What was I thinking?
Spending over $12,000 modifying a 95 Honda Civic
Buying and selling cars, seems to be a bad habit for me. I typically keep one nice new car in which I make monthly payments on, and then a project car on the side. Maybe it's a addiction, maybe its a bad habit, maybe I just get bored. But what ever the reason, having a project car seems like a good idea to me. At first at least. So far this year, I've been good, and have only owned 2 cars total. My 2020 Lexus IS 300 F Sport, and then, the now sold, 95 Civic CX Hatchback.
Lets go back to ohh about mid September. I had picked up a E30 325i from a friend who lost complete interest in fixing it a few years back, and it had sat in his garage for years. He pitched the idea to me of buying it, the price was right, and I had to jump on it. The car hadn't been started in 3 years, we checked the oil, took the battery off the tender and dropped it in, primed the fuel pump, and turned the key and it roared to life. Idled a little rough for a bit, but after the Itialian tune up (a good rev or two) the car ran perfectly fine. Amazing. However by the time we reached the top of the drive way, the overly complicated brake line ruptured in the rear, and was a bit of a sketchy 5 mile drive home trying to avoid touching the brake pedal as much as possible.
With the car home, I wanted to get it road worthy. Simple fixes like a shock mount on the rear, oil change, and the brake line fix using a simplified system from Chase Bays was all it took. Bleed the brakes, and was able to drive it around the block with out issue and even kick a few doughnuts down in the park's parking area near my house (thanks to a little rain before hand, and dry rotted tires!). After driving the car a little bit, I realized it wasn't for me. I'm not a big euro guy, but always loved the styling of the E30. So with it nearly road worthy (still needing new tires, and maybe a finished tune up with plugs/wires/ect), I listed it for sale. Sold it in a few weeks for a profit and after about 2-3 weeks of being back to a single car, I got bored. I decided winter was coming, and it's always nice to have something to wrench on in my small garage during the winter. So the search for the next project began.
Now what I really wanted was a Toyota Yaris Hatchback (XP90 2005-12). It's like my ideal backroad sleeper. I know what's possible under that basic chassis, but finding one in a manual transmission, moderate miles, and in good condition is a lot harder than you would think. However, in my search, I also considered a few other cars. Mostly Toyota's as I'm a Toyota fan more than anyone else, I came across the a EG/EH Civic Hatchback. It appeared to be well cared for, and priced fairly at $3000. It was slightly modified with Function 7 rear lower control arms and BC Racing coilovers. However the rest was basically stock. The body wasn't perfect but it was by far the best around that was for sale. The engine (a tired 180K mile D15B8 making a laughable 70hp paired with a really long gear ration 5spd transmission) was leaking oil, valve lash way out of adjustment, and lacked any enjoyment to drive. But it did average 40mpg even when beating the ever loving crap out of it. Or in other words, trying to drive on the interstate with out getting ran over by anything and everything.
95 Civic CX Hatchback
So after driving it for a few days, mostly to work and back I figured it's time to see what this car has to offer. Where is it strong, where is it weak. What needs tweaked or rebuilt. Of course I knew the engine was already pathetically under powered for my expectations, but how where the BC Racing Coilovers? The daily drive with them was so-so, I've had better and I've had worse. But how did they handle being thrown down a twisting backroad? Well I found out. The above video is a raw video run throwing the car down my favorite semi-local road. I spend a lot of time on this road both as a photographer and driver.
I found the car was in need of MUCH improvement across the board. The chassis was flexing, the springs were to stiff, the car would only rotate under heavy braking, the dampening paring with the spring rates didn't feel right at all, the tires were way to narrow (175's on a 13" wheel), and of course the power delivery, even going downhill was lack luster. And with winter rapidly approaching, I figured why not address ALL of these problems.
Let the rebuild begin.
Because suspension is important to me, and should be to you as well, it was the first thing I started with. The previous owner included some Acura Integra rear disc brakes and trailing arms. So I figured that would be where I started. Lets upgrade the brakes, and do the swap to disc on the front. And since I was upgrading the rears, I should probably do something about the front as well. I was able to acquire locally, thankfully, some front spindles from a Acura Integra which has a larger caliper and rotor. They also had brand new OEM Honda wheel bearings. So off with the factory fronts for some OEM+ fronts. The rear trailing arm bushings got replaced with Hardrace rubber bushings, the lateral arms (or camber arms) on the rear would be replaced with Blox adjustables (since they also use Hardrace rubber bushings), and the front lower ball joints would be replaced with Hardrace roll center adjusters. I was able to sell + trade the BC Racing coilovers for a few hundred bucks + some EM1 Civic SI 15" wheels. Bonus because now I can address the wheel tire set up at the same time, and clear the bigger brakes. I figure because I was going to have to drop the entire suspension to swap the brakes, that I should get everything else on order as well. 4 new OEM calipers, rotors, pads, and stainless braided lines for all four corners of the brakes, PCI upper control arms, Fortune Auto 500 Series coilovers (450lbs/450lbs spring rates), some 205 Nitto Neogen tires so that I could drive it during the winter season, and as much new hardware as possible.
