A Civic Modified One Lesson At A Time

I’m going to go ahead and say that next to catastrophe-driven resurrections and family heirloom stories, tales about unintentional builds are some of my favorite.

Because while anyone can build a car with a clear end vision in mind and a well-crafted shopping list of parts, it takes a special individual to start with no real direction and still end up with something incredibly purpose built.

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There are countless four-door Civic race cars that exist today, but remarkable lap times were never Honda’s true intention for the responsibility-oriented, D-series-equipped cars. But, even in their lowliest form, ‘golden era’ Hondas have always been fun to drive.

The ‘ricer’ era proved that it’s easy to take these cars left, but with decent prodding you can also take them very right. This car, from wing to front spoiler is done right.

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As the intro alludes, this didn’t happen overnight. Nor did it happen by following a gospel written by tuners running the streets of LA or Japan. Its current state of being is the result of 10 years of fettling with lower lap times in mind.

Have You Ever Heard Of Autocross?

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When Chris Acosta bought his EJ6 Civic sedan, it was the first car of nine he’d owned by that point to actually hit the road. Previously, he bought almost anything that he came across with a conservative price tag. He’d fix these cars up a bit before selling them, and then do it all over again.

Life and family responsibilities eventually intervened though, and Chris found himself in need of his own reliable method of transportation.

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“I had a job mostly to pay for insurance,” Chris explained, describing the early days of owning the Civic. Between errands he found time to give it a small drop, some Enkei wheels and a few other small modifications. Nothing extreme, but just enough to stand out from the other Civics running the rat race.

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The Honda stood out to the point where a co-worker took notice and one day at lunch asked a bit of a loaded question: ‘Have you ever heard of autocross?’ That was a Monday; the following Saturday Chris pulled up to a closed parking lot full of cones “not really knowing what I was getting myself into.”

Chris’s co-worker happened to be part of the Porsche Club of America and a well-respected member of the local autocross community. Impressed that he showed at all, he saw to it that Chris got a proper introduction to performance driving.

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After a few laps with an instructor, Chris was hooked. Autocross proved to be the perfect introduction to motorsport in general, and at an affordable cost.

Like most, Chris was eager to get knee-deep in modifications, but several people suggested he value seat time over wrench time.

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“If you drive a car enough, it will tell you what it lacks. Rather than doing thing twice, I’d listen to the car and act on that,” he says in retrospect.

Time To Think

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After a handful of years running autocross and a few modifications along the way, Chris followed an invite to a lapping day. Again, it was a well-organized event, and the groupings placed like drivers together, mitigating the risk to everyone involved.

Chris can’t stress enough how appreciative he is of his local racing community for guiding him along the way. Each lap day was a learning experience, and the community was more than willing to share their knowledge when it came to car set-up and driving style.

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During his first track day, a fellow Civic driver was surprised to see the D-series engine still under the hood of Chris’s car. ‘You’re going to have a whole lot of time on the back straight to think about swapping to a B-series,’ he said with a smirk before heading out for his own session.

No lies detected, the D-series, while faithful, revealed that despite being solid enough for a tight autocross course, didn’t have much to offer on a longer track. In the engine bay now is a ’98-spec’ Integra Type R B18C engine. On the induction side, a 70mm throttle body has been paired with a port-matched Integra Type R manifold; on the exhaust side, a Spoon Sports header runs into a Spoon N1 axle-back system.

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A Fidanza 7.5lb flywheel and Exedy clutch transfers the power to the transmission, which itself had been fitted with a GearX 4.9 straight-cut final drive and Synchrotech carbon synchro kit.

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An autocross background fostered an appreciation for momentum over horsepower, so naturally the engine remains NA. Further performance gains were sought in the simplest way possible – by removing weight.

The interior has been stripped almost entirely. A lone Spoon Sports bucket seat sits on a PCI bracket, and a Takata Racing harness keeps Chris strapped in behind a Spoon Sports Gen2 steering wheel.

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The factory tachometer has been replaced with an Omnipower equivalent, which has seen its needle pegged all the way past 11,000rpm after an accidental full-throttle 4th to 3rd gear shift at Limerock Raceway. Pulling off the track after the mishap, Chris let the engine idle cool, keeping a close eye on the matching AEM oil pressure and air/fuel ratio gauges.

No harm no foul; the motor turned out to be OK, and it’s the same motor still in the car today.

Still A Street Car

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While the Civic most certainly has race car mannerisms, it is still license-plated and registered in its hometown of New York. One of the key components that allows this car to remain legal on the streets is a roll cage that’s functional but not too obtrusive.

Chris drew the 8-point cage himself and had Soul of the Street take his design and make it reality within the specifications for the various series he competes. Once it was complete, the cage and engine bay were painted Frost White to match the exterior.

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The RAYS Volk Racing wheels are – if there was any question – green TE37s wrapped in 205/50R15 Toyo Proxes R888R tires. Ground Control Special Purpose coilovers specced with 900lb/sq-in front and 700lb/sq-in rear springs keep the tires mostly away from the fenders.

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Again, driving style and miles behind the wheel have seen various suspension reinforcements enter the equation. The front and rear strut bars are Spoon items, while the OEM Civic Type R parts bin was pilfered for lower control arms, shock forks, and a 26mm sway bar. Energy Suspension bushings are used throughout.

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Finally, behind the 15s are Alcon 4-pot brakes equipped with Hawk Performance pads.

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Overall, much like the rest of the car, the exterior is a combination of higher-trim Honda OEM parts and track-proven accessories. Beneath the JDM Honda Civic SiR front lip is a homemade plywood front splitter, while JDM SiR headlights can also be found up front guiding the way. Professional Awesome hood louvers help with engine temps, as does a Shelby GT500 heat exchanger and a C&R Racing three-quarter-size radiator with 14-inch fan.

Hanging off the carbon fiber trunk is a Spoon Sports GT wing that’s the final exclamation point on a truly sorted vehicle.

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The motorsports racing itch has led Chris to a point that he’s considering a rear-wheel drive project next. If he does go this way though, the Civic won’t be replaced – it has too much sentimental value now.

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From rides with his father to track days with his wife Nicole by his side, no amount of money or rear-wheel temptation could persuade Chris to part with his beloved Honda. A FR car would be an addition to the stable rather than a swap.

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A decade into an incredible journey with an honest car, Chris thanks his parents, in-laws, and wife for their support along the way. The car also wouldn’t have come together without Eddie Valez, Mill hatch, Tom and the guys at Full Throttle NYC, and his cousin David. “I’m sure I have forgot a few who helped me get to where I am today, but I am forever grateful to anyone that’s helped.”

Dave Thomas
Instagram: stanceiseverythingcom

Photos by Keiron Berndt
Instagram: keiron_berndt