It’d been something we’d been mulling over for a while, and now it was reality: we had a rally car!
Even just typing this feels surreal. It is the culmination of a dream, one that I’ve harboured ever since watching Lancia Delta integrales dancing over marbled gravel on television as a kid. It was beyond impressive, the millimetric control of Kankkunen as he negotiated stages at a speed that should, by rights, have spit him straight at the nearest firm obstacle. I remember it being exciting beyond comprehension, one of those ‘I could never do that!’ moments.
In my career I’m lucky to sample great cars on great roads and tracks, but it’s remained in the back of my mind since the Lancia flashed past my screen: for the purest driving hit, it had to be on the gravel.
Thankfully, I have a father-in-law who, thanks to a chance half-day at Rallyschool.com.au, has acquired a similar thirst to get rallying. I haven’t fully converted him, mind – he included a ‘must be convertible into a track car’ in our purchase agreement – but I’m working on it!
After deciding on a course of action our search commenced in mid-2013. We wanted something forgiving to drive, without the complexity of turbocharging or all-wheel drive systems; we were at the beginning of a steep enough learning curve as it was.
Initial thoughts, guided by ex-Nissan Motorsport Europe manager Alan Heaphy, were towards the Classic spectrum, though the cars considered were apparently completely stuffed, or so comprehensively specified they went beyond our price range.
It was becoming disheartening, but as ever in life (at least in mine), when the intensity of searching for something dies down, the opportunity you’re after presents itself.
‘Honda EG Civic rally car – Fast for tarmac or gravel’ read the ad.
The specs looked promising, with much of the hard stuff done – vital for a couple of blokes with near-zero mechanical ability.
Gravel 50mm DMS suspension with ride height, bump and rebound adjustment drew my eye, as did the KAAZ limited-slip diff. But as I read further, it kept getting better. Included was a 2.5 ratio steering rack, carbon bonnet/tailgate (and a polycarb window kit, not yet fitted), ASR adjustable rear anti-roll bar, Integra DC2 Type R front anti-roll bar, Hardrace front lower control arms, front and rear camber arms and bushings, Function7 rear control arms and a DC2R brake conversion, including rear discs and braided lines.
Under the bonnet of ‘our’ Honda Civic rally car was a special engine; a JDM-spec ‘B18C’, also from a DC2 Integra Type R. The jewel-like 1797cc naturally-aspirated four-pot produced 149kW out of the factory, the famed VTEC cam-change occurring at 5600rpm before belting to an 8400rpm redline. Better still, the seller had just given it a major service. Sitting on HASPORT mounts, the B18 also had upgraded hoses, Mugen thermostat and switch, a lightened crank pulley, a Xenocron-chipped ECU and Toda extractors into a 2.5-inch exhaust.
A chromoly flywheel and sprung button clutch transferred drive to the desirable S80 five-speed Type R gearbox in N3E specification. But once again, the seller had gone further, slotting in shorter ratios for third (1.695), fourth (1.296) and fifth (1.000), for even more rapid acceleration on autocross tracks. Being a 1999 model donor driveline also meant the Civic gained thicker factory drive shafts over the Australian-delivered variant – these are worth their weight in gold!
Yokohama ADVAN rims were the tarmac choice, but there was also a set of heavier-duty 15-inch rims with Hankook R201 gravel tyres in 185/60/15 size to go with the car.
We quickly decided to make the two hour trek to view the car with a couple of mates in tow. After six months of largely fruitless searching, the Civic ticked every box immediately. For us, there were still a couple of items to add, primarily a CAMS-approved roll cage, but we were immediately hooked. A deal was done, and the ADVANS were slapped on to drive the thing home on a permit.
Now it was ours, we quickly learned that a standard Civic GLi tachometer (with its 6500rpm redline) had no chance of keeping up with the maniacal Type R motor as it revved like a superbike with the shortened gears. But boy, did it sound good.
The car was driven to the Performance Parts and Engineering facility in Hallam. The PPE workshop would become the Civic’s new home, ducking out only to be caged by Freak Motorsports’ Peter Van Waart, who had just completed one for Jim Richards’ Porsche Cayman S Targa car. He also fabricated some alloy underbody protection, in preparation for our first gravel ‘shakedown’ to be held at ARC driver Brendan Reeves’ private facility. The Civic was now ready, but were we?