Meguiar’s “Portrait of an Icon” 2020s-Era Shoot Featuring LJ Garcia’s FEEL’S Civic…


(NOTE: I wrote an entire novel on this car so please continue only if you love this car as much as you love reading. This is comprehensive information on everything I know about LJ Garcia’s FEEL’S Civic to-date…) 

Let me start-off by saying that I am so glad I decided to take on this project for Meguiar’s. When I was first approached about this concept by RJ De Vera, I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to do it or not. He’d never know because I acted so confidently about it but I was very close to saying no. I was going through some personal stuff at the time and wasn’t really motivated to do anything. All my insecurities were boiling over when I was asked to take on such a huge project for such a well-known company. Meguiar’s has literally been around for over 100 years. To produce something that would not be ‘good enough’ in their eyes is mortifying. I didn’t know if I had it in me. But, I told myself that I’d take on new challenges this year and really see how far I could extend myself creatively. I think it was around 2017 when I had a bit of an epiphany. One day I was working next to my-then significant other, I turned to her, and proclaimed that if I’m not producing my best work moving forward, I would stop doing The Chronicles. If I’m not creating and bettering my previous work every year, there’s really no point in me doing this. Because at that point, I would know that I wasn’t having fun anymore. It meant that I didn’t have it in me to challenge myself…

I thought about that a lot after RJ came to me with the concept. He told me to think about it, told me who else was going to be on the project with me (which didn’t calm my insecurities, lol), and in his ever-so-chill attitude told me to simply ‘let him know’. He also told me to come up with a number, as-in, a dollar number because it was a paid gig. I thought long and hard about it because I knew that what I had in front of me would pretty much shape my entire year. It was a 5-month-long project, but so much planning and physical work would be involved that it would consume much of my time. I didn’t think about whether or not it was worth my time, because I knew it would be. It was just a matter of believing in myself enough to prove to Meguiar’s that my work was worth theirs. I thought about it for a few days, those days led to weeks, and ideas started trickling into my head. We agreed on a number and off we went…

I believe in 2021, in the face of a pandemic and unable to travel, this project (in its entirety) is some of my best work ever. Some would say my work in Japan was probably more important to the culture, but from a creative standpoint, in terms of creating something from scratch, this is IT. The more I thought about it, the more I understood why RJ chose me to do Meguiar’s “Portrait of an Icon” series. It gave me the opportunity to touch on one of the most important aspects of preserving anything worth-having—Nostalgia. As someone who has been around for over a decade now with a rich catalog of content and the ability to tell a story, I was kind of the perfect choice. I’m also at a position where I bridge the gap between the older generation and the newer car enthusiasts…

Hopefully you guys have seen the previous four pieces that I created for the last four decades. It started-off very simple with the 1980s-theme. I wasn’t really sure how to kick it off and was still very much trying to gauge what everyone else was doing on the project. I looked to my peers to see how deep they were willing to go. It wasn’t a competition or anything, but it is human nature to compare so I wanted my work to be able to stand with, and possibly eclipse, that of my peers. I think it was important for Meguiar’s to choose people who do very different things and have different styles so it didn’t inadvertently come-off as a competition. And they did just that. My peers unknowingly pushed me to be better with every piece—and they didn’t even know it. After I came to an understanding of what we all were getting ourselves into, my creative brain exploded with ideas. I really ramped it up with the 1990s-piece and it just took off from there. After everyone saw the photos from “The Popping 1990s” shoot, I think they really saw how important and meaningful this project was going to be for the automotive community…

So often I get approached with projects like these but I’m always hesitant to do them because I hate the idea of “sponsored posts”. I don’t like that image or idea that I’m trying to sell you something I don’t believe in. That’s just not me. I don’t sell-out, you know? So I’ve always remained on the outside looking in when it came to being a part of the corporate machine. I prefer to operate that way. With Meguiar’s it was different because, again, not only have they been around for over 100 years, it’s also product that I’ve used my entire adult life. I’ve also built cars that have been sponsored by them so they’ve always been a believer in what I do. One of the ultimate factors in me deciding to take this on was that I didn’t have to ‘promote’ anything. What they wanted was something that came off very natural. To put it frankly, I didn’t have sell anything. They just wanted their product line to be an ‘easter egg’ in the photos. Whatever was created just had to have their product line, be it physical or color-themed, represented…

