April 1986 Road & Pothole
Hondas are Forever
Zen, and The Art of
xxxxxxxxxxx – Staff Writer
For the past few years this column has kept you at the forefront of sport scar technology and style. Within these pages I have reviewed a wide spectrum of sporting tackle, but his month I have trumped those articles with the chronicle of a car so unique, it has never been considered by other publications… (a silence from the crowd) What could be so different as to warrant all of this drivel; a factory prototype Ferrari, an autobahn test of a Countach S? Hardly. The engineering gem to grace these glossies is a well used, much abused, 1977 Honda Civic. This high mileage (approximately 15,000 miles since the odometer was snuffed at 105K) grocery getter became my prized possession over a year ago for the non-suggested dealer list price of 800 sawbucks and a handshake.
To make it clear, I originally purchased the Honda as alternate transportation. If you have ever tried to nurse a cold-blooded Porsche to the Quik Trip on streets assaulted by an Indiana snowstorm, then I am sure you can relate. To my surprise, as I drove the beater home, I began to feel at home right away. Of course I was humbled when a “real” car passed by, but I just offered a smug, OPEC defiant grin and putted on in a cloud of noxious smoke. The smoking definitely was a drawback, but as luck would have it, this circumstance led to my first exposure to Honda engineering.
The smokescreen the beater let out was enough to make James Bond proud, but no matter how many buttons I pushed, it would not stop. Four trips to the parts store and 200 dollars later, I began to rebuild my “cheap” transportation. Well, as it turned out, the smokescreen was a good idea because one of the previous owners had removed all of the emissions equipment. I am sure that federal inspectors would have had a tough time getting a plate number when they could barely see thru the fog. Anyway, I began thrashing the motor. The greasier I got, the more respect I found for the car’s design. Engine maintenance is a breeze due to some exceptional foresight by the designers. All parts on the car appear to have been designed with a Japanese pen, gut seemingly on German paper. Sure, the European flair for style was missing, but instead, function received that spare slice of attention. I wrenched on, occasionally stopping to admire a cleverly crafted component as time and beer breaks allowed. After a grungy weekend, the beater and I emerged from the garage with a smokeless squirt of Honda power.
Wow! It never ceases to amaze me that a heartless piece of alloy can be so appreciative of a little T.L.C. The “new” Honda ran like a top. While I once reserved the time spent in the Honda for the lowliest of trips, I can now stride past the Porsche with ease, and eagerly hop into that little beater. The Civic is an errand car in every sense. It negotiates traffic like a motorcycle and saves fuel like one too. The power of the 2-valve engine is by no means impressive, but it can put the suspension through it’s paces. Designed as the ultimate city-car, it hits the mark with a solid, yet satisfying thunk.
The beater’s four-wheel independent suspension won’t embarrass any Testarossas, but it can pussy-foot around any pothole maze the mean city streets can offer. Even after over one hundred thousand miles on the stock bushings and struts, the car is nimble and quick on it’s balding Michelins. I have experienced some of the inherent steering glitches of a front-wheel drive car. This is not as annoying, however, as the turbo lag on my 944 that cost tenfold more than the Honda. Overall, the suspension of the car is sedate, but fitting. After all, how many parking lot grand prix does a guy enter?
In the miscellaneous column, the beater comes through with excellent marks. The paint was probably excellent once, but now it just keeps the car recognizable in a crowd. The interior amenities are subtle and to the point. A place for everything, and everything in it’s place. The air conditioner works great, although the condensate drips on your passenger’s left instep. The A/C (aka turbo boost) button is easily accessible by the pilot. This is a good thing, as that extra bit of power comes in handy during a passing situation. The seats are remarkably comfortable on long trips. Did I say long trips? Naturally, I have taken the beater on a road trip, to test it’s roadworthiness of course. After all, it is my “alternate” transportation…right? Well okay, maybe I have “alternated” quite a bit recently, but that is beside the point. It’s not as if I really enjoy driving the wretched hulk all of the time, but I force myself anyway.
The other day I started to fix a dent left by an errant 9-iron shot on the beater’s flank, but stopped myself short. I guess there is no need to get carried away. After all, the dimpled dent was displayed much like a badge of honor on the little Honda’s fender. I pondered it a bit, then tried to imagine the same dent adorning the treasured Porsche. I can imagine how it would desecrate the car’s style and image. Then it hit me….the Beater had more style and panache than the 944 could ever muster! The Honda could get me there when others failed. It could dodge the potholes and hold it’s face high when I missed. But most of all, the Beater had character. The car is a friend now, a brother in arms. I haven’t fixed the Titleist autograph yet, but I do wax over it once in awhile to ward off the inevitable rust.
I drive the Porsche on snowy days now, to give the Beater a break, much like one would save an old nag from the glue factory. I’ll probably use the 944 as my alternate transportation now, at least until I hit another wild slice and come to terms with it’s soul.
© 1986 DD