Many of us have known the pain of paying for shoddy workmanship. Ask around-horror stories of consumers getting ripped off by shops are not uncommon among automotive types, especially where engine work is involved. Indeed, that's how this 1996 Civic DX hatchback ended up on the doorstep of JE Import Performance in Baltimore, Md. The owner got a raw deal with his H-series swap and turned to JE for the assist. JE was only too happy to oblige.
Now 12 months, $30K, and countless dyno hours deep into the combo race/street car, the Civic is just about set to be unleashed on the world of drag racing. We caught up with shop owner and project head James Evans, who gave us the quick and dirty version of how this hatch came to be.
Honda Tuning:: I know the owner of this Civic wants to remain anonymous for the story, but when he brought the car to you, did he have any idea what he wanted done?
James Evans: The owner lives in North Carolina and someone down there did a really poor job at putting the motor in; it was barely running. He brought the car to us on a trailer and basically told us to get this thing running. We found a bunch of problems that required the motor coming out, and it kind of snowballed from there. Before we knew it, he was asking for 750hp, and we went above and beyond that.
We've had the car for a year, and recently the owner told us he now wants us to build him a 1000hp turbo K-series in another hatchback. The guy completely blows me away, but I'm not going to complain, you know?
HT:: Was he basically rubber-stamping every one of your suggestions?JE::Yeah. Along the way he'd check in, and we'd come up with ideas. As soon as he decided he wanted to make it into a pretty fast drag car, we immediately told him what he's going to have to do for a turbo and stuff like that. The fuel system was a bit of a learning process on this car because everything we tried wasn't enough. Because of the nitrous and amount of boost we're running, we ended up going with a monster 1,000hp setup just to get enough fuel.
HT:: What was the issue you were running into that you had to come up with something so elaborate?
JE:: Just fuel starvation, even on the dyno. At high RPM, the pump couldn't keep up. We went through the highest flowing Walbro and Bosch pumps. Then the lines weren't big enough to carry sufficient fuel. We ended up switching to an Aeromotive pump, which uses a -10 AN port-most guys that are running over 700 horsepower are using lines roughly that size, especially with nitrous. The nitrous needs that extra burst of fuel.
HT:: You guys used ERL Performance for sleeving the block. How did you hook up with them?
JE:: I met Sean Ragains [from ERL] at a road race, and then he stopped by the shop. We were using Golden Eagle before, and he was telling us how [Golden Eagle was] sleeving blocks, and asked us to give ERL a try next time. Since we're on the East Coast, it's just easier [for us] than sending [blocks] all the way out to Golden Eagle in California. (ERL is based in Indiana.)
HT:: You also mention a custom valve job on the tech sheet. Any details you'd care to share with readers?
JE:: It was along the lines of a 5-angle valve job. It might not quite be a 5-angle; the machinist we used [for the valve job] does his own little tweak on that.
HT:: The crank triggered, distributor-less ignition you list-was that a custom job?
JE:: We had to make the bracket that holds the trigger, but it's an Electromotive Tec3 system, which has the distributor-less ignition with just a crank trigger and individual coils.
HT:: All tolled, how much time have you guys spent on the build so far?
JE::About a year. We started in April 2005. The owner didn't want to dump a bunch of money into it all at once, so it has been an ongoing project. It also came at a time when we were moving from our old shop to the new one. That didn't help move the process along.
HT:: JE makes a business out of building and tuning cars. Was there anything especially troublesome with this one?
JE::Getting the custom fabrication done, that was a little time consuming. None of it was really a pain in the ass. The problem was the fuel, having to repeatedly take the car off the dyno to redo the fuel setup. But none of it was really difficult. We spent a lot of time tuning with the Electromotive.
HT:: Do you prefer the Electromotive? Are you normally an AEM or Hondata guy?
JE:: Actually, I personally do a lot of Hondata, and I'd say [the shop] does a fair amount of AEM. We wanted to try something different, for our own education, and we heard good things about the ignition setups on the Electromotive system. I was actually pretty pleased with the way it all turned out. Once we did a base map tune, the first run we pulled on it was perfect. It's got a wizard feature that sets it up, whereas in most other systems that setup wizard is worthless. With 1000cc injectors, it took a little bit of work to get the motor to idle with a decent air/fuel ratio. Those big injectors don't like to open and close very quickly at low RPM.
