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1997 Honda Civic CX Hatchback - Can't Stay Away

The Civic Hatch might be an obvious starting point for many tuners, but its appeal is usually fleeting. Not to Jeff Blumenfeld, though, he saw the ubiquitous 3-door as a quick and easy ticket to achieving his speed objectives.

Luke Munnell
Jan 16, 2007
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In spite of the myriad of tunable sport compacts available to consumers these days, it's interesting that in the minds of many the paragon platform of our sub-culture is and has always been the Civic. Over the model's decades of existence, OE's have released countless offerings capable of demolishing the econobox performance-wise with far less modification. Still, the platform remains representative of arguably the most defining principle of our people: that a car designed to accomplish much, the least of which is performance, can be transformed into a machine capable of competing with, and besting, some of the most thorough examples of conventional sports cars.

We know how to do a little with a lot, and nowhere is this more evident than in the scores of built Civics across the globe.

2018 Honda Civic
$18,940 Base Model (MSRP) 28/40 MPG Fuel Economy
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While the Civic may have been the poster vehicle of the scene for a long time, the current general progression among tuners seems to be away from the once sought-after compact. It's true: most Hondas are a great platform on which to learn the proper way to wrench. And given the incredible amount of aftermarket support for the various possible chassis and engine combos, accomplishing great things with a Civic is an entirely feasible goal for most. But after having learned a thing or two about sport compacts and how to tune them, a lot of us are lured away from the big H by the bells and whistles offered by other manufacturers and makes.

The trend is a familiar one for Jeffrey Blumenfeld of Baltimore, Md. Despite starting out with a Honda, he chose to try his luck in other vehicles. In the end, though, he ultimately decided his tuning goals would be best accomplished by returning to his first love-kind of.

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Honda Tuning: Was a Honda your first car?

Jeffrey Blumenfeld: Yes. Well, the first car I ever modded was a 1990 Integra, but close enough.

HT: What was done to that?

JB: Basic bolt-ons, suspension, a B16A swap, and nitrous. I actually wanted to build the engine specifically for nitrous, but was talked into boost by a friend.

HT: So that car was turbo'd?

JB: No. I never made it with that car, but I pulled the engine, had the block work done to prep it for boost, and eventually dropped it into this car.

HT: Wow, you've held onto that engine a long time. You owned other modified vehicles between the Integra and the Civic, though; what were they?

JB: Let's see ... I had a '96 Jeep Cherokee, '99 Civic coupe, '94 Civic coupe, '01 Lexus IS300, '99 Mazda RX-7...

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HT: After all those, what brought you back to Honda, especially to the Civic hatchback, a car that most start with and then progress away from?

JB: Well, I knew Hondas best after having owned so many, and had a clear idea of how to build it to make it a sick fast street car and occasional street-class dragger. Plus, there are so many parts out there for these cars that it just seemed like a lot less headaches.

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HT: We all know there's no such thing as a problem-free build, though. Care to elaborate on any horror stories you have?

JB: Oh, there are so many. I owned the car for a while before having enough time and money to take care of the body work, so when I did, I made sure to take care of it all at once. I pulled the engine, harness and chassis wiring, interior, dash, glass, stripped the car down to the bare metal, and had every inch of the body gone over prior to paint. The entire process took months.

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When we were re-assembling everything, a friend of mine who was in charge of re-installing the engine harness and ECU couldn't fit the junction cap through the hole we made for it in the firewall, and since I had no idea that it actually served a purpose, we threw it away. A few days later we went to start the car and nothing happened. We racked our brains for days, trying to figure out what the problem was. We went over the entire swap, but couldn't get it. Finally, I called another friend who owned a shop, and within five minutes, he had the problem sorted out.

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Then just a week after that, the first day the car was on the road, it got backed into at an intersection by an intoxicated driver, ruining the hood, bumper, radiator support, HID's. Needless to say, we didn't laugh at that one.

HT: At that point, you were making some pretty serious power on your setup. What did you have then, and how was it different from how it sits now? And what are you expecting to get out of it?

JB: I had the engine pulled and the bottom end replaced with a fully built '95 B16A block, and mated back to the original '88-91 B16A head. I had a Garrett T61 turbo on it then, with a log manifold. The body didn't change much, with the exception of adding a cage a few months back. Just before the [photo] shoot, I replaced the turbo setup with a bigger T67 and tubular manifold, added the nitrous and re-tuned it. It made 463 wheel hp with a street tune on pump gas. With the nitrous and on race gas, I want to tune it for just over 700 wheel hp.

HT: Is the build reliable?

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JB: Recently, the car was over-revved in a race and bent some valves, so that needed to be taken care of, but aside from that, nothing major. It seems everything is working well together.

HT: Ouch! How did that happen?

JB: I asked a friend to drive it in a race, and agreed that if anything happened to the car during the race, I would shoulder the blame. We won the race, but at the cost of a few valves. I'm not upset about it, though; it's an old head, and the stock valvetrain was prone to lift.

HT: At least it gave you some inspiration to rebuild the head.

