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Project Hatch

If you are in a giving mood  

This page is about the story of my Honda Civic Hatchback.  I bought it in October of 2002 and it's still going strong!  Read through the years to see the progress of my hatch.

2002 - A New Chapter

About a week after the demise of my '95 GSR powered civic coupe, I picked up this gem of a '94 Si hatchback.  What would have been the 3rd year in review, in the swap story, is the build-up of the hatchback.  i've learned quite a bit in the past few years and I'll do the best that I can to inform of you of everything there is to building a Civic. 

After pulling the engine out of my wrecked civic, I had to piece it back together.  The accident left it in pieces.  The valve cover, intake manifold, fuel rail, injectors and other miscellaneous bits and pieces were destroyed.


2003 - Getting It All Together   

With a rebuilt transmission and reassembled engine, I was almost ready to start the swap. 

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Given my experiences with the first swap, and the experience gained by doing swaps for other people, I was armed with everything anyone would ever need to know to do the infamous 5th gen engine swap.  I chose to swap out the steering rack and brake MC given the fact that it was going to be significantly easier to accomplish with the engine out of the way.

Changing the steering rack

Why would I want to swap out the rack?  The stock Si steering rack is a powered unit with a mediocre steering ratio.  The rack from a 3rd gen Integra is a much faster and very easy to change especially when the engine is not in the way.

If you don't have the luxury of an empty engine bay, the best way to swap out the rack is to drop the sub frame.

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With the sub frame on the ground, the rack is easily removed.  If you are swapping a power steering rack for a power steering rack, just reuse all of the hardware.  You MUST have a weather seal from the GSR since it is the only one that will fit on the GSR rack.  Make sure you have the universal joint for the steering column from the Integra as well.  If you are replacing a manual steering rack, you will need to modify the right side bracket to make it fit.  Some grinding of the holes will do the trick.  Ultimately, a sub frame from a power steering equipped civic (or integra) would be ideal but it is not necessary.

You will need all of the fluid lines and pump from an Integra to complete the operation.

Brake MC swap

Bang for the buck, this is probably one of the best upgrades you can do with the biggest pay-off's in performance.  For around $100 you can swap out the Mc and benefit from a much more positive braking feel.  If you have the 13/16" MC, you can easily upgrade to the 15/16" without modifying any of the lines or changing the booster.  If you want to bump up to the 1" MC, you will want to make sure you get the fittings with the MC.  Honda used two different sized fittings (same sized lines) on ABS equipped Integras and Civics.  You can use any MC regardless of whether or not your civic is equipped with ABS.

Swapping to the 1" MC will require you to swap the booster as well.  This is a little more involved but not difficult.  There are four bolts on the inside that need to be removed along with the linkage from the brake pedal.  With the new booster and MC installed, the brake lines will need to be bent to meet the ports on the new MC.  If you have a non-ABS civic, you will need to cut the line to removed the flair for the rear line and use a flaring tool to install the new larger fitting.

Once the new MC is installed, you will need to flush the system.  This is a great time to upgrade to a performance brake fluid like ATE Super Blue or Motul 600.

Wrapping it up

With the rack installed and the brake hardware finished, it was time to drop in my B18C1.  The installation was smooth and once I worked out a few minor problems, I was back on the road with my new swapped Civic!

Sub Frame Dilemma

Shortly after I bough the hatch, I discovered a strange handling issue.  It would pull hard in one direction while on the gas then jerk back off the gas.  It wasn't torque steer, but I couldn't figure out what it was.  The problem was rather unnerving.  I took the time to install Energy Suspension's bushing kit up front (the rears were installed later)  The bushings didn't solve the problem.

I did discover that the bushings made a tremendous difference in road feel.  I was expecting a harsh ride but instead, gained a more comfortable ride.  Rather than experiencing a vibration, caused by the soft bushings, the components do their job quickly and efficiently with no negative effects.

