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Everything you’ve heard along the lines of “now’s a tough time to buy a car” is true. The simple reality is that supply is scarce and demand is high, and what’s worse, it seems to be the case on everything from modest getaround cars to high-end exotics. For those of us who are tragically addicted to car collecting but aren’t millionaires, it’s been frustrating. I got so bold as to broaden my search parameters to simply “anything remotely interesting,” but I’m excited to report that I just landed one of my favorite cars of all time: An eighth-generation Honda Civic Si.

My wife and I are currently renting a house in the Hudson Valley of New York, amidst a horde of other Millenials who are exodus’ing New York City in this new era of working from home. My father-in-law, a lifetime car nut and a suit at a BMW store, got a line on a beautiful E46 330ci with a ZSP package (nice wheels and suspension) and a manual transmission for me to use up here, and I didn’t hesitate to grab it.

I wouldn’t consider myself a diehard BMW boy, but the price of $4,500 was far below anything similar, especially because this one came from the original owner (with service records back to her taking delivery in 2003) and included a set of snow tires mounted on BMW OEM steelies. What a score, I thought!

A silver BMW E46 parked among other BMWs
This isn’t one of the more extreme E46s, but the ZSP package does unlock those nice wheels, a three-spoke steering wheel, and great seats. Pair that with the M54 inline-six and you’ve got a nice little touring car. Larry Powell

My lady thought so too, and before I could get license plates she swooped in, snagged the title, went to the DMV, and claimed the damn thing. “Don’t worry, you can drive it whenever you want,” she was sweet enough to say. Yeah, but I wanted something I could modify and mob down mountain roads in the middle of the night and take my frustrations out on at track days. I was never going to be able to thrash wifey’s wheels with a clear conscience, so back on the hunt I went.

At this point, you’re getting the picture that I am lucky enough to be searching for a toy car, not essential transport. Indeed, this Civic I just picked up is now the sixth vehicle in my squadron including my wife’s E46 and my GSXR motorcycle that’s permanently mothballed (I don’t like riding it anymore but I still enjoy looking at it).

That said, my whole collection cost me less to buy than a brand-new decent-spec Accord would. So don’t get the impression I’m trying to, you know, flex or anything.

The key to building a cool collection of cars on a modest budget is balance (unless you ask my friend David Tracy who has, I think, nine Jeeps). Frankly, I would argue balance and diversity are key to owning a lot of cars on any budget. Even if you’re sultan-level loaded, it’s a little goofy to have the same car in three different colors. OK, fine — parts cars and donor cars for projects don’t count.

Once I’d secured that BMW, I realized I suddenly had two viable daily drivers (that and my Montero) and I could get a little more reckless with my next acquisition.

Here’s a little rundown of my fleet and how it’s used:

  • 2003 BMW 330ci: Daily driving, road trips.
  • 1998 Mitsubishi Montero: Daily driving, camping trips, overlanding.
  • 1975 International Scout: Summer country road cruising, “beach car”.
  • 1991 Suzuki GSXR750: Retired, now used for display only.
  • 1984 Nissan 300ZX: Canyon cruising, retro touring vibes. Stashed in Southern California.
  • ?: ?

At first, I just started poking around for anything remotely interesting that I could buzz around in while my old trucks hibernated and hid from road salt this winter. When I say I opened my search parameters way up, I’m not kidding. I responded to ads for a ’70s Fiat, a ’60s Triumph, modern pickup trucks, a 1945 Dodge Business Coupe, some Honda Preludes, a Toyota Celica, a first-gen Mazda RX-7, an Infiniti G20, a bunch of Integras, many Civics, a few Mitsubishi Eclipses and Eagle Talons, one enormous Cadillac, a BMW Z3, a Miata, a few old Porsches, and honestly, dozens of others. I was considering everything from $2,000 crapcans to $20,000 cars I’d need to take out a loan on.

After a couple of weeks, something became painfully apparent: Nobody wanted to sell me their cars. Via listings on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, CarGurus, and AutoTrader, most people wouldn’t respond to me at all, and the rest were really vague and sketchy in their communication. In fairness, I did most of my hunting in the $3,000 to $5,000 range, which is challenging in the best of times, as there’s a lot of junk listed at that price point. But what can I say, I like cheap cars.

I eventually ended up connecting with a couple of dudes and checking out some cars. My favorites were an EF (late ’80s) Civic Si and a P10 (early ’90s) Infiniti G20, but neither one was quite nice enough for me to break out my bankroll on.

A month-plus into searching, I took a step back and took stock of my situation. Clearly, I was hankering for a sport compact car. That’s my most beloved category of cars; that’s what kept catching my eye in searches. Something light and fast that liked to be driven hard was undeniably missing from my lineup, and for the sake of my sanity, something that’s not too tough to maintain would be a smart move.

