Never buy a first-year car… Wait until the problems are ironed out… New model, new problems… That may be the conventional wisdom when it comes to some cars, but not to Hondas. Well, not THIS Honda anyway as it made it almost forty years even though it was more than likely literally part of the first boatload of them that were shipped over. I well recall a time when CRXs just like this one were all over the place in sunny SoCal, but over the last ten years any sighting of either generation is a rare one to be savored, especially in stock form.
People go on and on about how lightweight first generation Miatas are, well, the CRX undercut that by 275 pounds, weighing in at a published U.S. curb weight of 1,819 pounds. Shocking. Yeah, they were small, but when new in the context of other traffic they weren’t really looked at as tiny. Just as a two-seater. Which they were, over here at least, although in Japan somehow they managed to add a couple of seats in the back.
This one has been here since the beginning, if it wasn’t actually a press car it was likely the first one a particular Honda dealership somewhere received, seeing as how there were 805 Honda dealerships here in 1983 and you’d hope every dealer got at least one to start with. While it’s not a creampuff (anymore) and certainly picked over a bit as clean Honda interiors do not last in the junkyard, being serial number 000276 built in July of 1983 makes it something I can happily geek out over.
Cars with lots of zeroes in the VIN, first-year and last-year models, and huge mileages are the types of things that turn my crank, and this one has two of those going for it. Never mind that I loved the CRX when new, and especially when the Si version was added for 1985 and even more so when that Si went monochrome on the exterior for 1986. Oh baby. But this 1.5liter version is just like the one featured in numerous road tests of the day with the red paint, gray lower cladding, charcoal interior and little winglet on the back. Heck, lose the cladding and there’s probably another twenty pounds or so off the weight!
Look at that pert little rear. No nonsense, yet everything it needs to convey some sporting intent. Debadged by some denizen of the yard, the top left would have read Honda, the logo in the middle, then the right hand upper badge would have said Civic as all the early CRXs were actually badged Civic CRX. The CRX part is in the middle on the black plastic center panel of the large, clear lights, and the badge at the lower right would have read 1.5 as that was the larger engine on offer in the beginning.
The big H, the badge that launched a thousand (or many thousands) of dealer markups, adjusted market value stickers, orders sold off the truck or before the truck even arrive, and of course a couple of famous lawsuits alleging insider dealing and payoffs amongst some Honda personnel and dealers. Part of the reason for the light weight of the car is its extensive use of plastics for some of the body panels, here what remains of the front valance.
But it wasn’t just the front panel; the front fenders were plastic as well, as were the rocker panel covers, i.e. the cladding that really just continued the lines of the bumpers for the few feet between wheelwells. According to Aaron Severson’s excellent history of the CRX at AteUpWithMotor.com it’s a proprietary blend of polycarbonate and ABS plastic that Honda called “HP alloy” while the bumpers are “HP blend”, a Honda-developed polypropylene blend.
Just look at that little 13″ wheel. All steel, later ones were usually covered with little plastic hubcaps, but these first year cars had two styles – this one on the 1.5 and a style with circular holes around the perimeter for the smaller-engined one. Somehow this one managed to look sportier, (rightly so, the car was), but how curious that even basic steelies can be designed to convey different messages. And how is there no corrosion on the steelie of this apparently Denver-based car?
The tires here are proper all-American BFGoodrich T/As, albeit the Touring version. Maybe it needed tires and there weren’t any 175/70-13s to be had so it ended up here. No, of course not, but it would be a few years until the big 14″ alloys made an appearance on the CRX, the 1986 monochrome Si to be exact as the 1985 Si still made do with 13s. Yes, this is the kind of oh-so-useful stuff that kept me up at night while studying for my driver’s license exam in the fall of ’85…
Of course the CRX was part of Honda’s new 1984 Civic tour de force where they launched this, the 2-door hatchback, the four door sedan, as well as the five-door tallboy wagon at the same time. A full range of models, all with a set of mix and match components pretty much unheard of at the time. And they were styled so much more cleanly, a huge stylistic jump from what came before, not that the outgoing set wasn’t filled with its own charms.
I can’t imagine what befell this car to make the front end such a mess and bring it here, but obviously it was significant enough, although it didn’t affect the hood at all. Or maybe it was something else altogether and this is some sort of yard damage. Even the sealed beam headlights add character here with the vented surrounds that Honda gave it; it lost a little charm in that regard when it went to aero lights for 1986, turning into a bit more of a machine. Fog lights, as the one left here indicates, were a popular add-on of course as with so many cars back then. Rarely used correctly but generally at least off in the daytime unlike those of another brand I could mention.
This one is the mighty 1.5, four cylinders of double digit horsepower with 3 valves per cylinder (the valve cover states 12 valve), and as such is the upper trim level. The base car was the mileage champ with its 1.3 liter 2valve per cylinder engine, also carbed, that delivered 51mpg City and 67 highway in EPA testing.
Both cars are in fact able to deliver stupendous mileage largely by dint of their light weight, but that also pays dividends in the drive experience itself, the engine was plenty powerful and oh so smooth while happily zinging to the redline over and over again. The CRX’s shape made it a lot more aerodynamic than the rest of the lineup by 25% or so from what I understand – it’s no coincidence that many of today’s electric vehicles have roughly the same shape overall, it’s simply more aerodynamic.
Yes I know there isn’t much left, but there is something better – the obvious amount of space inside. With the large, comfortable, yet so supportive sport seats gone we can see the whole space that Honda had to work with. From the low dashboard (and make no mistake, even though it’s a two-level affair, the top level is still extremely low compared to most other cars of the day) to the wraparound styling there’s a sense of purpose and quality. Everything joins into everything else, nothing looks tacked on or there for no good reason.
The one noticeable flaw was Honda’s vinyl choice on the door panels, it would pucker like this one within a few years, not an uncommon aspect of many Japanese cars of the time. Curiously a few years later that sort of “gathered” look would become desirable when done in leather on seats and door panel inserts as it denoted that there was so little expense spared that the material didn’t need to be stretched to the maximum, but could lay there all relaxed and hedonistic…
The unfortunately sun-blasted shot shows most of the inside space from front to back, while the cargo area isn’t huge per se, it’s deep and long enough to hold a goodly amount of stuff, in this case a door panel from the driver’s door as a reflection of the length on offer.
And here we are with the hatch open looking forward across that same door panel with the HVAC control module laying upside down in the lower left foreground. Honda made that thing so simple with a slider and a row of buttons that operated smoothly and satisfyingly, nothing clunky or clumsy whatsoever. It’s one of those things that astounded people as they noted it and the other controls before climbing back into their same-year Tempo or Cavalier or whatever and comparing it to what those had.
As excited as I was about finding such an early CRX to point and shoot with my camera, it is a shame it ended up here for whatever reason. There was no rust on this car, and even if there was a mechanical malady these cars are famous for having everything mechanical swapped out easily for generations of them. But obviously something happened and a 1984 Honda, no matter how cool, interesting, low number, or fun has little actual monetary value, or at least nowhere near the sentimental value it holds to many, even to me, someone who never owned one (But dreamt about it).