Once upon a time, any sort of engine-swapped ’88 to ’91-bodied Civic remained bound by the regions of the greater Los Angeles area. ZC engine transplants by way of fourth-generation Civic hatchbacks happened infrequently, and any sort of engine robbed from any second-generation Integra and stuffed inside one of those bays was even more unexpected. The pursuit of the engine swap was an elusive one, limited mostly to Southern Californians, and accomplished by the minority after frustrating bits of trial and error.
And then the Internet happened. All of a sudden swap requisites like chopping, welding, and yanking dashboards apart gave way to the conveniences of free-for-all wiring schematics, bolt-in engine mount kits, and plug-and-play electrical harnesses. The fourth-generation Civic engine swap was no longer the sort of privileged, exclusionary power-maker that it once was, available to the select few who just so happened to live in the right place during the right era.
Ask 1993 what it thinks about Bangkok’s Witawat Nopthanya and his K20A-swapped fourth-gen Civic and it’ll tell you it never should’ve happened. The engine spins the “wrong way,” OBD electronics are the devil, and cams that can advance and retard valve timing all while the engine’s still spinning are a whole other kind of witchcraft.
Engine swaps like these were never supposed to happen—not so easily anyway, and certainly not some 8,000 miles away from the once-perceived hub of twin-cam Civic conversions. You can thank companies like Hasport and K-Tuned for that. It’s forward-thinkers like these that helped make K-series swaps like Nopthanya’s so easy, despite whatever side of the globe he calls home.
But that doesn’t mean Thailand’s some sort of nerve center of K-series engine swaps, because it isn’t. Sure, B-series conversions are routine here, but according to Nopthanya, K20As like his are still seldom seen. Almost as seldom seen as fourth-generation Civic hatchbacks, he goes on to explain. “In Thailand,” he says, “it’s hard to find an EF hatch, and no one’s swapped a K motor into this body before.” But that 2.0L wasn’t Nopthanya’s first K-series and that hatchback wasn’t his first Civic. Before all of this he’d modified a sedan of the same lineage, only with a B20 transplant. Next, a K24 made its way underneath the hood of his hatchback before blowing itself to smithereens on the drag strip. Today Nopthanya uses his hatchback less by the quarter-mile and more for getting himself around Bangkok.
Pop the hood and it’s obvious just how simple Nopthanya likes to keep things. For any power beyond what Honda says he should have he puts his trust in a larger intake path by way of a Hybrid Racing throttle body and Skunk2 intake manifold. The other end’s been opened up with a custom exhaust manifold and a J’s Racing muffler, all of which has been optimized at the hand of one of AEM’s standalone ECUs. The rest of this hatchback is just as carefully—and sparingly—appointed. AP Racing brakes and classic bronze TE37s backed by Ohlins dampers are the highlights outside, where you won’t find any sort of body kit or aggressive aero changes. Inside, a pair of Recaro bucket seats, Momo steering wheel, custom floor mats and the robotic K-Tuned shifter are about the only things you’ll notice on the inside. It’s simple, it’s purposeful, and it’s exactly what Nopthanya was going for.
In an era chock full of ultra-wide fender flares, massive wheel offsets, eye-searing vinyl-wrap livery schemes, and every conceivable doodad tacked onto the front and rear of most builds, Nopthanya’s EF3 takes the road less traveled. Rather than relying on shock value and extreme angles, he’s let the classic lines of one of the most influential chassis in import performance history do the talking all on its own.
The greater Los Angeles area no longer has the monopoly on Honda performance, and the world—and engine swappers—are better off because of that.