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One day, while doing some spirited driving, I was on the brakes heading down a bumpy hill.  I heard a massive pop up front!  My steering was completely erratic.  Once I made it back home, I quickly discovered that my right front lower control arm mount, in the sub frame, was broken. 

With a new sub frame and a fresh alignment, I had the Civic that I knew I could have.

Steering Wheel Swap

While waiting for parts, I took the time to do a swap that I was preparing to do in my coupe before I totaled it.  The steering wheel swap.  After I installed the Momo steering while in my 240SX, I knew I needed the same performance advantage in my civic.  The lighter and smaller wheel provides much better feedback.

The operation was a success!  The cruise control and horn both work as they should and I couldn't be happier!

Check out the operation here.

Recaro Seat

A friend of mine was selling his Recaro racing seat and I jumped on the opportunity.  It had all of the necessary hardware to mount it in a Civic.  After I did a couple of adjustments and acclimated to the shape of the seat, I was hooked!  The extra support is phenomenal giving me the confidence that I never expected. 


2004 - A year Later

Due to a "mishap", I had to pull the B18C1 for repairs.  Check out the project work here.


After finishing the engine installation, I realized that my half shafts needed to be replaced.  I installed Drive Shaft Shop's stage I axles.  They are rated for horsepower up to 225 whp.  This should be more than enough for my new power plant. 

Sway Bar Upgrade and Rear Bushings

The Si is equipped with a front sway bar but no rear.  I needed something to help with the excessive body roll.  I didn't want a huge 21mm rear bar like the ITR, Comptec or Ground Control.  Eibach offers a kit that seems to fit what I was looking for.  The stock front bar is 20mm and the Integra's rear sway bar is 14mm.  Eibach's kit includes a 26mm front bar and a 17mm rear bar.  Since I did not have a stock rear sway bar, I needed to pick up the hardware necessary for the installation.  In this case, I needed new rear lower control arms and end link hardware.

The installation is tedious, but something that can be accomplished within a few hours.


Before I could install the rear bar, I needed to replace the rear control arms.  This was an excellent opportunity for me to swap out the rear bushings.  I also ordered energy Suspension's rear trailing arm bushings since they were not included with the full set.  With all of the bushings replaced, that can be replaced, and the rear sway bar installed, the rear suspension was finally up to my expectations.

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Engine Mounts

I was still having engine slop issues.  My home made motor mounts were doing well but I wanted to try Energy Suspension's torque mount set.  The low cost of the set makes it worth trying even if I didn't like.  I reused one of my home made torque mounts along with the ES torque mount and rear engine mount bushings.  The feel of stiffening all three mounts is excellent!  Take off is much smoother.  The only disadvantage is a fair amount of rattling in the interior at lower rpms.  Leaving out the rear torque mount will still give you a substantial advantage but without the excessive interior rattles.

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2005 - Race, Race Race!

This was the year that I really came back to autocrossing.  After I destroyed my Civic coupe is late 2002, I hadn't felt comfortable racing. I attended one event in 2003 and never even tried in 2004.  With the work that I had completed, I needed to get the car to the track!

Armed with a fresh set of tires and brakes, I headed to Putnam Park Raceway for a weekend with NASA's HPDE program.  i had never been on a track before and couldn't wait to try out the Civic!  By the end of the long weekend, I was completely exhausted having maxed out on fun and educated myself with the understanding of what makes a fast car.  Handling!!

After that weekend, I went to nearly all of the local autocross events and dominated Street Modified in the North West Indiana region SCCA and came in 2nd overall in the South Bend Region.

I was thrilled to come back to the sport and reap the benefits of all the hard work I had done to the Civic.


2006 - The Suspension Upgrade

2006 marked the year for a massive suspension overhaul.  I was never happy with my Ingalls camber kit and knew I needed something better.  Omni-Power makes a kit that allows for adjustment at the ball joints rather than the inner mount.  My alignment guy was much happier with the Omni-Power components.  I also installed an adjustable upper link in the rear.  (Update, Omni-Power went out of business, Skunk 2 now makes the same part)

I also upgraded my springs to Ground Control's coil-over springs.  I utilized 400 lb/in springs in the front and 450 lb/in springs in the rear.  I used all front length springs in case I wanted to swap the springs from front to back.

