From rice to nice

My Hybrid Story
by Mike Yepes

It all started back in June of 1997 when I met this guy that was selling a B18C1 cheap because it he had cracked a piston due to an improperly tuned turbo kit. So I bought it. He gave me the engine, tranny, ECU, most of the mounts, and the wiring harnesses (both in-car and engine harnesses) for about $1000! Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, we’ll get back to that later.

One thing I would like to stress is to never buy an engine without proper paperwork (receipts). This will cause you a lot of problems (and will also suggest that the motor is STOLEN!). Even if the motor is legit, every time you get stopped, or have to get the car inspected, etc., someone will be asking about the motor. I didn’t get paperwork with my motor and it caused me a lot of stress later on, and probably will be an inconvenience in the future.

Anyways, I knew I was taking a risk with a damaged engine, but at least the tranny, ecu, head, and wiring would be worth something if the block was bad. At first, I tried to re-sell the engine for a profit, but no one wanted to pay more than $1200 so I kept it. I spent one Saturday tearing the entire motor apart with hand tools.

When you tear down a motor, get lots of empty boxes, a lot of zip-loc bags (both large and small) and a permanent marker. I divided all the parts up as I took them off the car and placed them in the zip-loc bags and wrote a description of the part with the marker. This will come in handy when you want to put everything back together since you WILL NOT remember what the hell any of the parts are. I had no fewer than 8 large boxes filled with parts and I used at least 60 zip-loc bags during this process. Even if you don’t know what the part is called, make something up and write it on the bag. When I was re-building my motor over a year later, I picked up the thermostat and read the baggie. I had written “radiator hose-to-block coupling thingy”. Jeeze, what was I thinking!

I started checking out turbo kits for my Integra GSR. I was planning on using this new engine for spare parts in case something ever happened to my integra. I talked to Chris at Pro Turbo and he gave me a list of turbo parts he recommended for my application (street setup, and some drag racing). But I would still need I/C piping, fuel pump, and an FPR of some sort (or other fuel control). The DRAG kits at the time were about $3000, not to mention that if you really wanted it to run great, you needed other things like a boost controller, turbo timer, injectors, etc. Then I would really need to build my bottom end with lower compression pistons and stronger rods to do it right. And then there was the smog issue. I would have to find a way to smog my car, either pay someone off, or take off the turbo stuff every 2 years. As you can see, it was really adding up. I figured that I could buy another car for the cost it would be for me to go turbo the right way.

So then I wanted to build a hybrid. I always had this thought in the back of my mind, but now I really wanted to go hybrid. At first I was gonna do a CRX. But at the time, there were no bolt-in kits for my particular engine, so you needed to have mounts welded. Then I would have to get a cable operated tranny. And there was that issue of wiring, hood clearance, ground clearance, and the suspension arms getting really close to the axles or something with a B18c in a crx (read that on the Hybrid Page!). So I figured that a 5th gen Civic would be the most economical in the long run. So the quest was on to find just the right car…

I frequently checked the classifieds online as well as in the paper. I didn’t realize how expensive used hondas were in SoCal. Out of curiosity, I checked the prices of CRX’s too. Many of the CRX’s in good condition cost more than a newer body style civic hb! I had found a couple of 92 hatchbacks for less than $4000, but I didn’t have enough money saved up for a while, so those were long gone by the time I had the cash. A while later, while talking to a friend, he told me that one of his buddies was selling a ’92 civic hatchback without the motor. Perfect! This is the civic I bought. It’s a white CX hatchback with black Si interior and GSR front and back seats. He was “supposed” to throw in the integra axles and integra rear disk brakes as well.

He drove the car to where I was working so I could look at it. At the time he had a turbocharged B16a in it, but he was keeping that for a future car. I made an offer and he said he would call me the next day or so because he still had to show the car to a couple of more people.

He called me back, and we made arrangements for me to pick up the car the following Friday. In the interim, he would be removing his current turbo B16a powerplant and then tow the car to the location of my choice. This happened in the first week of May. Two days went by (it was now Thursday) and then I couldn’t get a hold of him. Later that day, his mother called me and told me he had been pulled over and was in jail. Huh? Well, it turns out that he had an expired registration due to numerous unpaid parking tickets, speeding tickets, fix-it tickets, etc. He had a warrant for his arrest and had to either pay a huge fine or serve 60 days in jail. I really wanted the car though. Soooo…

Two months later I was able to pick up the car. He had lost the title, but he said he would apply for a duplicate title and get that to me. So I only paid him partially and held on to $500 as a retainer.

