Big Thrill, Tiny  Package Big Thrill, Tiny Package

Posted in Art Of The Flip by Tavarish | Views: 24567

Follow my train of thought: In a local supermarket, walking through the dairy aisle after picking up a pack of mozzarella slices and whole wheat bread, I wondered how universal my mundane grocery-getting adventure was. Then, I thought about how most car enthusiasts, rich or poor, wanted the same thing for the most part: a thrill. That brought me to ponder what the most thrilling car was for the least money, and that led me to the EP3 Honda Civic Si. I had to have one.

Part 1: Seriously, why can't we have nice things?!

The Honda Civic has been a jack-of-all-trades for as long as people understood that bell-bottom jeans look stupid and cocaine was a hell of a drug. Its various regular iterations included a people carrier, gas miser, company car, and pensioner's wet dream. And then there was this:

Astute historians will say the hot hatch started with the VW GTI, but I believe it was perfected with the Honda Civic Si (Sport Injection). Its fuel injected, rev-happy inline-4 became a staple in the Civic lineup. The Si was always the top-of-the-line performance model derived from the base chassis, except for one generation - The 7th generation, the EP3.

This car, released in 2002, was Honda's first time creating a standalone Civic Si. It used this to push its new standard K-series engine platform, which was the aspirational stuff of dreams if you're the kind of gent that enjoyed wearing a nice fitted baseball cap the wrong way 'round. The stuff of dreams, of course, if you lived anywhere other than the United States. You see, the EP3 was known as the Type R overseas, and got an engine that didn't trip over its own shoelaces when pushed. A 197 horsepower 4-cylinder was fitted to the Type R, with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The Americans had to do with 160 horsepower and a 5-speed manual.

Quick rant: I get that we can't import the Nissan R34 Skyline GTR to the US because of crash test and emissions standards. What I don't get is why a manufacturer wouldn't just release the most potent and desirable version of a car that's already sold in the US. We sell the chassis, which doesn't change, and I doubt there are any major changes to crumple zones or emissions if you swap one 2.0 4-cylinder for another. Why would you essentially neuter the hottest hatch you've ever released to date?

Qualms aside, the car was pretty capable. It just needed some aftermarket support and it was fighting fit. This is where my story begins.

Part 2: Good from far, but far from good.

I usually keep a short list of cars that I'm ready to pounce on, should they ever become available for sale. Such was the case for a car that was hiding in a friend's garage.It was a 2003 Honda Civic Si, with low miles, a few modifications, and more problems than three Jay-Zs trapped in an elevator.

Quick aside: There are a few choice advantages you get when buying cars from friends:

1. You can haggle the price through the floor using your friendship as leverage. There's nothing better than playing the waiting game with someone that you see regularly and chipping away at the price when you can see their real-time frustration with having a 2700 pound paperweight in their garage.

2. You can have an intimate knowledge of every issue the car has. This is extremely helpful when making a budget before you ever get any cash out of your wallet. It allows you to be 3 steps ahead when making an offer, and because of the relationship you have with the person, it's hard to make an offer that would turn the seller off completely.

The car in question was modified quite extensively and tastefully. It had Tein Coilover suspension, DC Sports Headers, AEM Cold Air intake, Megan high-flow midpipe, and one thing that separated it from the sea of other Civics in the area: A 6-speed gearbox sourced from an Acura RSX Type-S. Not just any 6-speed gearbox sourced from an Acura RSX Type-S, but one I personally installed when the original 5-speed shit the sheets, bed, and part of the floor. I wanted this car because not only was it a great platform, it was what the car should have been from the factory: a loud, unapologetic screamer that rewarded you for redline shifts and apex-perfect corner entries. Here's what I saw when going to see the car:

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The car was mostly sorted cosmetically. However it needed some help mechanically. It needed new motor mounts all around, a new exhaust flex pipe, a new tire at the front, and a wheel alignment. In addition, the clutch fluid leaked out over time, which made it difficult, if not impossible to change gears. I made an offer of $4000, and the seller, being one of my best friends, took the offer. It was time to get to work.

Part 3: A temporary fix to a permanent problem

After getting the car home, I decided to tackle the motor mount problem. The car's stock mounts were completely shot and the only one holding the car together was one that we temporarily made from a hockey puck. "Temporarily" is used loosely, as that's what my friend told me when we installed it 4 years ago during the 6-speed swap when he was stuck with a car with a completely worn mount with no money to pay for a new one.We burned the old mount out with a torch, coated our lungs with probably very toxic smoke, drilled through 2 polyurethane hockey pucks and secured it with a Grade 8 bolt and a few galvanized washers. It wasn't ideal, but it was better than having nothing holding the engine on.

