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1985 Honda Civic CRX

1985_crx Perfect.

If I had to describe my blue 1985 Civic CRX in one word, that would be it.

I bought it sight-unseen from a dealer my father knew. I took delivery one Saturday morning and drove to my parents' house to show it to Mom and my sister, taking the shortcut through the park so I could play with my new toy on the twisty part in the gorge between the old mill and the goldfish pond.

By the time I got to the house, I was thinking to myself, "This is perfect!  It's like Honda read my mind. Someone finally built the car I've always wanted!"

That CRX was perfect. Completely, absolutely perfect. The most perfect car I had ever owned, driven, ridden in, or even looked at from ten yards away.

Let me explain what made it so perfect.

As it says in my official Car Lust biography, I learned to drive "on a succession of pathetic mid-70s domestic cars." To be specific, I learned to drive in a '67 Le Mans (not quite a '70s car, I know), a '73 Catalina, and a '76 Ford LTD. Not long after I got my license, my father acquired a '74 Vega.

I learned very quickly that I do not like bigger cars--and so I ended up preferring the Vega over Dad's large-barges. The Vega was small and light and had no power steering, which helped me to appreciate road feel and maneuverability. Being a Vega, it also taught me to appreciate build quality and durability--which it lacked completely. In fact, every car we had had in this period its share of quality-control problems, the Monza Wagon which replaced the Vega being the worst offender of a very bad lot.

I didn't like the rococo Elvis-in-Vegas look, with the opera windows and the vinyl roof and hood ornament and the faux-chrome plastic trim all over the dashboard--like you had in, say, the LTD. I'd always wanted a clean-lined space-age Car Of The Future. The Starship Enterprise didn't have a hood ornament or a vinyl roof, why should I have to put up with that nonsense?

Since we lived in Northeast Ohio, my first winter as a driver was a crash course (metaphorically speaking) in the practical skills necessary to get RWD Detroit iron through the snow. I remember counter-steering frantically to keep the car in its lane whenever the rear end broke traction. (The Le Mans was especially prone to this.) I also noticed that the folks around me in Rabbits and Civics were having a lot less trouble. I began to think that this newfangled "front wheel drive" might be something I wanted.

The last car I had before the CRX was a decommissioned Ohio State Highway Patrol Plymouth Fury with a 440 Interceptor under the hood. It was too big and used too much gas, and it had mediocre bench seats and full sensory deprivation steering gear--but it also had decent throttle response and brute roadholding grip. Lots of brute roadholding grip. Oh, man, could it corner!

Crx_drawing I had looked at the Rabbit GTI in the fall of 1983, but it was priced just out of my reach. I'd kind of resigned myself to just living with the Fury for the forseeable future, and then I got a call from a friend of mine I usually call "Perk." Perk has an honest-to-Colin-Chapman Lotus Elan S4 in his garage, and he's forgotten more about performance cars than I'll ever know. On matters automotive, I trust him completely.

Perk called because he'd just gotten home from a visit to his local Honda dealer, where he'd test-driven the new CRX. He was as enthusiastic about it as he'd ever been about anything. "You should get one," he kept saying. "It's exactly what you want."

There was no Honda dealer in the town where I was living, but I investigated the CRX as best I could. It looked good on paper. Car & Driver liked it. Motor Trend liked it. Road & Track liked it. The MSRP was just barely within reach, but I could swing it. I mentioned it to Dad, Dad called his dealer friend and set up the transaction, I pulled my car money out of savings and drove up to my old hometown with checkbook in hand.


I got as much CRX as I could afford. That meant settling for the base ("DX") model instead of the fuel-injected air-superiority version, and passing up the opportunity to get dealer-installed AC and fancy alloy wheels. The DX model had a carbureted 1.5-liter engine making a mere 76 horsepower--but since those 76 ponies only had 1,819 pounds of car to tug on, the straight-line performance was better than you might think. The car magazines clocked it at 10.1 seconds 0-60, which doesn't sound all that great until you realize that it was the equal of the contemporary Rabbit GTI, completely outclassed the competing 2M4 Fiero and EXP, and trailed the much more muscular Cavalier Z24 by less than half a second.

It felt even faster than it was, thanks in part to a low seating position which put your rump down close to the road, and in part to a smooth clutch and a 5-speed transmission that fit the engine perfectly. I quickly developed an optimum 0-60 dash technique--cue up Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "Refugee" in the cassette deck, drop the hammer on the first chorus, shift in time with the music, and sing along at the top of your lungs. Trust me, if you shifted every time Tom Petty changed guitar chords, the tach needle would be right there in the powerband where you wanted it.

