HONDA CIVIC VTI-S
IT’S NOT A ROVER GODDAMITText and Photos: Reinis Babrovskis
The underdog of the Honda world - Honda Civic VTi-S MB. It is potentially the most underrated cheap future classic car out there that's still affordable and available to buy. So what's really wrong with it? Asolutely nothing, it has the soul of 90ies JDM cars and reliabity of a Honda, so let's have a closer look and see if I can change your mind on it.
“Nice Rover, mate!” - yes, yes… we all know this isn’t a thoroughbred Honda, so let’s get the jokes done and over with. The MB Civic was born as a joint collaboration between Honda and Rover back in the 1995, when Rover had neither funds nor the capacity to produce a vehicle by itself. The manufacturers teamed up and the Civic MB project came to light. Based on the basic Honda Domani Japanese cousin, Europe received the Civic codenamed MA/MB.MC and Aerodeck (for the estate version) whereas Rover produced the more upscale Rover 40/45 ad MG ZS. The production of this model lasted 6 years with the 1.8 VTi-S model being the flagship.
As the history has demonstrated to us in the past, colaborations between car manufacturers have a basic 50:50 end result: a huge success or a great disaster; luckily the Civic/Rover was neither of them. Probably due to the nature of a joint venture the Honda Civic MB was a very confused car; Honda didn’t really know in my opinion what they wanted the car to be – a JDM typical lightweight sports car or a comfortable car with a sporty engine for the average Britt.
Whilst the 3-door version of the VTi-S (code name EK) was aimed at the younger generation and succeeded at it, the MB never truly gained huge respect amongst the younger petrolheads. If you ask me why – a) the heavy resemblance of the Rover, b) standard 5 door model was often seen as the grandfather's car. The matter of fact is that it actually really is a nice car for the value, and it always has been, but the stereotypes may have put many people off them.
The car possesses that old school JDM soul; it has a beautiful high revving naturally aspirated engine, great suspension set up and handling and informative steering feedback. Whilst the Rover design might not be to everyone's taste, the handling and sheer driving fun should be enough to make you change your mind.
The Honda Civic VTi-S five-door version was released in a limited run of just 500 units, and was sold exclusively in Honda’s original “pirate black” paintwork. To make the 5-door VTi-S's stand out more over the base model its appearance was improved with the help of colour coded bumpers, more aggressive front and rear bumper lips as well as side skirts. In line of the 90'ies JDM era the car also proudly featured large DOHC VTEC and VTi-S stickers and badges on the side and back of the car. The MB VTo-S also came equipped with lightweight 15" Speedline Chrono alloy wheels, with a split spoke design.
Leslie’s Civic VTi-S MB is far from standard and recently received a full refreshment therapy, as the car was starting to show its age. It was re-sprayed back to the original “pirate’s black” and lacquered with “Spies Hecker” diamond clear coat. This is one of the most amazing and yet annoying paintworks at the same time out there – it can vary from dull black to magnificent pearlescent purple depending on the light source that hits it, so as you can imagine it wasn’t the easiest thing to capture on camera.
With the paintwork sorted, attention to detail continued throughout the restoration process. Leslie made sure the Civic received a fresh set of original VTEC decals. Decals like - Intercooler, Turbo, DOHC, VTEC may have been just the second best thing on old school JDM cars, only outdone by the pop up lights.
To help with rear downforce (and just because it just looks cooler) he also installed a spoiler that was borrowed from the bigger brother -MG ZR.
All window rubbers, grill surrounds, scuttle panels and badges received a lick of gloss black paint for that OEM look; the headlights were split and inserts painted in pirate’s black to match the paintwork. Leslie also retro fitted the projectors with 5k projection bulbs and the fog lights converted to LED.
The standard wheels were replaced with the much nicer 16” Yokohama Wheel original design AVS Model T7 lightweight alloy wheels that have been power coated in matte bronze and dressed in Toyo TR1s tires. To make these wheels fit a Honda Integra DC2 five stud converstion had to be done. MB is planted to the road thanks to the Meister R coilovers, whilst the stopping power is provided by the same standard brakes that he rebuilt and powder coated in lime green.
As with the majority of JDM cars the interiors of them are not the most luxurious places to be in, at the end of the day it is your race car, not your office, but somehow I still prefer a classic interior over the modern gadgetry. The VTi-S standard specification included chrome/almunium gear knob, exclusive VTi-S floor mats, half leather sports seats, electric windows and mirrors as well as air conditioning, instrument light dimmer, front and rear head rests and leather steering wheel with red stitching.
Leslie opted to replace most of these items to improve the look of the interior – the seats were replaced with the far nicer Honda Civic EK9 Type R red recaros mounted on custom rails, gear knob was replaced with Blox 24 with dual bend short shift and the dashboard received a 3D carbon wrap. He also opted to lose the aircon for further weight loss (not that we need in Ireland anyway).
The Honda Civic VTi-S was powered by the naturally aspirated B18C4 1.8 16v DOHC VTEC engine and produced 169hp at 7600RPM and 229.1 Nm of torque from factory. The standard version of the VTi-S was able to accelerate 0-60mph in under 8 seconds and reach a top speed of 139mph. Leslie Civic's B18C4 cylinder head was fully rebuilt using Honda Integra Type-R DC2 valves, springs and cams, at the same time oem valve steam oil seals, head gasket, rocker gasket and timing kit was replaced to improve the engine's overall health. He also opted for the Kevlar Whale intake with custom air feed, Skunk2 70mm throttle body and intake manifold with thermal intake gaskets on the throttle body and intake, as well as the 98 spec manifold with titanium heat wrap and a custom 2.5 inch exhaust with Spoon-styled back box – all this resulted in a very healthy 191 hp (without a map!). To finish off the whole engine bay received a bit of dress up featuring carbon spark plug covers, Spoon-yellow rocker cover, Buddyclub oil cap etc.
The MB VTi-S delivered the power to the front wheels via a 5 speed manual gearbox that Leslie replaced with the far superior gearbox taken from the Honda Civic Type-R EK9. The car sounds and goes through the gears very nicely and certainly offers you that old school JDM experience. If torque is what you’re after Honda’s are not the cars for you as they beg to be worked hard through the gears maintaining the peak performance at higher revs.
The Honda Civic VTi-S may be the Honda underdog and confused what it really was meant to be, but it woudn't stop one from enjoying it. It is a cheap sports car that will most likely raise in price and become a future classic, get one whilst you can if you ever thought about owning one.