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JB: (laughs) Yeah. Then most recently, a friend and I were loading the car onto the trailer when my friend cut the power via the kill switch in the back bumper and forgot to remove the key, so it eventually fell out on the highway. And best of all, the company that made it is no longer in business. We molded the housing inside the bumper, so now it's kinda stuck there!

HT: So what did you do?

JB: Nothing, yet (laughs)... I still haven't decided what I'm gonna do.

HT: Did you do most of the work on the car yourself, or did you work through shops?

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JB: A few close friends and I did almost everything ourselves. My best friend Kyle was there almost every step of the way. He recommended I go to Phil Denhardt for the paint and bodywork, which I'm glad I did, and other friends recommended shops or specialists for everything else we couldn't do, or thought someone could do better. I had John Spindler do my machine work-he's known as the best around, and for good reason. We saved a little money in the process, doing most of the work ourselves, but more importantly, gained a lot of experience that comes in handy when things don't go as planned.

HT: Which seems to happen a lot for anyone in this game. I noticed you drive the car regularly on the street. Any plans to make it track-only?

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JB: (Laughs) That was the plan all along, but when you put as much work into a car like this, and only get to take it to the track on occasion, the temptation to drive it as much as possible kinda takes over. Eventually, I want to take it to that point, but I need to have a little fun with it as it is first.

HT: Future plans for the car?

JB: Tune it, shed a few pounds, prep it more for track duty, and race it!

HT: Good deal. We wish you the best of luck. Any departing advice for "noob" tuners?

JB: Do it right the first time. If it doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. If it costs more, it's probably worth it. Measure twice and cut once.

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Bolts & Washers
Jeffrey Blumenfeld's 1997 Civic CX

Propulsion
JE 81.5mm pistons with ProSeal rings and Carillo rods stand up to boost pressure inside a bored and sleeved B16A block, assembled by John Spindler Machine in Westminster, Md. Providing power to this mix is a Garrett T67 turbo, suspended by a Neukin Ramhorn manifold and blowing through custom piping that leads to a Precision intercooler and ultimately an Edelbrock Victor X manifold. A Tial 38mm wastegate and Blitz SBC boost controller regulate boost build, while a Greddy blow-off valve expels what's not needed during throttle let-off, and a Neukin downpipe directs waste through the custom-made Epic Tuning exhaust. A Nitrous Express direct-port system provides additional power, but has not yet been tuned for use.

A 5-speed S80 transmission from a GSR transfers power to the wheels, with the help of an ACT 4-puck / Max Extreme clutch combo and Pro-Lite flywheel.
Evidence: Jeff's Civic makes 463 wheel hp at 19psi on pump gas.

Rims & Rubber
After many different lightweight wheel/tire combos, Jeff decided that a set of bronze 15x7 Volk Racing TE37's with Advan A032R tires would be best to save weight, provide positive traction, and deliver some JDM style. On the track, Jeff uses 13-inch Lenso wheels with Hoosier slicks up front, and skinnies in the rear.

Stance
Omnipower race coilovers are used at all four corners for consistent launches, while a 6-point chromoly cage and Eibach front sway bar stiffen up the chassis for more enjoyable street driving. Omnipower lower control arms and a rear sub-frame brace by ASR further facilitate chassis rigidity.

Resistance
Stopping isn't much of an interest, but nevertheless a priority for a street-driven car. Jeff relies upon the Fastbrakes 11-inch drilled and slotted rotors, rebuilt ITS calipers, and Hawk HPS pads, front and rear, to provide enhanced stopping power. Not wanting to mess with a good thing, Jeff trusts that OEM Honda DOT 3 brake fluid can do the best possible job of engaging the system.

Fashion
Outside: Being the perfectionist that he is, Jeff had the entire car stripped prior to bodywork and paint by Phil Denhardt of VP Auto Collision in Bel Air, Md. After reassembly, Civic Type-R fenders, headlights, rear lip, and mirrors were added to maintain a clean, OEM look, while a Seibon front lip, Composites Fab hood, and VIS duckbill wing all add carbon fiber flair. Honda JDM Access window visors vent the interior during Mother Nature's tantrums.

Inside: Many of the OEM interior appointments were removed from the car, prior to paint, and are kept out for weight reduction. Sparco Tourino and Sprint seats replace the stock driver and passenger units, respectively, while a Sparco Camlock 4-point harness keep said persons in place when in operation. A Skunk2 short shifter with knob and Sparco Mugello enhance the vehicle feedback to the driver, while Defi 60mm boost and oil pressure gauges relay pertinent information to the driver. A Composite Fab carbon-fiber fuel pump cover and custom battery box spice up the interior.

Love
Blumenfeld thanks Kyle for helping him build the car; Mike, Steven, and Tim from TSR Performance for being there any hour of the day to help; Phil, for the bodywork and paint he laid inside and out; Henry from HFR for keeping Jeff safe with the cage he fabricated; Dustin from Composites Fab for all the carbon fiber goodies; Josh at Nitrous Express for supplying the kit; Fastbrakes for the big brakes; Sean and Josh from East Coast Clothing for the endless amounts of clothing they supplied; the boys at Speedesign Custom Graphics; Jon and Sal from BYE Engineering for the tuning; and finally John Spindler for assembling this monster motor.

By Luke Munnell
302 Articles

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