Civic Minded

A municipal stroll through an Andalucían streetscape elicits a shameful case of neglect.

All images (c) DTW

There’s something almost unbearably sad about a nice car being left to ruin that even a sun-dappled Costa del Sol setting cannot quite assuage. Initially somewhat thrilled by the now ultra-rare sighting of this 1988-1991 era second generation Honda Civic CRX, your (temporarily) Andalucían correspondent’s initial enthusiasm quickly gave way to dismay at the manner in which it’s been maltreated.

The CRX was one of those brief flowerings in coupédom which promised much but somehow fizzled out in the end. While Europe had put all that frivolity behind them during the 1980s, establishing that instead of expensively developed bespoke coupé bodystyles, they could garner as much street credibility, column inches, not to mention profits from creating bespoilered and emboldened hot hatchbacks, their Japanese equivalents chose both approaches, maintaining faith nonetheless with the classic coupé template.

There was of course one fairly compelling reason for this: America, home of the indulgent close-coupled hard-top. Hence, the advent of the Honda CRX in 1984, the most glamourous version of that year’s Honda Civic range which encompassed a shooting-brake style hatchback, four-door Ballade saloon, (née Rover 213), and Shuttle MPV/Estate. Designed with the assistance of Pininfarina (although the final designs were Honda’s own), the Civic range was not only broad, but innovative, technically notable and rather desirable.

Four years later, Honda dreamt it all up again with a new generation Civic series, and while the styling was to some extent merely an evolution of what had gone before, the technical side had once again advanced, with improved multi-valve engines and all wheel double wishbone suspension – unique to this sector of the market.

1969 Alfa Romeo junior Z (c) ruotevecchie

The original CRX was compact, pretty, pert and well proportioned, but while often a retrograde step, the second generation model was in fact even better looking than its forebear. It’s clear that stylistically, Honda’s designers drank heavily from the Italian carrozzieri, in particular from Zagato and more specifically still, from the ultra-rare 1969 Alfa Romeo 105-Series Junior Z, from which the second generation CRX owed a notable debt. Nevertheless, as homages go, it was a convincing one and furthermore it wasn’t as if the Italian industry was doing much of note themselves at the time.

The CRX acquitted itself well, and in 150 bhp VTEC form was something of a giant-killer in performance terms. Also available with 1.5 litre and 1.6 litre engines of varying states of tune, (depending on market) our featured car was most likely fitted with Honda’s 1.6 litre ZC double overhead camshaft engine developing a not shabby 140 bhp – the offset bonnet bulge allegedly being the giveaway here.

While they really ought to be, Japanese cars like these are largely unappreciated in this part of the world (apart from the customising fraternity who prize them) and given the state this example has been allowed to deteriorate into, and despite its almost rust-free appearance (metal sunroof panel excepted) it cannot be much longer for this world.

As our street scenes become increasingly homogenised, rarities like this are fading like fallen orchid blossoms. But in our post-coupé age, cars such as this one – not quite classic, yet past the used-car phase, have become virtual pariahs. This one, by the looks of things, seems unlikely to make it to the next phase. Too far gone, not VTEC enough.

But despite the social contract seeming alive and well in this corner of the European mainland, it’s somewhat disheartening that this CRX owner couldn’t demonstrate a bit more Civic pride.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

14 thoughts on “Civic Minded”

  1. From a design perspective, Honda was on terrific form in the 1980’s . The CRX Eóin features really was a lovely thing. Even the closely related Civic with its miniature “sports estate” look, whilst possibly not the most practical because of its low roof height, was refreshingly different from the hatchback norm.

    The similarly profiled but rather more angular previous generation models were also very distinctive cars.

  2. Being highly sought by the customizing / track day crowd, i think a lot of them are still alive, but hidden from view, only coming out when fun calls.

  3. I always preferred the tauter looks of the CRX Mk1 which made it look mire focussed than the softish Mk2.
    I had the opportunity to drive an original CRX Mk1 with the three-valve SOHC engine several times. The European car that came closest for me always was the Alfasud sprint and comparint this with the CRX was intersting. The Alfa clearly was light years ahead in the chassis department where the Honda was agile but incredibly crude with nearly no suspension travel and permament vertical movements and the Sud was just as agile but a lot more grown up with properly working suspension. The CRX showed what the Sud could have achieved if Alfa had managed to get its engines properly assembled and up to the power levels it had on paper but never in practical life.

    The Zagato Junior Z is a different kind of car. It uses the Spider’s short wheelbase platform combined with Zagato lightweight construction of exterior panels welded to a bent wire substructure. The Z ist the lightest car of the 105 family with the most sports oriented character (GTA excepted) and begs to be driven hard and fast.

  4. In Spain only the second and third generation CRX were sold officially, and they were rather thin on the ground (rather expensive: about 18,000€ in 1990 while a Golf G60 cost 15,000€). It´s very difficult to find an unmolested example and it´s a shame to see one in this state of decay. Nice to see that ´80s and ´90s Honda trademark: rust in the sunroof (my Prelude had that, too, although not so badly).

