In last Tuesday’s essay, I had made reference to an ’85 or so Plymouth Turismo hatchback I had looked at purchasing in the early ’90s, which had originally been presented to the seller’s teenage daughter and wasn’t good enough for her. My disdain for what I had perceived as a confounding display of privilege and entitlement (“I don’t want that free car, Daddy!“) had somehow tainted that Turismo for me, even if I wouldn’t quite have been able to afford it without financial help from my parents.
Still, I could kind of get where she was coming from, even if I liked the Turismo’s looks. Things like image are important to a teenager, even good ones who are otherwise gracious and kind. Maybe the little L-body Plymouth just wasn’t her jam. I can remember feeling brand-conscious, even when it didn’t do me any good when it came to getting what I wanted. It wasn’t that long ago that car ownership or even just a driver’s license were things to which the average youth aspired. A car is the largest possession a teen might own, and thus the most obvious and conspicuous reflection of his / her / their taste and perceived social standing.
1984 Pontiac Fiero 2M4. Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, September 13, 2020.
She had wanted a Fiero, though. I do actually like the Fiero. Always have. I remember literally wiping a tear or two in the living room as I watched the six o’clock news story in the summer of ’88 the day the final Fiero rolled down the assembly line in Pontiac, Michigan, coincidentally on what was Madonna’s thirtieth birthday. It all seemed so final. The thing about a Fiero or another car like it is that it can carry only one other person in addition to the driver. Isn’t part of the fun of teenage car ownership the ability to take a small group of your friends places and show off your ride a little bit? Shared space and shared experiences: almost all of that gets lost with a Fiero, Toyota MR2, Mazda MX-5 Miata, or our featured car, a Honda CRX.
I also liked the CRX and had a serious car-crush on the second-generation cars once I had moved to southwest Florida in the early ’90s and was back in the market for a used car. Back then, even an ’88 from the first year of the redesign was out of my financial reach. For about five minutes, I had thought of owning one of these fun, fast, two-seat Honda sportsters, with their significant utility and terrific gas mileage to offset the absence of a rear seat. Plus, it was a Honda, so I thought one would last at least until after college graduation, and perhaps afterward. I’d get my money’s worth, and could sell it easily if I wanted to, as the resale market for the CRX had remained strong for a very long time.
I found a first-generation example in the classifieds of the Fort Myers News Press with over 100,000 miles on it and took it for a spin. Driving it was more fun than I had ever experienced behind the wheel of a car up to that point, as I zipped along a half-mile stretch of beautiful, palm-lined MacGregor Boulevard. It felt like piloting a big, street-legal, enclosed go-kart. I ultimately passed on it as it seemed a bit rough around the edges for the asking price ($2,000, if I recall correctly; the equivalent of about twice that, thirty years later), but still kept the flame burning for a CRX even after I went on to purchase my ’88 Mustang LX with the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. I loved that Mustang and it was a great car that served me well, but aside from it having a five-speed manual transmission that gave me something to do, it wasn’t particularly fun to drive – not remotely like that CRX had been.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Wednesday, March 20, 2013. Troy’s was nicer.
Later on and after having transferred to a different university, I made friends with (and briefly dated) a fellow classmate named Troy, who had a CRX like the one above. It was even the same color, but in significantly better condition. Whenever our large-ish friend group was going somewhere, Troy was always off the hook for driving since he could take only one other person in his CRX. This all changed the day that he, our friend Christy, and I decided to travel the hour-and-a-half from Tampa to Orlando to go to Disney World for the day.
It didn’t matter that we were all young twenty-somethings and presumably too old to enjoy the Magic Kingdom. We were determined to ride the rides, high-five Pluto, and do other things that others in our age group might have considered ironic, but that we actually, legitimately wanted to do for fun. Looking back, I can’t remember exactly why I didn’t drive, but this might have been when my Mustang was in the shop to have the rag joint for the steering replaced.
Christy rode in the front, and I curled up my six-foot frame into the hatchback for the entire ride to Disney and back. Shockingly, this appears to have been allowed in Florida, since I was over age 18 and the cargo area was enclosed. Still, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. (If any of my older nieces or nephews are reading this, I’m still your uncle and older than you and I will come for you if I find out this is something you do.)
