Trial and error—it’s the process by which records are broken, diseases cured, and some of the world’s most critical issues miraculously solved. From the Honda enthusiast’s perspective, the practice of sampling various outcomes and addressing bouts of potential failure in lieu of relying on preset theory has simply become commonplace. We’ve seen many a milestone over the past 20-something years, but none has carried as much controversy as the LS/VTEC conversion. Essentially taking the best of both worlds by combining the midrange power of an LS bottom end and the high-flow characteristics of a VTEC head, a rather potent, albeit affordable combination was realized. The process wasn’t widely accepted at first and, in all honesty, carried quite a bit of initial ridicule followed by intense scrutiny, and eventually, a level of acceptance that managed to stand the test of time.
Dominick Milio of New York is well versed in this low-budget, high-payoff Frankenstein engine configuration. In 2004, while finishing up his senior year in high school, Milio pieced together an LS block, outfitted with strictly factory internals. He adds, “My goal was to see how much power I could make with all OEM parts. I was going to install it in my DA, but long story short, I ended up receiving an offer on the shell that I just couldn’t pass up.” All dressed up with nowhere to go, the LS bottom end sat untouched in the corner of the garage. That is, until six years later, when the 1.8L was put into service. But more on that in a moment…
“I went through a lot of Hondas and eventually strayed away completely. I picked up a GTO muscle car and it was fast, but something began to draw me back toward Hondas again.” In the midst of transferring to a different college, the GTO was sold and the search for a new commuter was under way. Milio admits to ulterior motives as the daily driver hunt served as a mere excuse to purchase a Civic project car. His online efforts soon paid off in the form of an ultra-clean, one-owner, completely stock ’00 EX coupe spotted on Craigslist. The classic “old lady that only drives a few times a week” story was, in this case, the honest truth. Milio states, “She kept the car in the garage and only drove it to and from work. It was ridiculously mint, like it was kept in a museum! She had the original window sticker, all of the receipts, paperwork, and records. I mean everything was documented. I didn’t even look at the car before buying it. My brother went and put a deposit on it, knowing that it was exactly what I was looking for.” Just hours after bringing the car home, the new owner was busy installing the stereo system that he’d pre-ordered before the car was even found. “I told everyone the stereo was all I had planned for the car, and they all knew I was lying, lol!” After just a month of ownership, suspension upgrades in the form of PIC coilovers, a Beaks support bar, and Function7 LCAs, along with a fresh set of OEM Si wheels made their way to the virgin chassis, but that was merely the beginning of the journey.
The custom timing belt cover features a generous window for cam gear adjustments during dy
The lonely PR3 piston-equipped LS block mentioned earlier, after half a dozen years of hibernation, was now being prepped for active duty. For the “VTEC” portion of the combo, a GS-R head complete with Blox Racing cams and valvetrain was mated to the block with a Golden Eagle conversion kit and bolted to the chassis with Innovative billet mounts. With the help of his good friend Jay, the two came up with a clever idea of building a custom timing belt cover that fits much better than the GS-R version and grants full access to the adjustable cam gears. Other custom bits include a handcrafted breather tank as well as a complete wire tuck that Milio, his brother, and Jay tackled on their own. Utilizing strictly OEM parts on the bottom end and plenty of aftermarket parts up top resulted in an impressive 212 whp/150 lb-ft torque at the hands of Xenocron’s dyno tuning session.
Like many, Milio embraces the “less is more” theory when it comes to exterior enhancement, and his coupe is a testament. Up front, you’ll find nothing more than an Si grille and front lip, while bringing up the rear is an authentic Mugen Ferio wing perched upon the trunk lid. Careful inspection of the car’s profile reveals Honda Access window visors and Spoon-style side mirrors. A trained eye might also take note of the Si rear disc conversion—that is, if you can get past the gleaming white Work Meister S1 rollers that sit neatly under each wheel arch.
In less than two years, Dominick Milio transformed an elderly woman’s pristine “A to B” commuter into an undeniable neck breaker, all while attending college full time and maintaining his status on the honor roll. Milio proudly states that the motor has been reliable and trouble-free even after countless blasts to the 9,500 rpm atmosphere. Oftentimes a feature article ends with a vehicle’s owner explaining their upcoming in-depth modifications for their pride and joy, but Milio is quite the opposite. He openly states, “All that’s left to do is enjoy the car, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. Of course I want to keep playing around with the setup, and I’m going to hit some track days, but basically just have fun with it. Every time I look at this car I think about the hours, the money, and the sacrifice—it was hell…and it was all worth it!”