Once you were up to cruising speed, the fun was only starting. If you simply read the specifications, the suspension doesn't sound all that exciting: MacPherson struts and vented discs up front, but a beam axle and drum brakes in the rear. Sure, there were sway bars, and it had rack and pinion steering, but a beam axle? They're kidding, right?

They weren't kidding. It may not have been a fully independent suspension or all-disc brakes, but you couldn't tell by how it handled. It took curves gracefully, and the more curves the journey had, the more fun you had. I had an eight-mile one-way daily commute over country roads at that time, and in the CRX it was the highlight of my workday.

As for build quality, it was a Honda. 'Nuff said.

Oh, and fuel economy? 32 MPG combined city and highway. On a long trip with mostly freeway driving, it broke 40 MPG easily. (The lighter "HF" version, which was optimized for fuel economy, did over 50 MPG in highway driving.)

Sgt_peppers_crx The CRX wasn't drop-dead beautiful--I thought the Fiero had it beat in the styling department--but it was pleasant to look at. It had a touch of the Giorgetto Giugiaro creased-and-folded look, with just enough curvature to balance that out. It was comfortably into my desired Car Of The Future territory, but it didn't draw a lot of attention to itself--which allowed me to surprise a few 4-cylinder Fieros in the stoplight grand prix.

Inside, the layout of the gauges and controls--what the aviation guys call "cockpit integration"--was superb, the best I had ever seen. I had some long-legged basketball-playing friends who occasionally bummed a ride from me, and they fit comfortably in the passenger seat. The cargo area was simply cavernous. The only thing "wrong" with it was that it was a two-seater (though it was sold as a 2+2 in Europe and Japan), which was really no disadvantage until I started a family.

My CRX served me faithfully through five trouble-free years until it was totaled in a wreck on a rainy night. It's a tribute to the lightweight CRX's structural engineering that I walked away uninjured. Had it not been destroyed, I would have had to get rid of it within a couple of years, as soon as the kids started coming along, due to the absence of a back seat.

The 1985 model year was the last year for the "original" CRX. Beginning in 1986, Honda replaced the recessed headlights with flush-mounted units, which to my mind took away some of the character. The second generation CRX, which was introduced in 1988, added flared wheel arches and general curviness to the bodywork, and adopted a sophisticated double-wishbone suspension that makes it a tuners' favorite to this day. The second-gen is a "better" car by every objective measure, but I can't warm up to it. Call me old-school, or just old-fashioned, but I prefer the original.

First-generation CRXs are relatively rare these days. I did see one in the wild last summer, while we were driving through Pittsburgh. It was a white DX, an '84 or '85 with recessed headlights, stock wheels and hubcaps, no dents, no rust. Beautiful.

The driver looked content, as well he should have been. He was driving the perfect car.

The vintage advertising illustration at the top, and the scale drawing, came from the image gallery at The CRX Page. The other photos came from the "Readers' Rides" gallery at Honda Tuning magazine's website.  The blue '85 belongs to "relic85" and the red one to "Sgt. Pepper." (If either of you ever want to sell your CRXs, let me know.)

--Cookie the Dog's Owner


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I was lucky enough to buy the first gen CRS Si, black, 1985. It was a great car, drove it about 25,000 miles the first year, including a round trip from Austin to San Francisco. I ended up selling it after a minor hit and run caused quite a bit of damage. The car only weighed about 200 lb more than a Smart car, and I wanted something with more mass, getting a 3 series BMW. But I'll always put the Si near the top of my 'most fun car' lists.

You will burn in hell for calling the 1967 Le Mans "pathetic." And you will deserve it.

I had an '89 CRX-Si for 15 years. It was a great car, incredibly fun to drive, cheap to operate and maintain and incredibly reliable. The oddest part was having people leaving little notes on the windshield offering to buy it. I'd probably still be driving it if some drug addict hadn't stolen it and totaled it in a joy ride.

I am one of the lucky dew who owned a CRX and an AMX. I bought the CRX used and unfortunately the previous owner must not have had undercoating done. The car ran great, rode great, and was fun to drive, but the body looked like Swiss cheese after four years of Lake Effect road salt. I loved the car but couldn't see putting the money needed for the body work. And after moving to PA, I knew it wouldn't pass inspection so I had to give it up.

I bought the AMX new and was always sorry to have traded it in. I loved that car! I think the experience of owning it was what made me buy the CRX. I still see a CRX on the road once in a while and there are a couple of AMXs locally that I see at classic car rallies.