Troy and Christy were yukking it up in the comfortable front seats, with full access to the music, controls, and vents with the air conditioning blowing cold, while I curled up back in the cargo area like a big sow bug, baking under all of that hatchback glass. Did I mention this was in Florida? It had crossed my mind that maybe Troy was punishing me a little bit for our breakup, but the truth is that I was simply too slow in calling “shotgun” to ride in the passenger’s seat that morning. He and I are still friends over twenty-five years later, and we had a laugh about this day trip last summer, when I had the chance to meet his significant other.
It solidified in my mind on that ride to and from Disney (three hours beneath the hatchback of a CRX in one day) that I could never own a two-seater, at least not as my only car. I think of all the fun adventures in my young adulthood that I would have missed out on if I wasn’t able to provide transportation for, and share the experience with, more than one other person. Now that I’m older and more selective with the company I keep (and this year marks my twentieth without car ownership), a two-seater for weekends might make more sense. Still, if I was to go to the trouble of owning, garaging, insuring, and maintaining a car, I’d lean strongly toward something that would enable me to carry two or three other people, even if only in a pinch. One thing’s for sure, though: If that girl back in Michigan ended up getting that Fiero she had wanted, she probably missed out on a lot.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015.
“Shockingly, this appears to have been allowed in Florida … ”
It’s hard to believe that this was legal (although it was in Florida). Most people see a Honda Civic and think “small four seater”. Even a Honda lover – like I admit to being – occasionally forget that these were two seaters.
Good thing there was no accident and no emergency/panic stops. I am also going to assume you were not claustrophobic. 90 minutes of that would freak me out.
I once [graciously I must say] sat in the back of our eight seat Sable wagon (facing the rear) on a tiny, shallow seat while my wife drove and her visiting family from Ireland sat in proper and comfortable seats.
It wasn’t too bad seeing as I could sit up, there was no glass roof over my head, and it wasn’t in the baking sun of Florida. But it was just a short ride and I was relieved to get out and stretch my legs.
The claustrophobia was real, now that I think about it. It probably just affected me less when I was young and foolish. And in any major collision in this car, we all would have perished. No doubt.
Years ago I bought my son a used ’86 Fiero 4/AT; it wa$ the $econd bigge$t PO$ GM car I ever made the mistake of buying. Only the new ’76 Chuvette was worse! 🙁 My son liked it, but I paid, n paid the repair bill$ to keep it running.
Otoh, a Honda CRX, or even a 3 dr Si HB of that generation: reliable and FunToDrive! Plus they pass gas stations!! 🙂 I had a base ’88 Civic HB and even it was enjoyable to drive. DFO
Dennis, speaking of your Chevette, I had been surprised to read, a long time ago, that the original Fiero sourced its front suspension from a Chevette! I don’t know anything about suspension geometry, or anything like that, but I remember that being a depressing fact to read at the time.
I always thought the generation of Civic introduced for ’88 was particularly good looking in all of its forms. All ’88 Hondas still look good to me.
Two seaters have their place. 2 + 2’s aren’t much better once your kids are teenagers (although they can be less expensive to insure). I had a small pickup in Orlando, Florida in the early 1980’s when I was in the Navy. I frequently had 2 -3 friends riding in the bed. Several of us bought Florida resident Disney Passes and went there most weekends.
I hadn’t thought about 2+2’s being less expensive to insure than two-seaters, but it could stand to reason that some insurance actuaries might associate two-seaters with high(er) performance.
I’ve also ridden in the back of a small pickup as a young adult in Florida. Our designated driver had the pickup, so in the back we rode to Ybor City for the Guavaween celebration. Over speed bumps, and everything.
My memories of that era are that it was just that! It was the insurance ratings that ruined the CRX segment. It seems ALL were rated as if you had an Si, even if you had purchased a regular DX (w AT) or the fuel-miserly HF. From the insurer’s perspective, being a two-seater, it was CLEARLY a sports car, even at 50mpg EPA rating.
Please correct me if my memory is faulty.
