Other than the obvious meticulous color-coordination that peppers every square inch of this 2000 Honda Civic DX hatchback, its relation to the late, great Kobe Bryant isn't completely clear, at least from a distance. Talk to its builder, @ghostboyaki, however, and things clear up in rather short order.
If you're not familiar with the name, Aki is the man behind the Keep Gunnin YouTube channel—an outlet dedicated to building Hondas out of a modest 500sq-ft. garage in Yonkers, NY, and bringing viewers along for the ride. Documenting the process of building and assembling everything from engines to suspension, wiring to interiors and more, he's established himself as a community leader with a fiercely loyal fanbase.
Much of Aki's YouTube channel success is due to the builds he creates—with help, of course, from his friend and experienced mechanic, Trappy, along with parttime worker/fulltime ladies man, 40. In addition, the attention to detail and keeping the audience informed of everything happening, including assembly secrets, various pitfalls to avoid, proper tools—right down to showcasing actual part numbers, which in turn have molded his channel's library into a point-of-reference of sorts for enthusiasts tackling their personal builds.
This all comes on the heels of a drag racing career that was highlighted by a comeback after retirement that resulted in countless 1st-place finishes and the very first 99mm crank All Motor car to run 8s. Aki adds, "I vowed and promised back in 2016 that I'd save the dying All Motor Class and we did that collectively, with help from Jamie Marsh and 4Piston Racing."
Since that whirlwind of All Motor battles and record setting, Aki stepped away from competition and his focus now is his channel and educating enthusiasts while piecing together complete Honda builds that, upon completion, are given away. That's right, after putting countless hours and plenty of money into builds like this Kobe tribute, fans have a chance to own the car, free and clear, by purchasing limited apparel through the Keep Gunnin website between Sept. 18th and the 25th, which includes a ticket for a chance to win. In addition, regardless of where you're located, Aki takes care of delivery on this one, so even if you're not on the East coast, it'll ship to your driveway.
Back in February, Aki's channel gave away a 600-plus hp 5th-gen. hatchback he'd built for the channel and not long after that a fully built all motor B-series long block as he simultaneously began digging into this once completely stock, automatic transmission Civic EJ hatchback. The process began on May 25th and is now 100-percent complete, with the final test drive to back that up.
Getting back to what prompted a Civic build dedicated to one of basketball's greatest icons, Aki states, "Kobe has been my hero since I can remember. He's given me a mentality to live by—I even tattooed his jersey on my shoulder about 7 years ago to keep me focused on working." Focus is an understatement, as the Keep Gunnin channel has been churning out multiple Kobe-build videos every week—a tall order because unless you've attempted to create, edit, and upload video content on your own, you might not understand just how time consuming the process really is.
From the beginning, the plan was clear: bright yellow CTR-inspired color-change to ditch the factory silver and a naturally aspirated K24 heart. Inside, the car would keep all of its front interior while the rear seats would be deleted. Color-coding would of course incorporate purple to contrast the yellow in classic Lakers fashion, with a healthy amount of black strategically used to offer some relief between the two bright colors.
After a complete teardown, the Civic's wheel wells and belly were degreased, sanded and undercoated and Aki and Trappy built a custom dolly to roll the bare shell on to a trailer and transport to the local paint and body experts at Sassone Auto Body for the paint makeover. Back at Aki's garage, all of the original grey interior panels and carpet were thoroughly cleaned and prepped for black interior dye—a time consuming process that paid off in the end with the OEM pieces looking factory fresh. Custom purple fixed-back Status seats with yellow trim were brought in and a Sparco steering wheel that Aki had been eyeing at his main parts provisions outlet, Tristate Motorsports, finally made its way to the cabin. Probably not what you'd expect from a street car, especially at the hands of a long-time drag racer, but the interior result is absolutely immaculate and rivals that of a dedicated show car.
Under the hood, as clean as the overall look and execution is, it's not all fluff, as the stock block K24, fitted with a 4Piston Racing Pro156 head and Skunk's Tuner 2 cams had no problem pumping out 282hp, 191 lbs.-ft. of torque at the hands of Aki's go-to tuner, Jamie Marsh.
Well organized and sporting a number of powder-coated parts courtesy of Powdercoatnation914, the engine bay gains considerable visual depth by way of its carefully selected color palette, varying textures and obsessively routed AN lines, broken up only by touches of Downstar Inc. purple hardware scattered throughout not only the bay, but the entire chassis. Additional space on the cold side is granted by one-off floating headlight brackets created from scratch by Elite Paint & Performance, who also mounted the ultra-compact CSF Radiator and aligned the car's body panel gaps to insure proper fitment.
Twenty-year old suspension has no place on a build of this level and all of the major players, like the shocks and springs, LCAs, ball joints, upper arms, etc., have been replaced with brand new versions and the original hubs substituted with Karcepts larger 36mm option to work with factory axles. Frozen purple powdercoat was used on 16-in. Circuit Racing wheels that emulate '98-spec ITR wheels and maintain the original 4-lug pattern yet offer a much better offset—ideal for the 225/45 Toyo R888.
The power of editing really allows a channel's build to go start to finish without a single hiccup, but that's just not Aki's style. When things went wrong during the build, viewers knew because he remained transparent during the entire process—something we rarely see from the YouTube universe. From the almost comical coolant system air pocket that tested Aki and Trappy's patience, to the on-dyno discovery by Jamie Marsh that VTEC engagement had managed to remain locked in the high-cam position and required a shallow dive back into the engine to rectify, you're in the shop with them for the complete experience.
There are hundreds of YouTube channels that showcase builds, especially Hondas, but very few go to the lengths that Aki and Keep Gunnin do to directly educate builders, and even fewer are building giveaway cars to this sort of standard.