    Interestingly this example has Ceuta plates (CE), one of the two Spanish cities in the north of Africa. Ceuta, Melilla (the other city) and the Canary Islands had lower taxes than mainland Spain and a “free port” status, meaning they weren´t subject to ´50s, ´60s, ´70s and ´80s Spanish trade protectionist policies, so the automotive landscape in those places was a lot more exotic than in the rest of the country. A lot of japanese were sold there.

    A good second gen CRX is worth a nice sum of money here nowadays.

    1. Speaking of exotic, for every person outside of Spain, the car landscape would probably have been more ‘normal’ in these places. I remember my first visit to Spain in 1990, where I found the cars to be very different from what I was used to in central Europe: 4-door Seat 850s, Renault 7s, Seats that didn’t even have a counterpart at Fiat, strange vans from Mercedes and other manufacturers, and so on…
      In fact, every travel to a different country was a surprise for car enthusiasts in a way we don’t experience any more today: at least in Europe, the same cars can be seen everywhere, no more unknown beauties.

  5. That generation of Civics which included the second generation CRX were beautiful things – possible the nicest that Honda have ever produced. One looks at today’s offerings and can only ask, ‘what happened?’.

    1. Not only the Civic range: the contemporary Accord and Prelude were also beautifully resolved designs:

      “What happened?” indeed.

    2. Could not agree more. Always did fancy the CRX both 1st and 2nd generations. They looked so taught and sporty. Now the Civic looks it has been attached to an air pump to the exhaust while a bunch of nutters kept putting weird cuts and stripes on the inflating body. They have lost their joie de vivre. Whoever deigned the face of the Civic must have been on something to think that is beautiful.

  6. Happy memories. I have driven a lot of these Hondas and enjoyed most of them, although a 1987 Civic hatchback with CVT auto was surely the slowest car I’ve ever driven (yes, slower even than a Renault 4, which could be hustled so long as you kept momentum).

    This CRX was a hoot, but the first generation model was even better – an absolute riot to drive, even if the ride was as hard as a skateboard. As Honda moved into the late 90s it started to lose its way.

  7. “Crash safety regulations happened” is the short answer.
    The long answer is… not for this occasion.

    I shall just point out that the case in question (CRX Mk2) is a solid, almost academic proof that a car does not necessarily have to be good-looking in order to be very very nice indeed.

    To me, the CRX has too many styling compromises to be considered
    a styling masterpiece. Yet, its visual effect is stunning, desirable
    and (in hindsight) definitely iconic.

    To me the CRX is also proof that if a sizing / footprint of a car is relatively brash and bold, and if it simultaneously “rhymes” inherently well with its (far from ideal) styling, the effect can be devastatingly good nevertheless.

    Early 911 aside, there are relatively few cars out there with a so absurd
    trackwidth / wheelbase ratio, that have the styling tweaked so good
    to match the inherent ‘rudeness’ of their vertical footprint. The CRX
    is definitely one of those few, and I’d agree that it is indeed
    a sight sorely missed from today’s strassenbild.

    (I’d agree that the CRX Mk1 can be dismissed to an extent simply because of certain “originality issues”, as pointed out above with the Zagato 105.
    Although, to be fair, it was a pleasant sight nevertheless).

  8. The Mk 1 CRX sold by the bucketload in North America, the Mk II as pictured here not so much. The price had gone up a lot. The Mk1 was a cheap and cheerful runabout that when extended like my builder friend did with his, would end up at frantic speed numbers after some minutes of flat out throttle. Was always amazed he never lost his licence although he sported a radar detector. I wasn’t that knocked out with the car myself, although it weighed less han 1850 lbs. The Mk II was more my style as the power went from 76 (91 in the last Si) to about 108 hp if I remember correctly, and it was a hoot to boot, much like the current Fiat 500 Abarth. Just a wee bit too small for all around duty. All were pretty much ruined by second and third hand owners installing later more powerful DOHC VTEC engines, and botching the job.

    Nobody here including me were aware of the existence of the 1969 Alfa Romeo Junior Z, and my five years in the UK from ’69 to ’74 haven’t left the vaguest memory of it, so I learned something here to taunt the still relentless Honda fanbois. What a styling ripoff by Honda! I forgive them to some degree though, because at least Honda made bulletproof mechanicals and showed Europe in particular what should be expected in a consumer durable. Rust wise, I haven’t seen a CRX in at least 20 years. Like virtually all cars of the 1980s except VW group and some GM upper class, they were enthusiastic rusters. That was the opinion of the best repair body shop owner in my region, originally from Maidstone, Kent. He was particularly unimpressed with BMW and Toyota. The CRX Mk II shown here, to me is in amazing condition, even though Mr Doyle is annoyed with the owner’s neglect.

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