Hard to believe it's been over a decade since Gil Corona, owner of this 1988 Honda Civic hatchback and I met up for a photoshoot in South San Diego. A long-term build for Corona, he'd finally got the car to a point at which he was happy, sporting a B20/VTEC swap complete with set of A-Sport individual throttle bodies which, coincidentally, once sat on the intake side of one of my personal B-series builds.
The JDM SiR front-end and custom grey paint with hints of green contrasted by white CP-F wheels made for a classic combo and the Civic's overall style would certainly still hold its own today. As parts for the 4th generation Civic continue to become tougher to source, builds like Corona's remind us just how good we had it back then. Enjoy...
Original Feature from 2008
Words by Joe Lee
Expect Obstacles In Life. Even a 9-year-old can tell you that. What defines us is how we overcome those obstacles. This is especially true in the car-modding game where things hardly go as planned, even when carefully thought out. Some often find themselves saying that it's just not worth it, scrapping projects mid-build.
There's always that crossroad where we can give it another go or stop playing altogether. This is where passions are tested. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Does the respect of one's peers mean anything? If your heart is in the game and the love of the craft is strong, then even if you quit, eventually the game has a way of finding you. That hobby that is locked away, like skeletons in a closet, will manifest itself one way or another. How this happens varies; it could be through an inspiring magazine build or just a phone call from a friend.
Gilbert Corona knows this scenario well. "I was supposed to be out of the Honda scene after I blew up my fully built 1,842cc stroked engine in my first '88 Civic," the San Diego county native recalls. Built in 2000, Gilbert's street-drag-themed Civic made regular appearances at the then-booming San Diego street races. Sorrento Valley, Kearny Villa Road, the infamous "Firehouse," you name it, Gilbert and his ride were there.
Unfortunately, daily driving and regularly scheduled 9,500rpm pulls led to the engine's untimely end, which convinced Gilbert that the catastrophic event was a sign. "All my money invested into that engine was trash, including my precious Port Flow head," Gilbert says. "I told myself I was done, no more building for me. It just wasn't worth it anymore." You might say Gilbert was over it, so he swapped in a stock B16A and put it to use as his daily grinder.
For a Honda head to pretend like he's out of the game while his friends remain devout to the brand is about as permanent of a solution as a rehab graduate who hangs out at the bar for the nuts. Staying away from the game is futile. Besides getting poked at by friends, Gilbert was reminded daily of the hobby he left behind. Luckily for him a phone call came and changed his life. "My buddy Gil Salazar gave me a ring one day and told me about this EF he spotted with a JDM front end," Gilbert says.
The Civic was an unfinished project, picked and poked at by three previous owners. The results of the number of individuals and shops that worked on this car over the years were nothing to brag about. About the only thing that made the deal worthwhile was the SiR front end, TEIN coilovers, and Mugen MR5 wheels. Gilbert saw this as a challenge, purchased the Civic for $4,000, and officially welcomed himself back into the Honda game. With the car home he realized that it might have been more than what he bargained for. The gauge cluster and stereo worked but that was about it, so Gilbert dove right in and painstakingly rewired the entire car. With the electrical nightmare out of the way Gilbert transferred each usable piece from his previous car onto the new one. He was able to salvage the old car's SiR rear seats, SiR wing, and Jim Fab crossmember.
The hatchback's exterior was painted a custom Graphite Gray and metallic green mix by Reflections Autobody in nearby Wilmington and was in relatively good shape, so Gilbert decided to complete the exterior before moving on to major engine work. Since the previous owner had already equipped the chassis with various JDM goodies the only thing that had to be done was to repair the already damaged front end. Gilbert performed automotive plastic surgery by installing another complete JDM SiR front end and also threw on a Password:JDM front lip for good measure. Gilbert took care of the remaining prep and paint duties in the confines of his own garage. Interior mods came next when Recaro SPG buckets found their way into the cockpit along with a variety of Mugen parts. Gil Salazar, who helped Gilbert find the car, supplied him with a Circuit Hero stainless steel shift knob and shift extender.
Tein HA coilovers came courtesy of the previous owner, who was a broke college student, so they remained unchanged except for modified spring rates. The stiff suspension is further upgraded with Prothane bushings and a Carbing shock tower bar. The stiff chassis rolls on 15-inch, old-school Dunlop Formula CP-F wheels with Falken Azenis rubber. Sitting behind the front wheels are '99 Civic Si brakes with CRX Si ones out back.
Despite the man-hours devoted to aesthetics, Gilbert is quick to remind us that this is no show car. His heart lies with the racing world, which meant his Civic's heart would have to as well. The B16A powerplant sitting in the bay was discarded and a full wire tuck was done in preparation for a B20A engine. The B20A that was assembled by Gilbert is highlighted by a decked, bored, honed, balanced, and blueprinted block complete with new seals, gaskets, and a B16A head. JB Cams in Chula Vista, Calif., is responsible for the custom Circuit Hero-spec camshafts paired with Skunk2 cam gears.
Gilbert further developed the head with Port Flow race springs and titanium retainers. You might say Gilbert is a one-man wrecking crew in light of the fact that he did his own cylinder head port and polish in the privacy of his own home. A-Sport 46mm individual throttle bodies sit at the helm controlling incoming airflow while an ITG foam filter strains unwanted elements from the atmosphere. A HyTech 4-2-1 header kicks exhaust gases through to a Circuit Hero test pipe and out through a super-OG HKS Sport exhaust system. An S1 cable transmission was fully disassembled, inspected, and meticulously rebuilt by Gilbert with new main carrier and mainshaft bearings. An ACT heavy-duty clutch pressure plate, Southland six-puck sprung-hub clutch disc, and a Kaaz one-and-a-half-way limited-slip differential allows the transmission to handle anything Gilbert decides to throw at it. With the engine firmly in place, the 11.8:1 B20-VTEC produces 227 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. Not too shabby for a one-man, garage-built project.
"Three years later, and a lot of man-hours in my garage, produced the car you see now. All the work was done by me with little to no help from anyone," Gilbert says. "I'm done for now; I want to take a little break from building and take it to the track for some stomping." Gilbert's Civic should remain proof that one can never fully be over it or simply walk away from a hobby that once pulled at the heartstrings. Gilbert Corona is a guy who just happened to be down and out and tried to trick himself into believing that he was done. A couple of years later he escaped from his garage with something truly amazing.