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 |   |  1997 Honda Civic DX - True Original - Street Level
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1997 Honda Civic DX - True Original - Street Level

Ten Years In The Making, ATS O.G. And EK Squad Founder Chris Sakai Delivers His Masterpiece

Joey Lee
Nov 24, 2010
Photographer: Rodrez

Chris Sakai's '97 Civic DX
It has become increasingly difficult to find a Honda build able to withstand the arduous test of time. Many projects are fly-by-night builds and completed merely to increase someone's online "street cred" or to make a quick buck. There are individuals out there who build for fame and sell their Hondas immediately after they've reached any amount of success among their peers. Magazine features, with covers in mind, have turned into a self-promotional tool rather than a great honor. One can even argue that selling cars has become a trend within itself.

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What has also made it harder for a particular build to transcend time are exterior modifications that either ruin the drivability of the car, or are irreversible once they are considered "played-out". It's just an easy alternative to sell the car and start fresh, then try to start over on a previous build. The key to having a project that can walk alongside father time is to not abide by the current standard of trends. A forward-thinking enthusiast should build to set standards, not follow them.

2019 Honda Civic
$21,450 Base Model (MSRP) MPG Fuel Economy

ATS Garage, a staple in the NorCal Honda community, has spent the better part of five years producing what they call, "miracle whips." Though they've had a few new recruits within the last couple of years, the original core of the group has always built their Hondas in the same manner; with simplicity in mind, while including the greatest of details where it matters. They also hold onto their cars. Many of them still have their original Hondas and redo their projects to best their own setups-not to compete with trendy newcomers.

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Chris Sakai, one of the original members of ATS Garage, has been a member of the Honda community for over ten years now, and throughout that decade you would expect him to have had a number of different Honda builds - but the '97 Civic hatchback that graces these pages is not only his latest project, it is also his first. "I purchased my hatchback in 2000 when I graduated from college," Chris says. "It was the first import I had ever owned. I grew up with other hand-me-down cars and spent my teenage years living vicariously through my friends, whose parents bought them Civics and Integras back in the early '90s. I was always involved in the import scene in one way or another, even without a car. I would go to the track, take pictures, look through magazines and brochures, and think about what Fitipaldi or Borbet wheels I would someday put on my car."

"After college, I was finally in the position where I could buy my own car. I had my sights set on getting a black, modded EK hatchback from Sheng, the owner of JHPUSA, but I was a couple weeks late and he had already sold it. It all worked out though because I was able to find another black '97 hatch and started building it up from scratch. I started out with the basics; DC lower tie bar, an eBay cold-air intake, and black housing headlights. Looking back, my car started out as many of us did; just researching and growing with the scene."

By 2002, Sakai's hatchback had begun to see significant changes. He decided to swap in a USDM ITR motor along with a JDM 4-1 header, J's Racing intake, and T1R exhaust. Chris's knowledge, along with his confidence, began to grow within the community and by early 2003 he'd started an online Honda fraternity that is still very well-known today. "I wanted to create a group where enthusiasts could unite to share ideas and support, specifically for the '96-'00 Civic hatchbacks. It would bring together some of the most elite sixth generation hatchbacks on the web, and that's what lead to the creation of the 'EK Squad'. The group wasn't about just one style. It was more about building an all-around functional car for whatever purpose the owner chose. When the first stickers were made, I distributed them to a few local friends and from that point on, the word spread. Since then, the group has grown to include members from all over the U.S. as well as some from overseas."

Though the EK Squad acted as a great motivating factor for Chris, he later met three individuals who would change not only his life, but also his ride forever. "It was in 2005 when I met Ferd, Fred, and Vince. They were starting a crew called ATS Garage and we always hung out at local meets and events. I realized that these guys were just like me, sharing the common bond of being a Honda enthusiast and being very family-oriented," Chris explains.

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Having the ATS Garage crew by his side really pushed Sakai to further the evolution of his Civic. "I decided that I wanted to take my hatch to the next level. I had gone pretty far already with the mods I had but in order to take that next step forward, I had to push myself and really step my game up. In 2009, the ATS family and I began to completely strip down the Civic. I had to step back and plan my attack as I would be pushing further than I had ever gone."

Fred Chapman acted as Sakai's build manager and consulted with him to decide which direction the rebuild was headed. Chris had plans to build his original swapped ITR motor, but with some persuading from Fred, he opted for a new K24 swap instead. Chapman advised him that a new engine setup would complete the full makeover that Chris was seeking, being that his plan of action was to ditch everything he had previously and start fresh. Before the motor would make its way to the bay, Sakai had the chassis sent to 5 Star Autobody in San Bruno, CA, to have it fully draped inside and out in Audi TT Aviator Gray Pearl. He also had Boris at 5 Star meticulously prep the Rando Sports aero and Max Racing 20mm front fenders before installation.

