As is often discussed, the selection of colors on today’s cars leaves much to be desired and the sight of this third generation Civic hatchback serves as a good reminder. Parked on Bloomington’s North Side in front of a former Duesenberg dealership, now café and clay studio, I’d passed by the car too many times before I finally decided to take photos.
Smart observers will note the pre-facelift front end; this car had been poorly repaired after a fender bender at one point (notice the upside down logo and slightly mismatched paint on the fiberglass panel above the “grill” and on the hood). I initially thought it was a 1984 or 1985 model but the label on the door jamb confirmed this to be a 1987 model, as did the third brake light on the tailgate.
Being a base model, it has vinyl seats, a 4-speed gearbox and 1.3 liter engine, with a rear window defroster serving as its major extravagance. But for all its austerity, Honda saw fit to offer it in maroon with a matching interior. Also note the rear vent windows: manufacturers aren’t quite so generous these days.
The owner, in his 40s, inherited the car from his uncle. That gentleman made a wise choice in buying it, 27 years ago. Shoppers in the market for a budget stripper had a lot of choices in those days, but none as visually appealing as this one, in my not so humble opinion. With a low roof and sharp folds in the sheet metal, the third generation Civic hatch was a closeted example of function closely following form.
The look emphasized the sportiness the company now wanted to be known for, with wraparound “aircraft” style doorframes, a long roof with full length rear vent windows, and an upright tailgate being the hatchback’s dominant features. Wherever possible, interruption by painted metal surfaces is avoided: the taillights and their trim panel continue across the width of the car, the B-pillar is blacked out, and the rear window glass extends past its opening to the bottom edge of the hatch door, with the license plate moved onto the bumper. All the lights and the door handles are 100% flush, with black plastic bezels entirely covering their recesses. None of the competition put this much effort into making their cheapest car look sexy. What dour personality could have honestly preferred an Escort Pony or Tercel EZ, sans discount, over this mini shooting break?
This car’s fourth generation successor, which followed hot on the heels of its dynamic and styling success, is now a bona fide classic, with clean examples in Si trim commanding seemingly exorbitant sums of cash. The 1984-1987 models don’t attract a similar degree of attention from enthusiasts and that’s a shame. Out here in the midwest, these are now truly rare cars and as I write this, our city is preparing for a good deal of snow and record breaking temperatures. For my sake, I hope this stripper isn’t left out in the cold.
Wow, I remember when these things were everywhere… I liked the “S” model, with the gray lower cladding and Prelude wheels
I always admired the purity and simple elegance of these, the 3 door only, I never really cared for the wagon or the sedan, but they nailed the 3 door, its a perfect clean minimalist design.
You’re spot on. Brand ID was strong throughout the range, and each model represented the best design coming out of Japan at the time. I remember when EVERYBODY wanted the cute little CR-X hatch. One Honda I never saw in the flesh from this period was the best looking…
Me likey. Lots. I dream of finding cars like this for $800 or something.
I fixed up and sold one of these for $800…in 2001. It was a friend’s old car that had broken down and sat in their driveway for a few years. Turned out it just needed new contacts in the starter solenoid. I never could get it running quite right though. It had an erratic idle and clumsily hacking away at the maze of vacuum hoses didn’t help. Some one should post a picture of the vacuum diagram for these cars, its complexity is mind blowing and probably explains why these aren’t as popular with enthusiasts as the later cars with fuel injection.
Also, I think you mean it’s an example of form following function.
You mean this?
You got a problem with your 17 and 10….that’s yer problem right dere…….
YIKES!! Of course I suppose one could say that about lots of cars from the 70s and 80s…
Honda was the king of vacuum hoses. Other brands may have 15 or 20 circuits or so tops, but Honda had many many more, up to 50+ in some cases. It was nice that they stamped the numbers on the hose every couple of inches, at least until some were replaced with generic hose.
I’ll never understand why they were so anti-EFI.
Perry – huge +1 on that. Feedback carbs were the devil, even the relatively simple ones. I had a bunch of carbed Hondas from this era – including a twin-carb Prelude – and consider myself extremely lucky that all of them ran perfectly and I never had to touch that snakes nest of horrors!!