I made no effort in trying to hide product in the photos. I made it pretty blatant actually, lol. But I also never had to directly say or point it out to my audience. The product is there because they’re cutting the check. What was created from that check would not distract from the message. And everyone understood. That is exactly why this was perfectly-suited for someone like me. People get me and they know I wouldn’t just be out here making sponsored posts to make some quick money…

For the final piece to the “Portrait of an Icon” series, I broke the rules a little bit—but let me explain. Originally, we were supposed to create something based on the 2020s. We’re currently at the very beginning of it, so it’s all very predictive. We have no idea what will ultimately happen, but we have a general idea that we’re leaning towards the coming evolution of the electric vehicle. I want nothing to do with that. I know it’s coming and eventually we will all just have to accept it. There’s no way around it. In our lifetimes, we will see the last of the gas-powered vehicles, and that’s sad for us automotive enthusiasts. Electric is the way to go but it doesn’t provide that same level of excitement and satisfaction that comes with a hobby we’ve all grown-up with. I know many of you feel that same way so I wanted nothing to do with creating imagery that promotes that certain future. Instead, I went the other way. As a preservationist, a photographer, and a seeker of nostalgia, it was the only way to go…

After I uploaded my “Import Tuner”-themed shoot featuring Jenn Q and Sean Stell’s FEEL’S widebody Civic, it made me realize just how much people appreciated that era. For all the people that hated that style, they can’t deny that it was an important time for the automotive tuning community. The response to that piece was incredible. I had no idea people would respond in that way and enjoy it so much. Everyone understood what I was trying to execute. It was a colorful time that needed to be showcased in the proper light and with some careful planning. It all came together exactly how I had envisioned. Though the photos were met with acclaim and reverence, a part of me was slightly bothered by how often Sean’s Civic was getting confused with LJ Garcia’s FEEL’S build. To me, that car was iconic, and there would undoubtedly be comparisons. But the thing was, people weren’t comparing. They just believed it was the same car. And I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Maybe because the assumptions meant that people didn’t truly understand the importance of what LJ Garcia meant to the import scene. What I shot for Meguiar’s was an homage to that time, Import Tuner’s work, and LJ. I just didn’t want people to remember that conceptual piece as the only lasting image of that time…

“Isn’t that the old yellow car?”

“I remember when that car used to be yellow!”

“Wasn’t that car blue at one point?”

It seemed like people were forgetting or misunderstanding the significance of that ‘old yellow car’

The thing is, I always knew where LJ Garcia’s Civic actually was. I’d always kept a quiet eye on it after I saw it emerge on Craigslist one day as a dilapidated shell. It was sad to see it in a state of disrepair. A part of me wanted to buy it and save it, but I just didn’t have the space, nor did I want to invest in it financially to bring it back to life. The car belonged in a museum. It should have never left the Petersen Automotive Museum. But some years ago, it switched hands and it started to fall apart. What happened between the time LJ let it go and how it ended-up in pieces on Craigslist, I am not sure of. I’d actually like to talk to whoever does know the history of the car during that time…

The person who purchased the car off the Craigslist ad was a guy named Eric Dickerson. If the name sounds familiar, you’re probably in the Honda community of old and know the username “Edick”. He’s got a bit of a history in our community and it isn’t necessarily a great one. I’m not going to elaborate further on it since the man has passed away. I don’t speak ill of the dead so I’ll leave it at that. Eric took on the task of trying to restore the car to its former glory. From the photos I saw on Craiglist, the car was in a very rough, disassembled state. I imagine someone just tore the car part and tried to sell the parts to make money off of it. The shell was left for dead. It seemed like an extensive task to restore the car but Eric is a particular type of meticulous so he probably saw it as a challenge. I had not communicated with him during those years but I wondered what he was able to salvage. The last thing that I heard was a rumor that he was able to somehow find the original 19-inch Racing Hart C5 wheels for the car. That in itself was interesting because the C5 wheels were very unique. Back when they were first purchased, nobody knew what wheel offset and ‘stance’ meant so it was strange to see a set of wheels actually fit the FEEL’S widebody kit with a nice fat lip on it. Garcia was really ahead of his time by figuring out how to measure and custom-order these C5s from DAZZ Motorsports. To be able to find the wheels that many years later is wild since it was so specific in its sizing. I thought there was no way it’d be possible but then again, the world is smaller than you think and he definitely inquired through the right people to find the wheels again. However, I wouldn’t believe it until I saw the car again with my own two eyes…