I agree completely with the author’s sentiments about two-seater cars and have never been interested in sports cars, whether vintage MGs or modern Miata’s, for that reason alone.
The one exception might be the first and second generation CRXs of the 1980s and early 1990s. I liked everything about them and somehow rationalized that the hatchback and cargo area provided a measure of utility that offset the absence of a rear seat. In the late ‘80’s, I helped a friend with a CRX move to a new apartment and remember being surprised at how much we were able to stuff into his car, which was more than fit into my Buick Regal.
All that said, I never did own this or any other Civic, but seeing one in good condition, like the blue-green one in front of the Calder sculpture above, would bring a smile to my face, even on a cold Chicago day.
I do also really like this very 1990s shade of turquoise on the featured car. Hondas of this generation just seemed so bulletproof, well-engineered and beautifully styled – enough so that otherwise rational people like you and me gave at least a little consideration to a two-seat CRX.
In high school, I once got a ride to lunch in the cargo hold of a SAAB Sonett V-4. As you’ll recall, that wasn’t even a hatchback, so getting in there required slithering through the small cargo door in the Kamm tail. I was so much younger then.
For sure, that would have triggered a real claustrophobic response in me! As I think about the original Sonett (thank you for spelling it correctly; it’s not named after a poem – LOL) in rear three-quarter view and the CRX, I’m thinking they had certain similarities in their execution as two-seat sportsters with big cargo space behind the front seats.
With sporty coupes like the CRX, Scirocco, or Paseo, I always thought that they should have some discernible performance advantage over the hatchbacks or sedans on which they were based, to make up for the sacrifice in space. It seems like they usually didn’t. I had a ’90 Civic hatchback for many years that didn’t give up anything to the CRX as far as performance, but on multiple occasions could fit 5 adults in a pinch.
But I love these CRX’s, especially the one you found in that 90’s blue. Practicality isn’t the point with these anyway.
Great points, Corey. It seems that even the Turismo I looked at to purchase wouldn’t necessarily have been a better performer than just a plain, old Horizon on which it was based.
I did read that this generation of CRX was actually a 2+2 in Europe and Japan! I can’t imagine what those rear seats would have been like to sit in for more than five minutes for anyone age 30 or over.
The rear jump seats in the first-generation JDM CR-X were officially described as “1-mile seats,” so even Honda was under no illusions about their space or comfort.
I was attending a trade school after high school. A fellow classmate lived nearby, and were both without cars at that time, so arranged between our moms to car pool. For the first semester, I had to ride in the back under the hatch of a Ford Escort EXP when it was their turn to drive, 45 minutes each way. Thankfully, it was during Fall and Winter.
Later, outside of the Fiero I later purchased, the CRX really caught my eye then too, but I wanted the faster Fiero with the V6.
Practicality eventually won out when I got a call from my sister to get a ride home from the local park she was at with my two nephews when her car died. We wedged the two year old into the footwell, she got into the seat with her legs on either side of the little guy, then the 4 year old sat his but on the center console, legs crossed over her lap.
It was at that moment when I realized I would be better off having what my mom termed “a real car”.
That sounds like some fancy human Tetris! And just the kind of thing my more creative friends would have attempted, versus walking or finding another way to get home. 🙂
“…a real car” Sounds like something my mom also might have said.
At about this point in my own life, I was driving a 1971 Buick LeSabre which I prized for its ability to carry 8 (5 in back, 3 in front) or even 9 if pressed. The main factor being that I was in my early to mid 20s and there were no mandatory seat belt laws in MA (that didn’t happen until 1994). But yes, in the bizarro universe version of my life, I too would have been driving that CRX with someone stuffed in the space under the hatchback.
Isn’t that, ironically, the secret behind all of the ironic things that we did back then? It was all about having the fun that we knew we were having, but that we certainly couldn’t admit was fun?
Madonna being another Michigander, I’m sure somewhere deep down she’d appreciate the Fiero milestone. I’m rather sure she would hold out her right hand to demonstrate the mitten shape of your state if pressed. 🙂
Jeff, once you divide out the fuel bill by the number of passengers you were able to carry in your LeSabre, I’ll bet the math worked out pretty close to what would have been comparable in a Corolla or something! I’d like to think so, anyway.
