Sporty Civics would eventually become very familiar in the form of the Civic Si and CRX Si – introduced in Japan for 1984 and a year later in the U.S. But before there was an Si, there was the Civic S – the very first “sporty” Civic, which first appeared on the Mk2.
The “S” was more of a cosmetic performance package than a mechanical one, but it helped plant the seed for what was to come.
The original S came along near the end of production of the second-gen Civics, which had been introduced in the summer of 1979.
Honda’s 1982 Performance Push
The proper “Civic Si” would not debut until the fall of 1984 in Japan (and even later in the U.S., but more on that later), but the fall of 1982 marked a major performance push from Honda at home and abroad, and the Civic S was part of that.
The JDM City Turbo and the global Mk2 Prelude (a considerably faster and sharper car than the original) both debuted that fall, and both were aimed squarely at performance car buyers. By then the Mk3 Civic’s design was complete and the car would launch the following summer. With plans for a dedicated hot hatch Mk3, the run-out Mk2 Civic S made an easy, cheap-to-produce warmup act.
The Mk2 Civic got a significant facelift in early 1982 with rectangular lights, a new grill, and new bumpers, but the car had not significantly changed since its introduction. Unlike many Japanese cars, the range of engines in the Civic was small and similar domestically and internationally.
U.S. Civics came with either the 1.3L EJ or the 1.5L EM, while two other 1.3s, the EN1 and twin carb EN4 were used internationally. All were CVCC designs. The “S” used only the 1.5 in the U.S. or the twin-carb EN4 abroad (an engine shared in the U.K. with the Triumph Acclaim).
With the car late in its cycle, the easiest way to spice things up was to fit revised suspension pieces, tires, and wheels – and that’s pretty much the substance of the original Civic S. Firmer settings all around, a rear stabilizer, and Michelin 165/70 R13s.
Looking the Part
But the car looked special – a big red S badge adorned the blackout grill, the wheels were painted and used trim rings, the chrome was mostly blacked out, and the car was available in just two colors – red or black (black cars had red accents and stripes). Nicer, sportier looking fabrics were used inside. All “S” Civics were three-door hatches.
The Mk2 Civic was a sharp handler and even sharper as the S, although the more expensive S wasn’t any faster than a $500-cheaper 1.5DX. Around for only a short time and a spendier version of what most consumers viewed as an economy car, the Mk2 “S” is very rare now.
The Civic Si bowed in Japan in the fall of 1984 with a potent 1.6L twin-cam. The S continued in the U.S. on the 1984 Mk3, and the U.S. didn’t get an Si until the CRX Si in 1985 (with a 93-hp SOHC engine). North America’s first Civic Si bowed in 1986, again an SOHC model similar to the federalized CRX Si. Not as potent as the JDM version, but enough to get (and keep) buyers genuinely interested.