When I got the car back to the house, the front bumper was off, and I was able to see the hack job done by the shop that put in the I/C piping. Not only that, the front cross-member between the headlights was bent, so the hood didn’t close flush with the bumper line (about a ½” gap on one side). I spent the following Saturday cleaning out the car. That’s when I found out that the ignition stalk was broken away from the steering column. Actually, as time went on, I found a bunch of things that were wrong with this car.

The car had been lowered (actually slammed) by cutting some ST springs and still used the stock shocks. So the suspension had to go. I was planning on a Ground Control setup anyway, so that didn’t bother me too much. I slowly started getting parts I would need to put the motor in, and had called a few places about a rebuild. After getting prices (all of them high), I decided I didn’t want to spend $500 + parts having someone else build my motor, and I would do it myself. So I ordered the Helm factory service manual for a 95 Integra to guide me through the process.

The guy I bought the car from seemed like he really wanted to help me out getting this car together. When he got out of jail, he had no ride, since I bought his civic. He had purchased a salvaged integra that was stripped and was putting his B16a in it, but didn’t have any axles, so he asked if he could use the ones that were on the car I bought from him. He said he’d give me the ones he was ‘supposed’ to be getting rebuilt at a shop the following week. I said okay, and he came over and picked up the axles. He also asked if he could buy the in-car wiring from me that I had with my motor (I didn’t need it since the civic’s wiring was okay). So I let him take it. I also let him take the shift linkage I had, since the civic already had GSR shift linkage.

With all the buzz going around about stolen motors and stuff, I was in a shady situation. Since I didn’t buy the engine from a shop or salvage yard, I didn’t have any paperwork for it. Being a little concerned (understatement), I wanted to get the serial numbers checked out. You can’t get anything checked out over the phone, you have to bring the engine block to a CHP station to get it checked. I finally was able to get the block numbers checked by a police officer (through a hook up at work), and the numbers came up clean. So I figured I was good to go.

I continued getting the parts I needed to build the engine. I was able to get some B16a pistons and new Honda rings for about $200 from Steve Taylor. I ordered new rod bearings and main bearings from Acura. I found myself going to the Honda or Acura dealer every week, ordering miscellaneous parts for the project. It’s amazing how much money you have to spend on the little parts you need. You don’t know you need them until you get to a point and go “oh shit! I don’t have that!” I think the guys at Pep Boys know me as well.

Since I had the motor apart, I figured I might as well do everything I could to it. I dropped the cylinder head off at Portflow for a nice port and polish, valve job, and valve spring upgrade. I also had my flywheel lightened and balanced and the crankshaft dynamically balanced as well. If you ever have your engine apart, get it balanced! It cost only $75 or so to completely balance your engine.

Other items I picked up were a UR aluminum underdrive pulley, new clutch with a heavy duty pressure plate and six puck disk, and AEM cam gears. These I got at RS Motorworks. RS gave me good deals on everything and they also sold me an oil pan and a rear motor/tranny mount I didn’t have.

During this time, I was also fixing a lot of things on the car. I lowered the non-adjustable steering column, secured the ignition, played “body-shop-mike” and straightened out the front chassis cross-member with a floor jack and 2x4s. I also had gotten some nice 15” Daura ‘sports’ wheels, but when I put them on, I found out that two wheel studs were stripped. What was worse, is that one of them got stripped when I put the lug nut on it. By trying to get it off, I ended up stripping the splines off the back of the stud, so now, the whole stud was loose and turned freely. Arrghhh!! I must have spent like 5 hours drilling off that stupid lug nut just so I could take off the wheel and replace the stud.

I then ordered some ground control adjustable coil-overs (375/325), a set of GAB 4-way adjustable shocks, and a pair of ST sway bars (all from ground control). Turns out my rear shocks had to be back ordered, so I have to run the stock ones for a while.

I got a full gasket set from Transpac Motorparts in Carson, and also picked up some tools I would need to build the motor. I purchased an engine stand and a torque wrench from Pep Boys, as well as assembly grease and other stuff I would need to build the motor. I started assembling the motor in November. It took me one weekend to completely build the bottom end and install the cylinder head. All I did was follow the directions in the manual very carefully. The following Saturday, I installed the camshafts and hooked up the wiring harness. I was now ready to put the motor in the car. But I still needed a few parts, namely axles – from the guy that sold me the car.