Eric Dickerson passed away unexpectedly on November 28, 2016 with the FEEL’S Civic still in his possession. A few years after that, Angel from Art of Attack, then Nemo’s Garage, acquired LJ’s old car as a part of an estate sale. Eric’s father had been trying to clear out some of his assets and convinced Angel to acquire the Civic as part of a deal to purchase an NSX. The Civic was barely movable at the time. It took some work to get the car onto a trailer because the old air suspension was all but broken. Angel didn’t touch the car after he bought it and kept it under multiple car covers so no one recognized it. When Nemo’s Garage became Art of Attack and moved to a new facility, the Civic went back on a trailer to be tucked away in its new home. Nothing had been moved since the car was purchased so the bumpers remained stuff inside the car until I physically pulled them out myself in 2021 when I filmed the Vlog episode…

Between 2016 after Dickerson passed away until a few days ago in 2021, the car remained frozen in time…

I don’t remember exactly when it was that I found out, but I heard through the grapevine that Angel had LJ’s old car in his possession. After I posted the 2000s-era shoot for Meguiar’s and saw everyone’s renewed interest in LJ Garcia, I had an idea…

Coincidentally enough, the universe works in strange ways and Angel also shared a photo of the Civic on the Art of Attack IG feed. People who knew he had the car started messaging him and tagging him in my post…

It was then that he also explained to me why he had the car in the first place. Everything made sense. I just had to find the right time to go over there after I finished the 2010s-iteration of the project…

The concept for “The Electrifying 2020s” would be fairly simple. No extensive artwork, no elaborate theme, and nothing to do with electric vehicles. I would approach this with the idea that people like me who were preservationists would head into the future honoring the past. Instead of moving on into the unknown future, there would be plenty of enthusiasts who would invest time into restoring projects from the past. The value with restoration and preservation is to honor the past in the 2020s…

That was my spin on it anyway.

I just really wanted to shoot LJ Garcia’s Civic.

This was a bucket list item for me. The last time I saw this car was probably at a Hot Import Nights event 20 years ago. How crazy was it that I’d be able to see it again? And then to be able to possibly be the only person to get to shoot it inside and out with a modern-day dSLR? That’s insane. Photos of this car, in a relatively put-together state, have not existed in at least a decade….

This was going to be special…

If you haven’t seen what it was like when I initially first step foot into Art of Attack and saw LJ’s Civic, check out the Vlog first:

I think the Vlog gives a unique perspective that I can’t put into words. Documenting the process on video was also vital to me…

Now we can dive into the actual photos that I shot that afternoon…

I had a little over two hours with the car by myself which was amazing. Just to be in that space undisturbed to do as I pleased was a real game-changer…

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I went into this shoot not really having any idea what I’d be presented with when I arrived. Art of Attack was a shop that I’d never been too before so I was neither familiar with the layout or where LJ’s old car was positioned. Knowing that it was hidden from sight, I expected it to be away from the rest of the cars that resided there. It also wasn’t lost on me that the car was not exactly movable without assistance…

Wanting everything to go smoothly, I went and rented a set of strobes to light the car. Again, I didn’t know how bright it was or if the car was just sitting in the dark. So using flashes would be my best bet to make sure that car was lit-up correctly…

I arrived and noticed that the car was placed directly under a large skylight. It cast the perfect amount of light down onto the Civic that we had just pulled the car cover off of…

It was as if the car was meant to be there, placed purposely to be lit-up. All of this was sheer coincidence of course, because nobody thought to ever shoot the car. The aged shell had been placed there and never looked at again. Angel even offered to clean the shop-up so it would look better. I told him to leave everything as-is. I wanted a messy shop because it would only add to the ambiance…