Along with the springs and camber kit, I installed an ASR rear lower arm brace/swaybar mount.  This area of the unibody is very flimsy and needs the extra support.

A new set of wheels a tires is always nice.  I ordered a set of 16" Rota Slip Streams and a set of Falken Azenia RT 615 205 40 16 Tires.

I tied everything together with JDM Password's front 3 point tower brace and their 2 point rear tower brace.

The handling of my hatch was truly amazing!  Between the LSD and the tighter suspension, I was able to drastically improve my lap times!  Body roll was minimal compared to the milder suspension that I had replaced.  A two day driving event at Gingerman Raceway was the perfect proving ground for all of the new equipment and it did not disappoint!


Racing Harnesses

Another discover I made at Putnam Park Raceway was that my Recaro seat was not enough to keep me in my seat.  A friend of mine suggested that I try Schroth's Ralley 3 harnesses.  The harness utilizes the rear seat, upper seat belt mount as the anchor which creates the proper mounting angle for the harness.

The improvement in support from the harnesses was incredible.  Adjusted properly, the harness keeps you pinned in your seat allowing you to concentrate on driving rather than trying to stay in your seat. 

Later in the year, I installed a Walbro Fuel Pump, B&M adjustable fuel pressure regulator and an MSD external coil.


2007 - A Few Solid Upgrades and Some Bad Luck

After the massive suspension upgrade in 2006, I cracked a valve guild during a two day driving event at Gingerman Raceway.  I took my engine to Demaree Automotive in Indianapolis, IN and had them rebuild the entire engine.  They installed new rings and bearings and completed a full head rebuild with new valves, valve guides and retainers. 

Custom Transmission

While the engine was being built, I decided to pursue a custom set of transmission gears.  The stock Integra GSR transmission has a very long jump in gear ratios from 1st to 2nd gear.  I've always struggled with this issue during autocrosses. 

The modification is to use the B16a 1st through 4th gears along with an Integra LS (B18B) 5th gear.  The B16a's transmission contains one of the shortest gear sets available from Honda. The only drawback is that 5th gear's very short ratio keeps the engine at high rpms at highway speeds.  With the LS 5th gear, the engine can cruise at a much lower RPM which will save the engine an improve your fuel economy.

The difference is immediately obvious!  Shifting into 2nd while driving aggressively will bring the engine right back into the meat of the power rather than dropping below it.  During my first autocross with this setup, I was stunned by how much stronger the car feels.  A friend of mine, who has the same swap, made the observation that it feels like two 1st gears when comparing it to the stock GSR ratios.  

Exhaust and Clutch

I decided to stay away from a pre-bent aftermarket exhaust and had a local shop do the work.  The shop bent a 2.5" exhaust with a muffler and resonator.  For the final "stealth" touch, I painted the can and tip black.

After only 37,000 miles, my stock Integra clutch lost one of it's springs.  I had experienced Murf's Exedy Street set-up and decided to install one for myself.  Check out my clutch comparison.

Of course, more racing:

Uh Oh...

My engine disintegrated itself.  What to do.  Demaree Automotive claimed that I miss-shifted my transmission and over revved the engine.  I blamed them for the faulty workmanship as the engine only had 4000 miles on it after the second rebuild.  The engine consumed itself at 4000 rpms.  Even if I miss shifted, as they claimed, the valve train was good for more than 10,000 rpms.  I had no recourse.  Legally pursuing them would cost more than the engine was worth.

I found myself with a broken Civic and a 16 year old Miata.  I had just started a new job and my wife felt that I needed a new car that I could count on.  Two weeks later, I took delivery of a brand new '07 Si!

Now that I didn't have to worry about getting my hatch back on the road, I sold the Miata and spent some time selling parts on eBay and I was able to pull enough money together for another B18C.  Along with that, I received a few donated parts fro my friend Rick.  I was back in business once again!


