By on January 25, 2016

1991 Honda Civic Si

The “Si” badge has always denoted something special from Honda, from the ’85 Civic and CRX that flaunted the new-fangled fuel injection on the sport model to the not-quite-a-Type R that will hopefully be gracing our roads later this year. Honda fanatics will continue to debate the best, but my favorite Civic generation has to be its fourth, popularly known as the “EF” Civic.

Honda apparently didn’t like the U.S. at the time, as other markets were blessed with hotter engines, some with VTEC to boost high-end power. It took enterprising enthusiasts, some with more energy than money, to develop a trend to swap these powerplants into American-market Civics.

I recall test-driving one such swapped Civic, put together so poorly that the shift lever — not the knob, mind you, but the entire lever — came out in my hand on a 3-2 downshift.

No, I didn’t buy that car.

I briefly tested another that had such awful rust that the carpet provided the majority of any protection to my feet from the road surface. The stench of patchouli in the car, incidentally, was another turn-off, though I stopped for Doritos on the way home from that particular drive.

The twin terrors of rust and hack hotrodders have yielded a dwindling number of clean Civics for fans like me who can finally consider one as a toy. The seller of this 1991 Honda Civic Si in Omaha clearly sees the scarcity, but might be reaching in asking over its original MSRP for this example.

These Civics are such a joy to drive that I can see someone parting with the cash. The handling is such that this generation Civic has become the de facto “car to have” in a couple classes of national-level SCCA autocross, with dozens showing up and taking trophies every year.

No, I wouldn’t spend $11,000 for this car, especially when I could buy a competitive autocrosser for less than half. (I think I still have jorts that fit.) But, even in the oh-so-’90s turquoise, this looks magnificent.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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51 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1991 Honda Civic Si...”


  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    The turquoise colors from the early 90’s are unfortunate.

    • 0 avatar
      Opus

      and yet so much better than the ubiquitous bland GRAY that is popular today

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        YES COLOR IS COLOR!

        I hate it when searching AutoTrader for a particular make and model and you get say 95 matches. Then you fine tune the colors and say NO – black, silver, grey, or white. BAM! Suddenly you have 30 matches.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          You love Diamond Dust, quit playin.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Now when buying used naturally it is foolish to be choosy, miles/condition/price are the chief considerations. My Highlander is Magnetic Grey Metallic and looks quite fetching with deeply tinted windows. However my wife swears that there is some “blue” to the paint – which my eyes can’t see for the life of me.

            Diamond dust or opalescent pearl white is referred to by my sweetie as “Old Man White.”

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Ha,

            This weekend my parents bought an 11 Highlander in that very color, to replace the 09 Pathfinder which they’ve always hated. It looks very charcoal to me, and I don’t see any blue in it. Haven’t seen it in person yet, but I hope they finally got leather seats like I’ve been telling them to for years.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I owned a 1990 white Civic LX sedan with five speed for nearly 15 years and it was an excellent car. It was entertaining to drive and dead reliable despite having been driven hard and bashed around on construction sites. The only unscheduled repairs were for a resistor block, some CV joints (probably due to the aforementioned bashing), a muffler, and an engine pulley. Other than those repairs, basically nothing broke, fell off, or stopped working. As far as I am concerned, Honda was at its peak as an auto manufacturer in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      +1

      Mazda was also at its best during this time. If Honda dealers weren’t so awful to deal with, I’d have stuck with the brand. I gave them a shot in 1993, but it was the same high-pressure, “market adjustment” BS I got in ’85 when I bought a Civic, so I ended up in a Mazda Protege. I drove the hell out of that car for 12 years.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        @FreedMike,

        Since my bro owned 1992 Protege and I owned 1998 Protege and 90 Civic, I give my self right to disagree. Until 1995 Protege was not as quality as Civic. With 97-98 probably most reliable Protege ever.

        But Protege had one interesting advantage over Civic – non-interference engine. Where Civic had to go for timing belt service, you didn’t really have to do it with Protege. Case in point – I drove mine for 16.5 years and 195K miles without timing belt change. Then sold it in perfect running condition.

