Steve Thomsen admits it. He's old. Just look at his affinity for touring cars from the mid-'90s and you'll quickly understand what he means by this statement. This love affair with tough little sedans with big wheels, massaged motors, and brakes the size of serving platters has been making googly eyes with Steve for damn near two decades, and it has everything to do with what he drives.
Rumor has it that back in 2000, a friend by the name of Zach rolled up one day in a '97 Civic EX sedan, freshly topped-off with a set of Volk wheels, new Recaros, an AutoPower rollbar, Spoon upgrades, and a whole lot more. The simple yet promising appeal of the platform immediately pulled Steve in with an iron grip and he knew he had to have that car, despite having already owned two '96-00 Civic sedans.
Upon purchase some time later, Steve began focusing on making the sedan a dedicated daily driver. But before long things got a bit extreme, and the sedan turned toward more "track focused inclinations." To date, this econo EX has seen more reconstructive work than Nicole Kidman, and save for its motor swap and super-rare old-school exhaust, every square millimeter of its chassis has been tweaked.
Steve tells us that one of the primary reasons why he loves this oddball sedan so much is that unlike other builds he has completed, which were nothing but challenges, this one has been a joy from start to finish with very few headaches. He got exactly what he wanted without a lot of hassle, resulting in a daily driver that's super usable, has never let him down on track, and has subsequently taken him all over the country.
One of the most memorable jaunts worth recalling came back in 2013, when Steve and a buddy made the 3,000-mile trek from Canton, Ohio to LA. Steve had grown determined on making it to the Chronicles meet that year, with plans to hit Vegas on the ride back in order to attend SEMA. Together, with some driving assistance from his good friend Eric, Steve was able to make it out to Cali in just a mere 36 hours, with 17 of those being in torrential rain. This proved to be no easy feat on Toyo R888s, but the boys pushed onward without issue in the little sedan, with the car only being turned off a handful of times for things like bathroom breaks and refueling.
After leaving Ohio at 5 a.m. that Thursday, Steve and his driving companion arrived in LA around 7p.m. the next night. Upon arrival at the hotel, they jacked up the Civic in the parking lot and changed its oil since it had just crushed 3,000 miles in non-stop fashion. With the Saturday event out of the way the next day, the boys hung out on the beaches all Sunday before stabbing eastward to Vegas the next morning.
But upon leaving SEMA later that week, disaster unexpectedly struck. A lone coyote in New Mexico had just run out in front of oncoming traffic, instantaneously ending its mangy existence by demolishing the Civic's front end along with one of Steve's prized HRE barrels. It was around 2 a.m., barely a fuzz above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and things were looking grim. But after jacking up the front end, zip-tying what was left of the nose back together and popping on a full size Enkei spare, the boys were able to limp the car back to a hotel for some much needed respite.
Driving through Texas the next day, the car suddenly started pulling hard to the left in the middle of nowhere, and upon closer inspection it became apparent that an upper control arm bolt was not just damaged, but missing all together! The jury is still out as to how something like this happens, but being the industrious type, Steve was able to rummage through his giant bag of random Honda hardware and somehow come up with a brand new control arm.
While the rest of the trip went smoothly, other driving incidents thereafter have included a semi truck retread demolishing the front end (again), some nincompoop slamming into the car's rear bumper in the Babies R Us parking lot, and several other non-life-threatening circumstances. It's a rough life, but that's the risk a beater runs every time it starts up in order to do what it is told.
But this isn't just a four-door errand boy either, even though Steve has shown us snaps of it haphazardly transporting an entire roll of roofing material. Gutter jokes aside, this little sedan also sees track time, attends numerous out of state car shows, and serves as the preferred cross-country road trip machine. It's been to both coasts, the Gulf of Mexico, as well as up to both the Dakotas and Detroit, all under its own power, and never on the bed of a trailer.
This is impressive considering that the HRE wheels on it were built-to-order and cost about $1,000 a piece. But despite being super special, these wheels are also a wee bit on the heavy side, hence Steve tracking the car on a set of Advan RG2's. Like the wheels themselves, a lot can be said for taking a simple approach to things, and Steve admits that by keeping the car naturally aspirated and controlled by a JDM-spec B16A ECU, powerplant issues have been nonexistent.
All told, Steve and his wife tack-on around 12,000 miles to the car's odometer every year, and with 38mpg gains and a 2,800lb curb weight, you can see why the little 161whp whippersnapper ran a 1:21 at Nelson Ledges a few months back. In comparison, several Corvettes that day were reportedly running similar times, a testament to how mid-1990s touring car creativity and quality parts can often outperform raw power.
Nowadays the car sits in the shop beneath the surgeon's scalpel, with Stoptech Trophy brake upgrades, Ohlins suspension updates, a 5-lug swap, and a fresh black interior matching its equally opaque RaceTech buckets. Although numerous wheels see rotation on the car when it is not undergoing reconstructive surgery (including a new set of HREs, some TE37s, and the only stateside set of Nismo LMGT4s in a 17" FWD offset), Steve remains on the fence about the real reason why his prized sedan sits on a lift. Years ago he swore to never swap in a K-series, something that apparently is happening as we speak.
Reliability sweats aside, Steve tells us that the major issue with this car is that there is absolutely zero resale value associated with this particular chassis, so he's basically stuck with it. But while he has toyed with the notion of parting the damn thing out, he can't stop loving this little sedan for all that it has and will offer.
Simply put, Steve has owned a lot of cars in his life, including a slew of other Honda badged machines and a Z06 Corvette, but this sedan still retains a place at the top as his favorite. Hopefully this love story will continue to usher in a new chapter come next April, when the snow melts and the car's newfound heart begins to beat.