They weren’t anti-EFI — although Honda developed its own proprietary system rather than use a licensed Bosch/Denso design like Toyota and Nissan did — but they continued to use their electronically controlled carburetors well into the nineties. It wasn’t even just about keeping U.S. prices down; JDM cars had the same carburetors, or near enough.
My best mate has a 1994 Accord, last of the CB model. It has all the extras, is comfy with power everything, and has a factory 1800cc single carb engine…saddled with all the vacuum stuff. It’s auto too, and suffice it to say I have never driven a slower petrol-powered car. My 70kW RD28 Nissan diesel is quicker, and that’s saying something…
I chose the ’88 Accord DX with carb. over the LXi on price; it just wasn’t worth $3K more to me, & for less rated EPA mileage at that. No reliability problems & only a little hesitation while cold, so no regrets here. Best car I ever owned.
Those little breadvan Civics are classic.
Thankfully this crap was left of our cars and these are easy to fix
None of this crap in Canada, either. Simple as rocks to fix, when they needed it, which under 250,000 km wasn’t often.
in a way, that reminds me of the abominable Mikuni carburetor Mitsu used on the Astron engine (notably when Chrysler used the 2.6 liter version in the K-cars.)
Like CVCC, when it was working it worked fine, but once it went out of whack it would take an act of god to get it working again.
And that is one of the simpler ones. I remember when one the last carb equipped Hondas came in for the first time for an oil change and I looked at that familiar style diagram and noted 51 circuits!
My old and unlamented ’86 Accord was an 1800cc twin-carb used JDM import. It had a similarly spectacular vacuum system. Looking at the diagram brought back memories, deeply repressed memories…
I should point out too, that my mechanic achieved a complete engine swap with my awful Accord and managed to successfully reattach ALL the vacuum pipes correctly. Seeing it in all its hideous re-piped glory was bad enough, but looking at the diagram makes me realise he deserved a medal… Man that car sucked…
We had an ’86 Accord in US carb trim. It never idled properly. I think they DID get better by the late ’80s, though. A teacher in college in ’07 had no similar problems and the set-up in my aunt’s ’88 Prelude never idled bizarrely.
Are you a poster on the 3geez forum? Lots of Aus and NZ people there.
No, I only post here on CC. I hadn’t heard of 3geez until you mentioned it.
I thought it was rust that took most of these off the road, now I know the real reason…
No, I meant it was an example of function following form, but presented to the public as the opposite. The car was too low to be truly roomy or space efficient when you compare it to cars like a Golf or 323. It was Honda’s expression of sportiness, and all the more appealing for it.
I see your point. Never really though about it being too low, all Hondas of that vintage are pretty low, it’s what gives them that fun-to-drive feeling.
The three-door is 52.8 inches (1,340 mm) high; the sedan and five-door are substantially taller.
Honda did take some pains to make this generation more space efficient than before (which is why they went back to a beam axle and shorter front struts with separate torsion bar springs), but it wasn’t outstandingly packaged. By U.S. standards, it was pretty good, but I don’t think it was as roomy as Peugeot 205, which was smaller overall.
What a wonderful little car with a nice paint color and a good looking interior. I wish more new vehicles had such a roomy interior with nice colors, and not such a high belt line. It in interesting to look at the dashboard and see Honda’s approach to make sure switching vehicle’s between right hand drive and left hand drive is done without costing too much. The most surprising (weird?) part of this car is the rifle barrel straight gear shift lever. I always think of inexpensive reliable transport or work vehicles like these when I think of the Japanese car companies which is why I do not think I could ever buy a new Acura.
A great design and an 80s icon.
I feel one significant styling element, that slight curve upward at the base of the rear side window, is what helped give it’s styling additional character. Separating it from other, more generic, early 80s two box economy cars like the ’81 Mazda GLC. The 1989 Suzuki Swift adopted a very similar quarter panel curve to subtle, but advantageous, benefit. IMO, the Civic would have looked somewhat more generic without it.
