COAL: 1985 Honda Accord LX – My First Grown Up Car

I graduated college in October 1985, and moved back to California for my first “real” job. As the Skylark I owned was sold on graduation day in Phoenix, I arrived at my mom and dad’s house without a car to get me back and forth to said job. What was a 21 year old to do? What would I get? What should I get?

As was the case with the Sunbird three years earlier, I enlisted my dad to help. My dad was not a car person – he owned the same ’70 Chevrolet pickup from new until he passed just a few years ago, and my mom got a series of used cars. I think she was driving a Toyota Celica at the time.

I did some looking on my own, first – I looked at both an ’84 Grand Am coupe and an ’85 Mustang, with the 4-cylinder. Both were in my price range, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the build quality of either, and given my experience with the domestic cars I had owned previously, I wasn’t sure about the reliability.

However, Dad knew the general manager of the local Toyota dealer – the dealer name was Lunsford Toyota. Side note – the dealer put a sticker in the rear window with the dealer name on every new car they sold. Friends of my folks had bought a mid 70’s Corolla from them, and did a bit of creative surgery on the sticker so it read “FORD TOY”. Anyway, as we wandered the lot, Dad spotted a row of ’84 Corollas. I wasn’t sure if they were loaner vehicles or previous rental cars, but they were all pretty basic spec, and equipped with automatic transmissions. I was not inclined to just give in to him, this time.

Then, I spotted a burgundy hatchback – a 1985 Honda Accord LX. It had about 16,000 miles on it, and was equipped with a 5-speed stick shift. The interior was, to my eyes, quite luxurious (and also burgundy in color), and it had the quintessential accessory of the time – rear louvers. It made the car look racy, at the expense of rear visibility. I was smitten at first sight.

I remember my uncle telling my dad that getting a stick shift was a good thing – my uncle drove an early 80’s 200SX coupe with a stick, so he knew what he was talking about. A little back and forth, and the car was mine, with a selling price of $8650, plus tax and license.

The Accord was a revelation when it was first introduced in 1976, and I was fortunate to get the refresh of the 2nd generation, which had tighter styling all around, especially around the headlights and grille. GM, Ford and Chrysler had no answer to the build quality, and having a Honda dealer in the 80’s meant you had a license to print money. Many cars were sold above MSRP, and folks were on a waiting list for months, and when “their” car finally arrived, they were effective told to “take it or leave it”. As my car was a year old, I was able to avoid those purchase shenanigans.

The car itself was immaculate – not a mark on it, inside or out. The car had a number of luxury features that I had not had in the past; cruise control, A/C, the cool little felt-lined coin box to the left of the steering wheel. It was still carbureted, and made a whopping 86HP, but the slick-shifting transmission made the best use of each one of them.

About a year after I bought it, I took a 3 week vacation and drove the car from my home in California to visit my cousin (he of the sunroof install). He had joined the Air Force, and was stationed at Wurtsmith AFB in Michigan, on the eastern side of the state, hard by Lake Huron.

A friend of mine accompanied me on the trip, to help with the driving and to keep me company. I now suspect this was also done to placate my mom, who was worried about the whole endeavor. One week to get there, one week to visit, one week to drive home. This was the first time I’d taken a road trip of that length.

Other than the slushbox, this is a duplicate of the interior of my car.

Each day on the road was an adventure – most of the western part of the trip was on I-40, then we cut northeast on I-44 to I-70 in St. Louis. We detoured in Texas to visit my friend’s grandparents, who lived close to Amarillo, and again in Ohio, to stop in on a high school classmate of my sister’s who lived in Toledo.

The week in Michigan was great – a bit further north of my cousin’s place was a sign denoting the 45th parallel – the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole. A little golf, some time exploring the area, and too soon it was time for the return trip.

We made one small change to the interior arrangements of the car for the drive home – on the way out, we had both rear seats folded for luggage, which restricted the ability of the passenger to recline their seat. We repacked the car so that the right rear seat was left upright, so better relaxation was possible.

We also took a different route for the first part of the drive home – went due west in Michigan and toured downtown Chicago before stopping for the night in Romeoville, not far from Joliet (get it?). I-57 south took us back to I-70, where we retraced our route, including another night at the grandparents’ place in Texas. The next day was the longest day of the trip, almost 900 miles to Phoenix. We also saw our best mileage of the trip, almost 55MPG, on the downhill side of the continental divide in New Mexico. A couple of days in Phoenix, seeing old friends, then the last trip home, where we got the car up to the highly illegal speed of 90MPH. Remember, this was in the days of the double nickel. The Accord ran flawlessly for the entire 5500+ miles. Cold A/C and cruise made the drive tolerable, and the seats were comfortable for long stretches.

Ah, the 80’s – when the shorts were short and the facial hair was contained to one’s upper lip.

During my ownership of the Accord, I met, courted and married my first wife, J. The Accord took us on our honeymoon trip to the Monterey Peninsula via California Highway 1, which is a most spectacular road. When I met her, J was driving a mid-80’s Buick Regal, but she – like most women – wanted a truck. She ended up buying an ’86 Isuzu P’up – standard bed with a stick, white with blue cloth interior, and maybe a cassette deck.

J’s truck, just after she bought it.

The Accord had no major mechanical issues in the 3+ years I owned it – just oil changes and a new set of tires were all it required – and it had under 60,000 miles on it when we reluctantly traded it in for something more, um, family friendly. The family was growing, and a 2-door hatch and a 2-seat pickup weren’t going to cut it with baby seats and baby paraphernalia.