The Golden Era: Nicholas Higgins’ 1989 Honda Civic Si

  • This EF Civic packs a punch by squeezing a K24 bottom end paired with the venerable K20A2 head into its bay.
  • The combination of OEM+, JDM, function, and form blend together to form a spotless Civic build unlike any other.

Photography by Drew Manley

One can’t help but feel that the latest Civic Type R marks the definitive end of an era. While Honda dropped the last truly high-revving 4-cylinder with the introduction of the K24 into the ninth-gen Si, it wasn’t exactly a hard detour from the K engines that came before it. However, the turbocharged powerplant of the new Type R emphatically states that Honda is done with the past and is embracing a force-inducted future. Admittedly, it’s a step forward performance-wise, but it is a challenging move for those who embrace Honda’s simpler past nostalgia.

The Golden Era

The EF Civic represents the beginning of Honda’s golden era as the first generation to take advantage of Honda’s VTEC, the technology that would define Honda performance in the nineties. Originally paired with the B16A in top trim, the Civic could push up to 8000 rpm, with a more than ample 170hp. This combination was an incredible performance bargain during that period, giving owners a chance to appreciate a high-revving engine mated to a responsive, nimble chassis. This potential of this combination would ultimately kick-start the entire Japanese tuner market, and as the ecosphere grew, so did the options to transform the humble EF Civic completely.

Finding The Right Chassis

Owner Nicholas Higgins has taken all of the collective thirty years of experience from Honda tuners and put together a remarkable example that celebrates and improves all of the stock car’s original aspects. He recalls growing up around cars, watching friends and family put together their projects, and reading about builds across the country in the numerous import-focused magazines of the nineties and early 2000s. Higgins purchased his first Civic, a nearly identical white ’89 Si, in 2008, but it was wrecked two years later. This two-owner car showed up a few weeks later on Craigslist, and with his wallet $1,000 lighter, he began work on this golden-era hatchback.

Inside The Heart

The build’s heart is the swapped K series engine, still naturally aspirated as the brand intended. Nicholas started with the K24 bottom end from the content CR-V and Accord but paired it with the Acura RSX Type S K20A2 head. This “Frankenstein” motor is a DIY-approach to take advantage of the best aspects of Honda’s domestic four-cylinder options; a modern, high-revving, reliable powerplant. His favorite modification is the Rywire Mil-Spec wiring harness and PDM system that has allowed for both straightforward control and configuration, but also an impossibly tidy engine bay.

Where Function Meets Form

The sparse aesthetics continue inside where the theme is clearly function first, though the outstanding presentation makes a strong case for the minimalist remodel’s aesthetic value. Rather than competing for priority, function and form come together in the Civic, with every part having a distinct purpose and presented in a way that showcases the craftsmanship and quality against the stark white paint. Nicholas remembers the difficulty in modifying the OEM dash to work with the roll cage, but it’s that kind of extra work that makes this more than a track-only build.

On the outside, the hatchback has been modified to respect the car’s OEM lines and settles into a happy medium of OEM+ and motorsport-inspired parts that suit golden-era Hondas so well. Supplementing JDM parts where possible, Nicholas also utilized Chargespeed pieces, a well-respected name in the Honda world, to add some visual flair to the exterior. Gram Lights wheels create an abrupt monochromatic contrast, a colorway that has long been popular with the Honda crowd.

What The Future Holds

In 2019, the car was awarded the Super Street/Meguiars Top Honors Award at SEMA, and sharing his build with others has been incredibly rewarding. Showcasing ten years of development, in three separate phases, with countless details keeps Nicholas engaged with this project, but he’s not content to let the build be static. Looking forward, Nicholas hopes to move to a turbocharged setup, which echoes Honda’s own decision with the current Civic. With a goal of 700hp, there’s no doubt that the next iteration of this build will be mind-numbingly fast and equally well-executed. This Civic may be the ultimate representation of Honda’s golden era, but it isn’t chained to tradition. Looking through the spec sheet, Nicholas called on some of the most progressive, innovative minds in the Honda tuning world.

Today’s opportunities for Honda enthusiasts are endless, with access to more parts, more information, and more builds to inspire. While the world of the original EF Civic is long gone, there’s no reason to think that the best days of Honda tuning are not still ahead.

Related Links

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