*Tip. When you work on your car, don’t ever, EVER, wear any clothing that your girlfriend/wife/fiancé gave you, because you Will ruin it (well not in your opinion, since it can be used as a ‘work’ garment in the future, but to here, it is ruined!). And she will be very pissed. That’s not something you want to have to worry about when tackling a project like this. So try to wear old clothes (preferably the same ones each time you work on the car) or coveralls.

Okay, to make a really long story short, I never did get the axles the guy promised me, nor the rear disk brakes. It was now the beginning of November, and I had not received one thing from this guy. And I had the car since July! He owed me a radiator, axles, and also the value of the shift linkage and wiring harness I gave him. What’s worse, I still hadn’t gotten the pink slip!

To put it lightly, I was ‘stressin!’

After numerous phone calls and reply’s like “I’m going to get it next week”, or “My friend has one at his shop, and I just need to pick it up” I was getting really impatient. For a while, he would not return my calls. After I mentioned something to his parents about small claims court, he returned my call and wanted to work things out. I really don’t think he was purposely trying to rip me off, I think he was just really lazy and was bogging. But that didn’t stop me from blowing a gasket. And I was going to get my stuff, no matter what.

Finally, we talked and worked everything out. We decided that if he got me a radiator fan, we would call it even, since I still had the $500 I held on to (thank goodness). We went down to DMV and filled out the forms for a duplicate title and transfer of ownership. Then I purchased the remaining parts I needed from Jerome Soh from Soh-Fast Used Honda Parts. And I did get the radiator fan I was promised.

It was mid November now and I wanted to get the car ready for the December 12 event at Willow Springs so I could show all the Hybrid guys my newly built car (ahem!).

I went over to RS Motorworks, and Rich said he would rent his hoist to me. I was able to drop the motor in the car over the 1998 Thanksgiving weekend (Saturday to be exact). When I was lowering the motor in the car, I had a lot of trouble getting the mounts to line up just right so I could put the bolts through. I spent like 1.5 hours trying to get the motor in, so I called up Rich at RS for some advice. He asked if I had first loosened the motor mounts. I didn’t. So I then loosened all the mounts and everything bolted up just fine within like 5 minutes (doh!). I did have a slight problem with the rear mount though. The last bolt on the lowest part of the mount didn’t seem like it wanted to go in. I had 3 of the 4 bolts in so I figured I’d bring it to RS after I got it running for them to look at.

So now the motor was in and I plugged in the wiring and clutch line and started working on the axles. I had a hell of a time getting the passenger side axle to seat into the differential. Again, I asked Rich and he told me how to do it and it popped right in on the first try. I bought an Integra radiator for the civic (the car had previously been modified to accept a ‘teg radiator) and it dropped right in. I did have to customize the top brackets to hold it in place though. Some sheet metal straps from Home Depot did the trick (but for temporary purposes, I used electrical wire to hold it). The car was finally ready to startup.

I added new oil and coolant and left the plug wires disconnected so that I could turn the engine for a while to circulate the oil. When I first turned the key, I heard the fuel pump turn on and all of a sudden I see a stream of gasoline shooting out like 4 feet over the front of the car – Oh shit!! Turns out the little service bolt on my fuel filter was missing, so off to honda to order a new one. But more importantly, the starter only moved for a split second then stopped. I temporarily plugged up the fuel filter service bolt and tried again. The starter was dead. Dammit. I tried manually jumping the starter with a wire going from the battery to the starter signal. The starter jumped for a split second again then nothing. What the? So it was time to trouble shoot the starter.

I figured I may have fried the starter, because earlier, when I was hooking up the battery terminals, I accidentally touched a wire from the relay box to the frame and created a mad shower of sparks. I switched batteries with my Integra, no dice. I quickly blamed my friend Paul for frying my starter (he was the one who told me to hook up the wires that had caused the sparks).

The next day, I removed the starter. I was planning on taking the one off my Integra to try, but decided to test the starter one more time out of the car. I placed the starter on some blocks and hooked it up to the battery and made a loop. To my surprise, the starter turned and worked fine! Then I was confused. I looked at my engine for a while and checked the wiring and was stumped. I was thinking about it all the next day and then realized I didn’t have a ground wire connecting the tranny to the frame. Could that make a difference? So I reinstalled the starter, hooked up the ground wire, and jumped the starter again from the battery. Viola! It was turning. I then apologized to Paul – not! :-]

By the next weekend, I finally had all the parts I needed to start the engine. But wouldn’t you know it, I had to work that Saturday. But I was able to sneak away early, hehe, and would attempt to fire up the car for the first time!

