Sometimes what you read on paper and imagine in your mind doesn’t manifest itself in practice. Even with the low gas prices of the mid 1990’s it was pretty clear that my 1968 Galaxie 500 just wouldn’t be a good choice to commute 60 miles a day to college without breaking the poor college kid bank. Much like the first car search, shortly after my high school graduation a new search began in earnest to figure out the “perfect” commuter car that still was fun, reliable, and most importantly looked cool. Almost instantly I thought I had it figured out.
Everything I had read about and heard about Hondas during high school had been nothing but lilacs, spring flowers, and unicorn tears so they were at the top of my list. Unfortunately I found out pretty quickly that so did everyone else – and they were either clapped out, priced too much, or were sold before I got there. Nearly resigning myself to a boring first gen Ford Taurus, when I picked up the latest paper I found an ad that was too good to be true – a 1987 Honda CRX Si!
It was a pretty rapid purchase after I discovered it was black with tinted windows, mostly immaculate aside from some wheel well rust, and it passed a quick mechanic check. With a fresh bank loan on the books I drove it home in the sweltering July Nebraska heat to discover my first bonus – the AC worked! Sure, it made the car pretty (ridiculously) slow but after a couple summers sweating in the Galaxie it was a welcome surprise.
Pretty quickly the afterglow wore off as I realized that first, I’m a six foot two football-built Nebraskan and the interior was quite a bit smaller than the Galaxie and DEFINITELY wasn’t built for me. While the seats were comfortable enough, you also had better be pretty good friends with your passenger as well – you were pretty close to them. It also wasn’t the quietest place at highway speeds with frameless door windows leaking at the seals, and sound deadening seemingly was an afterthought. As a comparison, with windows closed the then-nearly 30 year old Galaxie was quieter than the then 8 year old Honda. It was annoying but hey, it was also sporty and fast.. right?
Either I got a dud or I didn’t properly appreciate how it was supposed to work. Even though I put fresh suspension components and good tires on it shortly on it after I purchased it, I never thought it handled particularly well. In fact at times it was a bit terrifying as the semi-independent rear beam suspension had this tendency to just up and decide to come out whenever it felt like it. Thank everything that I’d spent several winters and gravel road driving the Galaxie, but this was on dry roads – mostly interstate on and offramps. It had a punishing ride thanks to the low stance and low profile tires, which I could have excused for decent handling – but it didn’t. My Dad’s 1993 Mazda 626 ES at the time handled and rode leap years better than the Honda.
It’s reliable and economical, you cry! Yet, it wasn’t either of those things. On the economy side it would get in the 30’s, but just barely, on the highway with a LOT of noise as even in fifth it was pulling well over 3,000 RPM at 70mph. Reliability wise it was a car that seemed to like being in the shop with all manner of nagging little annoyances. My Dad’s 626, on the other hand, would get almost 30 mpg of blissful powerful silence on the Interstate which I knew well as it was my college commuter the many times the CRX was in the shop.
Winter driving and power are tirades I should probably not get on, but let’s just say that even with the big fat BFG Radial T/A’s and 390 the Galaxie was almost a better winter car than the CRX with it’s low ground clearance and low weight. Power wise I went from “well this is probably OK” on the test drive to “wow, this thing is annoying” as I’d downshift into fourth gear on the Interstate to make it – loudly – up hills above 65mph.
I probably could have stomached its defects if it would have been economical or reliable, or maybe if it was really a “sports car” but it didn’t do either well – or even at all, in my mind. During ownership of it I went from college student to college dropout with a couple jobs, one of which was as a bouncer at a strip club. Throw in a penchant for partying and the “cool look” of the car worked out OK, while the in-town mileage and in-town driving annoyances were tolerable. I didn’t enjoy the car at all but by that time I’d pretty much replaced everything so it had stopped breaking, and there was still a bank note to be paid off.
During the last year or so of ownership one of my friends nicknamed it “Roach” and that’s probably the best way I could describe it. It never had a mechanical issue that was terminal, and during the time I had a few accidents but never were they enough for insurance to total it. It just kind of existed and kept annoying me along the way.
In the fall of 1998 I was effectively done with it, which was pretty sad because by then it was probably in the best physical and mechanical shape it had been in since it left the factory. I’d fixed the rust, repainted several areas that had clear coat issues, replaced every mechanical issue it had, and put another fresh set of tires on it.
With the bank note almost up on it, I let my parents sell it to a friend of my brothers and didn’t even get involved in it – I just wanted the bank note paid off, and told them to keep anything above that to help pay off some of the small loans they’d given me to go to college. To this day I don’t even remember him picking it up, I just remember the relief of having the Roach out of my life for good.