As fate would have it, I later realized while setting-up the lighting that the place I had rented from provided me with the wrong cable. Meaning, one of the lights couldn’t be powered. Then I check the other flash and realized the bulb was completely burnt-out. I couldn’t just shoot with one strobe because the lighting would be uneven…

It was almost as-if the universe was telling me that artificial lighting was unnecessary. Weird, right?…

I knew I wanted the shoot to be dramatic, I wanted it to be dark inside with only the car lit-up. The car would be left in its dilapidated state, no cleaning whatsoever, everything undisturbed other than us putting the bumpers back on so it would look like ‘a car’. With the element of natural light now coming from the skylight, everything was almost too perfect. The photo above was just a test shot. That’s just to show how everything fell into place and worked. If you look closely you’ll see a pair of fiberglass side mirrors on the ground behind it. Those unpainted mirrors were likely sourced by Eric for the car but he never got around to mounting them. They just sat with a pile of parts in the trunk under the bumpers that were stuffed inside…

The front bumper is so huge that I was surprised that it actually fit inside the car!…

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This was the shot that I ultimately used for the Meguiar’s post on Instagram. The mirrors were moved out of frame and it is slightly brighter than the first photo. I really made it a point to have EVERYTHING around it be dark with just the car lit. It had to be really dramatic. I just wanted to capture that feeling like, you’re seeing this car again for the first time in decades and that’s all you’re focused on. If you’re familiar with this car, seeing it again would pull emotion out of you—you should feel something, feel anything…

For some, an instant flood of memories will come. You’ll remember exactly what you were doing and who you were at that age seeing this car for the first time in-person…

For others, they’d probably be astonished just to realize that this car still exists. How crazy is it to see this Civic in 2021 and captured with a modern camera? You’d almost be in a bit of disbelief because this car should have been long gone in the back of your mind. It’s a distant memory…

For some, particularly those who are younger, you’ll probably think this is pretty strange. Someone might have told you about this car before, maybe they even showed you a photo, but seeing it now just seems oddly fascinating…

Some might think that it’s atrocious. An eye sore even. Something they would never want to see again. These photos aren’t for you if that is the case…

Imagine just a simple photo that holds so much meaning. It’s what I’ve been chasing my whole career as a photographer. And it’s another reason why shooting this car was so important to me…

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I switched over to a 70-200MM lens to see if it would look better with a different angle and distance. I loved this shot as well because it showed more of the car and it flattened the shot out some. When it came time to post for the project, I had a hard time deciding between this and the previous photo. I chose the former because I felt like it was a more dynamic shot. To me, the other photo had more of a ‘mood’ to it that I wanted to portray…

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The main reason why I switched to the 70-200 was for filming purposes. I wanted to capture B-roll of me removing the car cover to ‘unveil’ LJ’s Civic to the world for the opening of the Vlog. It came out perfect. It was all done in one-shot with no retakes. I liked it so much that I felt a photo of it was perfect for the opening photo for the Meguiar’s post. The above is an alternate shot which doesn’t include the Meguiar’s car wash bottle.

I think it might be my favorite shot from this entire set. The way the natural light is cast onto the wheel, a bulk of the light hitting the top of the fender/front bumper, and the shadows the car cover creates is, to me, a perfect photo…

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We were asked to use the Meguiar’s product as ‘easter eggs’, meaning they were supposed to be hidden somewhere in the frame. I did not follow directions, lol. I put that bottle right in front for these photos because it’s a reminder of why this project is possible in the first place. I wouldn’t be shooting this car if a 102 year-old company didn’t challenge me to seek it out…

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It was important for me to have the car completely unchanged and not cleaned in any way. I wanted the car to show its age. As it should, because it was a once-forgotten icon sold to someone who had the car rotting in his driveway after his son, who was attempting to restore it, had passed away. The grime tells a story. The filth represents the many layers to the vehicle’s history…

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What’s crazy to me is that after all these years, the blue graphic was still on the car, as was LJ Garcia’s signature. Even the bright yellow tint was still there. It didn’t bubble or lift whatsoever…

