Classic Lightweight Chassis Goes Heavy on the Go-fast Modifications
After three decades of daily duty, followed by months of neglect, this 1988 Honda Civic hatchback EF is repurposed.
If you’re old enough, think back to the late ’80s when you couldn’t go more than five minutes without hearing Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” blaring on the radio. The Honda movement was still in its infancy and not a single person could predict that the newly introduced fourth-generation Civic was destined to help fuel an entire aftermarket industry. Furthermore, in about 30-years from that time, those peppy, gas-saving 3-door commuters would have enthusiasts paying top dollar for barely salvageable versions in hopes of reliving what would become Honda’s golden era.
At that time, in the summer of ’88, a young lady walked into a Shingle Springs, California, Honda dealership and purchased a brand-new Honda Civic EF hatchback. Absolutely no frills, the standard model was a bare bones entry into the Civic family and didn’t have any of the amenities you’d find on modern Civics. The opposite of flashy, it was Almond Cream with an unflattering brown interior and went for a cool $6,500. She would go on to maintain that car for 31 years before selling it to a neighbor that planned to use it as his farm car, though it never really got much use.
With little need for the aged Honda Civic hatchback, that second owner put it up for sale in late 2020 and just a few days later, it was purchased and promptly delivered to Chase Bartels of Chase Performance in Farmington, Minnesota. The $830 price tag was a dream come true for any Honda builder looking for a blank canvas to build on.
That original Almond Cream paint has been revitalized with an inside and out respray followed by a new windshield and moldings. EF9 taillights and an Si center garnish were added to replace the standard model’s blank center plate in the rear, while both headlights were replaced with Momo_evol’s headlight ducts. Track Life fenders were then bolted on for some additional wheel clearance and venting, and more recently the car was wrapped in a custom Function+Form livery.
Under the hood, any unneeded factory holes or brackets were removed before it too was covered in fresh paint to make room for the 2.0L swap that Chase had long thought about. He adds, “I purchased the car specifically for a K-swap. I think the coolest chassis to K swap is the Honda Civic hatchback EF – old car with new motor and technology.”
Under the Hood:
Using Hasport engine mounts, an FD2 Type R-derived K20 engine and transmission were carefully set in place before being fitted with a Rywire engine harness that features a firewall-mounted quick-disconnect for ease of servicing. A Skunk2 Alpha header leads to a custom exhaust system and Total Flow mini race muffler that exits under the car. Various K-Tuned swap-friendly parts were used to smooth out the process but there were hurdles. Chase tells us, “I couldn’t use an FD2 gear selector, so I had to track down an RSX selector without having to buy the whole transmission, lol! It’s also a drive-by-wire set up so getting the right throttle body was challenging. I made a custom bracket and mounted it against the firewall so I could run the throttle cable through the same hole as the shift cables.” That extra effort to maintain a clean appearance and organization can be seen throughout the engine bay and everything’s been carefully mapped out, not thrown together.
Other issues have come up regarding the car’s fueling and its likely affected Chase’s patience seeing as how the ’88-91 chassis fuel pump isn’t accessible from inside the car. He adds, “I’ve had to drop the fuel tank four times so far due to ongoing fuel pump issues. Broken pumps, burst pump lines, and melted relays and wires.”
A reconditioned body and modern engine transplant go quite a long way in giving the late ’80s hatchback a second life but the car’s shortcomings become painfully apparent on the road. Weak braking and ancient suspension are a sure fire to way to realize split second regrets. Braking was greatly improved with a CRX rear disc conversion joined by Wilwood front calipers and StopTech rears over matching discs, a Wilwood master cylinder, and much cleaner look thanks to Rywire’s brake tuck kit.
The original shock and spring combo was unceremoniously trashed to make room for Function+Form’s Type 3 coilovers. High strength carbon steel shock bodies with monotube shocks designed with large fluid valve assemblies and oil chambers, customizable spring rates, 24-step adjustability – features that would have sent a 1988 enthusiast into a tizzy had they seen what the future held. Chase addressed the Civic’s blown-out bushings, added adjustable camber kits, a traction bar, and appropriate bracing. With staggered Konig Dial wheels and Federal 595RS-RR, he’s maximized the lightweight hatchback’s ability to claw its way through the corners.
