The Hoonigans Garage Welcomes Historic Civic Drag Car
Built and raced by Stephan Papadakis 20 years ago, tube-frame Civic front-drive hatch dragster is the hottest one of them all.
Over two decades ago, Titanic became the first film to make $1 billion gross at the box office. Nearly 100 percent of pagers (plus a few gas pumps and all of NPR’s stations) lose their connection when the Galaxy IV satellite miles above failed. Google is born, as are XXXTentacion and Jayson Tatum, while Sonny Bono, Wendy O. Williams, and Phil Hartman bade their farewells.
Another birth at the time: a nine-second, front-drive drag car in the form of a Honda Civic hatch, built and raced by Stephan Papadakis. Today, Hoonigan John Naderi welcomes this magnificent piece of history into the Hoonigan Garage for a closer look at what made this Civic the hottest hot hatch ever made.
“I’m here with what is arguably the most influential Honda ever,” said Naderi. “In my eyes, this is the most influential Honda in the Honda community because this has done so many firsts. You were first into the eights, first into the nines, first to 150 [mph], first to 160 [mph], first to 170 [mph].”
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Papadakis says the Civic was built in 1998 through 1999, “at a time when front-wheel drive drag racing was really starting to be popular.” The car was also the first tube-chassis front-wheel drive dragster ever put together. The front clip and doors are fiberglass, the roof, A-pillar, rear quarter panels are from an EK Civic, and all are mounted onto the tube chassis.
“I had a ’91 Civic Si with [a] Prelude 2.3 H22 engine, turbocharged.” said Papadakis of how this Civic was born. “It was already running 10.60s with that engine swap. The car was so beat up from notching the frame rails, and trying to get that big engine fit into the little Civic. Shaun Carlson [and I] ended up doing a tube chassis to the front of the ’91 Civic.”
Though the Civic did well with its upgrade, the duo thought it could perform better if the rest of it was tubed, as well. From there, they decided not to use the 1991 model, but opted to use the then-current 1998 Civic as the base for the yellow beast before our eyes now. According to Papadakis, the car had set its nine-second record in a private test run prior to what had been hoped would be its record-setting outing in public; thus, the nine-second run it made in public was the second time it hit the milestone.
The floor is one sheet of fragile aluminum, thus Papadakis and Carlson welded a steel plate near the pedal box for the driver to step upon when stepping into the Civic. Papadakis says everything was about finding the lightest parts to use, including the seat belt, which is wrapped around the NHRA-spec roll cage.
Alas, the reason the car was retired was that the duo “couldn’t do more than two or three runs without breaking the Prelude transmission that was in it.” It may have something to do with the immense power from the custom motor up front.
“Back when we were building this, there was a lot of parts on the aftermarket that just weren’t good,” said Papadakis of the H22/H23 stroker engine, “so I really tried to use as much factory stuff as possible. So, I’m gonna use the H23 crank and the H23 block to get a 2.3-liter setup, and then we’d [use] forged rods and pistons.”
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A lot of OEM pieces went into the Civic’s motor, including the head bolts, which Papadakis says were replaced “every time the engine was reassembled” due to stretching issues. All of those bits, plus whatever custom ones were needed, allowed the H22/H23 fusion to make 650 horses to the fat front slicks, most of which came from a GReddy Mitsubishi turbocharger.
The underside of the Civic is barren from the engine back, aside from the NHRA Pro Stock-style front suspension now mounted to the rear. The rear brakes were aluminum discs, as they were only used for helping to keep the car’s power in control prior to launch, while the front discs are carbon. And speaking of the front, the front end is 10-inches wider than that of a stock EK Civic, thus giving this Civic a teardrop shape that can be easily viewed from the right perspective, per Papadakis.
“We actually went to a lot of car shows and stuff like that with this,” said Papadakis. “The whole car show scene was really big, like Import Show-Off and Hot Import Nights… this car has a bunch of trophies that it won at car shows… It was fun to share the car and talk to people about it.”