At times, money can solve all of your problems—especially when it comes to building a car. If you don’t have the cash to pick up the newest parts or maybe pay for the nicest of paintjobs, it’s easy to get left in the dust. For those who don’t have wads of cash just sitting around, rest assured, you don’t have to break the bank to make it big. The truth is, sometimes you just have to improvise.
Take a page from the book of Sergio Corzo of Beltsville, Maryland, a guy who took a worthless junkyard-bound hatchback and transformed it into a show-winning beauty, further proving that you can build a clean ride with nice parts and avoid blowing your life savings or going into uncontrollable debt. When Sergio was in high school, and without a car to note, his older brother came up on a ’93 Civic hatchback that he didn’t want any part of. After nearly being totaled in an accident, the car was left with major rear damage, cut springs, and was missing an engine. The interior was completely gutted, the front seats were in total disrepair, rear seats were nonexistent, and the driver’s door was smashed in. But when Sergio’s brother offered him the car for free, Sergio figured, “Hey, free car, why not?”
Having been given a little cash from his parents to fix the car, he wasted no time in sourcing a new engine. Finding a JDM D15 for dirt cheap through a friend, he hit the junkyard and picked up a new tailgate and rear interior, which he had installed for free at the body shop where his brother worked. To finish it off, another friend hooked him up with a set of Si front seats, and Sergio was ready to hit the streets in his new beater. He didn’t think too much about how the car looked, he was just stoked to have a car that ran.
After finishing high school he started working with his brother at the shop, which meant he could work on his car as much as he wanted after hours. Every day for three long months he slaved away hammering out all of the dents, sanding the paint down, and cleaning everything up the best he could. It was “a long and grueling process,” according to Sergio, but he was so motivated to get the car ready for paint that he paid it no mind. With all of the patch marks and paint spots, the car wasn’t the best-looking Civic on the street, but it had potential.
Sergio chose the classic B18C powerplant, and freshened it up with ITR pistons and cams.
When it was ready for paint, he went back and forth trying to decide on the perfect color. “I wanted something that looked clean even when dirty, so I decided on a GM Silver with a black hood, roof, and wing,” he explained. “When it was finally painted it looked clean, but it was just an everyday gray EH with Si rims. I had to step my game up,” Sergio recalled. He started checking out some of the cars in California, and noticed a huge number of styles that couldn’t be found elsewhere. From that point on, every day was spent searching for parts that would help transform his car from an everyday build into a show-stopping knockout for as cheap as possible. He began with a Wings West lip kit for the front, sides, and rear, a new JDM SiR rear interior, and a set of Recaro seats. To add a little more flair to the interior, a MOMO steering wheel was selected and bolted to the column with an NRG quick-release that also added a layer of security. Oh, and in case we forgot to mention, most of the aforementioned goods were actually found at his local junkyard. On his quest for the best parts at the lowest rate, Sergio found a set of coilovers for super cheap through a friend. “I jumped on them, but now I had a lowered Civic and needed some rims,” he states. Fortunately for Sergio, and his wallet, his brother had an old set of Volks in the garage just waiting to be slapped on.
Now complete with fresh paint, interior upgrades, and new rollers, Sergio was in need of a swap. Relying on his tax refund, he picked up a JDM B18C in need of a little work. Sourcing any missing pieces, he painted every engine part possible to make the engine really stand out. The second the paint dried, he dropped it off with a friend to have all the pieces put back together. While waiting for the engine to be finished, Sergio continued checking out other cars. “I started seeing these crazy engine bays around,” Sergio said. He figured he might as well shave the engine bay to make it look extra clean, and for two weeks straight, more than 12 hours a day, he worked hard on welding and filling all of the unused engine bay holes. “This was definitely the most difficult part of my build,” Sergio recalls. When all was complete, he resprayed the bay a vibrant purple to match the wheels, and soon after, dropped the freshly completed engine in its new home, and took his friend up on a previous offer to do a full wire and brake line tuck for him.
After nearly five years of hard work, money saving ingenuity, and a lot of patience, Sergio finally had his super-clean hatch with all the right parts. Though most of his parts started as broken or junked, his perseverance and clever planning made it all work out in the end. When asked if he’s finally finished, he says, “No way! These days, I’m always looking at what I can do next.”
Check out a junkyard—save some money
When it comes to sourcing some new parts for your build, consider taking the road less traveled: the junkyard. Not only are they a great place to save some money, they’re also an easy way to find those pesky little bits and pieces that cost an arm and a leg at the dealer. If you plan on dropping in to one nearby, remember a few simple steps and your junkyard experience will be stress free. If you’re a noob to the car world, take a friend along with you who isn’t—they’ll help you spot a good part over a worthless one. Remember to bring your own tools as you’ll need them to pull out those sought-after parts buried under the hood, in the door panels, or bolted to the donor chassis. Don’t be scared of a little dirt, either. After all, you are at a junkyard.