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In any case, that shit had to go. I ordered a new engine mount set, took the mounts off using this tutorial, and installed the new mounts, which needed a little massaging with a carbide bit on a Dremel to mount properly to the chassis.

The clutch fluid was leaking worse than a used Range Rover at this point, so I had to address that. A very common issue is that the stock clutch master cylinder starts leaking at the diaphragm, because it's a 2-piece system that can be serviced in theory. The casting cracks and fluid leaks when the system is pressurized - every time the pedal is pressed. The fix for this is to use the cast, 1 piece master cylinder from a non-Si Honda Civic. The entire guide, with part numbers and materials, can be found here.

After the system was bled, the car was once again drivable without the worry that it would leave me stranded.

I bought a $30 matching brand good used tire to replace the one on the front that needed replacement due to it being the wrong size and mounted it on the 15" Rota Slipstream wheels.

IMG 0241
Not too shabby.

I elected to have the oil change, exhaust and alignment work done by a local shop, which gave me a printout of the car's alignment, as well as a checklist of the car's overall health. I also had them lift the car .5 inches to decrease the pucker factor when driving over a speed bump or steep driveway. At a reasonable $220, I couldn't complain, especially since I didn't have a welder, lift, or alignment rack.

After I got the car back,I replaced the aftermarket 5-speed shift knob with an aftermarket weighted 6-speed shift knob to reflect the correct shift pattern. It screwed right in and locked with a retaining nut.

IMG 0254

The interior needed some major work, since there was a ton of dirt and scuffs on the plastic dash panels. Here's what I used to restore the interior to a presentable state:

I vacuumed the dirty carpet, used the steam cleaner to soak in the suds and sucked it out using the same machine. I made sure to agitate well and move slowly. I polished the scuffs out using the PlastX and a microfiber cloth, then went over it again with a dry towel to remove any excess gloss. The seats were cleaned with upholstery cleaner, but the suede on the driver's bolsters was a little too saturated and worn to be restored completely, although there was a marked improvement. Here's the finished product:

IMG 0253 IMG 0256 IMG 0261 IMG 0257

Part 4: The littlest supercar

Now that the car had everything mechanically sorted, it was time to take it out on a drive and get some impressions. This was a car that needed to be in its element - a twisty mountain road. The dash-mounted shifter felt perfect for the countless shifts I made, thanks to the close-ratio gearbox. Each crisp shift felt deliberate and it cornered so flat and square that it could've lived in a pineapple under the sea. Every drive was an event - an excuse to use all 160 horsepower through every on-camber corner and 25mph hairpin bend. The raspy exhaust and sonorous intake delivered a tone that indicated that this engine was made for performance, a supercar lite. It was a 4/10ths Lamborghini that you could drive at 10/10ths, for 1/100th the cost. It was surprisingly roomy, delivered excellent fuel economy, and had legendary reliability, even if you beat it like it owed you money.

It was a gem, and the last of its kind, for Honda would go back to their formula of using the base chassis as their platform for the Si in the next generation. This was the unicorn. Remember that the next time one passes you on a curvy stretch of pavement and the driver has an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

This flip took place in the middle of winter, when the temperature was literally below freezing, and I couldn't polish the exterior of the car because my compounds would likely freeze, as would my nether regions, so I took the car to a local heated car wash, which produced less than desirable results. I had wished that the weather allowed me to properly clean the car, but this was the best that nature allowed, swirl marks and all:

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I put the car on ebay, and sold it in a few days for $6000 to a guy who picked it up and shipped it across the country. It was a fun pocket rocket and I'm glad I had the experience. Here's the rundown of costs for this flip:

2003 Honda Civic Si
Shift Knob -$15.99
Engine Mounts -$150.00
Oil Change/Alignment/Exhaust Work -$220.00
Used Tire -$30.00
Total Spent -$4,415.99
Sold for: $6,000.00
Profit/Loss $1,584.91

I got more than $1500 for driving a hot hatch for a few weeks. I'd call that a result.

Do you have a car flipping or restoration story? We'd love to hear it!

Post in the comments below or email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you'd like to be featured!

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