After a year-long hiatus, I’m back to CarLust with a lot of new content. The first task at hand is to finish the update on my 1991 Civic LX. In my last post, I hinted at the horrible mechanical condition of the car, but this time I’ll delve into the details, as well as touch on a new form of vehicle modification: Eco-Modification .
After signing the paperwork, exchanging the money, and driving the vehicle home, I noticed a lot of things that needed immediate attention. The brakes were pulsating badly due to worn out rotors and pads, the paint was more of a scientific experiment on mold and lichen growth, and the trunk wouldn’t stay shut and reeked of moisture.
The trunk turned out not to latch because the latch itself was pulling out of the chassis. Luckily, my roommate had a welder handy, and a few minutes later with some white spray-paint, and all was well. However, it still smelled horrible and was full of moisture, so a complete cleaning was necessary. After pulling out the carpet, we found worms. Lots of them. Apparently, the previous owner was a fishing enthusiast, and never bothered to check how many were escaping his tackle box. After cleaning that out, the taillights were pulled, a healthy dose of silicone sealant applied to the dried out taillight gaskets, and reinstalled. Later that night, I ordered a lot of parts; rotors, pads, oil filter, air filter, fuel filter, spark plugs, and a distributor cap and rotor set.
The original reason for purchasing this car was to save money on my commute, which totaled about 150 miles daily, so I immediately began commuting in it. Gas was peaking at $3.89 a gallon, so I calculated the mileage and discovered it was only getting about 29mpg at a steady 80mph. Not good. Once the new parts arrived, I started installing them and found the car’s mechanical condition matched the stunning exterior: absolutely ignored for years. When I climbed under the car, I noticed a blue Honda OEM oil filter. Uh oh. This car hasn’t seen a dealership for years. When was the last time the oil was even changed? Once I pulled the plug, things got worse. Instead of a golden honey color and even consistency, instead I was met with a black, lumpy liquid filled with a mix of golden and silver specks and shavings. Ignoring that and hoping for the best, I installed the rest of the parts, with an end result of 33mpg.
The interior was vacuumed, wiped down, and sprayed with an odor neutralizer. As an industrial designer I really appreciate a basic, useful interior with intuitive controls that last not only mechanically, but also cosmetically. Unlike many supposedly “better” and more modern vehicles, Hondas of this vintage have interiors that are a great example of honest use of materials, which means that once they’re cleaned, they basically look new. The paint, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well.
It seems like the car was left outside and never washed, as the paint looked dry, and felt rough and porous to the touch. Since it wasn’t sealed, moisture sat on the finish in a big film, eventually leading to mold and mildew that etched its way further into the paint. No amount of mere soap and water could remove this film; it called for something far more aggressive. Using 3m’s most abrasive compound, the car was attacked with a buffing wheel, and even then, you had to go against every sane piece of buffing advice. You had to push down hard, and dig into the paint, to remove all the damaged, mildew stained paint.
The roof was even worse. On top of the paint damage, it looked as if someone had thrown a dance party on top of the car. The roof was caved in to the point where the headliner inside the looked as if it didn’t fit right. We ran to the fabric store, spent $13 on some very retro 1960’s diamondseye print, and a can of 3M Super77 Spray adhesive. Lacking a decent area to work on the car due to high winds, I drove downtown into an empty parking lot, and headed for the basement. The sun visors, lights, “Oh Sh*t” handles, and dome light were quickly stripped, and the headliner was removed. After putting a very liberal amount of adhesive on the headliner, we then applied the fabric. Before reinstalling, we laid in the backseat and used out legs to smash the roof and support beams back into shape.
Lastly, the hour long commute was painful with the rotted-out, 20 year old speakers and tape deck. After picking up a few sets of the cheapest 6.5” speakers I could find and throwing in a spare CD player, the car was reborn. With glossy white paint, a respectable interior, a decent sound system and achieving 33mpg, the car was once again a fantastic commuter vehicle. Stay tuned for Part 3; Eco-Modification.