"I didn't want it to be 'just another Civic', I wanted people to know it was me."
Attention to detail is one of the most important aspects of car building. Sadly though, these days, it often seems like the "details" are becoming all too similar from build to build; that is, if they're even paid attention to at all. John is a designer by trade, and the attention to detail he puts into his design work translated perfectly over to his Honda Civic sedan. Being a "details guy" myself, naturally, we were off to a running start when I first saw this flawless JDM front-end EF sedan at Import Alliance in Atlanta. To the untrained eye, it simply looks like a regular (albeit incredibly clean) 80s model Honda Civic. To a car enthusiast though, even more so-- a Honda enthusiast-- it's a gold mine of rare, hard-to-find parts and accessories. And the subtlety of these additions, in and of itself, acts as a convenient vetting process for those who come up and talk to John about what he's carefully and painstakingly built over the last 20+ years.
My inner Honda fan (mind you, not expert) noticed the "wrap around" headlights first. I had seen plenty of USDM EF sedans, hatches, and CRXs in my time, because of my affinity for the cleanliness and general Honda sensibilities of the platforms, and those headlights were not "normal". As I walked closer, talking to my good friend and photographer (a CRX owner), I trailed off as we both began to take in everything that this car had to offer. And even better, it was mostly OEM Honda. Down to the iconic "H" engraved on the cap on top of the front parking pole that was retracted in to the front bumper. I immediately knew I had stumbled on to something really special.
Speaking with John, started out just like any other time I begin to ask someone about their car, in that, I'm excited because it's a different story every time. But in a truly "I didn't know what I was expecting" moment, he tells me that it all started with him as a young skateboarder in Florida. The attachment to the EF sedan platform began early on, as his good friend with a car at the time had an EF sedan that they would all pile into to go on skate trips. And it did what any Honda is supposed to do, take them where they wanted to go, and didn't ask any questions. He recalled "the innate friendly environment of a sedan"-- everyone was close enough to talk, interact, and have a good time, but everyone also had enough space to be comfortable. Eventually, one-by-one, John's friends all found their way into EF sedans of their own. Then, when it was John's turn, he went to a Honda dealership in hopes of picking up a newer 1991 Honda Civic DX. But as it so often does, his wallet disagreed; but the salesman showed him a used 1989 Civic LX (or for those of us who don't know Honda trim levels-- "the fully loaded" model). It was in his price range, so of course, he pulled the trigger. And thus began convoys of EF sedans going to skate spots around Florida. Now that he had a sedan of his own, he fell head over heels in love with it. And he was very clear-- "I didn't want to be 'just another Civic', I wanted people and friends that saw it on the street to know it was me. I wanted to do something different."
Just like we all do when we fall in love with inanimate objects, he went straight to the internet to see who else felt the way he did. He ended up creating, curating, and moderating a website that featured only EF sedans. By doing this, and receiving a lot of photo submissions, he began to get a taste of the massive variety of parts and accessories available for the platform. But aside from his own website, "89civicracer" (his username on well-- everything) frequented all of the quintessential 90s-00s Honda websites: nwp4life.com, honda-tech.com, jdmuniverse.com, d-series.org, and efcivicsedan.com. He smiles and laughs as he admits to me that he did all the 90s/00s fiberglass aero and bodykits-- but even with those, he tells me he never bought a "full kit". He would mix and match different kits to achieve a style all his own. But after a while, he got tired of constantly having to fix the fiberglass after it would continuously take damage from all the perils of daily driving.
Then it happened. John accidentally backed his car into someone in a parking lot and cracked his taillight. He did what everyone did back then, found a parts distributor, and got in touch. Sure enough, they had the correct tail lights for his model of Civic, but-- they were from Japan. He had no idea (at the time) that they would be any different then his current taillights, all he knew was that he needed new, un-cracked taillights. When he opened the box he immediately realized they were different. Good different. And that was it-- the "JDM bug" bit, and never let go. His mission now was to find out more about these different "JDM parts" for the EF sedan. And obviously-- he did. Through his contacts in the Honda forums world, he only fell further and further down the rabbit whole. Eventually, a friend, showed him both "Honda Access" (a subsidiary of Honda Motor Co.), and the existence of the Japanese-only 'factory accessories' catalogs. He needed to get his hands on one of those catalogs. Well eventually, he did, and ever since then, the pursuit of Japan-only Honda accessories has been a constant cycle of actively looking and buying, as well as, simply keeping an eye out and taking opportunities when they present themselves. Browsing for parts though, he says, is constant.