2008 - Sorting out Minor Issues

In December of 2007, I bought a JDM GSR B18C.  To save money on shipping, I ordered myself a long block and my friend Tom a complete swap.  It was a blast having the opportunity to do two swaps back to back!

With my Civic back on the road, I started to experience what happens when you fight to keep a working engine under the hood.  Everything else wears out and needs to be replaced!  When I bought the hatchback, it came with a set of KYB AGX shocks.  The mileage was unknown and after 5 years of my ownership, they started leaking.  I installed a fresh set of KYB AGX's.  I also opted to raise the ride height to help maintain better suspension geometry.  Another benefit to raising the car ist hat it allowed me to run a larger tire without rubbing.

My tires bald and hard as hockey pucks.  Rather than buy the same 205 40 16 Falken Azenis 615's that I had, I decided to bump the size up to the 215 45 16 tire.  This is a substantially larger tire!  Visually, it fills the wheel wells better.

After nearly two years, I finally painted my fenders.  I tried to do some touch-up on the doors, pillars and hood.  they didn't turn out great, but the overall effect was great.  The car looks finished for the first time in years!  Wet sanded and polished, the fenders turned out great!

For years, I was a strong proponent of aftermarket short shifters.  I loved them and had one in nearly every car I've owned.  Why the change in heart?  I was sick of the design flows in my B&M shifter.  The lower part of the shifter had no way of keeping the dirt and moisture from contaminating the sleeve and causing it to rust and bind the shifter.  As part of routine maintenance, I would remove the shifter, grind the rust off of the sleeve and reinstall it with fresh grease.

Why not try another short shifter?  Unless you have an excessively long shift, the benefit is trivial.  I thought about autocrossing as well as driving on full blown race tracks and realized that the length of the shift is completely irrelevant. 

I needed a new shifter and decided to install a stock Integra shifter.  I learned that after '98, Honda used a chrome shifter on all of the Integras.  If you look at the picture below, you can see that the Integra shifter will result in a shorter throw than the stock civic shifter (the black shifter in the picture is from a '99 Civic Si)

I installed the shifter with fresh o-rings and seals and couldn't be happier with end result.

To help pay for my engine, I sold my Hondata ECU.  A friend of mine gave me a spare ECU to help me with my project.  The ECU had an unknown aftermarket chip with a very high redline and different maps.  Since I was worried about over revving my engine along with the fact that the low cam fuel maps were terrible, I scoured the internet for a stock USDM P72 ECU and managed to find one.  With the stock ECU, the engine ran great!

PGM-FI Relay

My hatchback was about thirteen years old at this point.  I had been plagued with a very odd problem of having the car stall and refuse to restart.  It was an issue that only came up once or twice a year.  It was very hard to diagnose.  One day, when the car refused to start, I noticed that I had no fuel pressure or spark.  After consulting my Helm manual, I discovered that the fuel and ignition are activated by the PGM-FI relay.  I later discovered that this relay is problematic in older Civics and Integras.  I threw in a spare and never had the problem again. 


2009 - More Maintenance and Learning How To Drive Again

In 2007, I blew my engine at the second autocross of the year.  I retired for the season.  2008 saw a new engine, fresh tires and shocks.  I was ready to go and love my car all over again.  I only made it to two races before a work schedule prevented me from racing for the rest of the season.

In 2009, I was awarded a normal work schedule and a well preserved Civic!  I replaced the right rear wheel bearing and ABS sensor and headed out to the races.

I started the racing season on the wrong foot.  I did a fairly poor during the first event.  I learned that the class I had run for years, Street Modified, had really become a catch-all class. I was running against 400+ HP racing tire clad EVO's and STi's.  As long as the car was street legal, it could be in my class. 

