- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

Since there have been automobiles, there has existed the urge to modify them.

Throughout history, modifications have ranged from merely aesthetic to mechanical, with changes covering issues such as ride quality, handling, performance and efficiency of operation.

In the earliest years, the focus was primarily upon racing accomplishments which enhanced product recognition, with most efforts generated by builders and manufacturers.

Later on, appearance and exclusivity became an issue, with concentration on personalization to reflect individual tastes and to project a particular image.

A huge movement commonly referred to as “hot rodding” permeated the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s encompassing all of the above factors — perhaps somewhat crudely at first, but becoming progressively more refined with the passing of each decade.

What was once known as hot rodding has come to be called “street rodding” today and is now more popular than ever, giving rise to a huge availability of aftermarket parts and accessories through a vast infrastructure.

In my formative years as a hot rodder early Fords and Chevrolets dominated the “run what ya brung” scene. Imports were yet to invade our shores.

That’s all changed now, of course, and the new rodders of today have their own thing going on with custom or modified imports — particularly from the Asian marketplace. Tricked out Hondas are now as commonplace as modified 1955, 1956 or 1957 Chevrolets were 10 or 20 years ago (actually they’re still immensely popular).

The fact is that many of today’s mechanically inclined kids and young adults simply don’t relate to the earlier iron — with models from a bygone era and a high level of scarcity, which results in skyrocketing prices.

Enter the Pacific Rim “rods” — Asian cars that are readily available and affordable, with a huge offering of aftermarket parts and accessories geared not only to appearance modification, but to performance enhancement as well.

We won’t call this latest version of Honda’s Civic Si a “Boy Racer” because there are an impressive number of women who are just as involved in the customizing and racing of these neuvo hot rods.

The real issue here is self-expression — there’s even a separate language, or nearly so, with terms that seem foreign to more aged hot rodder types such as myself.

The only term that I recognized from Honda’s Hot Rod Glossary was “slam,” which means to lower a vehicle from its stock height — synonymous with “hammered” or “dropped.”

Due to demand from both customers and dealers for the return of the Si version of Honda’s Civic, it has returned.

The “S” is for Sport, which Honda first offered in 1983, then in 1986, the Si made its debut (for Sport Injection).

That first Si model was powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder, multipoint fuel-injected engine that produced 91 horsepower and featured specific handling improvements as well.

The Honda Si provides enthusiasts what they have been clamoring for — a 2.0-liter DOHC i-VTEC, 16-valve technology, that delivers 160 horsepower with an 8,000 rpm redline, mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

Along with the power boost comes a sport suspension, five-double-spoke alloy wheels and 195/60 R-15 tires.

The Honda Si Hatchback comes across as fast, even when parked — nothing too far out of the ordinary at first glance, but in the upper rev ranges, the Si turns into a sizzling ride.

The Honda Si test car sported a Satin Silver metallic exterior finish complemented by a dark gray interior.

The base price was set at $19,000 with destination and handling charges bringing the final total before tax and license to $19,460.

The Si sits a bit lower than your average Honda Civic, and the chin spoiler and lower side sills accompanied by the low-profile rubber on multispoke alloy wheels tends to prompt admiring second glances from in-the-know automobile enthusiasts.

The rear spoiler, mesh front grille and dual tip exhaust are other clues to the car’s prowess.

The Honda Civic Si three-door hatchback provides today’s rodder with an ideal platform for custom personalization or for performance enhancement.

The car’s base price reflects the delivery of speed at an economical level. The handling characteristics match the power potential.

The ride is firmer than your average Civic, but not harsh or intrusive. The Si really shines through challenging twisty scenarios.

ABS brakes are now part of the Si package with Electronic Brake Distribution.

The car’s balance is outstanding and control remains intact through most performance oriented driving maneuvers.

The Honda Civic Si is not only a potential hot rod — it is totally acceptable as a turn-key performer. Controls are sensibly and well placed for optimum user-friendliness and the soft orange glow illuminating the white-faced analog gauges in the instrument panel at night bathes the interior in a nonintrusive warmth.

Seats are exceptionally supportive and comfortable, steering is positive, and shifting gears is smooth and positive as well with the center console-mounted (on the dash) manual shifter.

If spirited performance is your bag, the Civic Si is one especially cool form of transportation that lends itself to customizing or making severely cool, but beware of uncool fake models.

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