The love of my life had a CRX in 1986, so it must have been either an '85 or an '86. It was red and we made a little day trip to the Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky once in that car. I got a speeding ticket. Speed limit was 55 - (BOOO!). She moved to Texas. I flew down there to see her. Dumb move. She treated me like dirt and broke my heart.

I sure miss that car.

I'm not sure, but I think I just wrote a country song.

I had several 2nd-gen CRX-SIs in the mid-90s, which i always bought used, so some of them might have been from the late 80s. LOVED THEM. One was yellow, maybe another one too, I don't remember. I also had several Honda Civic hatchbacks, and two of those Honda wagons. Remember them? They looked like transformer cars. I drove from Philadelphia to Austin in one, with all my possessions in the back. I miss that classic hatchback design.

The Rent a Wreck in Austin had a manual transmission Miata which I rented in between owning used cars. It wasn't that expensive, boy was that fun to drive.

I thought I was the only one! I bought a used white 86 CRX for college. I adores that car, it never once let me down. The only reason I stopped driving it was years later when I had kids. But it's still in the family, I gave it to my brother and sister in law. Twenty-six years old, and the thing still runs. I'll always love my little Honda. Fortunately I still get to visit her on family holidays.

I bought a 1984 CRX 1.3 (in '85 they called that the HF)

Simply a great car. Fun to drive. Not the fastest car off the line (especially with a passenger), but it would corner like nobody's business.

48 MPG around town (dropped to 43 when I put real tires on it), and 55 MPG on the freeway.
I could drive from San Diego to Oakland on a single tank of gas.On one all-night drive, I decided to drive 55, just to see how far the car would go on a tank of gas. I got 63+ MPG on that tank.

Mine died a 187K miles when the head gasket failed. :-(

Sort of. A headgasket is a under $400 fix. It's about $75 in parts and 2-3 hours of labor.

Rob: "Mochi, Cookie... I think you're forgetting about the Accord and the Prelude". Never! We just happen to be talking about Civic/CRXs. Accords and Preludes have already had their carlust limelight - and these are both wonderful cars. But they are different. Despite the fact that the Accord is a larger car, i've never been able to fit comfortably in one, and yet the civic which is substantially smaller and lighter fits all 6'3"s of me. Same is true of the CRX, it fits me like a glove. The Prelude is a great car, but the single version of that that really takes first place is the Si 4WS (87-91 mechanical) the non-4WS is a different matter. And when you actually start comparing the cars from the perspective of driving or quality they don't fall far from each other. I love the Prelude 4WS, but getting back in my 91 Civic Si (after driving a 4WS) was a different handling experience not a lesser driving experience. There were places where the Civic out shone it's brethren. Same with the CRX. As a fly-weight car it has certain advantages that its heavier counterparts (even those with 4WS) just can't match. Each car Accord, Prelude, Civic, CRX has unique advantages. The thing that honda did which was really remarkable, was make each one such an amazing car - each is uniquely excellent - from interiors to mechanicals - even the base models of these cars are great. You just can't lose with a honda from this period. They are amazing and completely lovable. And speaking of interiors - the interior of the 87 Civic Si i was associated with, was as beautiful, stylish and clean after 225000miles and 19 years of driving as it was when it was brand new - honda has tended to lavish a little extra quality on their Si interiors. But all that said these cars ALL handle like a dreams. if you've got one take good care of it and enjoy!

I had a red CRX and absolutely loved that car! I drove it until it died at 176,000 miles. Unfortunately, it was cost prohibitive to repair at that point. I would love to have one again after the kids are grown.

My husband had one too before we met. He loved his also and sold it only because of the no-back-seat issue.

I never understand cars "dieing". I had a head gasket go on a 79 Accord and it was $450 total to repair. I never consider how much a car is "worth" whether I repair it or not. That Accord got me around another year before I got rid of it. $450 is a heck of a lot less than a payment or buying a car that might need work anyway, or spending more on a newer or fancier car (that may also need repairs for all I know anyway) It is more along the lines of "Well, I own, I like it, it would cost me more to buy another or new(er) car...why not just repair it?"

Like last month...and after 3 years of nothing going wrong at 92 GTI needed a alternator and fuel pump...then this month a clutch. OK, time to repair. Dropping a grand into seemed far more sensible than 24k on a new GTI.

I just find the American mentality somewhat disposable. Nothing is ever worth holding onto.

Hey Gavin, Yeah...that is Grampa's old Civic. You might have flipped seeing was like off the showroom floor. Always maintained by Honda/Volvo mechanic in SJ. Only thing it had replaced was AC compressor and a cv boot over 20 years. Granted, it wa driven 40k of the 80k on the clock at most.

