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 |   |  2003 Honda Civic Si - The Mugen Diet
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2003 Honda Civic Si - The Mugen Diet

Transforming the often-hated EP3 into a crowd pleaser

Jonathan Thompson
Jul 27, 2011
Photographer: Nick Parker

In planning builds, most seek the easier, less expensive route. Automotive enthusiasts often fall into the trap of over-rationalizing things, and end up in a comatose state of bland and boring. Creativeness and pizzazz lose out to creature comforts and convenience. Finances are also a major factor in deciding between option A and option B. For Mel Diego of Edmonds, Washington, the choice was clear—screw option A and to hell with option B. Mel had one thing in mind: Take an often-overlooked Honda platform and transform it into one of the sickest whips around. The only aspect he didn’t have planned was the timing.

Htup 1108 01+2003 honda civic si+cover Photo 2/12   |   2003 Honda Civic Si - The Mugen Diet

Mel purchased his Civic Si new in ’04. He contemplated the RSX Type S, “but at the time, that was the most popular ‘hot’ car on the streets to have,” he states. He noticed the EP3 was being ignored by just about everyone, which only drew him closer. He had two choices at this point in time: Purchase the highly sought-after RSX, or buck the trends and go his own route. He chose the latter, inked the contract and headed home. He parked the car inside his safe-and-sound garage and walked away—he hadn’t the faintest idea as to how he was going to begin his new project.

Four years eventually passed before any major work was completed. During this period Mel starved himself for weeks to purchase a hard-to-find JDM or Mugen part when his wallet permitted, and he prided himself on this behavior. He obtained his passion for Hondas through his older cousin Mike who owned a ’95 Civic. “After seeing Mike work so hard for just one Mugen part, I somehow wanted to capture that exact feeling. So I told myself when I get my first car, I’m gonna starve myself too,” he says. Malnutrition would eventually become the least of Mel’s worries.

Htup 1108 02+2003 honda civic si+rear view Photo 3/12   |   2003 Honda Civic Si - The Mugen Diet

In 2008, a group of friends decided they were going to the Hot Import Nights car show in Seattle. This was the catalyst that Mel needed. Fortunately, Mel was making much more dough than in previous years. He dropped out of school, raided the piggy banks and became best friends with the UPS deliver guy. His mom grew quite suspicious. “I had to lie about how much the parts were because I would be homeless if she found out how much they actually were—ha ha!”

Mel assembled a dream team consisting of friends, fabricators, advisors and painters, all the while acting as his own project manager as the EP moved through its transformation.

Mel chose several outrageous and astronomically priced mods for the build. His ambition was anything but modest. “To me it was all about having the dream parts I always wanted when I was a kid,” he says. For example, he chose a $2,000 Stack Race digital instrument gauge cluster, saying, “I mean, who in their right mind would spend that much to see how fast you’re going?” The answer being Mel, of course.

Htup 1108 03+2003 honda civic si+gauge Photo 4/12   |   How do you overshadow a cabin with Status Kevlar seats and a super-rare Mugen rollcage? A Stack digital instrument display, of course.

The more expensive and more difficult a part is, the more Mel wants it. He was flipping through a magazine a month before the show when he saw a Mugen rollcage for a CTR. He dialed up King Motorsports to see if it could import the rollcage from Japan. “They told me it wouldn’t arrive in time, it wouldn’t fit in my car, and it was too expensive,” he says. Although the sales rep was looking out for Mel, he decided to try the no-holds-barred approach. He called a trusted source and laid it all out. “I told him I needed the rollcage here in two weeks. Didn’t care about the cost, just told him to get it to me in two weeks,” he recalls. With his custom-fitted, custom-painted, über-rare Mugen CTR rollcage, he hit the event flossin’ something that most could only dream of.

The Civic basically spent the next few years as a garage whore. Recently, Mel has decided it’s time to enjoy the hard work. “A friend told me that I could lose it in a crash or theft, so I should enjoy it while I have it,” he says. He recently ordered a CTR engine with plans to start tracking the EP3 on the weekends, and expects the new powerplant to be installed before the end of the year.

