This urban-survivor Civic has become a full-on hooptie, and I still love it

1992 Honda Civic next to I-25 in Denver.

Sort of like that comfortable old T-shirt…the one that’s more holes than cloth and is soaked with hantavirus

What is a hooptie? Sir Mix-a-Lot explains it best. When I was a broke-ass slacker living in Oakland in the early 1990s, I recall little kids yelling “HOOPTIE! HOOPTIE!” as I rolled down Seminary in my primered-out ’65 Impala sedan. A quarter-century later, I own a clean Coach Edition Lexus LS400… but I find I still spend a lot of time behind the wheel of my fifth-generation Honda Civic DX hatchback, a car that made the transition from “somewhat rough but still semi-presentable” to “property-value-lowering hooptie” while I wasn’t paying attention.

1992 Honda Civic on Denver street

I live in a fairly nice Denver neighborhood, a place where high-end Japanese SUVs, high-maintenance German cars, and Outbacks with “26.2” stickers line the streets. When I take my Civic out, I get a lot of disapproving looks from the locals. But it gets better fuel economy than a Smart Fortwo, I could tell them. Look how lovable it is! All they see, however, is the peeling clearcoat, the hail damage, the evil-looking Fit steelies with Primewell PZ900s. I don’t care much, because this car, this hooptie, is the best vehicle I’ve ever owned. It took nearly ten years to earn that place in my heart, a decade of 100% reliability under treatment varying somewhere between neglect and abuse.

Roof dent caused by bass amplifier

It’s a pretty generic EG Civic, which means it endures regular theft attempts by thieves who want cheap parts. My bass-player friend, Mike, bought it in Chicago when it was a year or two old and used it to haul his gear to gigs around town. Later on, he moved to San Francisco, and life on the mean streets of those notoriously rough-on-cars cities took its toll. At some point, Mike got in a bad wreck and his amplifier bashed into the car’s roof, making a strange-looking 3-cornered dent that sticks up. All these things add character to a car.

Murilee Martin driving 1992 Honda Civic to Reno-Fernley race track

Mike’s girlfriend couldn’t parallel-park his Civic (the manual steering is, admittedly, a little on the high-effort side), which was a problem once they started living together; if you can’t get into a space four inches longer than your car, you will never be able to park in San Francisco. So, he offered me the car at a can’t-refuse price, and I added it to my fleet.

I’d owned a lot of first- through fourth-generation Civics and CRXs in the past and (in spite of certain drawbacks) had liked all of them. This car came to me with something north of 150,000 miles, a 5-speed, air-conditioning, and— weirdly— a trailer hitch. The body was battered and there was a bit of Chicago rust here and there, but overall it was a fine machine. I was driving an ex-Sheriff’s 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor at the time, and it too was a fine automobile, but the Civic wormed its way into becoming my everyday car without me quite noticing the process.

1992 Honda Civic with Talking Skull brake lights

A couple of years after obtaining my “extra car,” I started doing this automotive-journalism thing. This resulted in, for reasons that made sense at the time, a comparison review of the then-new Audi R8 versus my ’92 Civic DX hatch. Later on, I installed screaming-skull brake lights in the cargo area, and the relays that once actuated the skulls can still be heard clicking when I hit the brakes nowadays.

1992 Civic full of junkyard parts

When I decided to form a 24 Hours of LeMons team and build a race car, the Civic’s cargo area, with its little tailgate, became invaluable. A lot of parts have been hauled in this car over the years.

Citroën ID19 emblem on 1992 Honda Civic DX

When I saw a Citroën ID19 at a U-Pull wrecking yard, I grabbed the emblems and installed them on the tailgate of my Civic. Wouldn’t you?

1992 Honda Civic with Chrysler 318 block in cargo area

When I moved from California to Colorado five years ago, I thought that I’d need to get some sort of four- or all-wheel-drive vehicle; my new wife had an Outback (this is mandated by Colorado state law), but I figured I’d pick up something like an IHC Scout or Subaru Justy to drive during winter months (OK, I wanted an excuse to buy one of those vehicles, and still do). As it turned out, my Civic handled even fairly deep snow pretty well, provided I ran snow tires.

Adding bilge water to Civic radiator

All this time, the idea has been that I’ll replace the 103-horsepower D15B7 engine that came with the car with a B18C1 out of an Integra GS-R. I’ve got the engine, transmission, ECU, and all the rest, and of course I’ve harvested a complete package of Integra brake and suspension parts. The old D15 just keeps running, though, and I keep postponing the Big Upgrade. However, the Civic overheated like crazy (you do not want to overheat Honda D or B engines, because they like to blow head gaskets when they get slightly warm) on the way to the All You Can Carry Junkyard Sale, and I am forced to admit that my first thought was Hooray! It’s the head gasket fore shore! Now I will be forced to do the engine swap! Nope, turned out that a leaky radiator-hose connection had drained the coolant out… so we found an energy-drink can on the ground and used it to transfer icky mosquito-breeding water from the bilge of an abandoned boat into the Civic’s radiator.

Fun with bilge water in a 1992 Civic

This extraordinarily hooptie-ass repair worked perfectly, the head gasket was fine, and I’m so confident in this car’s ability to survive anything that I still haven’t gotten around to replacing the mosquito water with real coolant yet.

Honda B18C1 engine in garage

Pretty soon I’ll get around to upgrading the Civic to GS-R specs, though it is in competition for my time with projects including the Kustom Korona, a 1966 Dodge A100 Custom Sportsman van, and an extremely ridiculous 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe sedan project. For now, I am content to love my hooptie.

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