Long gone… That is what comes to mind when I think about my 1982 Honda Civic Sedan, and for that matter, practically any Japanese car built before 1990, here in steel-loving Pennsylvania. This was my first car, but that was now six daily drivers ago. Seems like an eternity already, but this was an unforgettable car. How could it be, given that I was fifteen when I got it? And that I shut down a Trans Am with it.This picture, taken on the last day that I owned it in 1997, is how I remember it. Sporting its blacked-out “Mach I” hood and medium metallic blue from an Earl Sheib-style re-spray at a Philadelphia vo-tech school. The hood was sourced from a brown car, dressed primer black but never actually pained to match. It doesn’t look that bad in the pictures actually, but rust was taking its toll on its frame rails and the bottom of the fenders, and it was in need of a carburetor rebuild.
Still, with 245,000 miles on it, it had more life left in it for its new owner, who would put another 30,000 miles on it before giving it to his daughter, who promptly totaled it. On that day in 1997, I replaced it with a ’95 Thunderbird, a car which couldn’t be more different in terms of its form and intended mission.
To most, this car is yet another 1980’s appliance that nobody saves, or even laments being gone. An ’82 Civic isn’t exactly a car that’s often restored or preserved. It doesn’t have legions of enthusiasts dedicated to its restoration, modification or preservation. There is no classic Honda weekend at the Carlisle, PA Fairgrounds. I have yet to see one at the Mecum Auction, or at Barrett-Jackson. And, although I’m not certain, I’m pretty sure nobody drove one across the lawn at the Pebble Beach…That is unless they were there to cut the grass.
My dad originally purchased what would become my first car, as a daily driver for himself. Its previous owner had bought a new Honda Accord and was looking to sell her beloved Civic which she named “Little Blue”. Dad did a lot of driving at the time and was looking to share the mileage burden placed on our family Pontiac 6000 wagon , so the idea of this little Civic as daily driver with its then EPA gas mileage estimates of 34 mpg city/47 highway must have been very appealing. Within a week of hearing about the Civic for sale by a family friend, dad went and got a home equity loan and paid the $3,000 asking price to bring home Little Blue.
When he got it, Little Blue was still wearing its original Avignon blue metallic paint with black trim complementing its black plastic covered federal-mandated battering ram bumpers. It had the two-tone blue interior much like the car pictured above. These cars came with novel features absent from most of the economy cars from Detroit such a: a tachometer (even though it was an auto), intermittent windshield wipers, remote truck release, a digital clock (that worked more than three years into ownership), various storage compartments and a coin holder.
The second generation Civic debuted in 1980 featuring the familiar hatchback version, but also a station wagon, and in 1981 for the first time ever, a traditional three-box 4-door sedan. These were the first Civics to be offered with the new optional 3 speed automatic transaxle, replacing the Hondamatic two speed.
Of course, manuals were also available (and more common) in both the 4 speed and 5 speed variety, but the three speed automatic and the sedan body style really opened the door to the segment of the population that won’t drive a manual, or a hatchback. The mild 1982 re-skin gave all models square sealed beams that were so popular at the time, and an angular appearance more befitting of the current style. In 1983, an “S” version was available which teamed the 2-door hatchback body with a 5 speed and the 1500 engine, upgraded suspension, alloy wheels and a red accent stripe. The “S” was only available in red or black and had a unique interior color pattern as well.
My Civic, like all sedans, came standard with the bigger 1500cc SOHC engine with the 12 valve CVCC head featuring a Kehin 3 barrel carburetor good for 63 Hp. Honda’s CVCC setup (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) was essentially a way to reduce emissions and increase the efficiency while still using a carburetor. The CVCC engine was a stratified charge engine, or one where different intake valves are used to feed two different mixtures of air and fuel into the combustion chamber.
The CVCC head has the spark plug mounted inside a small pre-chamber which is fed with a richer than normal mixture of fuel by a small dedicated intake valve. This third valve received an extra rich fuel and air mixture from a smaller third barrel of the carburetor. The spark plug ignites this rich mixture. The burning flame front then travels through a port to the rest of the combustion chamber where it continues to burn an extra-lean mixture in the larger part of the cylinder above the piston.
The end result of this combustion chamber wizardry was that earlier CVCC equipped vehicles used less fuel and they didn’t need a catalytic converter to meet US emissions requirements, at least for the smaller displacement engines Honda sold in the 70’s. I’m not sure if any of the 80’s CVCC’s came without the catalyst; I seem to recall seeing 1300 CVCC cars without them, but I know that my 82 sedan, with the 1500 engine did have one.
Now 63 HP doesn’t sound like much power (and trust me it wasn’t), but with its 1,840 lb curb weight, the whole car was so darn light that it felt rather peppy for the times.