I had to rethink my strategy.  I realized that I had been away for a couple of years so my driving was a little rusty.  It would take practice and patience to get back into my groove.  I also realized that I wouldn't be driving the hatch as a daily driver.  The creature comforts of a huge stereo were unnecessary along with a few other details.  I decided to start thinking about my hatchback as my dedicated weekend warrior.  I ditched the custom stereo and started removing as much as I could from the interior.  I removed all of the seat belts except for the driver's belt (it is very uncomfortable to use the harness for normal driving)

The weight savings was immediately noticeable.  The hatchback had more pep and was much more nimble on the course.  I miss the monster stereo but at the same time, I love what the civic was becoming.

I managed to get through the entire season without having to perform any maintenance.  I focused on honing my driving skills.  I was still dealing with a highly competitive class and knew that I would have to do my best to out drive my competition. 

I had a great season and managed to get 2nd overall in my class.  I really feel as if I've come back to the sport and look forward to getting even better in the future.  I have a few ideas for fine tuning the civic for the next season and I look forward to trying them out.


2010 - Another Engine, Brakes, Tires and a Diet

My plans for this year started out with a set of tires, brakes and the simple removal of the last bit of stereo. 

I installed a set of fresh rotors, fresh ATE super blue brake fluid and a set of Carbotech AX6 brake pads. 

I can't really remember why I switched to the Falken Azenis tires a few years back.  I don't know if it was cost, or I just wanted to try them out since so many others, at the time, were using them.  I always seemed to struggle to keep up with the faster cars.  When it was time to replace the last set, I decided to try something different.  Car and Driver had conducted a performance tire comparison and the Falken tire did poorly overall compared to the newer tires available.  Between my experience with them, and the article, I definitely knew it was time for something new. 

After talking to my good friend Luke at The Tire Rack, I decided to try out a set of Bridgestone Potenza RE-11's.  It is the direct descendant of the S03's that I loved and used in the past.  I was not disappointed!  The improvement in my times were spectacular!  I was besting times of people with faster, race tire clad cars.

The Diet

Last year, after I decided to ditch my custom stereo and remove a few unnecessary parts, I realized how important weight reduction was to overall performance.  Yeah, you hear about it but without experiencing the impact, it's hard to really appreciate what it can do for you. 

With the bulk of the stereo gone, what was left sounded awful.  It was time to go hardcore.  I gutted the interior and started removing any unnecessary wiring, sound deadening, clips, braces and so on. 

I used dry ice to break apart the tar sound deadening.  I pulled out the firewall mat.  I removed all of the wiring associated with the stereo and slimmed down the dash wiring harness. 

I had installed tweeters into my original door panels and didn't want to have gaping holes from the missing stereo.  I bought a pair of used base model panels that lacked the map pockets.  The fabric on the doors was in sad shape.  I decided to freshen up the look with some red suede.  The process was a little cumbersome but I was really happy with the end result. It is a bit flashy but with the rest of the mostly stock interior, it was a nice touch.  As you can see from the pictures, I also covered the rear speaker panels.


Through the process, I tried to save every scrap to try and get an idea of what I saved.  The tar and sound deadening alone saved about 10 lbs.  The stereo and all of the wiring saved another 35 lbs for a total of 45 lbs.  That may not seem like much but when you consider the weight that I lost with the custom stereo, I have saved about 150 lbs. which is substantial considering the overall weight of the car.  Without me in it, the hatch weighs about 2280 lbs.  Not bad!

There is still quite a bit more that can be pulled.  I could get a CF rear hatch, remove the AC, remove the sunroof and have the hole filled, and so on.  I can't quite bring myself to pull the AC and the rest of the weight savings comes at a high cost. 

For this year, I also had a new set of numbers made.  The answer to life, the universe and everything!  I also used some left over paint from my front fenders and painted the emblems.

Old cars need parts....I had to replace the right rear ABS sensor

Yes, another engine.  I fell prey to the cold air intake blues regarding standing water.  For years, I was very careful about water and the CAI.  Not having to worry about water with my '07 Si, I lost the habit of being careful with water.  That being said, I got another JDM GSR B18C and turned my CAI into an SRI. 