The completion of the engine bay once the Civic returned from paint was a collaborative effort between Sakai, Fred, and Ryan Basseri, aka Rywire. "For setting up the engine bay, I wanted to keep things more on the stealth side while still being able to show all the details of the work done. I chose to do a majority of the pieces in wrinkle black finish because it adds not only an OEM-type look but the contrast on the Aviator Gray still makes the small details pop." SIK Industries was assigned to coat the valve cover and front sub-frame in the wrinkle finish while Fred was busy at work wrinkle coating his own custom pieces that he had fabricated for Sakai's car. Chapman created detailed pieces like the throttle bracket spacers, throttle cable bracket, a mil-spec mounting plate, as well as a nifty mil-spec heat shield, which protected the Rywire custom engine harness from the heat of the SSR Big Tube exhaust header. Ryan applied his special services to Sakai's car by fabricating custom brake and clutch lines as well as a complete one-off cooling system with -AN converted lines and fittings.

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Sakai was adamant about ditching every possible old part on his car and it shows, even on the suspension portion of his build. He abandoned the old stock four-lug suspension and jumped up to a five-lug setup. The conversion made it possible for him to install his new 12.6-in six-pot Wilwood big brake kit. Sitting over the Wilwood stoppers are 17x8 Volk CE28N wheels. Any Volk Racing fan can appreciate the two extra spokes that come on the five-lug version of the CEs. Chris also has his interior rewrapped in a black tweed fabric; the headliner, arm rests, and sun visors were sent out to be wrapped while Chris and Fred teamed up to knock out the door inserts.

What really sets this Civic apart from the rest of the crowd is its complete sound system. While many would not think to do this to their builds nowadays, and would simply go for a "gutted" look, Sakai comes from the old school, where people build complete cars. It remains stealth like the rest of the build but Sound Innovations was in charge of building a false floor and enclosure for the sound components provided by Memphis Car Audio. In terms of car show competition, Chris Sakai has all aspects covered; from the custom paint, to the spotless K-swapped engine bay, and the full custom audio system.

We have had our eyes on Sakai's Civic for a long time now but it took quite a bit of time to get together to finally immortalize it in print. One of the main reasons was Sakai's insistence on completing his audio setup. Another cause of delay was a bit of tragedy that struck soon after the annual Wekfest event. "I was on my way home from the show when I blew my motor due to a faulty oil pump. Fred had to disassemble the motor and we had Brandon from RedZone Performance inspect it. It turns out that the cylinder walls were scored and the crank was scratched. The machine shop had to clean up the scoring on the walls by boring the cylinders to .5 over. It all worked out because it gave me an opportunity to upgrade the internals of the K24. I picked up another K24 block from Wek'Sos and used the crankshaft for the rebuild. I also upgraded the pistons, rods, cams, and valvetrain. After about five months, the motor was reassembled by RedZone and installed by Fred," Sakai explains. The finished product was a perfect culmination of his ten-year-long journey with his Honda Civic. It took just one year for the car to reach its current state and the proud college graduate couldn't be more satisfied. "The car was transformed inside and out. Now it's a whole new creation that was everything I had envisioned."

Bolts & Washers

Hasport EKK2 V.2 JHPUSA Edition black engine mounts
0.5mm overbore
Blox Racing Type B camshafts
Supertech dual valve springs
Supertech titanium retainers
Supertech forged 87.5mm pistons and rings
BluePrint forged H-beam connecting rods
RedZone custom-fitted K20 oil pump
K20 oil pan
BluePrint oil baffle
K-Tuned pulley kit
K-Tuned 3-inch intake modified by FCB to short ram
K&N air filter
JDM CTR "RRC" intake manifold
K-Tuned throttle body adapter port-matched to 72mm
Blox Racing 72mm billet throttle body
Blox Racing intake manifold gasket
FCB custom-fitted throttle cable bracket
FCB custom throttle cable spacers
Relocated IAT sensor
SSR Big Tube exhaust header
RedZone Performance custom 3-inch exhaust system w/turn-down exhaust tip
FCB refinished hi-temp black finish exhaust system
Walbro 255lph fuel pump
RC 440cc fuel injectors
Hybrid Racing black fuel rail
Rywire black anodized -6 AN fuel fittings and lines
Trick Flow canister fuel filter
Trick Flow fuel pressure regulator
FCB custom fuel line bracket
FCB custom fuel rail spacers
Rywire custom radiator w/-16AN water necks
Rywire -16AN black radiator hoses
Rywire -16AN black anodized radiator fittings
K-Tuned upper coolant housing w/-16AN adapter
K-Tuned swivel neck thermostat w/-16AN adapter
SIK Industries wrink black powdercoated valve cover
-6AN welded valve cover breather port
Carbing radiator reservoir w/-4AN fittings
Carbing oil catch can w/-6AN fittings and K&N breather filter
Carbing radiator cooling plate
Mugen oil cap
Vision CF ignition coil cover
K20A2 Type S transmission
Hybrid Racing shifter cables
Competition Clutch Stage 2 clutch
JDM DC5 K20A flywheel
JDM DC5 K20A 4.7 final drive
RSX Type-S C/V axles
Mugen limited-slip differential
S2000 clutch reservoir
Rywire custom clutch line
244HP/180LB-FT TQ