The car comes from the factory with a "gas sipping" D15B2, a 1.5 liter SOHC inline four cylinder engine. That was nice and all, but any Honda enthusiast knows that their car needs VTEC. So the first swap was a built, high-compression D16A6 (out of and CRX Si) complete with Eagle rods, forged pistons, Stage 2 cams, and titanium retainers. John says that single cam ran 130 whp on a Dyno. John says, "I always liked the underdog, so I had to squeeze what I could from that D-series."
As of now though, a stout reliable B16A donated by a 1990 CRX Si-R powers the sedan through it's weekend drives. Oh, and all the 5+ hour drives to the shows that John attends on the East coast, too. It may not be a daily anymore, but it still pays it's dues. Under the hood, you'll find Skunk2 parts all over the place; radiator hoses, intake manifold, throttle body, fuel rail, VTEC solenoid, all the way to the lost motion assembly. Air is fed to the engine by one of 2 different intakes, it all depends on how John is feeling that day. I, myself, watched him make the switch from the custom modified DC2 Mugen air intake to the incredibly rare (and now discontinued) ARC air box/intake/filter in less then 10 minutes. Exhaust escapes via an HKS Power muffler at the end of a custom exhaust and a set of RS&R 4-2-1 headers. The engine and it's processes are controlled by a Hondata S300, while an AEM fuel pressure regulator keeps tabs on the fuel pressure going into the Skunk2 fuel rail. Chase Bays kits have cleaned up the engine bay by way of a brake booster delete and grounding kit. The battery has been relocated as a result of a boring weekend that led to tinkering. My personal favorite part of the entire under-hood set up is the Mugen radiator cap and the TEAM No Good Racing oil cap. I'm a details guy, remember? All of this sits nicely inside an JDM EF2 front clip that came to John with some rare parts already installed-- including original JDM EF2 fog lights, and the retractable parking pole for the front. The current front clip is the second front end that he's bought for the car, as the first that he bought had to be sold almost immediately when the car blew a radiator hose, overheated, and warped the head. He sold that clip to a friend who installed it onto his own sedan. The current front end was found after the same friend sent John a link to the seller, months after John sold him the front end and attempted to buy it back (not knowing it had already been installed). "These things aren't exactly easy to source (laughs)".
But now to the important part-- the interior and exterior accessories. For those who are interested, you can find all of the parts that I don't mention, on the full parts list. The first thing you notice while sitting in the driver's seat is the Mugen race steering wheel, Mugen race pedals, and Mugen shift knob. Your eyes float up and see two interior-matching gauge pods with a compass, and an ambient temperature gauge. Then down in the slots for the factory radio/head unit, sits a Honda-Gathers system with a Honda Access equalizer that is linked to 2 head-level hanging speakers in the rear of the cabin. Turning around to see the Honda-Gathers rear-deck speaker brings you to the JDM Civic seat covers, floor mats, and rear seat with JDM 36i Limited arm rest. On top of the dash is a Honda Access radar detector, that's correct-- a Honda OEM radar detector. Among the additional OEM switches (that he wired himself) above the driver's knees, you have switches for the front and rear fog lights, front parking pole (the rear automatically raises when the car is in reverse), power folding mirrors (on a Honda Civic... in 1989), and what could be one of the most "80's executive sedan" accessories on the car (besides the OEM Honda Air Refiner, of course) is: a secondary windshield squirter assembly behind the passenger headlight. It is essentially another source of wiper fluid, and a second washer motor, to shoot the wiper fluid at the windshield with more pressure to more effectively clean it. They simply don't make accessories like this anymore.