HT:: So is there anything left for this Civic? Is the owner pretty happy with what he got?
JE:: He's having us test it at the track and dial it in as fast as it'll go before he takes delivery on it. It's kind of become our baby-we almost feel like we own it at this point. He's going to race this thing, and he's talking about transmission upgrades now. I warned him about H22 transmissions, which aren't as strong as B-series trannies, so we might do an H-to-B trans conversion. He also might invest in a newer aftermarket custom tranny, or he might just leave it the way it is and sink the rest of his money into this 1000hp K-series. He just wants to have 1000 horsepower at the wheels. It should be an interesting journey.
JE Import Performance 1996 Civic DX hatchback
Pop the hood on this latest JE creation and you'll find an H22A staring back at you from the engine bay, balanced, blueprinted, and assembled by the shop. When the project began, the H-series block was sent off to ERL Performance for machining and sleeves that are 3mm over stock, increasing bore to 90mm and raising displacement from 2.2 to 2.3 liters. JE knife edged the factory crankshaft, and after dropping it in, connected Crower rods and Wiseco 8.5:1 compression pistons to it.
Attached to the head via a JE Pro Fab equal-length stainless manifold is a GT35R turbocharger, boasting a turbine A/R of .82 and a compressor A/R of .70. Exhaust makes its way out through a JE Fab downpipe bolted to a custom 3-inch exhaust, with turbine bypass handled by a Tial 44mm wastegate. Meanwhile, the cold side sends the charge to a Precision intercooler and Skunk2 Pro series intake manifold via custom JE plumbing. An NOS wet nitrous kit set up to deliver a 150-shot adds laughing gas to the induction.
Inside the top, JE went for the full custom valve job, port, and polish. They put together a valvetrain made up of Supertech valves, Skunk2 springs, retainers, and cam gears, and Crower turbo cams. JE also revised the fuel system with an Aeromotive A1000 pump, -10 lines, custom sump to prevent fuel starvation, and 1000cc RC Engineering injectors. Matching the elaborate fuel configuration is an equally sophisticated Electromotive crank triggered distributor-less ignition, and the fuel mix and ignition are governed by Electromotive's Tec3 engine management. To protect everything, JE opts for Motul coolant and 300V motor oil to flow through the engine.
Energy from the motor is passed off to the transmission by way of a Competition Clutch flywheel and twin-disc clutch. The 5-speed OE gearbox itself has been upgraded with carbon-coated synchros, a Quaife LSD, and Motul gear fluid. Power makes the last leg of its journey to the wheels through Drive Shaft Shop stage-5 axles.
On the bottle, this JE-built Civic puts down 852 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque-hot damn!
Prepped to optimize traction, JE set up the EJ chassis with Progress race series custom shocks and spring rates and a custom Pro Fab traction bar. The shop also installed a custom rollcage for rigidity and driver protection.
The full complement of rotors and calipers has been switched out for GS-R issue, front and rear. Calipers have been loaded with Hawk pads, and Motul RBF 600 fluid is pushed out to each corner via Goodridge lines.
Rims & Rubber
Tucked into the forward wheelwells are Mickey Thompson slicks, sized 24.5/9/13, wrapped around 13x8 Weld wheels. For daily driving, the hatch rides on Rota Slipstream rims adorned in Hankook rubber.
Outward cosmetic tweaks are mostly functional-Seibon front lip, a modified bumper that can accommodate the intercooler, and rolled fenders for the massive slicks. Speedesign Custom Graphics handles the Civic's sparse decals.
Essentially everything from behind the front seats back was removed-mostly paneling and carpeting-for the sake of weight reduction; the car now weighs 2140 pounds. JE then hooked up an AEM Uego wideband meter and Autometer oil pressure, water temp, and boost pressure gauges to keep tabs on engine performance. Unexpected JDM flair, namely the Bride seats and Takata harnesses, gives the cabin some street cred.