Htup 1108 04+2003 honda civic si+harness Photo 5/12   |   2003 Honda Civic Si - The Mugen Diet

Mel feels content as he reflects on the build. “I worked hard and sacrificed classes, delaying my career, which was a stupid thing to do, and I definitely don’t recommend it. But like anything great in your life, it takes sacrifice,” he says. He also enjoys the attention obtained through his efforts. “I like that my closest friends and I can look at our final project and see the inspiration it creates, or driving to the beach and watching kids take pictures of it and even having grown adults not into cars give respect to the quality and time they notice in the build.” Mission accomplished.

Showstoppers USA

Mel sourced a grip of CTR parts from Showstoppers USA located in Glendale, California. The company is a parts importer and offers a wide-variety of products for various makes and models. Co-owners Chuck and Rocky started the business in 2002. Their differentiator among other importers is that they purchase bulk quantities. This enables the duo to offer parts at discounted prices while also stocking many items on-site—a true benefit. And if they don’t have the goods in stock, they’re more than happy to fast track the order from Japan. More commonly sought-after parts include bumpers, other exterior parts and seats. “We’re enthusiasts as well, so it’s not only about the money with us,” Chuck asserts. Of course, it’s not the dollar store, either—one customer in particular dropped 24 fat stacks on a single order. The company’s contact information is located at

Htup 1108 05+2003 honda civic si+interior Photo 6/12   |   2003 Honda Civic Si - The Mugen Diet

Mel chose several outrageous and astronomically priced mods for the build. His ambition was anything but modest. “To me it was all about having the dream parts I always wanted when I was a kid,” he says.

Bolts & Washers

HaSport engine mounts
C&R radiator
Samco radiator hoses
ARC air-intake system
Buddy Club exhaust manifold
T1R 2.5-inch exhaust piping
Spoon Sports N1 muffler
Buddy Club short shifter
Hondata K-Pro ECU
Buddy Club racing-spec fully adjustable coilovers
Swift Springs springs, 14K front, 16K rear
Mugen front and rear tower antiroll bars
CT-Engineering rear lower antiroll bar
CT-Engineering rear lower tie-bar
CT-Engineering rear camber kit
Buddy Club front upper pillowball mounts
Brembo DC5-R slotted rotors
Hawk brake pads
Spoon Sports mono-block brake calipers
Motul brake fluid
Goodridge brake lines and fittings
Wheels And Tires
17x17.5 Volk CE28N, +43 offset
H&R 15mm wheel spacers
215/40-17 Yokohama Parada Spec 2
ARP extended wheel studs
T1R lug nuts
Mugen DC5 front and rear towhooks
CTR front and rear bumpers
Mugen front lip
Mugen radiator duct
Mugen front grille
CTR side skirts
Mugen three-way-adjustable rear wing
CTR rear lip
Mugen CTR rollcage
Stack Race digital instrument gauge cluster
Status Ring carbon-Kevlar seats with custom red stitches
Mugen side-mount seat rails
Takata seat harnesses
NSX-R steering wheel
Mugen steering wheel hub
Signal Auto steering wheel quick-release
CTR shift knob and shift boot
Mugen pedals
CTR door panels
CTR upholstery
CTR floor mats
Mugen ECU stay
Mugen rearview mirror cover
S2000 push-start button
Focal front and rear speakers
Alpine head unit
JL Audio amplifiers
JL Audio 10-inch subwoofer
God, Mom, Chris B, Marco, Bill aka “Siborg,” Melissa Yang, Huy, Vu, Toto, Jeff D., Yee, Pow, Nina Yi, Mike P. and family, Jeff Miller, Sean Edwards, Nick Parker, Eric Little, N-Joel at JMI Motoring, Rock and Chuck at Showstoppers, David at Evogarage, Joe Flores at J-Pax Tuning, Scott at King Motorsports, Brian at Karcepts, Walgreen Pharmacy

Owner Specs

Favorite Website
Screen Names Or Nicknames
Hurricane Mel, Mugen Mane
Building Hondas For How Long
7 years
Your Dream Car
Maybach Exelero
Build Inspirations
Michael Pamaro, Jay-Z, YMCMB
Current Stable
’10 Nissan Altima, ’96 Toyota Corolla
What’s Playing In Your iPod/CD/Mp3 player Right Now
Greatest Movie Of All Time
American Gangster


HaSport Performance


Plymouth, MI 48170
Yokohama Tire Corporation
Fullerton, CA 92831
HASport Performance
Phoenix, AZ 85040
Torrance, CA 90503
CT Engineering
Rancho Cordova, CA 95742
By Jonathan Thompson
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