I sent a message to a guy selling a heavily modified first-gen Eagle Talon (an all-wheel-drive turbocharged 4G63-powered monster), but just as I was thinking, “my God, how the hell am I gonna keep that thing alive,” I refreshed the local Craigslist one more time and my eyes lit up at the sight of a 2006 Honda Civic Si.

The ad was concise, written legibly, included a phone number, the pictures were miraculously unpixelated (all those common courtesies are rare nowadays), and, could it be? The damn thing was listed just 30 miles from my NY place. Perfection. So was the spec on the car — the Civic had a few mild mods, but it also had extremely low mileage (just about 108,000) and clean paint, which is extremely rare for these.

I Landed One of My Dream Cars After the Hardest Used-Car Hunt of My Life
Andrew P. Collins

The ad had only been up a few hours when I contacted the seller, and when they replied, “come by at 5 after work if you want,” I knew I had no time to waste. For sure, this car would be sold within 24 hours.

I’d been sleeping next to a stack of hundreds for weeks in anticipation of just such an occasion, so I stuffed my coin into three envelopes. The car was listed for $6,800, which I thought was pretty reasonable. I put $6,000 in one envelope, which would be my first offer if I liked the car, $500 in another so I could go up if I loved it, and the other $300 in a third in case I just had to have the damn thing.

I had a feeling I was kissing my money goodbye as soon as I pulled up next to the car. The body looked great, the stance was incredible on some spindly five-spoke wheels and Eibach lowering springs, and I loved the way the previous owner had removed the “Civic” and “Si” badges and made the “H” emblems black-on-black. Super cool. The seller told me the wheels are Enkeis, but I’m not sure if they’re real or reps yet. They do have “JWL” (Japan Light Wheel Alloy) stamps, though.

I Landed One of My Dream Cars After the Hardest Used-Car Hunt of My Life
This isn’t a great picture, but I love this angle. Andrew P. Collins

The only hesitation I felt was when I opened the door and fired the thing up. The ad had warned of a Skunk2 Megapower cat-back exhaust, which I knew from research would be loud, but holy hell. It is intrusive at idle, and under load and revving, it is downright preposterous. I was also pretty turned off by the odd interior smell and cigarette butt burns on the driver’s seat crotch area. Obviously, one of the many previous owners (Carfax was clean but reported six owners in 14 years) had been a smoker, and the seller had made some sort of effort to improve the cockpit smell.

I was impressed with the fact that the car had been aggressively detailed, though, another thing no other seller I’d encountered had bothered to do. “No accidents, but it has had paintwork,” the seller explained as I looked over the body. Indeed, most eighth-gen Civics had clearcoat issues and look crappy now. As I continued conversing with the seller, he explained that he worked at a body shop, and the car was resprayed. It makes sense, I suppose. If he had the inside line on cheap paint labor, of course he’d respray, so I bought the story. Still, I scrutinized gaps and lines as best I could.

A steel oblong shift knob
I can’t for the life of me figure out why somebody installed this shift knob upside-down, but it feels nice. I think it was made by Skunk2 but it’s not branded. Andrew P. Collins

The paint job was decent, solid even, but not amazing. I also found a few missing trim pieces, one window switch acted wonky, and the gauge cluster was cloudy as a swamp from what appeared to be an irresponsible application of a cleaning product. No dealbreakers there, though.

We took a quick test drive, and once I confirmed the transmission shifted nicely and VTEC engaged properly, I was sold. I loved this thing. Unfortunately, the obscene volume of the exhaust made it tough to tell if the car was making any other weird creaks or rattles, but a Honda with 108,000 miles is a relatively low-risk car. Even if it had some issues, parts wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as pricy or hard to find as most of the other cars I’d been interested in.

The eighth-gen Civic Si, sold from 2006 to 2011, has actually been one of my favorite sport compact cars for a long time. Arguably the last of what you might call old-school high-performance Hondas, it has no turbo, needs to be revved to the moon to make power, doesn’t weigh too much, has an incredibly satisfying shifter, a decent aftermarket for customization, and a nice simple look. You could order it as a coupe or sedan, with navigation or without, and in 2009 the car received some minor aesthetic updates. I think most prefer the sedan, but I’m a fan of the two-door. I also really appreciated that this car was a non-navigation model — I’m starting to hate screens in dashboards as I age.

After offering $6,000, we settled where I expected to: $6,500 plus $50 for the guy to deliver it 30 miles to my house.

I’m genuinely thrilled to have found this thing. Now that I have license plates for it, I can start to shake it down and see just how bad a job I did evaluating it as a used car when I inevitably find all kinds of annoying things to fix. Oh well, this is a car I think I could keep forever, and if it’s anything like other Hondas I’ve owned, another 150,000 miles should be no problem.

You can expect more updates on this thing soon. For now, please enjoy a few more pics:

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