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The great thing about having the light come from above was that it helped to accentuate the lines of the boxy FEEL’S widebody kit. I always wondered what FEEL’S Honda Twin Cam was thinking when they first decided to create this kit. Like, why? Where did the inspiration come from? Why this specific style? It was so far off from what anyone had even thought to do, especially with a Civic chassis. Everything about this kit is so incredibly odd and out of place, yet somehow, one guy decided to import the kit from Japan and made it one of the most recognizable body kits of the early 2000s…

It put FEEL’S Honda Twin Cam on the map for anyone who wasn’t in Japan in the late 90s. How fucking interesting is that?…

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I don’t know if many people realize this because pretty much everyone remembers the FEEL’S kit looking like this, but the original kit is a little different. The box flares were meant to have the bolt holes exposed like how many modern-day widebody kits have it. And the rear flare actually has the body line for the factory side molding. LJ had the kit flares molded to the body and the side moldings on the doors were shaved, which resulted in that body line on the panel getting shaved as well…

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It was important to capture the “Apollo” logo that was stitched onto the custom-wrapped dashboard. This is one of the tell-tale signs that this car was built in the late 90s. Apollo was one of the premier interior upholstery shops everyone went to back then to get their work done. The other was Car Craft and I also remember one other interior shop but the name eludes me right now…

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For the most part, the interior has held-up after 20 years, especially sitting out in the sun for so long. Many of the interior pieces are missing and all the aftermarket electronics are gone, but the interior panels are generally intact. It’s just SO yellow. I didn’t even like it back then, honestly, but there was most definitely a theme and LJ stuck with it through and through…

I didn’t mind it so much when the car was full Cobalt Blue outside, a stage that many people preferred this build in, because the interior provided a very sharp contrast…

This car also had a Spoon Sports cluster in it as well at one point. I wonder who has it now and if they even realize that it used to be in this Civic…

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One of the first things that I found when we opened the rear hatch to pull the bumpers out was the center console. I don’t know why but seeing it just made me chuckle. Probably because of how fucked-up it was, lol. Like someone did not give a shit about this part of the car and just tossed it in the trunk…

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Though I said I wouldn’t change the car in any way, it seemed appropriate to at least put the console back where it belonged…

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You can tell by how the interior was left that whoever parted the car out really left it for dead after. Pretty much everything removable and perceived to be worth any amount of money was gutted from the interior. I was surprised the Razo e-brake handle and pedals where still there. Seeing the interior actually made me feel a bit of sadness because it showed how little care was given to it over the years…

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I had no intentions of using this photo for the project but I did want to show you guys what the trunk looked like currently. The false floor that covered the spare tire area is long gone, but the custom subwoofer enclosure was still there. Nobody bothered to move it because it was probably too heavy and too cumbersome to remove. There’s a bunch of other shit in there that has nothing to do with the car like Integra and Prelude taillights. It makes you wonder what happened to the other interior panels. It shouldn’t have been of any value to anyone because it was already reupholstered. Tearing the fabric off to use again would be strange and more work than it’s worth. Perhaps it was just thrown-out when the electronics were gutted…

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Only one sun visor remains in side the car. The driver’s side just had the A/V cable connector visible through the headliner. The passenger side had the gutted remains of the custom visor which once housed a monitor. Yes, it was velcroid to the visor. Which again leaves one to wonder why the other one was ripped out of the car…

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It’s crazy still to think that Eric was able to find the original Racing Hart C5 wheels again after so many years. I don’t really know who had any use for a set of square 19×8 C5s so maybe they were just sitting in someone’s storage. The only bad thing about it was that two of the center caps are missing. Maybe one day we’ll be able to source two replacement caps from another set of C5 wheels or something. These are the original 3-piece Japanese C5s as well so it might be even harder to come by…

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I didn’t bother shooting the driver’s side of the Civic because it was in a much more worn-down state. Maybe this side was more exposed prior to Angel’s acquisition of the car which left it to see more damage and wear. The rear suspension on this side is also fucked so the car sits weird. If you look at the first few photos you’ll probably notice that the car is tilted and only completely aired-out on the passenger-side…

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If there was a ‘good side’ to this Civic, this would definitely be it. I don’t know exactly what happened to the car for that side to be so much more fucked-up. Thankfully the skylight also hit this side of the car perfectly for these photos to come out so good. In-person, it definitely does not look this vibrant. The yellow is much more faded and flat…