I was the only one around on this breezy December morning. I slowly opened up the garage. It was quiet and cool inside. I double checked the oil and secured the plug wires. I climbed into the driver’s seat and placed the key into the ignition. I made sure the shifter was in neutral and pushed the clutch in. I took a breath and turned the key, not fully knowing what to expect. Would it start? Was my timing belt on correctly? Did I install the rod bearings right? Lots of things raced through my mind. Almost immediately I heard a bump, ba-bump,ba-bump-bump-bumpbumpbumpbump-brooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmm! OH MY GOD!

It was running!!!!!

I jumped out of the car and thrust my fists up in the air and did the ‘Rocky’ victory dance. I was dancing in a circle in front of the car, I was so exited! I was….. uhh, *sniff* what’s that smell??… Smells like… Oh SHIT!!!!

There was a rather large 4 ft puddle of gasoline accumulating from under the car. I quickly killed the engine and looked under the car. I saw the gas dripping from the drivers side. It was the fuel return line. I hadn’t tightened the hose clamp enough. So I got my screw driver and tightened that sucka down. Good thing gas evaporates pretty quickly. I wiped up the remaining fuel with a shop towel and fired up the engine again. It purred like kitten. Well, a rather large kitten, since I didn’t have the exhaust hooked up yet. And the check engine light was on as well…damn.

After about 10-15 minutes of idling, I decided to take it around the block. It stuttered badly at 1500 rpm, but that’s it. I also noticed that whenever I stepped on the brakes, the cruise control light would go on (??). This was an EX dash though, so I thought maybe there was a conflict with the ecu.

I got the exhaust connected at a local muffler shop and then shorted the service connector to check the MIL codes. I got a code 14 and a code 19. I looked in the Integra service manual and found code 14: Idle Air Control valve. But I couldn’t find code 19. THERE IS NO CODE 19 on a GSR ecu!! Hmmmm.

So then I grabbed the ecu out of my GSR (a second car comes in handy) and put it in the civic. But first, I put the other ECU in the GSR and started it up. Immediately the check engine light went on in the GSR. Uh oh… So then I drove around the block. Hmmm. No vtec!!! And the ignition cutoff was at like 7000rpm. MOTHERF_CKERS!!!! Gave me a non-vtec ecu (probably from a civic DX!).

It turns out that the ecu I got with the motor was for an automatic non-vtec civic. The code 19 is for the automatic transmission shifting solenoid. So the guy had slipped me the wrong ecu, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a hold of him now (his old phone # had been disconnected). So now I have to switch ecu’s every time I want to drive the car until I have enough money to buy another GSR ecu. The civic now ran much better with the correct ecu, although it still had the code 14 and the resulting hiccup at 1500 rpm (but was now much better). And the cruise control light doesn’t come on anymore when you brake. At least I would make it to Willow Springs the next weekend and be able to show it off to all the Hybrid guys there were going to be there (Ahem!). I had only a few days to drive it as much as I could to break in the motor.


During the week I took off work early from work one day (you know, you get sick sometimes) to work on the car. I installed the front swaybar, but wouldn’t you know it, the bar ran right next to the flange connecting the catalytic converter to the exhaust. It was actually touching the bolt. I was able to flip the bolt around so that the protruding, threaded end was pointing toward the rear of the car. This gave me about 3mm of clearance. Now, when ever I started the car, the bar would rattle against the exhaust flange every so often (mega-annoying). Whenever you accelerated and caused the front end to lift, the bar would deflect and rattle against the flange (so it happened all the time). I figured I’d fix it later and moved to the rear sway bar. I needed to drill a couple of holes in the chassis for the beefier brackets, and I didn’t have a drill. So I installed everything I could except the bar.

Friday night, I re-installed the front bar. This time I didn’t install one side at a time like before. I took both front wheels off and placed the hubs on blocks and then lowered the car so that the suspension would be loaded just like if the both wheels were on the ground. This was to make sure that the sway bar was not preloaded or under stress during normal driving conditions or when at rest. Just by doing this, I was able to get a little more clearance between the bar and the exhaust flange. Previously, the bar was not in a relaxed state and was slightly deflecting when the car was at rest, pushing it closer to the exhaust flange.