        • 0 avatar

          That 2nd generation of Protege had an amazing amount of usable interior space given it’s external dimensions. The handling was perfect too, you just point the top of the steering wheel where you want to go, no mid-corner adjustment. I never had another car with steering so direct, and that includes an NA Miata and the other 2 generations of Protege. Unfortunately mine had the 1.5 liter engine with 89 horsepower. Despite being lightweight and dog slow, mine returned 28 combined mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I had one just like that on picture, only 1990, light blue, non-si, 4spd man. It still was fun car. My problems with it were – Muffler, O2 sensor, alternator. It was perfect pizza delivery vehicle in sub-rural area with lots of small curvy roads. I crashed it at 167K. However, 98 Protege proved that car can handle pretty good without beating your back in the process.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I mean yes it’s very clean, but the price is just silly. And it’s in the WORST color available for that car at that time. Quite seriously any other color is preferable.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Also, is this really turquoise? I would see this car driving about, and call it teal.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      It’s kind of a tweener:

      http://tinyurl.com/gv75pyw

      And I loves it!

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      I think it is kind of a tweener too; though I think that is due in part to age; it was probably turquoise when new.

      These colors really awesome on a clear spring or fall day; the sky reflecting off of them almost makes them glow. It really stands out; especially in sea of silver, white, black and red.

      https:[email protected]/24239330209/

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Not sure about the SI part, but these old Civic hatchbacks are a common sight in Québec. Most are horribly modified vehicles.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Slight correction, Chris…the ’85 Civic had a carburetor, and the sportiest one was the 1500S, which I owned (and loved). The Si, which was fuel injected, didn’t come out until ’86. If I hadn’t been upside down in my ’85, I’d have chucked it in on a Si in no time. Unfortunately, my ’85 was way upside down because I’d put so many miles on it (sales job), and at the time, Honda dealers were so deplorable to work with that making a nuclear agreement with North Korea would have been easier. It hadn’t improved much by the time the car in your article came out. It turned me off to the whole brand for probably 20 years.

    But I’m in agreement about this Civic – it was just about perfect. And I love the time machine aspect of this car – AMAZING condition!

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I too owned a ’85 1500S Hatch (Red over grey) and my brother had the stripper DX model (in light blue), but he later upgraded to the ultimate “Civic” a yellow CRX Si. My 1500S was my first true car love, everything about that car awesome. I previously owned a Mustang but the Civic was so much better. Granted in today’s world it was laughable acceleration, but at the time it seemed downright quick. The 5 speed was awesome, I could actually shift without the clutch by getting the timing just right. With the rear seats down the hatch would gobble up everything due to the big square opening. Handling was razor sharp and of course highway fuel mileage would mimic Prius levels. I put 160K on my using it all thru college as a delivery vehicle, often racking 150 miles a day between school and work. Exactly 2 things broke on that little car: a leaky value cover gasket and the fan speed control. I beat the crap out of mine, it was lowered (which tore up the CV boots) plus had a stereo system that most likely doubled the weight of poor thing. However it was just a good honest car. The dash, the controls, the seats, the visibility… it was basically the perfect car. I loved my Civic so much I added power windows to it to make going thru the toll plaza easier because I was doing to much driving. After I got married my wife got a ’93 Civic EX sedan while I moved onto a ’89 Prelude Si. Sadly today I wouldn’t take a Honda if you gave me one.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’d take an Accord for sure, but the outgoing Civic was severely disappointing. Heard good things about the new one, though.

      • 0 avatar
        jorwin

        Can attest to FreedMike’s comment. Currently drive a 2014 Accord with the six speed and it’s been a very pleasant surprise. Not exactly the most neutral handling, but definitely exciting and ‘lively’ when you throw it around on a good tight road

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      I had an ’83 Civic HF Hatch, and I loved that thing. It was woefully low on power, but got 40mpg whether I drove the highway, or delivered pizza. Other than that, it was tossable and fun to drive. Unfortunately, my father took over as primary driver and wound up hitting a deer… the only time that he’s ever done that. I miss it, but with two kids, it would be impractical now.

  • avatar
    VW16v

    I should have kept my old Civic SI. Great car, never broke down like my friends Scirocco and GTI’S. That Civic is probably still running.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Ah…the two door hatch…something you don’t see anymore. Sadly, most now have either completely rusted out, or are so modded that they are nearly unrecognizable. And I actually kind of dig the color on this one!

  • avatar
    Willyam

    Had a 91 myself, a red DX. Four (yes, four) speeds, rubber floormat, dealer add-on armrest, stereo from JVC, and dealer add-on A/C. Manual everything else. Little thing got 35+ mpg no matter what you did, NEVER broke, and sounded like a sewing machine at all revs (well, it didn’t make enough power to hurt itself).

