In anyone's life, there are milestones-firsts-that you will never forget. First day of school. First kiss. First shag. First good shag. First job interview that you nailed. First sexual harassment lawsuit. And buried somewhere in that emotional soup cauldron of memories, your first car.
Unless they are unholy turds that expired within hours of taking delivery, our cars are indelibly intertwined with our memories of time and place-even if the time went for hours and the place changed with each passing mile. And you always remember your first. The old is discarded, but the bond still remains, even when the physical artifact doesn't.
Discarding it may have come easily, but there's an unforseen emotional toll later on down the line. A funny thing happens as the years plod on: you start remembering that first car in a whole 'nother light. You know it's out of date and you know it's not the hottest thing on the street anymore. Yet the memories it brings back-whether it's a reminder of simpler days, of youthful folly, or just to serve as a signpost that shows how far you've come-too often are too strong for us to just ignore.
Adam Nguyen was living in South Pasadena, CA and attending the University of California at Irvine in 1990. Despite his blue-collar upbringing, the 90-mile daily roundtrip commute in L.A. traffic demanded a new car-something cheap to buy and run, although taste demanded a modicum of sporting flair. That car was this one: a new dealer-leftover '89 Civic Si. The 5-speed EF had just a radio and air conditioning; Adam covered more than 80,000 miles in just four years.
Not long after he bought it, Adam learned of the legendary SoCal Black Magic Racing car club. "I was a freshman," Adam recalls, "and there was a college senior who had a black Si that was just incredibly nice." So inspired, he got to work.
Part of that was ditching the stock 110-hp SOHC engine, and moving into a 160hp B16 DOHC VTEC out of a DA Integra-a swap initially executed in 1992. Today, it's something that shops can pull off in their sleep, but "we were in uncharted waters in those days. My brother and I did the swap-we had to weld in the side mount; there were no Hasport mounts in those days! We had the stock axles in it and they probably weren't at an ideal angle for things like CV-joint-boot deterioration, but this was all eyeballed!" The 50hp bump (roughly a 40 percent increase in power) came with the bonus of the Y1 transaxle, complete with factory Quaife-supplied limited-slip.
Another two years down the line, and Adam headed off to law school in New York; soon after, he managed hedge funds on Wall Street for half a dozen years. The Civic remained in California, but it was hardly idle. "My very kind mother lent it out to family members that I never knew of. I always knew it had been lent to a cousin, and they drove it, but then someone else drove it, then someone else.
"Once I came back in 2004, I asked where my car was; it was in someone's backyard, left there to die. It was on steel wheels, the body was scratched and dented, the seats were torn up, the carpet was trashed and it wasn't even covered up. It looked like 10 college kids used the hell out of it. It was still running, but it wasn't smoggable."
Now in his 30s, Adam has plenty of other toys to play with: he counts a BMW M Coupe, a Z4 and a Porsche 996 among his cars. All-out power wasn't a goal: his other cars were born with more power than he wanted to shoehorn into his Civic. Besides, that's not what this car was all about for him. "I didn't want to go overboard," he admits. "I have other cars for those purposes. You know, this is my hot rod. Everything I did, I did with the purpose of bettering it-but not going overboard. I wished I had nice wheels and a Mugen exhaust, a lowering kit and a good stereo. That's all you had in those days. I wanted to build it back how it was."
Autohaus sorted out and re-sprayed the Flint Black body, which is now festooned with OE JDM decals (the sort that, ironically, are often the first to go when personalizing a car). The body has been treated to all of the JDM touches, like the cornering light in the front fender; even all of the glass, save for the windshield, is JDM-spec. "There aren't a lot of parts left for the EF Civics," Adam laments. A sign that time has passed him by? Not at all; it simply means that there are fewer avenues to pursue parts, and that the pieces become more treasured once they're found. That said, the welded-in tranny mount remains, cleaned up and straightened for optimum half-shaft angles.
"And that's really it. I just finished it this last year, to the point where I felt like I was proud of it. I will improve on it, but I'm not putting HID bulbs in. Thanks to this car, I will never forget my blue-collar roots."
'89 Honda Civic
Owner Adam Nguyen
Hometown Huntington Beach, CA
Daily Grind Entrepreneur
Under The Hood Polished valve cover by American Briteworks; 1990 DOHC B16; A'pexi VTEC controller, CTR camshafts; Toda cam gears; ITR valves, springs and retainers; Comptech ITR air intake; Blox intake manifold; Skunk2 83mm throttle body, B&M fuel regulator with 2000 Civic Si fuel rail, Mugen header and exhaust. Head ported and polished by Valley motorwerks; engine assembled by Rev Hard
Driveline Honda Y1 five-speed transaxle; factory-installed Quaife limited-slip differential; ACT clutch; Mugen shifter; GM transmission fluid
Rollers Mugen NR10 wheels, sized 15x6.5"; Toyo RAI tires, sized 195/50R15
Stoppers stock, with JDM-spec rear disc conversion; Earl's stainless brake lines
Stiff Stuff Tein Super Street coilovers, Function 7 control arms, Cusco strut tower brace, Mugen bushings
Outside Restored to stock, with JDM lighting, corner markers, window wing, and badging; factory Flint Black paint applied by JDM Autohaus
Inside Restored to stock with the following additions: Mugen steering wheel, JDM Civic seats, Alpine CD stereo head unit with Polk Audio speakers, A'PEXi VTEC controller, Alpine alarm
Props Thank you to my parents and family; Alan at Rev Hard; JHP USA, Heeltoe, Camp 1320; Moe of Hyper 16valve; American Briteworks, Supreme Power Parts, Shoreline Motoring; Ernie Uy, Charles Trieu, Eric Kroese, LyLy at GT Inspired, Eric at SupremePower, Kingston at M1 Autobody, Gwan Tanks
www.advancedclutch.com;alpine-usa.com;apexi.com;autocarparts.com/p_Comptech;bloxracing.com;bmracing.com;mugen power.com; skunk2.com; todaracing.com; toyo.com