It was really smooth.

Problem I had was Honda makes weird decisions with packaging cars. No glove box lock on a "deluxe" model. Yet is had a auto hatch release.

Also the rear seat had nearly no headroom, bad design. Despite my Sprint being even more of a featherweight and tiny has plenty of head room for an average height person in back, and the VW has very ample head room.

I sometimes go into sensible land within my head and think "Maybe I should have just kept the Honda as the 1 day a week car instead of the fun cars" (I bike and bus 90% of the time). Then I realize life is too short to be bored to death for that random drive.

I wonder if the guy that bought that mint Civic is taking care of it. I had just put some Kelly $20 a piece tires on the car since the 1 replacement set from the late 80's were rotting on the car.

i know i am in the minority here, but the CRX/Civic epitomize faceless appliance cars to me. i remember sitting in traffic on the 91 and seeing rows and rows of hondas and toyotas - appliances for getting from point A to point B.

what is funny is that almost all the CRX-love comes from folks that had them as first cars. the first car is a special thing for the motor-head, and for me it was a 85 Volvo 240 sedan. the clean, boxy lines, the utilitarian exterior - it was the anti-honda in my formative car years and i loved it. possibly a future car lust? :D

I have a white '91 CRX DX. Like Cookie, I couldn't swing the extra bucks for the Si model. But at this point, who cares? Maintenance has been cheap, I average 37 mpg (mixed city & highway), and people in-the-know stop to talk to me.

Jane. Keep the 91 CRX...if you sell it some ricer will drop a Prelude engine in it and wreck it. Granted you can get a fat return on a clean 1 owner CRX nowadays from Nostalgic types.

I wont go on about about my '86 Accord LX but I feel same way.

The car just WORKED! Yeah it had plastic on the dashboard but DARN! it was GOOD plastic, not that fake wood grain garbage that GM was using.

And the stereo! I have numerous people tell me it sounded better than their HOME SYSTEM!

And it ran for ages. I bought it with 36K, sold it to my sister with 137K and she drove until it had 245K on it!

Truly a great car.

Swedish Metal: If you prefer a 240 over a CRX you're like the opposite of a driving enthusiast. It's not about how they look, it's about how they drive. Honda of this vintage all sport 4 wheel double wishbone suspension, nicely put together rattle free interiors, and engines that can be beaten for over 200k easy. I have 270k on my 89 Accord and it still gets over 25mpg, never gives me a problem. It is MORE fun to drive than my Subaru SVX, which on paper is a superior car in every performance aspect.

SwedishMetal: Chris has already made the 240 into a 'Car Lust' subject:

@Cookie the Dog's Owner
Well, to be fair, there wasn't much "lusting" going on in that post.
I've promised to give the 240 a slightly more complimentary treatment, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

...mostly because all I can think to write about is "and the one time we drove it to go get ice cream?" sort of anecdotes.

haha - Rob, i think you are right, the 240 drives and handles like a big piece of, well, Swedish metal :)

that said, i still have a soft spot for it and the car that replaced it (briefly), a 1979 cadillac eldo - mostly because of the memories. but those tanks really got me to appreciate handling, acceleration and (in the latter) build quality.

i've ridden in, and driven, many hondas, from a 90's civic si to CRX's to a late-model accord v6. all of them were competent, well built vehicles - but they were utterly anonymous. perhaps i am reacting against the complete ubiquity hondas enjoy amongst my peer group, but i would much rather have an 80's 328 GTS, nissan Z, or e36 BMW.

Hmm... SwedishMetal. I think your experience may be more that of later models of civic than the ones we have been focusing on... or perhaps what excites you is something different. Obviously a 79 caddi eldo is very different from a civic. And the 240, well i think you're right about that, if it's your first car you end up loving it. The 240 i drove through most of europe was, durable and space efficient, but not really a driver's car, and i've never wished i still had it.

Later models of the Civic did start to become ubiquitous at a certain point at the end of the 90s. To their credit they maintained excellence in drivability, construction, fuel economy, comfort, handling, and reliability. But they also became larger, but did lose some of the distinctive and lovable styling that earlier models had. Late 90's civics are great and extremely successful design. 6th generation sedans started to become homogenous - the hatches were and always have been the exception... they retained some quirkiness while they were still being imported. These later civics don't have the small and light envelop of the preceding generations, but they had the size that worked for the US market.

