Some projects are the culmination of a dream, the fulfillment of a lifelong fantasy. A chance for the owner-fired up with enthusiasm-to say: "I'm here, and this is how I roll." Not this one. There's no nice way of saying it, but Brandon Katrein is a contrary SOB. The 30-year-old from Chicago is a parts manager, spending his work hours surrounded by Lamborghini and Infiniti bits. So what car does he build? A Honda. A '92 Civic Si, EG chassis.
"I won this car in a bet with the previous owner," says Katrein. "He thought he would have it completed by October 2006, so I bet my turbo hatch (a '96 Civic B16, EK chassis) against this project. Come May 2007, he had totally given up on it, so I called in the marker. I thought I was on the winning end, but found out my new 'car' came with nothing but the broken suspension bolts stuck in the body. There was nothing I could do but modify it."
Perhaps that daytime exposure to high-end marques would influence his build strategy, inspire him to go for something upmarket. Nuh-uh. Since it was no more than a partially converted right-hand-drive shell, Katrein decided not to stray too far from there. "I wanted this to be different from my EK-which still has air conditioning, full interior, full stereo, built engine and all the creature comforts-while still being respectable on the street," he says. "I wanted something at the other end of the spectrum... stripped down with a good power-to-weight ratio, without the need for 300-plus horsepower."
It still took nine months to complete. "The longest part of the build was gathering the motivation to tackle something like this," says Katrein. "So much had to be redone and sourced just to start with a 'stock' base. The first issue was a half-finished RHD conversion and engine bay shave. It didn't line up well enough to seal against the windshield. Looking at what I had to do just to be able to complete the car was the most daunting task. At one point, I even put the shell and a new RHD clip up for sale. I told anyone with $800 to come and pick it up."
So much for putting one's heart and soul into a project. But the wisdom of Homer teaches us a lesson. Homer Simpson, that is, when he describes alcohol as "the cause and solution to all of life's problems." Yep, one of the essential fluids that got this car on the road is beer. "When I told my friend Jesse from Level 7 Motorsports I was giving up, he told me we should talk about it over a couple of beers," says Katrein. "After a few rounds, he convinced me to keep the project going, even offered to finish the shave and prep the engine bay. Without him, I would probably have sent the whole thing to the scrap yard. To this day, I don't know if he did me a favor or not."
Let's take a look and decide for ourselves. The internals of the venerable 1.6-liter B16A VTEC engine are virtually untouched, just augmented with a set of STR CNC billet aluminum cam gears and a JDM Civic Type R N1 crank pulley. A custom-made air intake houses a Feel's filter, while an oil pan from the same company is also found in the engine bay. "The Feel's oil pan starts off as a stock GSR oil pan," says Katrein. Then, like Spoon or Mugen, Feel's adds its own baffles to it. I was expecting something a little grander when I opened the box, but hopefully simplicity is the hallmark of genius."
A Fuel Labs fuel regulator joins a Benen Industries fuel rail (made from billet 6061 T6 aluminum) and a Crome-chipped P30 ECU. Tuning was done by Suja One Motoring of Carol Stream, IL, but Katrein made the wiring harness himself... from scratch.
The chill stuff includes a custom Wizard Cooling radiator, coupled to Samco Sport silicone hoses, and a FAL fan provides the breeze. Combustion done, the Rage header and JIC Bullet exhaust system come into action. Katrein also credits this last item as the provider of all in-car entertainment. Engine bling: ARP head studs, Feel's oil and radiator caps, Avid Racing mounts, and a shaved OE valve cover.
Kinetic force generated by Katrein's fully prepped B16 transfers through an Integra Type R transmission with the stock limited-slip differential, and spins Avid Racing axles. Other driveline modifications are the substitution of an Integra LS fifth gear (which is taller, for a lower engine speed on highway trips), an ACT clutch and flywheel, and Hardrace shifter bushings.
The good people at Suja One Motoring were yet again called upon to install the PIC Performance Select suspension. The front springs are rated at 10kg/mm, the rears at 12kg/mm. Benen makes a strong showing in this department with a front strut brace, front and rear lower tie bars, steering rack, crossmember brace, and a rear strong bar. This latter item is like a strut brace, but instead of being on the towers, it connects the unibody rails where the rear bumper reinforcement is attached. The camber kits and adjustable toe links come from Hardrace, although Suja One decided that its own-brand SONEM bushings were the ideal choice for this application, due to their high 85A durometer rating.
Dunlop CPF-G wheels, sized 15x6.5, wear Dunlop Direzza 205/50 tires. Katrein also has a race setup of Sprint Hart CP 15x7 wheels (with a +35mm offset) and BF Goodrich g-Force 205/50 tires. It all comes to a halt with JDM Integra Type R calipers, Power Slot rotors, Hawk HPS pads and Techna-Fit stainless steel brake lines.