    At 130k it went to serve another unappreciative owner. Often wish I still owned it, but at what price boredom?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Ha-ha – I had exactly one like that – dealer added AC and 14′ wheels. Plastic leather seats – I had to buy seat covers. Unfortunately I crashed mine at 167K. But it opened room for 240SX, which I loved as well. 240 was a year older than Civic but it was like a space ship vs it.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    When these cars were new, I had two friends, who weren’t acquainted, that baught the same car. White, ’91, SI Civics. It was kinda funny. Both cars were a hoot to ride in and drive. One guy drove his like it was a roller coaster, the other, pampered his. Unfortunately, the guy who pampered his is now deceased. Who knows where the car went? The other guy had his repoed. Typical abused repo car. Both results were sad, unfortunately.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I liked this body style more than the next model update “jelly bean” styling. These ones had more useable interior space while the next ones looked bigger and bloated outside while not being any bigger inside.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    This car was so perfect at the time. A friend had a white Civic Si Hatch after college. It was fun, comfortable, roomy, had amazing visibility, economical, and could carry practically anything.

    If it were even remotely possible to meet current crashworthiness standards with this car, I bet Honda could still sell it today. It still looks modern.

    To be fair, we probably would have preferred a first-gen Acura Integra at the time but it was out of reach, financially. His GF had one of those and it was larger and more comfortable with a real twin-cam engine that seemed crazy revvy and powerful compared to what we were used to.

    I can’t even imagine a top-level of a model these days coming with crank windows and no power steering, but we never missed it back then. If I recall correctly, the hatchbacks and CRX models never had power steering.

    My GF in college had a Civic sedan from this era and, even with an automatic, was so pleasant to drive compared to any American small car available at the time. Honda was truly heads above everyone else in the market from the late 1980s through the early 1990s.

    After our family Buick Regal self-immolated one day while parked on our driveway, it was replaced with a 1987 Accord LXi. We still remember that car fondly. It felt like a sports car with that super low front end and huge windshield. More importantly, it never had any mechanical issues, even after my mother went 18k miles without changing the oil.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Love those “mini-Supra” Accords. I had the previous gen, without the pop-up headlamps. Great car.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Yes the lack of power steering was one of things that made these cars so enjoyable to drive. The feedback from the wheel was immediate and precise. It was a real driving experience, you were truly connected to the car and the road, where as today’s cars seem to be nothing but a ride along experience. The only downside was once you fitted some wider, gripper tires the lack of power boosting gave your arms a workout at parking lot speeds.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        JMII, even the hydraulic units were excellent in my opinion. When my family switched to a 2007 Fit with EPS, I was appalled at the “video game” sensation of driving the new car compared to the old Civic Wagon. The Fit also felt like it had a higher center of gravity and softer suspension, I didn’t feel as comfortable whipping it around corners as I did in the old, go-kart-like Civic.

        • 0 avatar

          When people complain about how big or soft the Civic has gotten, there are always people who say “Buy a fit, it is the size of the old Civic”. They miss the point and don’t realize the Fit lacks the charm of the old Civic.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    My family owned a Wagon variant of this generation of Civic, in metallic brown, FWD, automatic guise. Bought with 60k miles in 1995, it provided many happy years of city-runabout duty and even several family vacations and ski trips, before finally being sold in 2007 with 167k miles on the clock (replaced with a base model stick shift Fit). The handling on that little car was just incredibly fun, but it really beat you up over bumps. Ours had some sort of rare casting issue on the head or block so the headgasket was replaced when we first bought it. After that it was an alternator replaced some years later, a string of cheap Monroe mufflers that kept crapping out (replaced free under warranty), and in the last few years of life an upper control arm, lower ball joints, CV axles, and a rusted out gas tank. Before we sold it, it got hit lightly when parked, the offender’s insurance co. cut us a check for $1300 to get the dent pulled and painted, I buffed it out and then sold the car on craigslist for $1400, we put the $2700 towards the new Fit. Sharp looking little car when I sold it, me being a highschooler I installed 99-00 Si alloy wheels with regular 65 series tires so it inadvertently ended up with crossover-esque ground clearance, the lower airdam spoiler from a 94-95 Accord, and some modest looking driving lights in the lower grill. Rust was kept in check (visually) with a lot of bondo, decently matched paint, and a ton of elbow grease.

