Chris Sakai's '97 Civic DX
It has become increasingly difficult to find a Honda build able to withstand the arduous test of time. Many projects are fly-by-night builds and completed merely to increase someone's online "street cred" or to make a quick buck. There are individuals out there who build for fame and sell their Hondas immediately after they've reached any amount of success among their peers. Magazine features, with covers in mind, have turned into a self-promotional tool rather than a great honor. One can even argue that selling cars has become a trend within itself.
What has also made it harder for a particular build to transcend time are exterior modifications that either ruin the drivability of the car, or are irreversible once they are considered "played-out". It's just an easy alternative to sell the car and start fresh, then try to start over on a previous build. The key to having a project that can walk alongside father time is to not abide by the current standard of trends. A forward-thinking enthusiast should build to set standards, not follow them.
ATS Garage, a staple in the NorCal Honda community, has spent the better part of five years producing what they call, "miracle whips." Though they've had a few new recruits within the last couple of years, the original core of the group has always built their Hondas in the same manner; with simplicity in mind, while including the greatest of details where it matters. They also hold onto their cars. Many of them still have their original Hondas and redo their projects to best their own setups-not to compete with trendy newcomers.
Chris Sakai, one of the original members of ATS Garage, has been a member of the Honda community for over ten years now, and throughout that decade you would expect him to have had a number of different Honda builds - but the '97 Civic hatchback that graces these pages is not only his latest project, it is also his first. "I purchased my hatchback in 2000 when I graduated from college," Chris says. "It was the first import I had ever owned. I grew up with other hand-me-down cars and spent my teenage years living vicariously through my friends, whose parents bought them Civics and Integras back in the early '90s. I was always involved in the import scene in one way or another, even without a car. I would go to the track, take pictures, look through magazines and brochures, and think about what Fitipaldi or Borbet wheels I would someday put on my car."
"After college, I was finally in the position where I could buy my own car. I had my sights set on getting a black, modded EK hatchback from Sheng, the owner of JHPUSA, but I was a couple weeks late and he had already sold it. It all worked out though because I was able to find another black '97 hatch and started building it up from scratch. I started out with the basics; DC lower tie bar, an eBay cold-air intake, and black housing headlights. Looking back, my car started out as many of us did; just researching and growing with the scene."
By 2002, Sakai's hatchback had begun to see significant changes. He decided to swap in a USDM ITR motor along with a JDM 4-1 header, J's Racing intake, and T1R exhaust. Chris's knowledge, along with his confidence, began to grow within the community and by early 2003 he'd started an online Honda fraternity that is still very well-known today. "I wanted to create a group where enthusiasts could unite to share ideas and support, specifically for the '96-'00 Civic hatchbacks. It would bring together some of the most elite sixth generation hatchbacks on the web, and that's what lead to the creation of the 'EK Squad'. The group wasn't about just one style. It was more about building an all-around functional car for whatever purpose the owner chose. When the first stickers were made, I distributed them to a few local friends and from that point on, the word spread. Since then, the group has grown to include members from all over the U.S. as well as some from overseas."