APEX'I N1 coilovers
Blox Racing spherical bushings
Blox Racing front camber kit
Blox Racing rear camber kit
J's Racing front shock tower bar
Area 51 X-brace (one-off)
Do-Luck floor bar
JDM CTR rear subframe
Function7 rear control arms
ASR rear sub-frame brace
DC2 front lower control arms
DC2 front subframe
Non-power steering rack conversion
used w/Hasport EKK2 V.2 mount kit
SIK Industries wrinkle black powdercoated front subframe

Wilwood 12.6-inch 2-piece front brake rotors
Wilwood 6-piston front brake calipers
Wilwood front brake pads
Power Slot rear brake rotors
OEM ITR rear brake pads
OEM ITR rear brake caliper
Russell stainless steel brake lines
JDM DC2 ITR 36mm 5-lug conversion
Rywire brake line tuck w/custom hard lines & fittings
CTR brake booster w/-6AN fittings
OEM ITR 1-inch brake master cylinder
FCB black powdercoated brake booster

Wheels & Tires
17x8 Volk Racing CE28N (+38 offset)
215/40-17 Falken Azenis RT615
Blox Racing chromoly lug nuts

PPG Audi TT Aviator Gray Pearl paint
Shaved side moldings
Rando Sports full aero kit
Max Racing 20mm front fenders
J's Racing Type-T dual vented carbon fiber hood
First Molding carbon fiber adjustable wing
MR carbon fiber side mirrors
JDM CTR rear hatch w/smoked glass
JDM CTR smoked quarter glass
JDM CTR headlights

Chrome-dipped 4-point Cusco roll cage
Bride Ergo Gen-II racing seats
Bride seat rails
Crow 4-point safety harnesses
Crow harness pads
Sparco harness bar
Mugen FG360 steering wheel w/center pad
Signal Auto quick release
Mugen pedal set
Hybrid Racing shifter box
RSi shift knob
JDM CTR climate control unit
JDM CTR vent pocket
JDM optional steering column light
JDM optional roof console
OEM optional ashtray
EDM airbag deleted tray
Custom black tweed door inserts
Custom black tweed arm rest
Custom black tweed headliner
Custom black tweed visors

Hondata K-Pro engine management
OEM EM1 instrument cluster w/custom
Defi tachometer
Defi EGT gauge
Defi oil pressure gauge
Defi water temperature gauge
Rywire custom mil-spec engine harness
w/quick disconnect plug
FCB custom fabricated mil-spec harness
mounting plate
FCB custom fabricated mil-spec harness
heat shield plate
Pioneer P1R head-unit
Memphis Audio 6 1/2 front speakers
Memphis Audio 6x9 rear speakers
Memphis Audio 12-inch subwoofer
Memphis Audio 75Wx4 amplifier
Memphis Audio 1100wx1 amplifier
Memphis Audio 1-farad capacitor
Sound Innovations custom rear speaker enclosure and beauty boards

Thank you to Dina for all the love and support throughout the years
Much love to my ATS G's
My build manager Fred "FCB" Chapman
Ryan Basseri (Rywire)
RedZone Performance
Blox Racing
N1 Concepts
Memphis Audio
Sound Innovations
Mayday Garage
The Chronicles
5 Star Autobody
EK Squad
The NW homies
RIP Vince

Owner Specs
Favorite website

Screen name or nickname

Building Hondas for how long
10 years

Your dream car
Porsche GT3

Build inspiration
The ATS Family

Whats playing in your iPod/CD/MP3 player right now
Mars & Mystre

Greatest movie of all time
Big Trouble in Little China

Stealth Bomber
Chris Sakai went for the stealth look with the Aviator Gray and black, but if you are well-versed in Hondas, the build is everything but subtle. We can't help but compare the covert color scheme to that of the Lamborghini Reventon. The super car plays the stealth role with its flat gray paint and black accents, but it's painfully obvious that you won't hide this Lamborghini from anyone who has two functioning eyes. With Sakai's build, there are so many intricate pieces done in the black wrinkle finish that it actually pulls your attention into the engine bay where you begin to spot the details. Much like the Lambo, you really have to see Sakai's Civic in person to truly appreciate the hand-assembled intricacies.

By Joey Lee
243 Articles



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