I agree. It makes the design look less static, if that makes sense.
“Honda saw fit to offer it in maroon with a matching interior” Until I read that I was thinking I don’t remember ever seeing a gen3 Civic in brown and how nice the colour looks…!
I really like the looks of these gen3 3 door Civics. My sister bought one in the mid-90s; she was the second owner and still has it. Its spectacular propensity to rust enthusiastically means it hasn’t been remotely roadworthy for a decade now. Pre-farming, my BIL was a panelbeater, but after three years of patching many and varied holes for the 6-monthly road-worthiness inspection, he pronounced it pointless, and the Civic now sits in a paddock on their farm. Despite the terminal body cancer and the 400,000ish km on the odometer, it still runs and drives, and simply refuses to die…
Yeah they were horrible for rust I saw a couple of good ones in Tassie before we came back but NZs humidity just eats em alive
Very nice find and write-up Perry. The inside of these look cavernous with that nice low and minimalistic dashboard without a huge center console getting in the way. These were all over the place (still are to some extent) when I was in high school and college in CA. And I agree, the burgundy interior is nice as well, good to see color.
My parents had one of the first ’86 Accords in the Lake Champlain area, an LX in matching maroon (called Regency Red Metallic) and oxblood interior in velour. I’m attached to Hondas of this vintage and esp that color. Most Civics of this vintage I see are in beige, or in the case of sedans, grey. The metallic blue is another of my favorite colors on mid ’80s Hondas.
I also loved the lack of a center console; adds to the airiness.
I was about to buy one in early 90s,then I started thinking about safety&fear of getting into an accident&sitting on wheelchair for the rest of my life ended up buying an 88 caprice.
The beltline is scary low. First point of contact might be the base of the windshield in some impacts…
This is definitely not something you see every day around here!
It’s hard to argue with the minimalist approach to design that Honda used to their advantage back then.
I have to say though, that pile of trash on the floor would drive me I-N-S-A-N-E!!! Those who know me know that I can’t stand a dirty car! I have a girl friend that asked me to help her clean out her old Cavalier the other day…I was twitching like crazy while doing it…we literally filled a large trash can!
Anyways, I agree the color-keyed interior and exterior looks most attractive, more cars need this today.
My parents bought a 1992 Honda Civic LX sedan, in Rosewood Brown with a Mauve colored interior, it was quite attractive. To this day my mom says it was her all-time favorite car that she and my dad owned, and they’ve had some nice cars over the years.
I think there needs to be some more back-story here, Richard. How is it that the Chairman of the Brougham Society is spawned from a Honda Civic driving mother? Something just does not compute! 🙂 That’s like Carmine admitting that his parents had a Camry and an RX-7…
Well, you see, there was a time back in the early 1990’s that our household had three Asian cars in the driveway, a 1990 Nissan Hardbody SE V6 4×4, the 1992 Civic and my 1993 Toyota Corolla.
My dad decided that he had had enough of Detroit iron and wanted cars that would not spend time in the shop. Ironically, it didn’t stay like that for long. The Civic was traded after a couple of years for a brand-new Ford Windstar LX, the Nissan was sold to our pastor and was replaced by a new 1998 Ford Ranger XLT Supercab Flareside 4×4 in Autumn Orange (a nice color IMO), and I got to swap out the 1993 Corolla for a 1995 Corolla before switching over to Fords for a while.
In my youth we had the 1986 Cutlass Supreme Brougham, and a loaded 1988 Dodge Dynasty LE, and of course we can’t forget that when I turned 20 I had my beloved 1987 Cutlass Supreme Brougham, and years later the 1995 LeSabre Limited.
Mom just didn’t care either way, as long as the car worked and she could handle it, she was happy! She just sold off her beloved 2005 Mercury Sable LS a couple of months ago when I talked her into taking my 2012 Escape…she’s happy again 🙂
Ah, I see, so merely a case of temporary insanity. For a minute there I thought the world had tilted off its axis…Or someone hacked your account!
