s on the highway, but around town we were looking at mid 30s instead. I’m not really sure why I sold this car either – maybe I got bored with it, maybe I have automotive schizophrenia? All I know is that I kept this car stock as well, and once again, it never failed me.
My next Civic I decided I was not going to leave stock. I also gave my plan for the build a name – Project eBay.
Project eBay started with a completely clean, totally rust free cherry 1994 Honda Civic DX hatchback. Picking it up, the car felt slow, handled poorly and was overall a dog to drive, especially since this vintage merely had the 1.5L SOHC instead of my previous DX Hatch’s 1.6L engine. I purchased the car over eBay for $1,500 – and the rules being that everything on the car had to come from eBay.
I pretty much stuck by the rules with the car, and proceeded to immediately make the following modifications:
-16″ x 7″ Nippon Racing F-2 (15 lbs each) wheelswith 205 Kumho Ecsta ASX all season tires.
-Tsudo N1 stainless steel fartcannon exhaust
-no name stainless steel header
-no name hign flow stainless steel catalytic converter
-APC/cold air intake – I used flexible plastic piping and snorkeled it down into the fender well, and cut a hole in where the fog lights would go so it got fresh, cold air.
-no name rear lower tie bar
-no name front upper strut bar
-no name “JDM” Type-R knock-off shift knob – this actually added weight to the shifts and was a nice touch.
I also had a Type-R rear swaybar but never got around to installing it.
The modifications completely transformed this car – it went from a sluggish, roly poly turd into quite a fun thing to drive – it handled wonderfully with plenty of grip, even with those cheap crappy tires. It even was reasonably quick given that it had such a low weight – not fast enough to thrill but quick enough to entertain. And yes, it returned 40+ mpg in mixed driving, religiously, with no break downs or issues whatsoever.
I sold this car to my wife’s brother (including the sway bar). He then took off where I left off, swapping in a 1.6L single-cam VTEC motor. It was then stolen in the Summer of 2008, totally stripped and found dead on the side of the road. The New York City Department of Sanitation then removed it from the side of the road and crushed it before it could be claimed. That’s right. They crushed a totally clean, rust free shell that was probably worth more than all of the parts that had been put into it and stolen.
My last “classic” Civic was something much more extreme than any of the cars before it.
I purchased this car after moving up to Rochester. At the time, my only car was a 2006 BMW Z4 – hardly the daily driving sort of car. Going with what I knew, I started my search for a nice, clean Civic. Instead, I was lured away by a swapped car, with rust. Lots and lots of rust. I ignored that because in place of the regular 1.5L 102 horsepower engine was a 1.8L DOHC VTEC engine from an Integra GS-R, modified and pumping out around 200 horsepower through a close ratio hydraulic transmission from a Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) Civic Type R – all in a base-model car that weighed in around 2000 lbs.
Yes, it was faster than my Z4.
Other changes included:
-ACT Stage 1 Clutch
-Fidanza Aluminum Flywheel
-AEM Short-Ram Intake
-Apex’i World Sport 2 Cat-Back Exhaust (so quiet)
-BMW X5 HID Headlights
-GS-R Shift Knob
-all sorts of aftermarket stereo crap that I don’t know about / care about
-M3 rear lip / Honda factory front lip
-Stainless steel header and cat from eBay
-A whole new front suspension
-FastTurbo ECU tune
This car had some rust, did I mention that? As in I could put my fist through the rear quarter panel. Probably helped with the weight reduction. It needed a complete new front suspension because THAT had started rusting. I needed to replace the gas tank. Other than that, it was relatively reliable – although fuel economy was in the mid-20s in mixed driving – the price you pay for power.
In the end, I sold the car to get something a little tamer. It was like driving a wild bronco – the car always wanted to run and I didn’t want to keep dumping money into reviving the suspension or dealing with body rot. More importantly, my wife needed to learn how to drive and she wasn’t having any of that in this car.
That wraps up my “classic” Civic experience. I always lust for another one – maybe a nice late 90s Coupe done up cleanly, or even a Del Sol? I’d even consider an Integra. I don’t know what time will bring, but I’ve thus far been unable to find a clean car without rust, which has been one of the major sources behind my shift to European cars (galvanized/ionized). All I can say is that Honda has definitely lost their way – their cars are nowhere near this much fun, and nowhere near this efficient. I blame it on weight gain, feature bloat, and of course, the loss of the double-wishbone suspension setup.