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 |   |  1996 Honda Civic DX with an Acura LS B18-B Motor - Homemade Honda
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1996 Honda Civic DX with an Acura LS B18-B Motor - Homemade Honda

Meet Mike Cote, the Bob Vila of Import Tuning

Daniel Morris
Jun 1, 2001
Photographer: Wes Allison

Fitchburg, MA—A quiet suburban community is in shock after learning that Mike Cote, loving husband and father, apparently swapped a ’97 Acura LS B18-B motor into his ’96 Honda Civic DX—by himself.

“He always seemed like such a nice young man,” said one horrified neighbor, “now, I’m afraid to leave the house after dark.”

Authorities fear that this engine swap may have just been the tip of the iceberg. Strong evidence indicates that, among other things, Mike Cote also painted the Honda’s exterior, customized its rear bumper, and dyed the interior.

“What we have here is a textbook case of ‘vigilante modificationism’,” stated one unidentified official. “I never thought I’d live to see the day when a man paints his own car. I always thought it was impossible, like a Rubik’s cube or the Washington Generals beating the Harlem Globetrotters. I guarantee that when he painted that bright blue poly (with 435 metal flake) there were flies and mosquitoes stuck in it…the thought is chilling, he must have used a wet sander just to get the little creatures out.”

It’s important to note that the Civic’s customized rear bumper features an off-center license plate, a stylistic cue many believe was borrowed from current trends in mini-truck modification.

“We believe that the suspect got a metal license plate box and then grafted it onto the polyurethane bumper.” stated one authority. Later, after fielding a question about the Honda’s dashboard, this same individual began weeping, “He dyed the dash himself…while the dash was still installed in the car. Good lord, what was this man thinking!?”

Experts speculate that Mike built his Civic over a period of three years at a cost of nearly $10,000. After a thorough search of the Cote’s residence, it was determined that most of the modifications took place in the garage. The damning evidence? A well-worn Helms manual found open to the chapter on engine overhauling. It has also been suggested that Mike wasn’t acting alone and may have enlisted the help of his father, Wayne Cote. According to county records, Wayne Cote used to own a body shop, leading this reporter to suspect that he was instrumental in modifying the vehicle.

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Interestingly enough, as recently as last year’s NOPI Nationals, Mike had his Civic photographed for Super Street magazine. Several eyewitnesses reported that, at that time, the aforementioned LS transplant was still giving Mike trouble.

As one bystander recalls, “Mike tried keeping the Civic at a steady 30 mph for some of the photos, but the engine kept surging. I distinctly heard him mention something about repairing the wiring harness. It sounded to me like some of the prongs going into the ECU were bent…hey, I still get twenty bucks for this, right?”

Further inspection of the vehicle reveals a powdercoated engine block, transmission, brackets, and motor mounts. White-and-orange vinyl graphics by Kaotic Graphix grace the Honda’s surface, and its 17-inch Tenzo Type AV wheels are painted a custom orange pearl. On the inside, evidence indicates the heater control has been relocated to the Civic’s lower console and replaced with Auto Meter gauges.

Many here in Fitchburg wonder when Mike will become satisfied and end his reign of customization. Unfortunately for them, it appears that Mike has no plans of stopping anytime soon, especially after having either won or placed in every show he’s entered in the past two years.

“Why can’t his Civic be like one of those corporate sponsored publicity toys that never see the outside of the showroom?” one local lamented. “What’s with the whole ‘daily driven, labor of love’ thing?”

We can only guess what Mike’s next move will be, but this writer is certain that Mike’s Civic will continue to shine as a prime example of the DIY work ethic which, for some of us, is what import tuning is all about.

By Daniel Morris
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