As strange as this might sound, whenever my beloved little Oldsmobile decides to quit, I might look at a Toyonda to replace it…
Also, I loved that color on the 5th gen Civic. It was only offered on the 92-93 LX sedan, oddly enough. There was also a fetching mint green.
We’re constantly being cheated out of colors. Even the Civic CX came with a navy blue interior until 1995.
The Honda Civic Hybrid that I owned and wrote about last week had the Blue with Creamy Gray interior. A surprising find nowadays.
My dad loved that Rosewood Brown so much that he had his Nissan Truck repainted in it, replacing the former black it was painted!
Sounds like a lovely car, Richard. My ’92 Accord LX two-door was also rosewood over mauve.
If my girlfriend drove a Cavalier it would drive me I-N-S-A-N-E.
Notice how I separated girl and friend…she’s a great girl, but I’m not sure I can handle some of her quirks-at least not yet 😛
Interesting choice to write about! I don’t see too many of these anymore, especially these hatchback models. I’ve always loved the aircraft styling of these Civics.
The other thing I remember about these was that ones of these was Eugene Levy’s ride in 1986’s Armed and Dangerous
My nice had one of these in blue. About a month ago, it finally died at a busy intersection. The car had more than 500,000 km on it!
Here on Long Island most of these old civics have by now either been claimed by rust or ricers. Occasionaly I will still see one in terrible condition or a clean elderly driven one but there are probably more Lamborghinis than these.
When I met my wife back in 2000 she had a 1985 one in this color. Hers was a DX, so it came with the 1.5 carburated engine and also it was automatic. It first belonged to her older sister, she got it in the late 90s, and her younger brother finally killed it about 10 years ago.
When you got into one of these, especially the CRX, it could not be mistaken for anything other than a Honda. Everything was so lightweight, in a good way. That whiny, high pitched engine sound fit in perfectly. These weren’t terribly robust but they sure were fun to drive. I thought the generation that followed hit a sweet spot for Honda, combining their earlier lightweight feel with just a bit more substance and refinement. Great find Perry!
“I hope this stripper isn’t left out in the cold.”
Well, a Civic 1300 is one of the few cars that would start up if it were left out tonight or tomorrow in the upper Midwest, judging from my experience with a previous-generation (’83) 1300 4-speed when I lived in MN, 25 plus-or-minus 5 years ago.
Funny, when Japanese cars hit Canada, most people swore “They’ll never start in the winter!” In fact, they’d fire up a lot better than the American stuff!
I just don’t want it to rust. The car featured may have had subpar repairs done in front, but the original paint is excellent and there’s no rust and no crooked rear bumper (a common sign of a hard life on these models).
“Smart observers will note the pre-facelift front end; this car had been poorly repaired after a fender bender at one point (notice the upside down logo and slightly mismatched paint on the fiberglass panel above the “grill” and on the hood)”
Still the car does not seem to have the usual Honda rear wheel well rust.
I would like to see more of the old dealership building that it is near. It looks like a solid building befitting the marque that was being sold there.
Dad, a professor, had an ’84 nearly identical to this in biege, which he had bought very cheaply, used, after the Chevette Scooter met its end at 75K miles. It had a 4-speed manual and biege vinyl seats that had a cross hatch vinyl pattern on them.
I can’t dispute the peppiness, reliability, or efficiency of these cars, he regularly recorded 40 mpg and this was c. 1990 whence my first memories regarding that kind of thing stem.
At one point, someone smacked into the front of it, collapsing the left front headlight. We weren’t doing too well at the time and Dad didn’t want to spend anything on repairing it. One day, we were approached by one of those parking lot mechanics, a man with his very young son, who offered to fix it right there. He pried out the dent so that the only sign of impact were the cracks in the turn signal. I think Dad paid him in cash something like $75, which was a lot more c. 1990 than now. Dad and I then brought it home and 6 year old me helped tape while dad sprayed a flat black over the front area between the headlights and the hood. Now it looked like a racer! He kept that peppy little car for 6-7 years until it had about 250K on it. He then sold it to a young associate minister starting out in his first church. I remember when it was driven away…replaced by another Civic he bought from a co-worker. My parents loved their little cars in the 80s and early 90s.