Freshly rebuilt rear suspension
Once everything showed up, it went on as soon as I could get it together. No delays! I hated having my Lexus parked out side and getting into a cold car! It took some time, but finally, everything was assembled, and the car was able to go for a drive down the road. Terrible alignment and all. It was such a joy to drive the car again. I was able to get the car aligned with in a few days of re-assembling the car, and from there it was go time. The first time I drove the car it was a bit nerve racking. Not knowing the limits, or how it would act with the new set up. In fact on my first aggressive drive, the rear end kicked loose on me at about 50mph going through a S turn. Butt puckered! I'll admit, it scared be a bit, but after that I brought the car back into my garage for some DIY alignment tweaks. When the car was aligned for the first time, I had them set the toe to 0 and camber at -2.5 front and -2 rear. So to try and settle the car down a bit, I dialed in a little toe to the rear, and raised the ride height about 1/2" on the front and rear. The set up would have probably worked great for an autocross, but in the real world it was a little to unpredictable for street use. The adjustments helped a bit but it was still a little lively in the rear at higher speeds. It needed something to just push down and keep the rear planted. Adjusting the dampening wasn't doing the trick so I went the route of small aero. A Spoon Sports style spoiler was added to replace the small OEM spoiler, and the car was starting to feel more like I wanted. The lower speed handling was exactly right minus a little body roll, but the high speed realy was sorted out with minimal aero.
Little Wang Gang?
Time for the power adders.
What do you do with a 70hp long gear ratio transmission? Adding any type of power gains will be pointless with a transmission geared for MPG. So if you really want more power, the best option is to just swap it. And since it's a Honda, it's nearly plug and play with new mounts with many options to pick from. The thought of going K series was there. I even bought a K20A2 just in case. But after doing the math, research, and being just old school at heart, I realized I wanted a traditional B series. I'm not a "big power" fan. 200hp and a lightweight car is more than ideal for me. And I went with the best option for my application and budget. The trusty, mighty, B16A from a JDM Civic SiR II. 170hp, and a short ratio gear box. Perfect for attacking the backroads. A quick revving motor making good power, and smooth delivery. A little bit of luck, and quiet a bit of money later, I was able to source a B16A from HMotorsOnline and happened to be the last OBD1 engine in stock! So I had to order it. Sadly it took months for the delivery due to Covid, but by the time it showed up, I had already pieced together nearly everything needed to complete the swap. It was sold as a complete swap, but there are still things you need to change. Like the wiring harness, the exhaust, radiator hoses, in my case the o2 sensor, and throttle cable bracket. Of course you've also should do the oil change, trans fluid change, plugs/wires you know, all the basic stuff.
The mighty B Series
The swap went in with out a hitch. Well, I say that, but I did have to fight the T bracket install because I forgot to install it first like you should. That was a bit of a hang up, but either way it took about 2.5 hours to get everything mounted in place. The next day I finished everything up. Coolant fill, oil change, tighten all the bolts, ect. Hit the key and it fired up with out missing a beat. Amazing. However the next few days would tend to be a bit of a pain in the butt. I should have changed the water pump before dropping the engine in. But I wanted to run the engine before doing so. Just in case. Sure enough, the first drive left a few drips coming from the water pump. I replaced it, for it to only split due to a bad casting on my 3rd drive in the car. And it happened when I was about 1 hour away from home, so that cost me a $200 tow back home. Replaced it and the timing belt again, then found MORE coolant leaks. It ended up being a common theme, chasing coolant leaks. Some due to my own fault of not insuring the clamps were tight, but others due to things like the radiator leaking or the heater core leaking. While chasing coolant leaks more gremlins would show in the process. Things from the knock sensor going bad, o2 sensor heater code, and alternator going weak. It just seemed like the entire process of this car was, if you touch it, replace it. And by the time all was said and done, and I was mentally defeated by the car, I had put over $12,000 (*USD) into a 95 Honda Civic. And the funny part was, looking at it, you'd never know.
The $15,000 Civic
When you buy quality parts, and stay on task with your build, the invoices really start to add up. I started with a $3K car. Added about $5K in chassis improvements. Another $5-6K in completing the swap. Adding up the receipts hurt. Not going to lie. I stopped and couldn't believe how much I spent on this car. And the fact that I could have paid a 1/3 of my Lexus off, or even about 12% of my mortgage. You know, doing responsible adult things.
But yet at the same time, I find joy in building something for a purpose, not taking shortcuts, and achieving that goal. My last drive in the Civic would end up being a good one. A random drive to fight some depression and clear my mind, would turn into a impromptu touge battle with a friends NA8 MX5 Miata. Although he could stick with me on corner entry, the Civic would walk away on corner exit and straightaways. Glancing at my mirrors as I exited the corner to check the gap brought a smile on my face. Despite my weak point of of the tires, the car performed well. It was the first and only comparison I was able to get with a similar style car. And I've owned 2 NA6 MX5 Miatas, I know what they are all about. To be able to run away a bit with out globs of power, was a qualified success in my opinion.
The Civic is gone now, and that's OK. I sold it for half of what I had in it, because well, I was done with it. It challenged me to work out of my comfort zone. But it was mostly sorted out for the new owner, who came back from his test drive with the biggest smile on his face. He got a great car that just needs some refinements to be a street monster, for an amazing price. It really sucked to sell it for only $6000. But sometimes, our hobbies, and interest cost money. When you loose this much on a car, you may stop and think, "what the hell am I doing?" Or even, "maybe it's time to stop building cars." Well, don't think that way if it's something you enjoy. Personally I don't have the room to store cars. And I build them to be driven. If they aren't going to be driven at least once a week, I want them to go to somebody who will. For whatever reason I'll keep buying cars, keep putting stupid money into them, and probably keep loosing money here and there. Sometimes we profit, sometimes we loose. Sometimes it's all just a big gamble. Other times we just do it for the love. I'm going to try to hold off on buying anymore project cars for a few months. Need to recover from the big loss taken on the Civic. And also because I want to further invest into my photography. But I know with in a few months I'll be bored with not having a project to tinker with, and I'll be back in the market. No matter how hard I try to resist, I always end up looking in the classified for a good deal. I don't know what the next project will be, as my interest jump around left and right. But when I do decide to go with something new, I'll be back here, writing about it.