I Bought the WORLD’S WORST Honda Civic SI for $50

Posted July 06, 2020

By Dean Larson

Hi, my name is Dean and I’ve got a junk-collecting problem. Like a repeat offender in an AA group, I cling to this line as some sort of solace, as I’m sure my latest acquisition will give my friends and family cause for concern. But the problem is that I just sorta fall into these things for cheap, somehow blind to the fact that they’re going to nickel and dime me and that cheap things are cheap for a reason — it’s because they’re bad… Does this one have any upside potential? Honestly, the jury’s still out, but let’s dive into my most recent ill-advised acquisition and you can rate my ignorance in the comments section on a 1 to 10 scale.

So why did I buy this total pile of junk? I’m honestly not sure, but I can tell you that the story starts in my younger years when I owned a couple Hondas of this vintage. The first was a plain-Jane ’94 Civic EX — sorta fun as a five-speed two-door, but nothing special. I then upgraded from the Civic to a diamond-in-the-rough ’01 Prelude — a black five-speed that fell in my lap for dirt-cheap. My friends still talk about the amount of oil it allegedly burned, I still talk about the $1,200 profit I made with no more than a little elbow grease.

A couple of my friends were also tooling around in cheap Hondas at the time, and one had a seriously-mint ’99 Civic SI with only one or two questionable mods. The car had just 60k on the clock, and it felt like something kinda special. Fun like my trashy EX, but with a bad streak in it; something you could take a little more seriously. That’s when I learned what made these SIs kinda cool, and also what caused me to notice the car, an ill-fated ’99 coupe in Milano Red.

Honda Civic Si2

When it was new, I’d say the 1999 to 2000 EM1 Civic SI represented everything awesome about Honda, and to a degree, all the affordable Asian four-cylinders. Honda took the standard two-door coupe and fit it with sorter, progressive-rate springs, unique 15-inch alloys, upgraded exhaust, color-matched chin spoiler and sills, upgraded cloth interior, stiff anti-roll bars and a strut-tower brace. But the heart of the matter was of course the 1.6-liter B16A2 engine.

This engine is arguably the most righteous application of Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing technology ever made. Keep the engine below 5,500 rpm, and you’ve got a pretty sedate econobox with decent mpgs. But breaking the 5,500 rpm threshold engages a more aggressive camshaft profile, lifting the valves further for longer, giving a spirited growl up to 8,000 rpm. These engines were also fit with a larger throttle body, improved intake, stronger rods and high-silicon pistons. All these upgrades added up to an output of (drumroll please) 160 hp.

Even though it looks like a total pile, you’re looking at a somewhat rare, one-owner Civic SI here in 100 percent stock condition, complete with every service record, invoice and manual. It’s also allegedly in somewhat running condition, and did I mention I paid just $50? Sounds too good to be true right? Well it is, and I’ve been deliberately misleading here.

All those things are true about the car, but no one really cares about ownership history or paperwork when it’s a total pile. Where to begin, well, the car is riddled with dents and quite a bit of rust, as this is Northern Wisconsin we’re talking about. Furthermore, it’s sitting on four flats, the SI-specific alloys are corroded, the front valence is cracked and the rear bumper cover is hanging off. Well, at least it has that hot B16A2 engine, and it runs right? Possibly. I know it was in there a year ago, and the owners said they were able to get the engine running at that time, but the alternator was seized up. And also, the hood is stuck shut now, so there’s that.

Alright, what about that cool black SI cloth interior? Yeah, it’s there, but it’s probably not salvageable as the rear glass got shot out by a pellet gun, and it’s now a serious health hazard in there. And that’s not even touching on the insulin needle situation…

So there you have it. Everything that’s good about the EM1 Honda Civic SI is marked questionable or junk on this car. It’s a cool cult-classic car that’s fallen on the hardest of times, and has only escaped the scrapper so far because the price of steel is so low — and I mean that quite literally. Not even the local scrap yards want this thing!

Honda Civic Si1

Knowing only a fool would be interested in hauling this thing away, the family of its departed owner called the only person who had ever showed any interest in it — me of course. But it wasn’t quite this far gone when I saw it a year ago, and my interest level plunged from optimistic to hesitant in a hurry. We finally shook on $50, and that’s honestly about the most risk I’m comfortable taking on a car with so few redeeming qualities… But hey, $50 is an average bar tab right? I mean, not average for me (domestic drafts are pretty cheap these days), but someone’s average tab, right?

What I’ll end up doing with this decrepit SI is up in the air right now. The DOHC B16 engine is probably worth a healthy price if I liberate it from its rusty home, and it would also make a pretty killer donor for an EXO car project. There are a few other SI-specific parts on this car that I could sell, or someone might be interested in hauling the whole thing away for a profit once I pressure wash it. I should state for the record that I’m pretty savvy at flipping things when I need to, with a track record of mostly good profit margins.

But first I need to haul it home and see how bad it really is. The rust could be mostly cosmetic, and she might run and drive with some easy maintenance and service items. A $50 Civic SI track car sounds rad, or maybe a back-roads beater, but of course I’d need the title then. I did mention that was lost in a house fire right? Lord have mercy...

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