Katrein has kept the interior simple: JDM right-hand drive Civic EG6 parts include the carpets, door panels, power locks, windows (with the stock bronze tint) and gauge cluster. Once he's sitting in his Spoon Sports reclinable bucket seat, Katrein buckles up the Crow Enterprises four-point racing harness, grabs the Personal Dakar steering wheel (coupled to an NRG short hub adapter), changes gears with an Integra Type R shifter topped off with a Feel's knob (while admiring the yellow-stitched Integra Type R shifter boot) and dances on the JDM Integra Type R pedals.
A minimalist approach is also evident with the body work (carried out by Gold Coast Auto Body). The OEM front bumper has brake ducts and an SiR lip, a Spoon Sports wing (signed by company founder Ichishima-san himself), JDM thin side moldings and Vision Type MC mirrors are among the few additions. Otherwise, it's the subtractions that are noticeable, such as the shaving that's gone on: emblems at each end, antenna, washer nozzles and front license plate.
Our man has good reasons for choosing the parts he has: "I went with the Feel's and Spoon items because when I went to Japan, I visited both their shops and came away amazed at how friendly and helpful they were." This Civic Si is now Spoon Certified through Opak Racing. Katrein has also become wiser. "Surround yourself with people who will keep you motivated. Don't start a long-term project without a good plan. And stick to it," he says.
"The car couldn't be driven under its own power, so it was built from the ground up all in one shot. Everything was planned out from the beginning. It's pretty much how I envisioned it," says Katrein. "It's a blast to drive, with a relatively stock engine and mild setup." But then his contrarian nature pops up again. "Two weeks ago, I added up the cost... $22,584.84. I almost died. I'd imagine it would fetch half that. Don't get drunk and let friends convince you to keep cars like this."
Will this become a cosseted car, a pride and joy? As if. "We'll see if I get confident enough to put it on the track," says Katrein. "A fitting end for this car would be for me to crash it into a wall at turn one." In which case, he'd have time to work on his next project, "a full tear-down and rebuild of a '95 Integra, going K. It would be done by now if this thing hadn't fallen into my lap."
Katrein's day job did provide one aspect, the Silver Mist body color from the Infiniti QX56. Which brings us back to a project idea he should have been doing from the get-go: a G35 with a Gallardo V10. Wouldn't that be something?
Behind The Build
Head to the message boards at www.importtuner.com to chat about this feature Vehicle
Parts Manager (Infiniti/Lamborghini)
"I paint skate decks to hang in my apartment as artwork. Imagine the underside of the deck as a canvas."
"While in college, there was no import scene in the Midwest except for the VW guys. I needed a lightweight car to challenge my roommate's GTI, so I bought a CRX, swapped in a DOHC ZC and the rest is history."
'92 Honda Civic SI
ARP head studs; JDM Civic Type R N1 crank pulley; STR cam gears; Fuel Labs fuel regulator; Benen Industries fuel rail; Crome chipped P30 ECU; Wizard Cooling radiator; Samco Sport hoses; FAL fan; Rage headers; JIC Bullet exhaust system; Feel's oil pan, oil cap, radiator cap; Avid Racing mounts; shaved OE valve cover
Integra Type R transmission with stock limited-slip differential, Integra LS fifth gear; Avid Racing axles; ACT clutch, Streetlite flywheel; Hardrace shifter bushings
PIC Performance Select suspension (front springs 10kg/mm, rear springs 12kg/mm); Benen Industries front strut brace, front and rear lower tie bars, steering rack, crossmember brace, rear strong bar; Hardrace camber kits, adjustable toe links; SONEM bushings
Dunlop CPF-G 15x6.5 wheels, Dunlop Direzza 205/50 tires (street); Sprint Hart CP 15x7 wheels (+35mm offset), BF Goodrich g-Force 205/50 tires (track)
Integra Type R calipers; Power Slot 14.5-in. rotors; Hawk HPS pads; Techna-Fit stainless steel lines
OEM front bumper w/brake ducts and SiR lip; Spoon Sports wing; JDM thin side moldings; Vision Type MC mirrors; shaved emblems, antenna, washer nozzles, front license plate
JDM Civic EG6 carpets, door panels, power locks, windows (with the stock bronze tint); Spoon reclinable bucket seats; Crow Enterprises four-point racing harness; Personal Dakar steering wheel; NRG short hub adapter; Integra Type R shifter, shifter boot; Feel's shifter knob; JDM Integra Type R pedals
Jeremy, Jason, and Jacob at Suja One Motoring, Jesse at Level 7 Motorsports, Edmun at Opak Racing, Ron-san, Gunther, and Pirkl for sourcing me hard-to-find parts, Jon Domingo for freezing his ass off to get these shots.