The Honda Civic that changed a car fanatic's mind (and captured his heart)
Johannesburg - For most petrolheads and car enthusiasts, their love for a particular car can be traced to a specific poster on their bedroom wall, a die-cast model given as a gift (maybe), or that car's role in a film or game.
For me, it's the Lamborghini Diablo VT; the ultimate machine that I hope to one day own because it was my poster car on my bedroom wall, and it was my first "special" die-cast car, which I still have to this day.
For Jesse Moonsammy, however, it wasn't a wall-poster or a child's toy or a pop culture experience... it was the kick of VTEC that sparked his flame for Honda.
"In all honesty, I was never a fan of Honda, in fact, I hated the brand until I drove this car for the first time about a decade ago. That was the moment when I fell in love with Honda, VTEC, and this Civic," he says.
Moonsammy's passion for cars started at a very young age, recounting his experiences growing up around his father's workshop for the past 35 years. "His very first workshop was at home, so growing up I’d always find myself around cars. He built a lot of performance cars and always took me to the local drag stop, back then called 'Rainbow Raceway'. Ever since I’ve had a strong passion for fast cars," he says.
The Honda Civic that Moonsammy is completely smitten with was launched in South Africa in the late '90s, giving us a slight taste of what JDM Type Rs might have felt like back then.
This 1997 model came from the factory with a 1.6-litre in-line four-cylinder that made 118kW at a heady 9000rpm. At the time, reviewers praised the car for its thrill and engagement factor, but they didn't like its lack of torque. Nevertheless, the Honda Civic (EK) VTEC gained infamy over the years, in its prime as the key thorn in the side of the Toyota Corolla RSi and the Nissan Sentra 200 STi.
"My car was originally owned by a close friend. It was silver in colour back when he owned it, but it had been parked for about four years. I decided to make him an offer on the car, and started the journey of restoring it six years ago," he explains.
There’s a very long list of goodies that make Moonsammy's 1997 Honda Civic VTEC coupe unique, including a custom paint job as well as a flushed boot lid with relocated number plate holder.
"We also cut unique 'tiger stripes' in the rear bumper that allows air to flow through cleanly, preventing unwanted air pressure build-up and turbulence at the rear of the car at higher speeds. The Civic also wears custom Lexus-style taillights and a boot-wing lift-kit," he notes.
You'll also notice that this car is fitted with custom BMW M3 look-alike side mirrors and custom-cut fender vents. Other nifty additions to the Civic include chassis-strengthening, the addition of racing braces and a front-splitter that's been appropriated from a 1997 Subaru Impreza STI. "To top things off, I've fitted 17-inch XXR concave alloy wheels, wrapped in 205/40/17 Falken high-performance tyres," he says.
What's under the hood then?
You're probably wondering what's under the hood, considering the attention to detail given to the body and interior and chassis, right?
Well, Moonsammy's taken the 1.6-litre VTEC to new heights thanks to what's known as a "Frankenstein" B20B VTEC conversion. Essentially, it's now a 2.0-litre car, helped along the 1/4-mile by a slight bit of forced induction courtesy of a bolt-on T66 turbocharger kit. In the low boost setting, it's punching out 260kW on the front wheels.
It's not all sunshine and roses, however, as we might picture the scene of buying or building our dream car (and driving it off into the sunset happily ever after). "One of the biggest challenges for me would be sourcing parts for the Civic. A lot of people would think that because it’s an old vehicle, parts would be easily available or cheap. Also, dealing with scratches and stone chips, especially when having a metallic colour like this, becomes very difficult to maintain" he says.
Moonsammy built the engine himself and takes care of all the car's servicing and mechanical maintenance on his own. He says he's had so many special moments with this car, but even a simple Sunday morning carwash is such a pleasure for him.
"The best moments I have with my car are the days that I feel down or upset. I get in and drive to nowhere, windows wide open, the radio on mute, just listening to the engine purr. While cruising with the wind blowing, there’s nothing else that could feel better for me," he adds.
When it comes to plans for the future, he'd like to build another motor for the car, a race-spec engine, with at least 600kW on the wheels similar to what Bisimoto is doing in the USA. "I also want to do more work more on the interior, maybe add a full roll-cage and custom racing seats. I might also consider a new set of wheels to give the car a whole different look. Who knows!" he exclaims with enthusiasm.
Moonsammy is already looking forward to his first road trip once the national lockdown is lifted, eyeing the tight and twisty roads around the Van Reenen's Pass area. "My mate has a 2003 Subaru Impreza STI that we're looking to take with, so I can't wait to get back on the road again," he concludes.