For a point of comparison, it could hit forty-five as fast as my friend’s 1980 Trans Am with the Pontiac 301 and 2.41:1 gear ratio. Now, make no mistake, he’d catch me in the quarter mile, and could cruise at 120 all day with the AC on, but it still a made for some great garage conversation. Later, we’d replace the 301 in his Trans Am with a late-sixties Pontiac 400, which fixed his Trans Am’s “Honda problem” once and for all.
My dad essentially handed over the keys to my 82 Civic in the summer of 1989. I was 15 and looking forward to getting my learner’s permit to drive. While I really wanted a 77 Trans Am in black and gold with T-tops, I was happy to have any car to call my own. I was quick to start personalizing my car. What my Honda didn’t have (at least initially) was air conditioning, and since a T-top Trans Am was not a reality, I set about doing the next best thing to my Honda: installing a DIY pop-up sunroof kit from the local Pep Boys.
That is fifteen year-old me cutting a hole in the roof of my car with a jigsaw. It was on this day that I learned a lesson about removing the headliner first, before cutting the hole in the roof. Unfortunately, too much of the headliner was cut away in the process, requiring double sided carpet tape to keep it in place from then on.
Fortunately, I did a far better job cutting the steel and it never did leak. Fog lights, window tint and other accessories would be installed around that time also. I’ve since learned to appreciate a more subtle look on a car, as I generally now prefer my cars without air dams, spoilers, and graphics advertising what it is. But hey, I was a teenager. And teenage boys with their cars are like teenage girls with makeup; more is always better. I’m just thankful there were no fart-cannon mufflers or massive spoilers at Pep Boys in those days. There really wasn’t much in the way of accessories for import back then, but if you wanted to put cherry bombs on your 79 Camaro, you were in luck.
It’s quite possible that I owe my very existence to this car. My friends and I did so much stupid stuff that I might not be here if it wasn’t for the fact that I had a car that was incapable of getting into too much trouble. The sport above was known as roof-riding. That is my friend Dominic, the world champion of roof-riding on the roof of my Honda. I have no idea what we were thinking…
The picture above shows the second set of fog lights that I would install. The original set were smashed after jumping over the top of a steep bridge near where I live today in Chester County PA. My Honda survived, mainly because of the import tow hook loop that you see under the center of the front end protected the transmission and oil pan from damage. My friends following behind me in an 88 Nissan Sentra, and a 92 GMC Sonoma, were not as lucky. The Nissan suffered a smashed transmission pan, and bled out all of its trans fluid, and the GMC was drivable, but was bent into a banana shape from that point on. Fortunately, we had some rope in the GMC, and we were able to tow the Nissan out of there with the bent GMC, before any law enforcement showed up.
My Honda also often served as a test mule for experiments and other Junkyard Wars style modifications. One of which was a ram-air setup (not pictured), inspired by my sister’s 88 Camaro (in the shot with my Honda) that I built using PVC pipe and a scoop mounted in the airflow under the bumper. I would also install air conditioning myself using an aftermarket setup sourced from junkyards. The simplicity of this car made it perfect for these projects.
It even had several knockout panels to allow easy installation of toggle switches to control the home-made AC, a 1000 watt amplifier for my tunes, fog lights, and my home-made alarm system and kill switch setup. The car would only start if the toggle switches were in a specific pattern. A hidden toggle switch mounted under the rear bumper armed the alarm system which used a system of relays, a shock sensor and the dome light circuit to activate a fire-siren mounted under the hood.
Looking back now, I suppose it makes perfect sense that I would go on to become an engineer. But cars were and are still my passion, and this was my first car. And while it wasn’t really a cool car then, there was something different about the Honda that I liked. It seemed like Honda did it differently at every turn. Be it the way the hood opened from the back, the CVCC engine, or the cable-driven tachometer, it was unique. Honda’s slogan was “We make it simple” and that what this car was.
It was elegantly simple; a perfect blank canvas for a kid, like me, to make more complex. And my ever durable and loyal Honda put up with all the abuse that a teenager could throw at it with minimal issues. Besides the routine maintenance, the only things I remember having to replace were timing belts, a radiator, an alternator and the exhaust system (a couple of times).
Time has marched on since these cars were new; 1982 is long gone. As a people, we got bigger and we wanted more in a car. We want more gadgets, we want more power, and safety has become more important. You simply can’t sell a car like this in North America anymore. A new Civic or any modern compact has more than double the horsepower, more room, all of the amenities, and weighs substantially more. It also delivers similar fuel economy (using modern-adjusted EPA MPG numbers), and a fighting chance in a collision with an SUV. The trade-off is the simplicity, and that spritely feel that these Hondas had back then. So yeah, modern cars are better in many ways, but as for looks and function, I’ll remember the way Honda did it in 1982. I kept a souvenir from my car, to help me remember Little Blue.