    I’d love to find a clean RT4WD wagon with a manual transmission, they got the Si’s port injected 1.6L (D16) vs my plebian variant’s throttle body injected 1.5L (D15B2). The throttle lag with the lesser system was obnoxious IMO.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    Looks exactly like the ’91 we used to own. Loved that color, and like most Honda’s of that generation well screwed together and a delight to drive. Taught my kids how to drive a stick with it. Other than the usual half shaft replacements, 100,000+ miles of no real issues. The light steering of small cars of that time can never be seen again, and it fulfilled that wondrous position of being a whole lot of fun without the necessity of smashing speed limits to smithereens.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    So nice to see a real Civic, as opposed to the bloated, overstyled pig that the latest model has become.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    As a certified member of the Cult of Early ’90s Honda (and ’95 Legend owner) I love these cars. And this one is configured exactly right except for the color, and beautiful to look at. But $11k is just insane. If you really want the 1991 Civic feel you are going to have to spend a bunch of money on top of that replacing mounts and bushings. All of a sudden you’re in new-car territory.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    “Honda apparently didn’t like the U.S. at the time, as other markets were blessed with hotter engines, some with VTEC to boost high-end power.”

    I think this was moreso Honda not wanting to step on Acuras toes, never-mind the drastically different body styles.

    I view Si Civics like I do all other Hondas of that time period, reliable but overrated, well-loved but yet always modded (why mod a perfect car?), a few weeks in salt would chew up the under side.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I actually loved this generation of Honda Civic. I absolutely lusted after the wagon version back in the day. But on a quiet afternoon you could hear they rusting in the showroom.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I think this is overstated. Yes they rusted, but not 80s Alfa rust or even 1980s Toyota/Honda rust or 1990s Nissan rust. Our Civic Wagon lived in the epicenter of salted roads for its entire life, and aside from the rear wheel wells (which I kept in check), the rest of the car held up great. After 17 years (!) the bottoms of the doors were finally starting to bloom on the inside seam, but the car still looked good. No rust on any roof pillars, the hood, bottoms of the front fenders just had small 1 inch areas that were bubbling up. Brake lines were original, it was only the fuel filler neck that finally let go. No structural issues such as rotten subframes or anything. Again, after 17 years in salted road driving and my parents parking a slushy car overnight in a heated garage (worst thing you can do).

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        90% of these were off the road here in <10 years.

        They certainly have no special reputation for reliability here – they didn't last long enough. Our annual inspection is very efficient at removing rusty cars from the road. An amount of rust that nobody would bat an eye at in the Midwest is a sure inspection failure in Maine, for better or worse.

  • avatar
    hawox

    here in europe those hondas were boydreams!
    yes we had the hotter engines but cars were much more expensive. japan cars were imported only in high spec to reduce the effect of taxes.
    civic vtec used to cost something like a bmw 3 series or like a fiat croma turbo. an affordable jap rocket was the lovely suzuki swift.

    as a child i often rode in a crx, was an absolute beast that car i’d take it over any ferrari of the period.

    the civic vtec was one of the best compromise in car history, grandma (yes the grandma!) of a friend bought one. years later my friend took it as first car, i bought a similar aged golf gti. the civic simply demolished my golf every single time. better handling, better steer, better gearbox, better mpg…. and was also reliable.
    no surprise they are getting expensive

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    I had a 1990 Civic, base model. 4 speed, 70 hp, dealer-installed AC, me-installed stereo. Best car I’ve ever owned. Stupidly sold it to buy an Infiniti J30 when I got my first real job.

  • avatar
    davew833

    This is one of those cars I always thought I’d own someday, and then poof- they were all gone. My girlfriend had a red one in about ’94 and it was fun to drive. I still tinker with old Hondas– I’ve got three 3rd generation Accords- 2 ’89s and an ’87 LXi hatchback that I just picked up at an auction for $90. Yes, that’s right, $90. It was a non- runner but after the sale it took me 10 minutes and a new main fuse to get it going. I’m guessing by the crocheted sunvisor covers it had that someone’s grandma owned it originally. None of the three have any rust. I think when the apocalypse comes the only things left alive may well be old ’80s – ’90s Hondas and cockroaches.

  • avatar

    Old Honda’s and Toyota’s are my favourite cars. This model of Civic is just beautiful. Shame about the colour of this one! There are still some really nice examples of this model cruising around in the UK, but I don’t like it when people mod them so much that it looks too over the top. Kind of spoils the retro simplicity.

    Get the mix just right and they are something special to look at. It doesn’t top the CRX though for me.


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