In 2001, I bought my first Civic, a 1988 street-legal one-make race car from the Honda Michelin series. With this 92-hp beast, I got my racing license and visited some fantastic race tracks like Mont Tremblant, Watkins Glen and Lime Rock. As the chassis of that car began to rust away, I replaced it with a similar one (1991) with a much better roll cage and Honda’s venerable B16a powerplant (1.6 liter DOHC, 160 hp). The new(er) Civic was to make its debut in 2004, but it was not to be. At my very first outing with the car at my local track (Autodrome St-Eustache, about 20 km north of Montreal), I had an off and slammed the car into a tire wall, bending the chassis in the process. What made the whole event even more embarrassing is that this happened during a race school where I was instructing.
I knew that the 2004 race season would be a bust, as I didn’t have the budget to simply buy another car. I resolved to find another rust-free Civic chassis and start over. This was easier said than done in the Montreal area, as most Civic’s rust excessively due to the salt that is periodically spread on our roads in winter. After searching for a few weeks, I got lucky: I found an American 2000 Civic Si coupe (known as the SiR in Canada) that had no bumpers or interior or drivetrain or suspension. It also needed a new hood and trunk. I know this does not sound like much of a find, but really, it was not so bad, as the car was only 1 500 $, there was no rust apparent anywhere and the car was equipped with the 4-wheel disc-brake system without ABS (a combination not available in Canada). I spent the next few weeks sourcing a hydraulic transmission, a coilover kit (provided by a sponsor), as well as the missing body parts. The chassis had been delivered to my mechanic, Richard, who worked on the car from his home in his spare time. Whenever I sourced a new part, I would drop it at his place. I also sourced a 1.8 liter block from an Acura Integra GS-R, which would match up with the ported head from my B16a. The only parts we ended up re-using from the 91 Civic were the head, the race bucket seat and my “lucky” 1989 Integra shift knob.
When the car was ready for its provincial inspection, it actually looked pretty decent. The car did not pass on its first attempt, due to some small issues, but I made the necessary alterations and, on the second try, the car was legally registered for road use. Although the plan was to build a race car, it was important for me to keep the Civic road legal, so I could drive it to and from race meetings. I didn’t have the budget or parking for a tow vehicle and trailer. Also, I think it’s pretty neat to arrive at the track actually driving the race car, swap tires, and go racing.
After the inspection, the car was delivered to Trac Racing for the installation of a custom roll cage. The car’s first outing was at a track day at Mosport International Raceway near Toronto. Unfortunately, I had a very scary off-track excursion at turn 2 and broke a wheel. I narrowly escaped another meeting with the tire wall. Although the off was due to driver error, we noticed that the rear wheels were not properly lined up with the front ones, due to a bent trailing arm. A new (used) trailing arm was sourced from a junk yard and the car was finally properly aligned and ready for its first race meeting at Watkins Glen (see next entry).