The original owner of this Civic would probably be perplexed at the RaceQuip XL seats and 4-point harnesses that replaced the almost flat, non-bolstered factory seats. She’d also be confused as to why there’s non-stop movement on the iPad mini that relays Hondata’s K-Pro info via Bluetooth. Truth be told, she wouldn’t even know how to start the car since it now relies on a PDM system controlled by a switch panel. Probably for the best given that the Civic she knew was stricken with a mere 70hp and 84 lb-ft. of torque while Chase’s version puts down 259hp and 179 lb-ft. of grunt.
You know how this all goes, in the hands of a guy like Chase, this sort of build is never truly finished and is in a state of constant change. On his list of future plans, he lists Driveshaft Shop axles, a Whitfield Mfg. Tubular subframe, door cards, and cage, possible new wheels, and most notably, a Merc Racing supercharger. From 30-years of A-to-B transportation to neglected farm car, the third chapter of this 1988 Honda Civic hatchback’s journey is still being written.
Chase Bartel’s 1988 Honda Civic Hatchback EF
Engine Specs K20A; Hasport EFK2 mounts; custom intake; Vibrant Performance coupler, clamps; K&N filter; Skunk2 Alpha header; Total Flow mini race muffler; SpeedFactory tucked radiator, AN lines, fittings, magnetic drain plug, titanium valve cover hardware; dual SPAL fans; K-Tuned upper/lower coolant housings, alternator relocation kit, radiator cap, valve cover breather filter, fuel rail; FD2 oil cap; Earls conical seal; AEM 340lph fuel pump, FPR; Grams fuel pressure gauge; RDX injectors; custom fuel lines from tank to fuel rail; WireWhere? fuel pump harness, relay, PDM switch panel, push start, fuse box mount chassis harness; Hasport front bumper battery mount; Odyssey PC680; Rywire milspec engine harness with quick disconnect, mounting plate, charge harness; hydro-dipped valve cover; Hondata K-Pro V4.
Transmission and Drivetrain FD2 Type R transmission; RSX Type S gear selector with ARP hardware; Hybrid Racing detent springs; Competition Clutch Stage V; SpeedFactory magenetic drain plug; K-Tuned billet cable bracket, race cables, billet cable firewall plate; K-Tuned/Drag Cartel billet shifter with staging brake mount; Hush Performance EFV3 hydro conversion kit with Wilwood slave cylinder, billet reservoir arm, manual pedal assembly; Rywire clutch line.
Suspension Function+Form Type 3 coilovers; K-Tuned front upper control arms, rear camber kit, rear toe kit, traction bar; ASR subframe brace; MPC rear lower control arms; Downstar hardware.
Resistance Wilwood front calipers, discs, master cylinder; StopTech rear calipers, discs; Motul fluid; stainless lines; Rywire brake tuck kit; 1991 CRX Si prop valve, rear disc conversion; JHP USA booster delete.
Rolling Stock Konig Dial 15×8 +20 front, 15×7 +35 rear; Federal 595RS-RR 225/45 front, 205/50 rear.
Outside OEM Almond Cream respray inside and out w/shaved engine bay; new windshield, moldings; Function+Form race livery; MOMO_EVOL dual headlight ducts; OEM 88 corner lights; custom dumper ducts with LED turn signals; Track Life X fenders with carbon fiber bottom; JDM EF9 taillights, 1991 Si taillight center garnish, antenna block-off plate; Downstar hardware throughout.
Cabin RaceQuip XL FIA seats, 4 point harnesses; Planted seat brackets; Sparco side rails; Blox harness bar; Element fire extinguisher and mount; Momo Monte Carlo, hub; NaytonTech center vent delete, coin tray cup holder; Vibrofiltr sound deadening; Apple iPad mini to view K-Pro.
Thank You Big thank you to the man up above.
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