Monday, June 6, 2011

SB1 Motorsport's 1st generation Honda Civic Refresh Program

I used to hang out at this car shop, literally wasting years of my life there.  During this time in my life, I saw a 1st gen Honda Civic wagon racing up Oak Street.  I tried to follow him to chat with him, but lost him in traffice.  I told my friends about getting into a 1st gen Honda Civic and that's when I first heard of Justin March.  They told me that there's this guy that speciallizes in 1st gens and the funny thing was, the car shop he worked at was just down the road.  I went over to see Justin and spoke to him about my interest in getting into 1st gens, but he never got back to me until a few years later when I bumped into him and his wife at a car show and I told him again I was interested in getting into a first gen.  He called me that night and told me there was one for sale.  
I went to see the car that night with him and my dad and ended up taking home a blue 1978.  I was hoping for a red one but I figured I'd spray-balm it later. 
I drove the car like a beater, and I drove it pretty hard.  I took care of the body and the interior as best as could though because I did have plans on restoring it, but the motor and tranny I didn't care about because I already had a D16Y8 at home waiting to go in.  It was actually fun being able to push a car to it's limits and not really get into any trouble or danger.  With my NSX, there was no way I was going to explore it's limits without good track conditions and a professional trainer.  

Of course Justin fed my abusive nature by boosting brake capacity, making the car safer.  He upgraded the brakes with larger calipers and discs in the front, and disc brakes in the rear (to replace the drums).  He had custom brackets fabricated, as well as custom stainless steel brake lines.  The pads in the front were roughly double the original size.  Now the car could stop on a dime, and I could enter corners a lot faster and later. 

I started seeing Justing more and more, and he always managed to find new things to do to my car.  Essentially, my car had become a guinea pig for a lot of new ideas.  One day, I pushed my car just a little to hard and it rebelled against me.  The car was a Hondamatic, which meant two automatic speeds that actually required shifting.  There was no clutch, but it still required the driver to start in 1 then switch to 2.  Anyway, sometimes I'd go into a corner, toss it into neutral, blip the throttle, and downshift into 1 (haha, yes, you can heel-and-toe with an automatic) for a smoother transition.  One day, I went into a turn at about 60 km/hr and the car came to a screaching halt.  I guess I must have depressed the shift button when I tried to put it in neutral and ended up jamming the gears into reverse.  I shifted back into1 but no power to the wheels, engine was just free revving.  I had some friends help me push the car into an underground parkade nearby and I gave Justin a call.  When I looked at my poor car again, I noticed an expanding pool of fluid forming underneath, and there it bled out.  It was like a fallen warrior laying in a pool of his own blood.
Justin towned my car to "The Barn" and we began work (years ahead of my planned schedule) on the motor swap and restoration.  I managed to strip out most of the interior myself and th rest I left for Justin.  Haha, and there it sat for a short time.
Not long after, Justin moved from "The Barn" to "The Shop" and that's when things started to move again.  By this time, he had shoe-horned the engine and tranny into the car and Ryan helped him weld up custom engine mounts and a new front cross member.

D16Y8 installed.

Since the motor was in, and most of the interior was out, why not send the car in for a quick paint and re-assemble right after?  So, the car underwent a complete strip (of course, Justin and Twyla did most of the work because I could only unbolt and unscrew things I could see...all the hidden stuff was beyond me.
By this time, all the blue panels and seats had been refished in black with spray on vinyl paint.  It was cheap stuff from Crappy Tire so it took years to cure.  It was tacky for a good 6 years, but we'll get into that later. 
Justin wanted to add some texture to the tranny so he sprayed undercoating on in before repainting the casing New Cast Gray.
The only thing I had a talent for was making things shiny so I took all the crome parts and polished them up. 
Even though I probably wasn't going to use the factory caps, I polished them anyway,  The one closest is untouched, the other three had been worked on.
I also took all the lenses for the lights and polished those too. 
Here's a comparison between clearcoated versus polished plastic.
The car came back from the paint shop some time later and at the time, we thoughtthey did a pretty great job but as we found out years later, they took a lot of short cuts.  Subsequent visits for repairs and touch-ups turned out to be complete and utter disasters.

The car came back and stayed with Justin for a while longer because the wiring had to be completely redesigned.  Keep in mind, the 1st generation Honda Civic didn't have an ECU running the car.  I knew it was a complicated process (well, easy for Justin), quite time consuming and Jusin had a pretty busy schedule so I didn't see the car for almost a year after that.  The good thing was that we let the paint cure for that long before it saw sun or rain.  Then, one day, I was having a BBQ and Justin and Twyla show up at my place with my brand new/old car:

They put the car back together and gave me a huge surprise.  Sure, none of the decals were on, and it was silll running on my snowflake (now painted black) winter wheels given to me by my buddy Al Chan, but holy crap.  I took the thing for a rip and I nearly $hit myself.  I think I was able to utter the words "Hhhhhhoooolllyyy $hhhiiiiittttt Juuuussstiinnn, wwwhhhattt ttthhee hellll dddiiidd yyyoouuu dooo too tttthiiiisss thhhhiinng?" as I burned down the street, ripping doors off of houses.  It had winter tires on it and didn't have a wheel alignment, so it was all over the road, but it was sick.  On these older cars, there is almost no sound insulation so every sound comes screaming into the cabin.  Driving it reminded me of the time I went for a ride in one of these:

This is not just another rice car covered in stickers, this was actually one of the official race cars and for some strange reason, had a license plate on it and was permitted to operate on regular roads. 

It was like driving a rocket-propelled grenade.  At a rolling start of 10 or 15km/hr, I stomped on the gas and the wheels spun.  I adjusted the throttle control and felt myself being pressed into my '93 Integra bucket seats.  I hammered it through 2nd gear and the wheels chirped (more like screached) again.  The road became a blur and I'm not sure if it was the effect of tunnel vision at high speed or that the car was just shaking so violently.  The car was raw, it was loud, and very obnoxious.  The power was so intrusive, I felt it violating my very soul, and though I was scared $hitless and completely terrified of what I was trying to control, I felt myself break into a grin throughout the ordeal.  And yes, I'm talking about my 1978 Honda Civic Hatchback, not Delecour and McRae's Mitsubishi Evolution VII rally car.  Justin had recreated the Frankenstein monster out a timid little economy car from the 70's.


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  2. hey there man, how r ya..u might not know me but i really enjoyed reading this particular article.

    my late grandpa got the same civic as above n im looking to restore it. i need some motivations n ideas so i google-ed n there was ur blog. thanks for writing this down.

    all the best!

  3. Good luck on your build!

    Thanks for reading!


  4. Hey peter I really enjoyed your blog these cars are the holy grail of the honda brand and Im in the process of fine tuning a forum for vintage and old Hondas and you seem like the perfect fit for this and I would like u to b apart of it email me at thanks

  5. Sure man, post a link here when you have it set up :)