I’d also like to think there’s some press photo of Madonna somewhere where she’s pointing the spot on her hand that would correspond with Bay City or Rochester. I still do the same thing all the time to show people where Flint is. (We are not a “suburb of Detroit”, thank you very much. 🙂 )
I have never actually ridden in the the back of a hatchback, but I have been the third person in a first generation RX7. It was after the Montreal Marathon and we were all tired and a bit sore, so the offer of a cramped ride won out over a trip on the Metro (subway), with all its stairs. Two of us piled into the passenger seat, but we were both pretty skinny.
There are many back seats that are actually not much more than a luggage area. In high school, in the 60s I got a ride with a friend when his mother picked him up in her Metropolitan. It is the only ride I have ever had in one, and I was in the back. It was really cramped and I had to sit sort of sideways. You certainly could not have fitted a 4th person in. At the time I did not think that it was actually a seat, but it appears to have been advertised as one.
The Nash Met! I would also have had to sit facing sideways in the back of one of those. I had to look up pictures of the rear seat just now just to remind myself of what it looked like.
After a long marathon, I would also have been tempted to share the front seat of an RX-7 with another skinny person. This made me think of the Talbot-Matra Murena with three-across seating, that I have read about here at CC:
The crazy things we used to do in our younger days! I was staying in the country, and a friend’s parents dropped us off at their friends’ farm for a barbecue with their young folks. They were told someone would bring us back into town, they didn’t need to drive the 20 miles back on those hilly, twisty roads at night to fetch us. They went off happy…
The barbecue was okay I guess; but the drive home? Eight of us crammed into an old LC Holden Torana six (1600mm/63 inches wide). Three in the front, five in the back – three abreast with two teenage girls somehow crammed in sitting on our knees. A lot of jokes and laughter ensued as the girls climbed in. I guess they were nice, but I really don’t remember. I never told my parents about that ride home!
We were all a lot skinnier then, but when I see one of those old Toranas nowadays, I wonder how we did it.
Oh, and cars? Here’s that CRX.
Peter, of course I had to immediately look up an LC Holden Torana to see what one looked like and to aid in the visual. I dunno – 20 miles seems like a long way, so like you, I would have sucked it up and gone along with it, like you did!
And that’s a beautiful model, in what looks like the very same factory shade of turquoise as the car I photographed back in 2015.
I had a two door that model, not much of a car the Vauxhall Viva it was copied from was a better drive, mine was bright orange.
I remember 14 teenagers in a car it was a 61 Pontiac 6 cylinder 3 girls in the boot the poor old bomb struggled with that load
I had a ’90 Civic Si and I assure you it didn’t give up anything to a CRX. Great handling, adequate power, fantastic fuel economy, fun, and amazing utility. All in one car! I used to carpool my daughter’s classmates in high school. With four passengers the car was full but not really cramped. Really a great car, but after this, I got the yen to own big old American cars again. For years it was 70’s, 60’s, and even 50’s cars, which I drove along with my motorcycle. My Wife got to drive the minivan. I still haven’t gone back to a sensible small car. I could blame the manufacturers for not making anything that appeals to me, but it’s probably just me.
Another thing I really liked about that generation of Civic was the low beltline, low cowl, and all of that glass area. Even with all the people in the car as you described, the visual effect inside the car was probably one of perceived space, with all of that window to look out of.
Sandy Calder and the second gen CRX SI are two of my all time favorites.
Calder’s “Flamingo” is also one of my favorite pieces of public art. Pictures of it featured prominently in all of the Chicago books I had purchased before moving it. It will always remind me of the optimism of moving here. I’ll always love it.
I have 3 second gen CRXes and a 1991 NSX. The two seaters from the 1990s absolutely rule. I constantly get people approaching me and telling about their personal stories and their love for this cars. 💓
Outstanding! The original NSX was iconic from Day One.
These cars are iconic and great fun to drive. I have 3 of the CRX and a ’91 NSX. Go Honda!!