I decided to use a shop that came highly recommended by users of the Honda-Tech Forum.  H-Motors Online sold engines at a price that was similar to others out there.  The difference was the quality of the engine and the service.  The engine looked new with a refinished valve cover.  The engine was also wrapped with so much foam padding that you couldn't tell what it was.  They also removed all of the sensors that could be damaged in shipping such as the TPS, and IAT sensors.  I've never received an engine with an unbroken TPS!!  I was stunned and very thankful of the effort they put into their work!

While I had the engine out, I pulled the entire front suspension apart just to make sure everything was in good shape.  I found a sway bar mount that I installed backwards.  Did you know there was an arrow on these things?  Oops!

Aside from the engine mishap, this was a really great year.  I attended an Evolution Driving school for auto crossing and managed to make it to quite a few races.


2011 - A Rebuilt Transmission and a Little Tweaking

I've know for years that my transmission needed attention.  Shortly after I built the custom transmission, the 5th gear synchro started grinding.  I wasn't worried about the synchro because I wasn't experiencing the issue during racing.  However, when the bearings started growling, I decided it was time to pull the trans and have it fixed.  I had my favorite shop install a full set of new bearings and a 5th gear synchro.  No more bad noises!

I used my parts mule '07 Si to drop off the transmission!

Control Arms and an Alignment

I was concerned about the front upper ball joints in my Omni Power upper front control arms.  I ordered a set of the Skunk 2 Pro Series Plus upper arms.  The Pro Series Plus arms include their heavy duty ball joint and poly urethane inner bushings. 

After I installed the new upper arms, I had the civic aligned and was ready to hit the track.  Up front, I started with -1.5 degrees of camber and 0 degrees of toe.  In the rear, I left it at -1 degrees of camber and 0 degrees of toe.  During the next event, I noticed that I was creeping onto the edge of the tire during hard cornering.  I realigned the civic to -2.0 degrees of camber up front, -1.5 degrees of camber in the rear and 0 degrees of toe all around.  The minor adjustment helped with the contact patch and wear during autocrosses.  Using a temp gun, I measured a fairly even temperature distribution across the surface of the tire.  I was satisfied with the results!

Sitting in grid, waiting to run

Helping set up the course.  The hatch is definitely useful for this!

Throttle Body

Anyone that has driven the older OBDI Hondas has probably experienced the woes associated with the fast idle valve on the throttle body.  (see picture below)

I was having trouble with my fast idle valve.  Rather than replace it (again) I decided to use an OBDII throttle body.  The difference between the original throttle body and the later version is the lack of a fast idle valve.  Even Honda realized it was a bad idea!  I had a spare one that was in sad shape.

 I dismantled it and cleaned it thoroughly. 


Once it was back together, I installed it on the engine.  The end result was an engine that idles normally.  This "upgrade" is definitely worth the money if you can find a good used throttle body (a new one at wholesale prices is still around $450)

Wheels and Tires

It was time for a new set of tires.  I had been running a 16" wheel for years.  I like the way it looks compared to a 15" wheel but I realized the difference in cost of the tires.  At the time of this writing, the Bridgestone RE11, in the 16" size is $177 each.  The 15" size is $134 each.  Both tires are 205 mm wide.  Both tires are nearly identical in height so the contact patch, front to back, is the same.  The only reason for running the 16" wheel is cosmetic.  I can save about $185 per set of tires  after taxes. 

Another advantage to the 15" wheel is that there are more tire options available.

With all that in mind, I ordered a set of 15" Rota Circuit 8's. 

2012 - Wiring woes and a limited budget


Down The Road

It's August, 2011, as I'm writing this.  After the minor work that I finished this year, I can say I'm happy with the Civic.  I'm ever more conscious of my budget which is leading me to more cost effective modifications based on what I'm doing with the car. 

That being said, I don't have any real plans for the future other than to maintain the car.  I've thought about more dedicated race bucket seats, possibly some gauges for when I head out to the race track.  Beyond that, the money spent on big power adders seems frivolous. 

I still think about switching to race rubber for auto crossing, but time will tell.