Then I got to the rear bar and started to drill the new holes. I was mounting up the rear bar, and then realized that my exhaust pipe was in the way, just like Joe R’s car. Damn! So then I started thinking about Willow and going around with just the front bar (I thought about understeer). So I took the front bar off and decided to try the car with no swaybars for a while. I then put in new brake fluid and bled the brakes. I replaced the other stripped wheel stud and made some new radiator brackets with sheet metal. I was as ready as I could be for the next day at Willow.


So I wake up early and drive out to Willow springs. But where are all the Hybrid guys?? Turns out That I was the only hybrider there ‘cuz all you losers had stuff “come up” (just kidding). Anyway, the car was surprisingly neutral and tended to oversteer - a lot! I didn’t push the engine, since it was recently rebuilt (less than 400 miles). I also discovered that my steering rack is loose and needs to be replaced (argh, another thing to fix!).

I still had a problem with the rear motor mount (mentioned earlier). Like I said, I couldn’t get the last bolt in there, so I think the engine was moving a little more than it should have been. Rich from RS said that it was probably because I was a novice engine swapper. I left the car at his shop for a day for him to do it. He was thoroughly stumped when I returned, because he couldn’t get the lowest bolt in as well. We ended up undoing all the motor mounts and lifting the engine up again to try a different mount. It turns out, that the rear mount I originally bought was for an automatic transmission. The only difference is the spacing on the lower two bolt holes. There is about a ¼” difference in spacing. Not enough to really notice just by looking at it. After we switched the rear motor mount, everything bolted up perfectly.

I since got the rear of my exhaust redone and re-installed both sway bars. The car handles really nice (a bit firm, but that’s okay) and corners very well. I put in some CTR cams (thanks Eric B!) and the motor really likes to pull! I’m planning on getting an AEM intake and a header soon (possibly a TB) and then getting it tuned by Erick at Zero Factory. As it is, it’s pretty quick. It already feels quicker than my GSR. *Maybe* high 13s on street tires. We’ll see soon enough.

---------------Registration Stuff-----------------

I had obtained a temporary permit on the car so I could drive it until the registration process was complete. I had to get a smog check, and since the vehicle had a salvaged title, I would also need a brake and light inspection, and also a VIN verification inspection. I was able to pass smog, and I was going to get the VIN inspection. You have to go to CHP to get this, as they check vin and engine numbers. Anyway, I go to CHP for the inspection. The officer asks me questions about the motor, and proceeds with the inspection. After about 20 minutes, he tells me that he needs my car keys and he has to keep the car because the motor may be stolen. What???? I thought I had this checked out already! They had my car for 4 days! It turns out that the police officer who originally checked the number, checked only the engine number, which came up clean. CHP checks the engine number and then matches it to the VIN of the original car. The car that my engine came out of was stolen in 1996, but was later recovered. The recovery report stated that the engine and transmission were still in the car when it was recovered, so it was clean. Apparently, some items were stolen from the engine bay, and the CHP wanted to know what those where (probably an intake system or something), so he held my car until he got a copy of the recovery report. Talk about major stress. With all the stolen GSR’s in SoCal, I was about 99% sure I would not get my car back with the motor. I was sooo happy that Saturday morning when the CHP officer called me and told me I could come pick up my car! And now, whenever my Civic’s VIN is run, it will show that it has an acura engine!


So that’s my story. If I had to do it all over again, would I do anything different? Yes. For one, I would’ve made sure I got a motor that had paperwork. More money, but the piece of mind is nice. I also would have got a different car. Preferably a stocker that was already running. Although it would have been more money initially, it would have saved me a lot of time and money fixing a lot of little things on this other car that had been someone else’s rice-boy racer. But the car looks pretty good now and performs very well. The experience I gained building the motor and putting the car together is invaluable. And in the end everything worked out.

And I’d like to thank everyone on the Hybrid board for helping me out. There are too many of you to mention, but without you guys and the Hybrid Page, I would have not been able to put this car together by myself. And it’s great to know that because of you guys, an average guy like me could do all this in a garage!

Thanks again!!


*Update…I finally got my rear GAB “super R” shocks. It turns out that GAB discontinued the US style of rear civic/Integra shocks, so I had to get the JDM style ones. I picked up a pair of Type R/88crx lower control arms and swapped them in. Now I’ve got all four adjustables, and the car handles even better. And I’m now pimpin’ the cool JDM ‘spension stylez! =)

all text and images by Mike Yepes
layout by joe_r

Visit Mike's web site for more stories and pictures

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