One of the highlights on the Honda stand for the 2019 SEMA Show will be a tuned 1999 Honda Civic Si, taken from the company’s heritage collection.
Set to be placed alongside a range of modified modern Hondas, this 20-year-old example demonstrates just how far the company, and tuning trends, have come.
But what is it that makes this compact coupe such an icon of the import tuning scene?
Gonna party like it’s 1999
Can 1999 really be that long ago? From worries about the Millenium Bug, to the debut of The Matrix in cinemas, the sixth-generation Civic Si coupe inhabits an era old enough for this car to classed as ‘heritage’ by American Honda.
The sixth-gen Civic Si was sold for only two model years between 1999 and 2000, making it a relative rarity. But it finally brought the mythical B16A2 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine to the United States Civic.
Previously featured in the open-top del Sol two-seater, the B16A2 produced 160 horsepower at an incredible 7,600 rpm, and would rev all the way to an 8,000 rpm redline. It would also accelerate the EM1 Civic Si from 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds, with the accompanying aural kick of the DOHC VTEC system.
Up for the challenge
Honda had clearly sensed that the Civic Si coupe would have major appeal to the tuning scene, and used is part of the eponymous Civic Si Challenge in 2000.
This saw competitors invited to spend a $10,000 budget to create the ultimate street, drag, or show car version of the new Civic Si. The cars were then subjected to a number of tests, designed to evaluate who had done the best job.
The car set to be featured at SEMA this year was created by Super Street magazine, who won the top prize in the 2000 contest. Along with the glory of winning, a 1:18-scale diecast replica of the finished car was created by Mattel.
Think less Plain Jane, more blank canvas
What the Super Street-created car did was show the inherent potential within the Civic Si. On leaving the factory, the standard car was a fairly indistinctive-looking two-door coupe, with only a handful of small decals to show how special it was.
Yet that was simply a blank canvas for modifiers to put their own personal stamp on the Civic shape. You only need to look at the ‘shopping list’ of parts on the SEMA Civic, featuring brands like Wings West, Momo, and Racing Hart to understand the range of options tuners had available.
A price of $17,445 in 1999, slightly more than a base V-6 Ford Mustang, also made the Civic Si accessible to a wide range of potential owners. Honda does not have exact figures, but estimates around 30,000 of the two-door Si models found homes between 1999 and 2000.
A screaming VTEC legacy
The affordable and tunable legacy the 1999 Civic Si left, is one that Honda is still keen to pursue today. The current 2020 Civic Si Coupe might be turbocharged, and won’t rev to 8,000 rpm, but it does cost only $25,200 and comes with 205 horsepower.
A $25,000 price tag is also what buyers now need for the finest unmolested examples of the EM1 Civic Si, like this one which sold on Bring a Trailer last year. That may seem a lot of money for a simple Honda coupe from the 1990s, but it demonstrates the impact this car had.
Although other cars on the import tuner scene may have had more power or fancier designs, the humble Civic Si managed to be an accessible starting point for many into the world of VTEC performance.