Curbside Classic: 1988 Honda Quint Integra GSi (DA1) Notchback Saloon – Squinty McQuintface

I’m on the record as saying that ‘80s styling is not my jam. It still isn’t, but there are exceptions. We’ve had two ‘80s JDM mid-size saloons this week, so I hope you won’t mind if we round it off with a third. But unlike the Isuzu Gemini and the Toyota Carina, which I wasn’t overly impressed with, today’s feature four-door actually looks pretty damn nice – to me, anyways.

The Honda Quint Integra came out in February 1985, so it’s about as ‘80s as they come. Just like that Isuzu and the Toyota, to be honest (they came out in 1985 and 1984, respectively). The difference is the Honda designers ditched the etch-a-sketch and went the extra mile to give their boxy four-door some personality. And like that movie said, personality goes a long way.

I mean, it’s not rocket science, is it? Up front, they fashioned an integrally squinty trompe-l’oeil type of deal, with flip-up headlights and no grille to speak of, just to make everyone believe grandma’s grocery getter is a mid-engined sports car. In the middle, a fine-looking greenhouse with a low beltline, a thin C-pillar and a Faux-meister kink. Out back, a proper actual trunk – boxy but stylish – to give the whole car a still-kinda-trendy wedge shape. Man, those Honda guys pulled out all the tricks. And it worked.

Our feature car is the JDM-only Quint Integra four-door saloon. Out in the US, the Acura brand (top left) was kickstarted with the three- and five-door versions of this very car, alongside the Legend. The hatchbacks were the two initial cars in Japan too (top right), whereas the four-door  (bottom left, in pre-facelift guise) only joined the range in October 1986. For reasons that remain quite nebulous to me, the Australian market five-door saloon was marketed as the Rover 416i (bottom right), but the coupé kept the Honda badge.

Whatever it said on the steering wheel, the Integra was marketed as a slightly upscale family car of the 1500-ish cc variety – a hugely important in many parts of Asia and pretty much all of Europe. Trim level designations, typically dignified by a couple of letters, varied from one market to the next, but the sportiest available trim in Japan was the GSi. As luck would have it, that’s exactly what I found.

All this sporty styling is all the more effective given the car’s dynamics. It was a great blend of Honda’s best bits: they started with a third-gen Civic saloon floorpan, made it slightly longer, added the CRX’s torsion bar double wishbone front suspension, and put that car’s sweet D-series ZC engine (also from the CRX) on top of it all.

Said engine was the Integra’s real showpiece – in the GSi, anyway, as other trim levels were not as well endowed. Some sources say it’s a contender for the best 4-cyl. of the decade, which given the staunch competition in that category, is a significant statement. All-alloy block, 16-valves, DOHC, 1590cc and fed by Honda’s own Programmed Fuel Injection system, the later models like out feature car would have had 120hp to play with. That was Golf GTI territory. Better-than-average reliability and decent fuel economy just tied the whole package together.

Mating this lively 4-cyl. with anything but a 5-speed manual would be downright sacrilegious. Unfortunately, the person who bought this car 30-plus years ago must have been something of a blasphemer, so it has the 3-speed auto. The Honda is also competently designed inside – way more interesting than the Carina, for example. Higher-trim versions like these were never seen in Europe, where the Integra was strangely sold as an economy car. Another swing and a miss on that market by Honda, which was made up for by getting massively popular in North America.

In Europe, the British-designed and -built Concerto took over in 1989, and Integras were never very common to begin with. However, the Integra sold well on both sides of the Pacific, yet this is the first one I’ve seen in eons anyplace. Hondas generally do not seem to age all that well in their country of origin – they are way underrepresented in the older metal I’ve been finding. Is that due to their being almost exclusively front-driven and thus deemed as uninteresting by the classic car crowd here? Remember, in Japan, these were also offered in quite basic trim and powered by the Civic’s modest 1.5 litre engine. Our feature car is the top of the line, but most were not as nice as this.

First-generation Integras, judging from the paucity of CC’s own archives, seem to have vanished from North American traffic also. Some were perhaps disposed of prematurely because of boy-racers; road salt must have claimed its fair share as well. But is that the whole story?


Related post:


Curbside Classic: 1989 Acura Integra LS – A Hot Hatch For The Civic Minded, by JPC