Curbside Musings & Jukebox: c. 1994 Acura Integra – Breakdown

Third-generation Acura Integra. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, November 7, 2020.

I was a college student when the third-generation Acura Integra was introduced in the fall of 1993 as a ’94 model.  I was more interested in domestic offerings, especially the new Camaro and Mustang, but I liked that round, individual headlamps had made a return on cars like the new Integra and sixth-generation Toyota Celica, which arrived at the same time.  The Integra wasn’t on my list of cars I would have liked to own in the future, but in some of the many discussions and debates in the TV lounge of our dormitory floor, as well as in many articles in concurrent car magazines, its many virtues were extolled.

The Integra was a cut above many sporty cars in terms of engineering, handling, safety features, and performance, and being a Honda meant it also had rock-solid reliability.  The eight model year run of the third-generation cars was the its longest, with the previous two iterations both lasting four years.  Peak Integra sales in the U.S. came with the 1990 redesign, with about 83,600 units sold between both the three-door hatchback and four-door sedan.  Of the third-generation cars, the first-year ’94s were most plentiful here, with about 67,400 sold, with sales slowly tapering off through the end of this generation for ’01, when only about 13,700 were sold.  The Integra has since returned for 2022 as an early ’23 model.

The fall of ’93 was also shortly after I had joined BMG mail-order music club and had started an major expansion of my compact disc collection.  Only a couple of summers earlier when my family had moved to Florida, one of my favorite discoveries was Donna Summer’s On The Radio greatest hits package.  The liner notes of Pet Shop Boys’ Discography, which I had owned first, led me to that purchase, where Summer’s groundbreaking, hypnotic “I Feel Love” from 1977 and its propulsive, analog synthesizer sound was cited as the PSB duo’s sonic inspiration for their worldwide 1990 hit “So Hard”.  The On The Radio compilation reintroduced me to many of Summer’s songs I had previously loved, most of which I hadn’t realized were hers.  On The Radio was the “gateway drug”, so to speak, that led to my research of Summer’s history and stellar body of musical output which ended, sadly, when her life was cut prematurely short in 2012 at the age of 63 by lung cancer.  She was a non-smoker.

My family tolerated my summer-long Summer-fest that year as I played that album in the family Nova almost every time I was behind the wheel, even if I had to be quick with the Delco fast-forward button to skip the graphic “Love To Love You Baby”, lest my mother hear even one of Donna’s ecstatic moans.  My younger brother, newly aware of my fandom, presented me with my first LP copy of her 1980 album The Wanderer he had found secondhand at a thrift store, her first for newly-formed label Geffen Records.  She had just jumped ship from Casablanca, the label for which she had recorded the bulk of her most recognizable and culturally iconic songs, reportedly due to clashes with label head Neil Bogart and the desire for greater autonomy, control of her image, and artistic freedom.

To make a long story short, The Wanderer, a more rock-oriented release than what she had been known for, sold but a fraction of her immediately preceding records, even if it earned a Gold certification from the RIAA for shipments of 500,000 copies.  This number was a far cry from the Platinum (one million plus) success she had achieved with her prior three, consecutive, double-albums for Casablanca, a record that stands in 2022.  Still, The Wanderer is my favorite Donna Summer album, a personal collection of songs in which she sang about rebirth and having emerged from the depths of the dark place in which she had found herself by the peak of her commercial success in the late ’70s.  It remains an uplifting, often replayed touchstone in my vast music collection.  Curiously, despite the shift in her sound on this record, it was still produced by long-time collaborators Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder, the latter of whom is now 82 and has performed live as recently as 2019.

Donna Summer, "The Wanderer" LP cover art. 1980, Geffen Records.

