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1996 Honda Civic DX - The Black Cloud

The 1996 Civic that’s basically a 2011 Civic

By Rodrez, Photography by Matthew Jones

The art of building a stand-out Honda has never been easier…or tougher. Online shopping carts, with the tap of just a few keystrokes, can easily be filled with high-quality parts from any corner of the world. With that being said, economic pressures are almost always a factor, and the lure of shortcuts and inexpensive knock-off goods are even easier to source. Derek Adelstein, owner of this immaculate hatchback, is all too familiar with both ends of the spectrum. Sure, his project car oozes excellent OEM-quality fit and finish now, but Derek will be the first to tell you that his car was far from being much more than an eyesore eight years ago.

Purchased in 2004 for just $3,500, this long-term build was far from ideal initially. Derek recalls, “It was bright yellow with red Rota wheels. I called it the Ronald McDonald hatch. The paint was horrendous and the engine bay was still red, but everything else was pretty much bone stock.” His first purchase was an authentic Spoon rear wing and Seibon carbon-fiber hood, followed by a few replica parts to try and pull the car together. No sooner had the parts been installed when tragedy struck. “One night I was out at the street races and was about to leave when a car was in a big accident right in front of me. It slid and hit me, and my car needed a whole new front end.” Once the check from the insurance company arrived, Derek decided to do away with the bright yellow paint and opted for a fresh coat of Championship White. However, he admits the bodywork was anything but top of the line. “It was a cheap paintjob. I converted the car to a ’99–’00 front end but used cheap crash replacement parts. The shop didn’t paint the front end right—painting over the front grilles. But I was still young, so I was OK with it and rocked it anyway.” Somewhat satisfied with the appearance, Derek’s attention turned toward the idea of forced induction. After enlisting the help of a local shop, the car was down for about six months while they completed the job. “After all that waiting, the setup just wasn’t any good—it was slow. They used a turbo off of an RB25 Nissan, and if the car made 140hp I was lucky.”

A few years of dealing with the subpar performance as well as a number of transmission injuries due to excessive wheel hop, and Derek eventually came across a great deal on a complete D16Y7 for just $180. “I picked it up and changed all the gaskets and decided to do the turbo my way this time.” Once again, just as things began to look up, another problem arose. A sour deal with a vendor on the forums pushed the new setup back by over five months. When the item finally did arrive, it wasn’t the A/C-compatible unit he was promised. Not wanting to wait any longer, the A/C was deleted, and the log manifold and matching downpipe were teamed up with a TiAL 38mm wastegate and TC Super 60 turbo. At 9 pounds, the non-VTEC setup made 187hp. By no means a powerhouse, but John Vega at Phearable.net put together an impressive tune based on what he had to work with. Derek left the dyno in much better spirits thanks to Vega’s ability to dial the car in and find true drivability with usable power. Finally, things were looking up.

Wanting to freshen up the paint once again, Derek enlisted the help of a friend and his friend’s father to paint the car in their garage. They taped off the walls and, using a fan for ventilation, removed the bumpers, lights, and other parts in order to spray the car properly. The result was far better than before, though not stellar. Nevertheless, Derek was content with the improved look and continued to drive the car daily, and all was good. That is, until that black cloud came around yet again to spoil things.

Derek states, “I was headed to a meet, actually I was at the light right before the meet, when the car just shut off. After we towed it home, we determined that the timing belt had failed and bent some valves.” While most would have walked away and washed their hands of the entire journey, Derek decided to dive back into the build, this time using forged internals from Arias and Eagle. Up top, a Delta 272 non-VTEC cam was enlisted, and thanks to the kindness of his girlfriend Tiffany, a Spoolin Performance ram-horn manifold and 3-inch downpipe were added to the buildup. By now you realize that things don’t go just right for Derek, so why would this episode be any different? A mix-up in shipping had his manifold in a different part of the country, and the waiting game was played until the mess was sorted out. The decision to use a Garrett T3/T4 was based on two factors: a linear, quick-spooling turbo would provide the most fun for the 1.6 mill, and the unit was reasonably priced, leaving Derek with enough money to build a solid transmission. An important factor, seeing as how he’d recently grenaded his third gear not long after tuning the new setup to a very respectable 300 whp with over 240 lb-ft torque. Chris at Woopee Doo Racing was responsible for the tranny rebuild that included a new final drive and LSD.

Rather than let the car collect dust while the transmission build was going on, Derek decided he’d had enough of budget paintjobs and wanted things done right once and for all. Leo Customs prepped the car for a full respray using Honda Grand Prix White. Multiple conversations with Steve at Tampa HondaLand culminated in OEM parts galore. Every clip, rubber seal, gasket, brake line, even the windshield, all replaced by brand-new OEM pieces.

Although the pink slip says “1996,” with a new engine, transmission, immaculate body, and an almost inconceivable number of replaced factory pieces, you could argue that Derek’s build is essentially a 2011 model. What started as a build based on shortcuts eventually ended in the quality product you see before you, and one that Derek Adelstein can be proud of.

By Rodrez
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