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The first thing that came out of the car, because it was worth the most money, was probably the H22A engine. Garcia’s Civic went through many stages, from having a turbocharged B-series to a naturally-aspirated H22A. Ryan Der actually pointed out to me that when he switched-over to the H-series, the engine was N/A but he still kept the front-mount intercooler and intake with a blow-off valve on it. True quirky show car stuff of that time, lol. At one point there was even a TV screen mounted in the engine bay. All of that is gone now. What remains is just the wiring, brake lines, and custom-painted subframe. You’d almost expect the bay to be shaved and void of wires but this car was built before that became a norm in the Honda community…

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When we tried to mount the front bumper, I noticed that the core support was tweaked. You could even see some of the old Cobalt Blue underneath. I asked Angel what had happened and he said that there was a point when Eric’s dad had it where the car rolled down his driveway and hit another one of his cars. The impact pushed the core support up right where the hood latch is. I guess it was fortunate that the front bumper wasn’t mounted as it would have definitely crushed it…

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I could never imagine seeing this car on anything but these Racing Hart C5 wheels. They became just as much of a signature on this Civic as the FEEL’S kit itself. Any time you mention LJ Garcia’s Civic, someone will most certainly mention the Racing Hart wheels. They go together like peanut butter and jelly…

And if you’re wondering why I didn’t take that extra step to line-up the “C5” logo on the spoke for the photos, I DID. That was one of the first things I did. But then we had to push the car forward to pull the bumpers out. And once the bumpers were on, I absolutely did not want to move the car again because the bumper would fall off…

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If the Vlog episode felt like a mini-documentary piece on this car, then this article will serve as the only current documentation of its history. I wish I had more information in regards to what happened to it during the late 2000s. If anyone has more information on it, I’d love to hear it and document it. This car was such an important part of the import scene back then and it stands as a time capsule of everything that period represented…

As someone in my comments mentioned, this FEEL’S Civic is import tuning royalty…

You’ll be happy to know that I was contacted by LJ Garcia in regards to some day reacquiring this car. That would be the perfect ending to this story, but I know he currently does not reside in the U.S. so it would be a bit difficult to make that all work. Until then, I’ll see what I can do to help get this thing back together little by little. The interesting thing about this whole shoot is that I not only heard from LJ Garcia after I posted it but I was also able to find the person who currently had the original FEEL’S wing from this car. He somehow got the wing as a gift and just held onto it over the years. It’s still yellow also. I asked him how much he wanted for the wing and he was so happy to see this car again that he offered to give the wing to me so I could return it to its rightful home on the car. How amazing is that?…

For now, that’s all I have to say about this incredible journey. What started as a project that I had doubts about taking on has led me to all of this.

What a crazy fucking ride.

Thank you for reading. And thank you for appreciating my work.

-Joey Lee

Categories: Civics, Exclusive Content, Portrait of an Icon SeriesTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 comments

  1. Don’t know what to say. The stars have aligned.

    One of the best if not the BEST post on the Chronicles.

  2. I think this is your best work to date. Right in the FEEL’S! 😉

  3. I used to read your vlogs everyday for years until I moved into other interests. This Brought me right back, and I was flushed with so many memories and how checking your vlog was a daily routine for me!! Thank you for this article, its amazing!! Imagine a whole series tracking down and finding out what happen to cars of this era! A few good ones come to mind.

  4. Thank you Joey, that was absolutely without a doubt the “stroll down memory lane” that every 90’s era tuner scene enthusiast will be truly moved by this, I know I am, and I cannot begin to express my gratitude, thank you ×1000!
    20 maybe 21 years ago at an IRev show in Seattle I met LJ, the civic was featured at the Audiobahn/Ichaban booth. I remember taking at least a half roll of film worth of pictures of the car and two of him and I next to the car. It was his ImportTuner cover feature that at the time it was such an inspirational source of motivation. It was such an amazing experience, and this brought back so many memories, it very much left me reminiscing about those days. Again, awesome article and Thank You for not giving up!

    Much Respect
    JLeigh

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