Breakdown, shakedown again
Breakdown, over you
Breakdown, way down again
Breakdown, over you, over you

The third track on the first side, “Breakdown”, is narrated by an unfaithful lover in one half of a dysfunctional relationship that has, well, broken down.  Stuff happens.  People fight.  Sometimes reconciliation and real change in a relationship and its dynamics are possible, but that takes both honest risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis.  As my sister once told me within a different context, nothing changes until something changes.  Thinking about this wrecked, black Integra and the lyrics of “Breakdown”, written by Bellotte and Harold Faltermeyer, the similarities between a romantic relationship and used car ownership come into focus in my mind.  This Integra’s newest owner was not the first one, nor the second, and probably not the third.  At the time of its most recent purchase, however, it didn’t look like the complete mess we see in these pictures.  It was once a serviceable, driveable car – one with Integra style and upscale Honda cachet.  Two people can enter a relationship in much better shape as individuals than when they leave it.

Just when our love appeared to be
Growing strong
And just when you believed that
We both belonged
You catch me out a-cheating and
Foolin’ around
You find that I’m lyin’
I feel like I’m dyin’
Here I come cryin’ again

Third-generation Acura Integra. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, November 7, 2020.

How soon the love affair can end with a used car, especially when it begs for your funds and forgiveness.  Any vehicle that’s twenty-five years old is going to have or develop issues, even if it’s a Honda.  Things were going swimmingly with my newly-purchased, four-year-old ’94 Ford Probe before the CV joints went out, both at the same time.  A deafening CLACK-CLACK-CLACK one day immediately accompanied my attempts to make even slight turns to the right or left.  Oh, Baby, I remember thinking.  We’ve been together only a few months, and now you’re going to do me like this?  My Probe wasn’t the only used car I owned that had tested the bounds of my love.  My ’88 Mustang, purchased at five years old and with just under 60,000 miles on the odometer, had both the heater core and air conditioning compressor fail within months of my ownership.  I wonder what was the first major failure that occurred with this black Integra following the most recent title transfer.  Disappointment surely ensued, even before the final collision that put it out of commission.

Third-generation Acura Integra. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, November 7, 2020.

I put you through this whole
Affair before
I broke it up, you broke it up even more
Then I begged you to patch it all
Up again
Why did you listen to me
You should have let it all be
You shouldn’t put all your trust in me

Fix me up, just one more time, this black Integra seems to be saying as it sits haplessly at the curb, stripped of its license plates.  Have you ever witnessed a stranded, inconvenienced driver taking out his or her frustration out on their vehicle, causing even more damage in addition to whatever had landed it by the side of the road?  Having one’s car be out of commission can mean relying on someone else to get you around in the meantime.  There’s the cost of parts and labor, not to mention the tow truck.  The first time something breaks on a new-to-you purchase, you may think it’s okay and assume that it was just a fluke.  The first major fight you have with someone with whom you are or were enamored may feel like a test of your bonds, almost as if by making up, you’d be able to say the two of you had weathered that first storm without any issues.  Then the next fight happens.

1995 Acura Integra LS coupe. Ravenswood, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, March 16, 2013.

1995 Acura Integra LS coupe.  Ravenswood, Chicago, Illinois.  Saturday, March 16, 2013.

Will it feel as coincidental when the next thing breaks on your used car, especially if it happens not too long after the first malfunction?  At what point does the red flag in your mind match the newly illuminated red light on the car’s dashboard?  Even if a car runs well, body damage or a compromised structure can test your continued loyalty.  Similarly, after the next row with your significant other, or even a family member, when do you start asking yourself if you should simply cut and run?  To quote another Donna Summer lyric, the hard part is not only knowing when to do so, but also in being decisive in your choice to “Walk Away.

Here, in black and white, are two battered examples of a generation, make, and model of car that is still celebrated.  There’s probably no bringing back either car even by the most devoted fan, at least within sound financial reason, with both examples having been utterly broken down.  There’s no bringing back Donna Summer, either, though her music lives on in her vast, varied, and expressive body of work.  There’s also no manual to instruct if or when any kind of relationship should end.  Under normal use and wear, no regular vehicle will last forever, though admittedly, a relationship is different than a vehicle, which is manufactured with planned obsolescence designed right into it.  It is still my hope that people have or gain the wisdom and discernment to know when something is worth saving, and when to let it go.

Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, November 7, 2020.