Updated 4/4/2020: About a decade ago, I ran across this 1989 Honda Civic SiR during Wekfest San Francisco and the only thing more interesting than the BMW Arctic Paint applied to the razor straight, original SiR body was the bulging bonnet. Under the custom-constructed, one-off hood sat a unique H-series swap with its rear section sitting far above the factory fenders—a dead giveaway that the engine was mated to a B-series transmission. A little research and it was in fact an ITR transmission and a "blue top" H23 at play, and I knew I had a cover car.
As a side note, I'd talked with the owner at that time about the car and he mentioned he'd towed it to Wekfest from "Pittsburg," which sounded like a massive undertaking with the drive all the way across the country. Trying to work out the logistics of shooting the car after he'd returned home wasn't nearly as tough as I imagined, though, considering he later mentioned that he was actually from Pittsburg, California—a region I'd never even heard of (oops).
Arguably the most important catalyst of the modern-day Honda movement, the '88 to '91 Civic hatchback has experienced more zany, modified variations than any other generation of Honda's iconic people mover. Drag and show cars, lightly modded (and neglected) daily drivers, even quirky convertible conversions have been tinkered with during the cult classic's 20-something-year lifespan. These days, as double decades sit comfortably below the weathered belt of the fourth gen Civic, attention in the dedicated enthusiasts circle has shifted toward all out restoration rather than heavy modification.
Saving the Classics
Savvy builders rely on every possible resource to locate hard to find OEM goods to replace worn or broken factory parts and breathe new life into an aging classic. This is particularly the case when dealing with the coveted JDM SiR model. More often than not, the original motor is kept, sometimes rebuilt and reinstalled, and the requisite old-school Japanese wheels are bolted on to a reconditioned factory body. While there's absolutely nothing wrong with this practice of automotive preservation, it's this repeated cycle that made Chris Gonzalez' '89 SiR stand out in a very elite crowd. You see, rather than relying on the same old formula, he decided to mix a little of the old with a little of the new to create something truly unique. It's a somewhat risky recipe that can no doubt end in utter disaster if prepared by incompetent hands.
Fender Bender Becomes Opportunity
Gonzalez, a northern California resident, found the SiR you see pictured in Los Angeles with the help of his cousin Ismael, who coincidentally is also the person responsible for introducing our cover car owner to the world of Honda performance. Together they traveled south to pick up the '89 SiR and even took turns piloting the awkward right-hand driver all the way home. Basic suspension and wheel upgrades were performed, but it was a fender bender that would ultimately allow the creative juices to start flowing. He adds, "It was some unlicensed driver that had no idea what they'd just hit. I was going to just repair it and return it back to original condition, but I decided I wanted to do something different. That's when I started really working on the car."
Steering himself away from all things typical, Gonzalez began researching various paint codes, eventually choosing an often overlooked BMW hue, and with the nod from Anthony at Hybridworks, the very talented Grant James was enlisted for paint and bodywork duties. While the car was in surgery, extensive engine prep was set to begin.
Once again, the desire to separate his car from other old-school projects would steer him away from the norm. Most EF aficionados would opt for the trusty B16A, B18C, or perhaps a slightly less common B16B, but Gonzalez had already fallen victim to the insatiable thirst for torque and wasn't about to settle for anything less than two liters. "Once I'd felt the power and torque of an H2B conversion, that was it, I knew that was the motor I wanted in my car. Hybridworks helped me source a 'blue top' 2.3L and an H2B kit from QSD. I had a spare EF8 sitting around so we did sort of a test run on that car while my SiR was at paint."
Working Out the Bugs
A test run turned out to be an excellent idea, especially since this chassis was never intended to carry the bulk of a "big block" under its bonnet, and the crew expected issues. Their forethoughts appeared in the form of clearance issues, motor mount problems, and injector gremlins. With all of the bugs eventually worked out, the motor was removed from its foster home and placed into permanent custody under the custom, hand-built, fiberglass hood designed by Grant James Motor Company specifically for Gonzalez' EF/H2B. To help spin the dyno rollers a little harder, Blox cams, BDL throttle body, SSR header and other supporting upgrades were added to the power formula. The "B" portion of the H2B combo comes by way of an ITR transmission sporting a Competition clutch and Kaaz LSD. A quick street tune allowed the car to safely travel to the dyno where proper tuning could take place.
Shortly after, Gonzalez caught wind of a few people mating a K-series intake manifold to their H-series motors. "I'd heard about it but didn't know of anyone who had done it in an EF. I wanted to be one of the first, so I picked up an RBC manifold, swapped it out with the stock one, and it made more on the dyno." Power figures weigh in just below 240whp along with a very healthy torque curve that peaks at just over 170ft lbs. The combo was enough to scoot the lightweight hatchback down the 1320 in just a hair over 12 seconds.
One area that wasn't heavily modified is the Civic's cabin. Focusing more on driver comfort than making a statement, the OEM seats, panels, and carpet were all retained, the only aftermarket changes being a Mugen steering wheel and sport pedals, and ARC shift knob. In sharp contrast to the late '80s interior are very modern rollers; rather than choosing the typical Mugen or Racing Hart wheels, Gonzalez instead opted for a set of Volk RE30's to update the car's outward appearance.
Making His Mark
With the car due to make its first appearance at Wek'Fest San Francisco, Gonzalez and Hybridworks labored day and night to complete the car and make their deadline—at which point we found the car in the midst of thousands of show goers like a needle in a haystack.
A rolling contradiction, some may frown at the back and forth; old chassis/new power plant, old interior/new wheels, and consider the very thought of steering away from an established formula as automotive blasphemy. We tend to refer to is a forward thinking, and tastefully pushing the Honda modification envelope is never a bad thing.
If you're wondering why the hood looks far more aggressive than a stock SiR bonnet, there's a very good reason. When performing the H2B conversion, clearance and proper axle geometry is a major factor, which equates to placing the motor higher than the standard H series swap. Typically, H2B'ers will add washers and longer hood bolts in order to prop the rear of the hood enough to clear the valve cover. Without the added clearance, you simply can't properly close your hood. Chris requested that paint and body guru Grant James build a custom fiberglass extended version that would allow him to close his hood like the factory piece and still allow for plenty of engine clearance.