COAL: 1990 Integra – The Unintentional Acura


Sometimes, being “the car guy” has unintended consequences. Last Fall (2015), an Internet friend of mine from Seattle lamented to me that she needed to get a new car, because she was having difficulty getting in and out of “a car so low”. I helped her pick out a nice Lexus Certified RX450h, she bought it, and it made her happy.

“But now”, she lamented, “what do I do with my Acura? The dealer essentially didn’t want it in trade, and I don’t want to sell it myself.”I asked her for the details of the Acura. It was a 1990 Integra sedan. She had bought it brand new. It had 113,000 miles, and had never been serviced anywhere but Acura of Bellevue (WA). Best of all, it had a proper manual transmission!

Acura_battery[Dealer-maintained, right down to the battery]

She emailed me a copy of the CarFax. The mileage, service history, and one-owner status was verified, along with an accident-free record. The CarFax also indicated that the 120,000-mile service had already been completed at 103k, because the camshaft seals needed to be replaced, and it only made sense to do the full 120k service at that point.

Acura_dash[Average mileage? 4400 per year!]

A quick Internet search gave me an estimated value of $1800 (although values of a car this old can be hard to pin down). The CarFax report gave the car a +$700 boost for the clean service history.

I opened my big mouth. “Heck, I’ll give you $2500 for it!” The deal was struck. Now all I needed to do was figure out how to get it from Seattle to Las Vegas. Well, I had some vacation time coming, so I bought a one-way plane ticket to Seattle, grabbed a wad of cash from the bank, and was on my way.

My friend picked me up at the airport and we went to a coffee shop (because Seattle) to do business. I gave the car a good once over. It was everything she said it was. To a non-car person, it could have easily passed for an 8-year-old car. The car was all-original, down to the factory cassette deck, with dealer-accessory CD player! The deal was good, money changed hands, and I was on my way.

Acura_CD[Proper transmission, and a dealer-installed CD player!]

As long as I was calling it a vacation, I took my time getting back. I made my way to the Pacific Coast Highway (i.e. US-101) and slowly drifted my way down the coast, stopping for anything I thought was interesting. Having woken up at 4:30 that morning, I was pretty tired, so when I got to Newport, OR, I turned inland to Corvallis and got a room.

I woke the next morning and continued on US-20 from Corvallis to Bend. A beautiful drive through the mountains, and I recommend it. After Bend, things got ugly. Not with the car; it was performing flawlessly, averaging 33mpg. The car was fine – it was the drive that got awful. Oregon, once you get east of the Cascade Range, becomes high desert. Flat as a board, not a speck of evidence of humans, and while the scenery is lovely, after about 30 minutes it starts to get seriously redundant.


A couple of things to note about US-20, east of Bend. First, I’m pretty sure that whoever placed it on the map was using a straightedge. I don’t think I turned the steering wheel more than 2 degrees all afternoon. Secondly, the person who set the 55mph speed limit on that stretch of road had clearly never actually driven it. There is no human settlement, it is straight as an arrow, and one of the least trafficked US Highways I’ve ever driven on.

Just after Burns, OR, I switched to Oregon 78. More dullness with absurdly low speed limits. OR-78 meets up with US-95 somewhere east of the middle of nowhere. I crossed into Nevada, and was faced with another 550 miles of endless high desert plains, punctuated by an occasional mountain pass. I made my way to Winnemucca, NV and found myself a room.

First thing in the morning, I made my way to the Nevada DMV to get legal. I love small-town DMV offices; I was in and out in 20 minutes! The rest of the day was an endless slog home. On the sort of back roads I was driving (NV-305 to US-50 to NV-376 to US-95, if you’re following along at home) one must plan fuel stops carefully – often there is a 100+ mile stretch between gas stations!

I made it home to Las Vegas by nightfall. Unlike Oregon, Nevada has a perfectly sensible 75mph limit on these sorts of roads. Now that I was on my own (legal) plate, and given the lack of any sort of police presence on these sorts of roads, I may, possibly, have exceeded the speed limit by a few MPH. However, don’t quote me on the fact that a 1990 Integra may or may not run just fine at triple-digit speeds, okay?

As for the car itself, it is a truly fine car. When it was made, Acura was still a new brand, and I think they were intent on building a car to a higher standard than the ordinary Hondas from which they were derived.

On the other hand, and despite what you may have heard about this generation of Integra, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about driving it. Sure, the DOHC 1.8 (non-VTEC, yo) loves to rev – in fact, because there isn’t much power below 3500 RPM, it pretty much needs to be whipped like a rented mule – and while that has its moments of joy, there is little else to recommend this car.
Me and my big mouth. Including getting the car home, I have about $3000 tied up in it. There seems to be no market whatsoever for bone-stock old Acuras. If I needed a $3000 car, there isn’t any way I could have bought a better car for that money.

But I really have no need for a $3000 car. It mostly sits, but I make sure to drive it every Sunday, just to keep the juices flowing. Registered as a “Classic Vehicle”, and insured for “Pleasure Use Only”, it costs me about $400/year to keep on the road. At that cost, it makes for a handy second car to keep around.