The two generations of CRX produced until 91 were ANYTHING BUT appliances. I would challenge that assertion and win in a heartbeat. If there ever was unique automotive penmanship, the CRX is an exemplar. It's a brilliant piece of design that mates smallness, performance, handling, efficiency, and space planning with a quirky and aerodynamic design. While i never actually purchased a CRX i was in love with it and still am (both generations) - and i had owned a number of interesting cars before the CRX came along and i nearly bought one. The civics and CRXs of the late 80s and early 90s were never ubiquitous... they were on the contrary unique and unusual in their design.

Similarity or consistency vs. sameness... The layout of instruments and controls in Hondas is very similar from car to car and generation to generation. There's a reason for this. Ergonomics and human factors rule the roost in honda interior design. They are laid out to be accessible, intuitive, and consistent - not "entertaining". You can jump from driving a 3rd gen civic to a 6th gen civic and 90% of the controls will be in the same place or operate in a consistent fashion. As a designer i can attest to the fact that honda knows it's shit when it comes to human factors. No arbitrary changes based on style. No "let's try hanging the wiper stalk from the rear view mirror". There are a lot of car manufacturers (including the german ones) who could learn from the clean and intuitive controls that honda designs into their cars. You will never fumble for a control and wonder where the lights are. Honda got this right a long time ago and they have not messed with a good formula. Some would call this boring and appliance like, i call it frickin' brilliant and rational.

But if you like fumbling for lights and turning on wipers, or accidentally engaging cruise controls when you meant to turn left, or turning on the radio when you meant to adjust the heat... then civics/crx's and other honda products probably are not your cup of tea. The CRX and the Si Civics really are very much a drivers car. You can, and will, go very fast in these cars, simply because they encourage you to and are expertly designed for that challenge. I personally enjoy that, and the connection with the road that these cars afford. When I'm running hard in a canyon and need to manage controls honda gives me intuitive controls that work just right - that's what i need and want. They never disappoint.

I fell in love with the 4th generation civic hatchback as soon as i saw it. One of the reasons was that it was so well penned... it had such a refreshingly different look. it was boldly different than other cars of its time or since, and yet it was humble. The 5th generation hatch continued this design excellence and innovation. Sedans have been done so many times they are always a bit hard to make fresh, but, like the bmw 2002, the 4th gen civic sedan still stands out as a classic... when i see these cars today in good shape i'm always impressed by their lines.

Honda. Meh. The steering was heavy in non assisted cars as apposed to being communicative like good German (VW) cars, even other hot hatches like Sprints and Miatas. Those cars turned on a dime and gave lots of info from the road.

VW had a much nicer, and continues to have a much nicer view at all 4 corners inside.

On a plus side the shifters were always light and precise.

I agree that they ae well built...but they just do not have much soul. Even the 3 and 4th generation. Sorry.

Djkenny:"Sorry." don't be sorry you don't have to apologize for being wrong - it's ok. Not sure where you got that info but aside from the comment about the shifters you're dead wrong. The CRX did have less rearward visibility than a hatch, but it was a fastback hatch. 85 to 91 Hondas had unparalleled visibility.

I've never had anything other than unassisted steering. I've owned VWs and BMWs. The Civic steering is light, precise, nimble, and has excellent feedback. Better and lighter than any car i've driven BMW included. Which anyone who makes it out of a parking lot soon discovers. Put one on in the twisties and you'll soon discover how much soul it has. But I guess honda perfection and personality isn't for everyone ;) and that's ok because there are a lot of really amazing cars out there for everyone to love.

The Miata is a great little classic sports car that was based on the original Lotus Elan design. I remember hearing that the designer of the Miata did not consider it his best or most origianl work since he borrowed so much from the little Lotus. And I'm sure your admiration of the the Chevy (Suzuki) Sprint (1.0L 3cyl 50hp) or the Sprint Turbo (turbocharged 1.0L 3-cyl 59hp) is, err, uhhh, warranted... somehow. Hey that Geo Metro is a sweet little car:) But I'm a bit at a loss for understanding the comparison to hondas since these are completely different cars and/or different classes of cars.

I know there's been a long standing hostility amongst some German car lovers for hondas. This got fueled a few years back when Car&Driver did a shoot out with the GTI and the SI. That kind of thing never breeds good feelings. The comments about the "Formula 1 like sound" of the Si seemed to provoke a lot of VW angst. But the hostility seems to be a one way street, because the Honda-philes are too busy enjoying their cars to concern themselves with such trivial rivalries:) And the GTI owners who spend their time enjoying their cars, rather than putting down other people's rides don't want any part of it either - what's the point and who does it help in the long term.

I've been both a CRX owner and a GTI owner. I like 'em both.

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