It was, of course, this same car that made me a Brougham-o-phile. I vividly recall how those plastic vinyl seats burned my calves as I clambered into the back of a hot summer day in shorts. Meanwhile, my dad would sometimes offer to drive when we took my grandfather (who, despite being recently widowed, was holding onto both his ’86 and ’89 Grand Marquis around this time) out to lunch when we’d visit him (always a coat and tie affair). He would grumble about how he couldn’t get his 6’1″, 80-year old frame into that “little car”. Sometimes he’d fight his way into it, but other times, Dad would give in and we’d take one of the Grand Marquis (or as my mom called them “gas-guzzling boats”). Transferred from those vinyl seats to soft, comfortable velour, air conditioning, the seductive whirring of the Ford AOD, and that smooth floaty ride, eyeballing that hood ornament and those silver-toned dials up front, I was totally in agreement with my grandfather.
As empirically good of a car as those Honda Civics were they left me irrevocably hooked on land yachts.
I had a black ’87 Si model many years ago. Picked it up for $500.00 with 250,000 miles on it’s clock. It was rusty, smoked, and the sunroof leaked, but that little 1.5 was a hoot! 5 speed, and no power steering made it feel like a go-kart, I loved that little car. Drove it for a summer delivering pizzas with Dark Side of the Moon permanently stuck in the tape deck. It paid for itself in the cash banked and memories made.
I could babble at great length about how great these cars were, but I’ll keep it short and just say I like them a lot!
Had a white with blue interior one, pretty nice but the suspension was not adequate for the roads out west.
Not enough clearance and tended to bottom out on the lumps.
Little gem of an engine and gearbox though!
Nice. And I had no idea that there had been a Dusenberg dealer in Bloomington.
Crazy. I went to school in Bloomington, and I’m from Ft. Wayne, a few mins away from Auburn, and have been to the Auburn Cord Duesenburg factory/museum.
I never knew Bloomington had a former Auburn/Duesenberg dealer.
Nice to see another Hoosier. I am a product of Fort Wayne myself.
Nice find! The good ‘ol days of Honda in the ’80’s, back when you could actually buy a simple stripper like this one, and before their whole product line grew 3 dress sizes! I remember when these where everywhere. Made me think of my brother’s ’85 CRX Si, what a cool little car, made me think outside the box, that there was an automotive world outside of American V8 muscle, and little, 4 cylinder nimble imports could be cool, too!
I had this as a blue ’84. I bought it in ’94. I was going back to college (for the 2nd time) and I was driving an ’80 Cherokee Laredo. I traded for the Civic because even I knew that I needed something else to see me through 4 years of school on a tight budget.
That little Civic did it’s job well. Fun little car with the manual trans. One of those that is more fun at 50mph than a Camaro was at 85. I do remember endlessly fighting the vacuum lines (it had about 60 of them…) but it was a tough little thing to kill.
“rear window defroster serving as its major extravagance” – yep, mine came without. I guess it started life as a southern car, so it wasn’t optioned. Not a big deal when you are driving a car that so short you can reach behind you while driving to wipe the rear window clean…
I had one of these 20 years ago – an ’87 Si.
They certainly are scarce these days. Since rust isn’ t an issue in CO, I’d say most of them here were totaled as it did not take much of a hit to do significant damage. I repaired mine a couple times since I had more time and resources than $ for collision insurance… B-), the Civic was an all steel body except for the bumpers. I the ‘slightly mismatched paint on the fiberglass panel above the “grill”’ the is really a sheet metal part. The 84-87 Crx had the plastic body parts…
In the midst of a tune-up /restore /much-needed-TLC project for my ’85.
Just changed out all the front suspension, including bushings. Now, the lovely journey of replacing all the sensors and valves that have ceased to work in the 29 years of its life so far.
Mine also features the shadow of an up-side-down Honda symbol on the front. Any story behind that?
I call her Rubideux.