There comes a time for every automotive enthusiast when the desire to move forward and do work becomes a feeling you can no longer ignore. For me, that time came a few months back when Modified introduced its newest project car, my ’98 Civic hatchback. I knew I wanted to get my old girl back into the line of duty; after sitting in one place for months and months, I felt silly not doing anything with it. Having owned this car for the better part of six years, it was time to take the car to the next level. But before I could get ahead of myself, the Silver Bullet needed some work.
The first thing I had on my (long and intimidating) laundry list was basic maintenance. After hoisting the car up and examining the underbody thoroughly, we needed to change out the axles, tie-rod ends, ball joints, and upgrade the brake pads and fluid. For the purpose of keeping things easy, we went with OEM replacement parts for the axles and tie-rod ends. We also replaced the worn lower ball joints with MFactory extended lower ball joint that act as roll center adjusters.
On the EK chassis, it’s necessary to remove the lower arm to access the ball joints. This is a matter of only a few nuts and bolts, the fun part is pressing out of the old worn units and getting the new pieces in place. Oftentimes, it’s possible to remove ball joints without a hydraulic press, but getting a new piece in place is a different story. As you can see from the photos (page 65, top-right cluster), you basically have to balance the arm using an array of steel blocks and then slowly press the ball joint into place. We ended up finding a large socket to place over the top to act as a sort of sleeve on which to press. Be careful not to rupture the ball joint by pressing too hard, too quickly or with a setup that isn’t the right diameter to clear the joint’s outer casing. Another helpful tip for this is to set the new ball joints in your freezer for a while. As they get cold, they shrink just a bit and become easier to press in.
The reason we chose to go this route, as opposed to simply replacing the worn items with OEM pieces, was in pursuit of better handling. Even small pieces, as simple and seemingly minute as ball joints, can seriously improve the overall feel of turn-in and steering response. If you’ve never considered this modification, I highly suggest doing it. The two best bang-for-your-buck modifications I’ve done over the long and drawn-out course of this build are the LSD (MFactory 1.5-way) and extended lower ball joints. The difference in driving feel and overall handling these parts make is simply massive.
The last item on our initial repair list was the brakes; the pads I had on the Civic were worn out. Skimping out on cheap brake pads is one of the worst things to do; it’s not worth sacrificing performance (or, more importantly, safety) just to save a buck. To step things up a notch, we turned to Mackin Industries, the U.S. importer for Project Mu and other top-tier JDM brands. After discussing the goals for our Civic, we decided to go with the Project Mu B-Force pads, a middle-range and mild street pad. Project Mu has a wide array of offerings if you want a pad with more bite, but with these rougher pads there are sacrifices that must be made, namely noise. Also, the B-Force pads don’t require a warm-up period like many race pads, so that’s a very useful tidbit to keep in mind when purchasing brakes for a street car. We also took this opportunity to bleed the old fluid and freshen up with Project Mu G-Four 335 racing brake fluid. With a higher boiling point than most conventional brake fluids, this is a great way to ensure consistent pedal feel and reliable performance.
A few other small parts needed to go on while we had the car in the shop. In less than five minutes, we had our Skunk2 battery tie-down in place and a Civic Type-R gauge cluster installed. The stock CX trim gauge cluster doesn’t have a tachometer, and instead of going with a very not-subtle external tach, the JDM CTR unit is a great solution. Plus, the CTR unit lights up amber to match my Si dash, and that’s a nice touch.
Now that we had the parts in place, it was time to get our alignment adjusted. We headed out to Evasive Motorsports in La Puente, California, with many years experience tuning street and track cars, Mike and his crew always take good care of us with our various project car needs. We kept things simple and straightforward for our initial setup down the road, we’ll most likely go with a more aggressive alignment but for now, roughly -2.3 degrees camber up front and -1 degree in back (with straight toe settings) is a good place to start. We should experience good tread life and neutral handling with these measurements.
At this point, we also needed to mount a new set of street tires on our 16x7-inch Rays wheels. Continental provided us with a set of Extreme Contact DW Tuned tires, sized at 205/45R16. This is a good tire for street use, with a forgiving feel and low amount of road noise grip levels aren’t race-tire good, but it’s adequate for typical street use, as well as wet driving conditions.
Street use is all relative, however. Almost as soon as I left Evasive to head home, I was reminded of how fun this car is to drive and I knew I had to hit the track as soon as possible. At the recommendation of a few coworkers, I contacted Chris Willard at Extreme Speed Track Events because he had an event at Streets of Willow Springs coming up the perfect venue for me to get out there and try my hand at some real driving.
Streets of Willow is a very fun track; with lots of tight corners and elevation changes, it seems to favor a nimble car as opposed to an outright powerful car that may not handle as well through the turns. This was perfect for me, but after my first session, I knew that I would benefit from some in-car instruction. Chris set me up with his chief driving instructor, Sherman Bahr, who went out for a session of one-on-one instruction. Sherman’s primary job is to ensure that his students have a fun and safe driving experience, and he strongly advocates doing so on a track (not on the street). Having taught for nearly 10 years, Sherman certainly knows how to find the line on any track, and he particularly enjoys Streets for its technical and tight nature.
After riding along for a few laps and then driving while receiving verbal instruction, I felt much better about the track’s layout. Sherman gave many useful tips, like how late to brake for any given corner and when to turn in for the best line. I had to constantly remind myself that smooth is fast. On my next session out, I managed to shave over 4 seconds off my previous best lap time not bad!
At my level, it’s not really about lap times. Learning how to improve your technique and push the limits of both yourself and your car (safely) is much more important. All in all, I was very satisfied with my first ever track experience.
My entire experience with Chris and Sherman at Extreme Speed Track Events was nothing but positive. With a knowledgeable, friendly staff and plenty of certified instructors, I’ll definitely join them again in the future. ESTE runs events across Southern California at various racetracks and caters to everyone from novice to super-advanced with specified run groups.
After a long weekend of brutal torture, the Civic held up quite well. In an effort to save my street tires, I borrowed a set of wheels from Project DC2 equipped with R-compound tires. The next phase of modifications will surely include a new set of my own 15-inch dedicated track wheels and tires, as well as a few other small changes. Oil starvation is a known problem with my motor setup, so we’ll address that.
Look for more installments as we address these changes and hit the track again in an upcoming issue Project Civic lives!
At my level, it’s not really about lap times. Learning how to improve your technique and push the limits of both yourself and your car (safely) is much more important.
MFactory Competition Products
Extreme Speed Track Events
To see more photos of Project Civic, log on to modified.com