The exterior itself is really quite simple, and that's the beauty of it. Complete with the JDM EF2 front-end (with OEM round Stanley fog lights), JDM rear taillights and fog light, John was also able to get his hands on some OEM Honda "Limited Edition" and "35 XT" decals (the model of his favorite Japanese Civic variant). More subtle touches like the Honda Access front and rear mud flaps, and the Honda Access rear spoiler with integrated 3rd brake light add something extra to the profile of the sedan's boxy shape. The current Mugen MR5's have been rebarreled to be a bit more aggressive, but I agree 100% with John when he says that he thinks that the rebarreling only helped them to look even more period-correct. The Civic has sported a couple different sets of rare Mugen wheels in the past. The car sits at an aggressive, but practical, height on a set of Tein Super Street coilovers (with electronic dampening control). The rest of the suspension set-up has been touched up with both front and rear camber kits, Cusco front and rear strut bars, Energy suspension bushings, an ASR subframe brace, and the essential Beaks Bar. Even with all these changes, the fact that so many of the parts were OEM Honda really just serve to retain and showcase the truly awesome design and body lines of this otherwise common-place family sedan. And come to find out, many others around the world feel the same way about the EF sedan platform. John tells me that the majority of parts he has yet to be able to get his hands on remain that way solely because they sit in others' personal Honda Access collections.
John and I agreed on a great many things. But nothing more so than what a shame it is that, in the stateside car culture, the idea of staying with a platform for a long time has not only become unpopular, but has all but disappeared. Very much still a practice in Japan, people will build, tear-down, and rebuild a car as often as their preferences and style change. In spending a lot of time with a certain platform, there grows an almost intimate understanding of the styling cues in the car's design. This paves the way for even higher quality modification and changes in the next "iteration" of the build. On the contrary, there is a trend in the stateside import car culture in which people will "build" a car with the sole intention of the car garnering attention, and when it does not get the type of attention they were seeking, they will go so far as selling the car, getting a new one, and begin the process all over again. It outwardly appears that they do this not for the personal satisfaction of building a car that they love everything about-- but instead, for attention or validation. While I would never say whether that is "right" or "wrong", I can tell you that when that happens, people are robbing themselves of a very unique timeless experience, and a car that they can enjoy on many different levels. The widespread nature of that particular phenomenon has definitely changed the very fiber of the stateside import car culture in recent years. Innovation will always be better than imitation, and innovation is what keeps car culture alive.
I always enjoy speaking with people that have been around the "car scene" longer than myself, and most of those around me. People will often say "the grass is always greener" but I like to learn just how green-- or not green-- that it was. John says, "The scene nowadays, in my opinion, is about instant gratification and "insta-fame". People do things now more to get noticed, and get likes on the internet, but not for the personal satisfaction of building something unique and long term. I have seen many people leave the scene because they are not getting the likes that they expected!" The internet is undoubtedly a double-edged sword when it comes to it's effects on car culture. Finding parts used to be more work, especially rare, actual JDM parts; now it's almost all a click away. Forums, while still very much in use, aren't the center of the car modifying universe anymore. It's almost too simple to get your hands on any parts you can think of, and yet, people seem to stick to what's popular, regardless of the cost. But jumping from trend-to-trend certainly will not help anyone build a car for 20+ years that has won several 1st place awards at various Wekfests, has been featured by both Honda Tuning and Super Street, and has received an award that was judged by The Chronicles' Sticky DilJoe himself.
Both of us being "details guys", John and I got on very well from the start. He's about as laid-back as you would expect a skater from Jacksonville, FL to be-- extremely. It was really nice to have a conversation with someone that is as inhumanly obsessed with small details as I am. But that's the best thing about it, if you walk by and see what all this '89 Civic Sedan has to offer and don't pass it off as "just another Honda", he will be just as delighted to talk to you about it as he was to me (but, he says "it's cool if you think it's just another Honda too (laughs)". And just like any car enthusiast, he has passed his affinity for the platform down the line, to his teenage son, Trae. I know this because when I asked him what type of car he wanted to get when he could drive, he looked at me with a big smile on his face and said "Definitely an 89-90 EF Sedan (laughs)".
Words by Matt Clavijo (@initialmjc)
Photos by Charley Hoehaver (@centru)
See what John's latest rare find is on Instagram: @89civicracer
Full parts list can be found here!