Cars like this 1996 Civic Type R EK9 are commonly found among the most desired by Honda fans old and young. Sure, it doesn't carry the dramatic appeal of, say, the original NSX - a car that carries a legion of fans not only enamored with Hondas but car enthusiasts of all types - and to be realistic, from an outsider's perspective, it's just a FWD econobox with a little 1.6L engine. To those in the know, however, it's iconic not only in its establishment of the Civic Type R lineage, but also in its ability, even in stock form, to wreak havoc on much pricier competition during heated track days. And if you're a fan of underdogs, the original CTR has always had the puncher's chance that's managed to "get lucky" time and time again in competition.
Angel Torres can tell you quite a bit about the EK9 as its specs and abilities played like a broken record in the back of his head throughout his teenage years. "When I became obsessed with Hondas, the Civic Type R was my favorite somewhat attainable car. It was the truest form of what made me fall in love with Hondas - commuter cars that, with a few modifications, could be truly competitive race cars." It would be years before Angel and this CTR's stars aligned, but in the meantime he'd racked up quite the resume of Honda and non-Honda builds, including a supercharged K20-powered Civic EH that he piloted to victory during Super Street's FF Battle in 2015. He also launched a performance shop, renamed Art of Attack in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. that carries an endless list of high-quality parts.
The Comeback Kid
For longtime readers, this isn't the first time you've seen this '96 Type R. In 2010, the car was featured in Honda Tuning Magazine when it was a dedicated track car. Since then, the car has changed hands a number of times and ended up at the Willy Werx paint shop, in pieces. "It would taunt me every time I went to visit. I bugged Willy about it every time I would stop by and see it sitting in his collection. Finally, a little over a year from the first time I bugged him to sell it to me, I got the call." Prepared for that call for months, Angel went to the shop the next day, cash in hand, and towed the car to Art of Attack. "A week later I ordered a pile of parts and in the busy days of expanding our business and completing other builds, the EK9 sat and was slowly disappearing into the background of the shop. A year flew by "
It might sound strange to some, having obsessed over a car for so long, then finally getting your hands on it and just letting it sit, but business was the priority and eventually Angel was reminded about that little hatchback. "One day me, my shop partner Pat and our friend Joe were talking shit and thought it would be fun to each build an NA K-series '90s Honda for some wheel-to-wheel battles." This lighthearted conversation was all it took to get the process started. "The excitement of building my dream EK9 hit me again. I dug all of my parts out of my personal racks, piled the boxes next to my dusty old shell and started coming up with a plan and a timeline to get this thing done. I wanted a timeless OEM+ style build that I could easily drive to the track, drive hard all day, then drive back home."
Back to Black
The overall quality of the build is top notch, but it wasn't supposed to be that way. "This car was supposed to be a 'budget' track-car build for friendly competition with friends, but that didn't last long." Angel had his friend Zeke stop by the garage to help clean up all of the factory brake lines, an act that inadvertently elevated the project way beyond a budget build. Starting from the outside, the car's paint had seen better days. In fact, when it was shot back in 2010, it was badly in need of a proper cut and buff and a decade of storage dust and neglect wasn't helping matters. To make things worse, the roof was badly dented, most likely due to boxes being stacked on top of the car during its hibernation. Towing the car to West Jones Auto resulted in a complete OEM Flamenco Black respray and the roof was replaced by a carbon fiber version courtesy of Ryan Novak, one of the car's previous owners. The lightweight roof is color matched on the outside and maintains its raw carbon surface on the inside. You'll also spot the carbon fiber J's Racing hood and First Molding lip, though the vented J's fenders hide pretty well under the black hue. During the paint process, Angel also decided to convert the front end to '99/'00-spec with brand new OEM headlights, bumpers and more - a restoration theme that continued to other areas of the car, like the factory rubber trim pieces and windshield cowl, which helps highlight the fresh respray.
Bigger, Faster, Stronger
You'll find the same amount of detail and precision used under the hood. Now, some are going to be sour that a B16B isn't lurking in the bay, but to be clear, this car has relied on some sort of K-swap ever since we first saw it in 2010. This melding of old and new, something common among the Honda crowd for years, is the ideal balance between effective nostalgia and modern-day performance. Internally stock, the new K20A Type R engine relies on just a few bolt-ons, including a Hytech header, R Crew exhaust and of course, Toda's Sports Injection Kit (individual throttle bodies) that steal the spotlight when the hood is raised.
More modernizing occurred with the brains of the build, which is now comprised of a Rywire engine harness and AEM's Infinity standalone. The peak power numbers won't win any pissing matches on your favorite discussion page, but at 230hp on tap and individual throttle bodies providing the sort of throttle response that makes you smile upon exiting every turn at full song, this lightweight hatchback is a force, and more than capable of holding its own. If you can put aside for a moment the common "but my friend makes way more power" rants or the completely shaved and tucked engine compartment trains of thought, this bay just works, and works well. As simple as it is, everything has been thought through and it all feels synchronized rather than being peppered with afterthoughts. From the obsessively formed custom brake lines to the radiator's hard lines and JRZ reservoirs that hug each shock tower - it's completely dialed in.
With a focus on the driver-to-vehicle connection, the interior maintains some of the original CTR touches, like the red carpet and door trim and the complete dash, though updated changes were also applied. The coveted CTR cluster has been substituted with an AIM digital display that offers far more detail concerning engine health compared to the factory version without resorting to a slew of gauges. The beloved blood red Recaros that once sat in place were ditched years prior and in the latest iteration of this EK you'll find Bride Zeta III Japan series seats along with a KEY!S steering wheel and Renegade Ti shift knob.
I Know What I Have
Bring up the Civic Type R name these days and you're more than likely discussing the currently available FK8. It offers the sort of power and technological prowess to make quick work of your local backroads or track day. On paper, the EK9 pales in comparison in terms of horsepower, suspension technology, a mountain of amenities and more, but none of that really matters. The first-generation Civic Type R will forever carry that unmistakable visceral feel that can't be duplicated or replaced solely by brute power or factory electronic magic. Marking a specific time in Honda's storied history, it's the EK9 that's been emulated and lusted after for years, and that will continue well into the future, but Angel Torres has been well aware of that since his teenage years - he was simply waiting for the right moment to strike.