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1997 Honda Civic Sedan - The Big Throwback

What was one old is new again - sedan style

Micah Wright
Jan 12, 2018
Photographer: Patrick Lauder

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.

1997 honda civic sedan JDM CTR EK headlights Photo 2/33   |   1997 Honda Civic Sedan JDM CTR EK Headlights

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.

1997 honda civic sedan JDM B16A1 Photo 6/33   |   1997 Honda Civic Sedan JDM B16A1

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.

1997 honda civic sedan HRE 543R wheel Photo 10/33   |   1997 Honda Civic Sedan HRE 543R Wheel

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.

1997 honda civic sedan recaro S 08 seats Photo 14/33   |   1997 Honda Civic Sedan Recaro S 08 Seats

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.

1997 honda civic sedan auto meter gauge Photo 18/33   |   1997 Honda Civic Sedan Auto Meter Gauge

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.

1997 honda civic sedan enkei wheel Photo 22/33   |   1997 Honda Civic Sedan Enkei Wheel

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.

1997 honda civic sedan b16 swap Photo 26/33   |   1997 Honda Civic Sedan B16 Swap

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.

1997 honda civic sedan UKDM civic vti front lip Photo 30/33   |   1997 Honda Civic Sedan UKDM Civic Vti Front Lip
By Micah Wright
39 Articles
1997 Honda Civic Sedan - The Big Throwback
Tuning Menu
Owner: Steve Thomsen
Hometown: Canton, Ohio
Occupation: Project Manager for a Property Management Company
Engine: JDM B16A1 (92 model) 165whp, Brand new Integra Type R valve cover, Comptech cold intake, Comptech icebox, Comptech 4-2-1 stainless header, Toda timing gears, Toda timing belt, Spoon silicone radiator hoses, Spoon spark plug wires, Spoon engine damper Spoon thermostat, Spoon Kevlar plug wire cover, Spoon reservoir socks, Tanabe Super Medallion Hyper stainless exhaust, HKS Oil filter, HKS D1 Limited edition radiator cap, HKS D1 Limited edition oil cap, HaSport billet engine mounts, Hondata intake manifold gasket, Checkrd Sports fuel pressure gauge, AEM fuel rail, AEM fuel pressure regulator, Blox oil filter relocation kit, Earls -10 Black braided lines, Earls -10 Black AN fittings, KOYO Integra radiator, Mishimoto slim fan and shroud, Mugen fan switch, Tein hood struts, OEM hardware (all new)
Drivetrain: B16 Transmission with LS 5th gear, Quaife 1.5 LSD, RyWire clutch line, S2000 clutch master cylinder
Footwork & Chassis: KW Variant 3 coilovers, Carbing rear strut tower bar, Carbing front strut tower bar, Buddy Club rear camber kit, Buddy Club front camber kit, Buddy Club rear lower control arms, Comptech rear sway bar and brace, Energy Suspension urethane bushings
Brakes: StopTech 330mm Big Brake Kit (front), StopTech pads and stainless brake lines (front), 99-00 Civic Si rear brake conversion, Project Mu pads (rear), Project Mu Teflon lines (rear)
Wheels & Tires: HRE 543R 17x7.5 +40, Toyo R888 R comp tires 205/40-17, RAYS Engineering forged aluminum lugs
Exterior: JDM Civic Type R EK folding mirrors, JDM Civic Type R EK grill, JDM Civic Type R EK headlights, JDM Honda Access rain visors, AeroCatch hood pins, Acura EL (Canadian) taillights, Shaved emblems and color matched skirts, UKDM Civic VTi rear lip, UKDM Civic VTi front lip, J's Racing +15mm fenders, J's Racing front tow hook, J's Racing rear tow hook, First Molding Japan carbon canards, Fiber Images carbon hood (paint matched)
Interior: Nardi 340mm NOB Taniguchi special edition wheel, J's Racing edition Works Bell quick release, Works Bell boss, 99-00 Si gauge cluster, JDM lower dash console, ITR shift boot, S2000 factory pedal assembly, Recaro S-08 custom ordered Speed seats (red alcantara), Buddy Club rails/sliders, Buddy Club shift knob, Buddy Club shifter, JDM ITR DB8 rear seat, Reupholstered door panels in red suede, New red carpet and matching floor mats, Kenwood flip out DVD/MP3/SIRIUS, JL Audio components in front, JL Audio rear speakers, Kenwood Excelon flat sub, Kenwood Excelon 5 channel amp
Thank Yous: My Dad, Bob, and Brother, Eric, for always inspiring me with cars. My wife, Ashley, for always supporting what makes me happy. Scott Wetzel and Mike Arbogast, the only two people who have really ever worked on the car beside me. And Zach Guildoo for keeping the car so clean before I bought it from him, and made it my own.

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