Drivers’ cars on a budget, part four: Tuner specials

Drivers’ cars on a budget, part four: Tuner specials

Welcome to part four of ‘ Drivers’ cars on a budget ‘ where we highlight two of the most tuner friendly cars of yesteryear. A naturally aspirated Honda Civic (Turbocharged here) and the father of turbo petrols in India, the Skoda Octavia RS. Which car should you pick to win that street race? We help you decide!

Honda Civic – Affordable whack

The Civic was never turbo-charged. It of course got the 1.8-litre i-VTEC that took off from where the City VTEC left off – all crazy revs and big smiles. Just like in the City, the Civic too was all about an intoxicating engine mated to a phenomenal transmission, to the point where you overlooked the fact that it was too low for Indian roads, it scraped its underbelly over speedbreakers, and the suspension was so soft it made passengers sick with its constantly unsettled motion, not to mention the propensity to bottom out.

It’s the reason why the Civic has aged rapidly and a car that is less than a decade old can be had for just ten per cent of its value when new. And with that as the starting point, well, the world is your oyster.

The car you see here is a tuned Civic. Forget any Mugen badges because there’s no Mugen in this car; the car has been turbocharged by Red Rooster Performance in Bangalore and is currently maintained by our technical editor in Pune. With stock internals the turbocharger can boost power up to 70bhp, though on this car the standard 130bhp has been cranked up to 180bhp so that it can run, reliably, on standard petrol without additives. You can always crank up the boost depending on your mood, or more importantly the fuel you’ve just tanked her up with. And it goes like stink. It sounds like a Fast-and-Furious tuner car, the turbo whistling, exhaust wastegate exploding, and dustbin-sized exhaust growling in symphony. There’s no way of hiding turbo lag in tuner cars and here the boost really kicks in hard at 2500rpm, lighting up the front wheels in the lower gears, steering squirming vigorously in your hand, your eyes popping out at the way the speedo numbers rise almost as fast as the revs. And then you upshift and it happens all over again, all fire and brimstone. Japanese tuner cars are really something else and the reliability of Japanese engines allows extracting big horsepower without the worry of being stranded by the roadside on a Sunday drive.

Turbo-ing to the spec you see here will cost Rs 4 lakh including the turbo, intercooler, piping, ECU, exhaust headers and downpipes. Or you could buy a used tuned-Civic like the one on these pages for Rs 4 lakh. What you should also slap on, for just a lakh of rupees more, is a set of performance dampers, like Teins, complete with electronic damper force control where you can vary the damping (like in Mercs and BMWs) from sporty-stiff to comfy-soft while eliminating all those bottoming-out issues of the Civic. It’s a worthwhile investment ensuring great handling and thorough exploitation of all that performance. Add up the numbers and you’re looking at big performance 180-200bhp! – for less than the cost of a new, base-spec Swift.

Skoda Octavia RS (Gen 1) – Old spool

The Gen 1 Octavia RS introduced India to turbo-charged petrol engines, 148 manic horses when the next best was the 106bhp City VTEC. Can you imagine the tizzy it sent enthusiasts into? And these horses are all unfettered by any fuel efficiency or emission throttling so it really goes. The turbo lag, the vigor with which it comes on boost, it all amplifies the impression of speed that is very fast even by today’s standards. The car here is lovingly – and I mean looooovingly – taken care of, by a Bawaji, and it still has the plastic wrapping on its sunroof. It runs Bilstein dampers that lower the already low ride height (speedbreakers are a problem), a Revo programmable ECU for even more punch, and two vacuum cleaners along with five sets of cleaning cloth to feed the madness. That we even managed to get it for the shoot when there was one cloud in the sky is a big deal. This car is 15 years old but doesn’t look or feel it.

“The octy rs introduced india to turbo petrols. 148 manic horses when the next best was the 106bhp City VTEC”

Drive it though and you can see why Byram loves his car. It goes even harder, even faster, even more eagerly than the tuned Civic. The Octavia always handled much, much better than the Civic, the heft and weight of German engineering adding a cushion of stability and security to the light and flighty Japanese construction.

Today you can get this first-gen Octy RS for the same price as a standard Civic and that makes the former a no-brainer. Sure a Skoda will not be as reliable as a Honda and neither will parts be as easily available or even as affordable. But no matter how many Mugen badges you put on a Honda, an RS badge on a Skoda will always have more street-cred. And if you can find a Combi RS, oh man, you have my respect.

Missed part 3 of Drivers cars on a budget? Read it here

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