COAL: 1986 Honda CRX HF – The One That Got Away


That’s actually my CRX, in front of my old house. My neighbor Bertha’s ’73 Dodge Dart Swinger is at left. 

In 2014 Ate Up With Motor did a comprehensive history of the Honda CRX, a car I owned for a brief while and the sale of which I still regret to this day. It was bigger than it looked, smaller than any other vehicle I’ve ever owned, more economical than riding a bicycle, and more fun than a vehicle with 58 HP should have ever have been.

Somewhere around 1996, my Mazda B2000 was blowing more and more oil and beginning to get expensive, and I started looking around for cheap wheels to replace it.

Selling this truck marked a couple of milestones in my life at that point: I had just traded my job as a self-employed contractor for a paid internship as a graphic designer, which I was soon able to parlay into a full-time job. This was much better for my health, because I was at the point where I either needed to hire a helper to expand my business or cut bait, and I knew nothing about forming a business and dealing with payroll and taxes and insurance. Contracting money was OK but my student loans were biting me hard, and I wasn’t using my degree for anything. And most importantly, it came with healthcare, something I’d been without for several years.

Now that I had a full-time desk job, I did what any 20-something male with disposable income would do: I sold the truck and looked around for a sports car.

I also had a steady girlfriend by this point, and when I mentioned to her that I was going to sell the truck, she mentioned that I should look at a CRX she knew about. It was an ’86 silver HF model owned by her father, who had driven it himself, lent it to her, and then lent it to her brother. He beat on it for a while before her Dad took it back and parked it in his driveway, ridden hard and put away wet.

Image: Note it’s badged as a Civic. The little black square under the taillight says HF.

This was not a sports car. It had about 90k on the odometer when I looked at it, the CV joints were already bad, the brakes were shot, it needed muffler work, and it smelled like cigarettes and feet. But the price was dirt-cheap and it ran. As I recall I might have paid $1,500 for it as it sat. I put some money into repairs, got it running reliably, and, unbelievably, got three years of dependability at an average of 40mpg. It was a stick, and first gear was a dog. But once it was at speed, it was a blast to drive–nothing like the pickup.

Image: I did not have these fancy wheels, which were most likely swiped from an SI model.

This was also the first car I’d owned that hadn’t come from a repossession auction, but it may well have been. It was beat up, sure. My girlfriend’s brother had obviously tried to drag faster and lighter cars, played tag with trashcans and mailboxes, spilled coffee, ash, fast food, and bongwater over every inch of the carpet. There were dings and dents and cracks in the bumpers. It rattled and squeaked. The wiring behind the radio was a rat’s nest, left over from multiple hack installations. The AC worked as long as the car was in motion, but the minute forward movement stopped I had to turn it off for fear of nuclear meltdown. This foreshadowed future problems with overheating in Baltimore traffic and a pattern that repeated itself with several other cars until I bought a lightly used CR-V in 2009.

Image: Behold the mighty 1.5L EW!

But it was loads more comfortable than the Mazda. The seats were comfortable and adjusted well for long commutes. All of the controls were well-designed, durable, and easy to operate. There were no cupholders, but there was a handy hatch on the top of the dashboard for small items, and the rear area featured a covered well that hid bags and boxes pretty well–an important consideration in Baltimore City. I could fit two mountain bikes under the hatch, park it inside a shoebox, and the money I saved on gas more than offset the thirsty V-8 of my first Scout. Where was the downside?

Image: This was a very pleasant place to commute in. 

I switched jobs after a year, to a design firm south of the city, and found commuting to be simple. I may have filled the tank once a month; I spent more money on tolls going through the Harbor Tunnel until quitting that job for a better gig on the opposite side of town.

Image: This is more spacious than the picture lets on.

A year or two after I got the CRX I bought my first house. We found a small rowhome in a blue-collar section of Baltimore that had been partially rehabbed but still needed lots of work. With a combination of first-time homeowner credits and a fire-sale price, I was able to afford a mortgage that wasn’t much higher than my rent at the time. When it came time to move, the CRX was my transport. It’s remarkable what I was able to fit in the hatch area of that car–chairs, coffee tables, futons: it hauled them all, and without complaint.


In its third year, it began to show its age by leaving larger and larger clouds of blue smoke in my wake, and soon it was burning through a quart of oil every two weeks. I’d put a bunch of highway miles on it but the damage done before it came to me had been severe. The rings were shot, and I was living in the city with no tools and no garage to make repairs. Regretfully, I placed an ad in the paper and sold it the very next day to a guy who told me he was planning on setting it up for SCCA racing against MR2s. I think I got $1,000 for it, which was a steal (for him).

Had I been thinking more clearly, I would have driven it up to my sister’s farmhouse and parked it in the empty chicken barn out back until I could have afforded a rebuilt engine, but hindsight is, as they say, always 20/20. Meanwhile, I was looking for a more dependable vehicle. But before I get to that, I’ll talk next about my blind love for an extinct brand that continues to this day…