Compact Cult Classic: The 1984-1991 Honda CRX

Most English-language automotive histories will tell you that the four-door hardtop became extinct in the late seventies, a victim of American safety regulations. That may have been true in the U.S., but Japan’s love affair with hardtops continued well into the nineties, including some models you probably didn’t know you knew. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we present a brief survey of the Japanese four-door hardtop.

1992 Nissan Laurel Extra Diesel four-door hardtop (Q-SC33) open doors © 2001 Scott McPherson per

(Photo © 2001 Scott McPherson; used with permission)

EARLY JDM HARDTOPS

It would be a mistake to characterize the pillarless hardtop as a purely American phenomenon, but it’s certainly true that U.S. buyers embraced hardtops far earlier and to a much greater extent than other markets. As we discussed in our article on the pioneering Buick Roadmaster Riviera, hardtops began their U.S.-market proliferation in the early fifties and by the mid-sixties had become ubiquitous, with nearly every American-made car line offering at least one hardtop body style.

1949 Buick Roadmaster Riviera roof exterior

The roofline of the 1949 Buick Roadmaster Riviera hardtop. (author photo)

Although other auto-producing nations dabbled in pillarless bodies, hardtops were a tough sell in most non-U.S. markets. A quick comparison of population and per capita income figures makes clear why: Particularly in the fifties and sixties, other automotive markets were not only significantly smaller than the U.S., but also had far fewer buyers with the financial wherewithal to prioritize style over practicality.

Considering all that, what’s remarkable about the Japanese hardtop craze was not that it got off to a slow start — in 1965, when Japan introduced its first homegrown hardtop, total annual Japanese passenger car production was about a tenth that of the U.S. — but the extent to which it took off and the fact that it endured long after the U.S. had moved on.

Predictably, Japan’s first native hardtop came from Toyota, which had the largest single share of the domestic market. The RT50 Toyopet Corona hardtop, launched in July 1965, was a two-door hardtop version of Toyota’s bread-and-butter T40 Corona, priced ¥112,000 (about $320, roughly 18%) above the Corona Deluxe sedan. The hardtop was positioned as a sporty model, bolstered by the availability of a more powerful 1600S with an extra 20 PS (15 kW) and, from the summer of 1967, the homologation-oriented 1600GT (RT55).

1967 Toyota 1600GT (RT55) front 3q © 2008 Mytho88 CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

Although it looks just like the regular RT50 Toyopet Corona hardtop, the RT55 Toyota 1600GT had a unique engine: the 9R, sharing the block of the 1,587 cc (97 cu. in.) pushrod 4R, but with a Yamaha-built DOHC head and 110 PS (81 kW). (Photo © 2008 Mytho88; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Despite its higher price, the hardtop caught the wave of Japan’s growing prosperity; domestic passenger car production doubled between 1965 and 1967 and had nearly doubled again by 1969. The Corona hardtop was popular enough that Toyota followed it with two-door hardtop versions of the bigger Corona Mark II and Crown, both launched in late 1968.

Second-place Nissan lagged a little behind, not adding its first two-door hardtop (in the C30 Laurel series) until mid-1970, about seven months after Mitsubishi’s Colt Galant hardtop and nine months after the rare FWD Mazda Luce Rotary Coupé. Nonetheless, Nissan was not to be outdone, soon rolling out not only hardtop versions of the Laurel, but also of the 610 Bluebird U, the C10 Skyline, the 230 Cedric and Gloria, and the new 710 Violet.

1972 Nissan Laurel (C30) hardtop front 3q © 2013 TTTNIS CC0 1.0 PD

Nissan introduced the first C30 Laurel in April 1968, creating a new upper-middle-class (“high owner”) segment; its principal competition would be Toyota’s T70 Toyopet Corona Mark II (ancestor of the Toyota Mark II/Cressida). The Laurel combined the suspension of the 510 Bluebird with the bigger 1,815 cc (111 cu. in.) G18 engine, which Nissan acquired with its 1966 merger with Prince Motor Company. This hardtop body style was added to the line in 1970. (Photo © 2013 TTTNIS; released to the public domain by the photographer under a CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

Honda added its first hardtop, a pillarless version of its diminutive Z minicar, in November 1972. Subaru joined the party the following June with a hardtop version of the first-generation Leone. The smaller manufacturers didn’t embrace the hardtop idiom to the same extent as did Toyota and Nissan — after the demise of the Z, it would be some time before Honda offered another hardtop model — but most automakers offered at least at least one pillarless model. By the late seventies, Toyota offered hardtops on nearly all its passenger car lines except the humble Tercel and Starlet.

TWO OR FOUR DOORS

Nissan introduced Japan’s first four-door hardtop in the 230 Cedric and Gloria lines in August 1972, complementing the two-door hardtops introduced the previous April. Like the two-door models, the new four-doors were true pillarless hardtops, standing about 0.8 inches (20mm) lower than the sedans. Compared to the sedans, the four-door hardtops were 5–10% more expensive and sacrificed a bit of headroom and more than a bit of torsional rigidity, but they were stylish and, for the moment, unique. They would prove highly influential.

1973 Nissan Gloria Custom Deluxe four-door hardtop (KF230V) front 3q © 2013 TTTNIS CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

The Nissan Gloria was originally the Prince Gloria, flagship of the Prince Motor Company, which merged with Nissan in 1966. In 1971, the Gloria became a stylistic variant of the new 230 Cedric, latest edition of Nissan’s own flagship line. The Gloria version was sold through the still separate Prince dealer channel, but was mechanically identical to the contemporary Cedric. (Photo © 2013 TTTNIS; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

The arrival of Nissan’s big four-door hardtops seems to have caught Toyota off guard; a comparable version of the Toyota Crown wasn’t introduced until the debut of the S90 series in late 1974. Unlike the Cedric and Gloria, the new Crown body style was a four-door “pillared hardtop,” an idea Ford had introduced for its big cars back in 1971. The Crown four-door hardtop stood about an inch (25 mm) lower than the four-door sedan, used frameless door glass, and had a unique B-pillar treatment.

1975–77 Toyota Crown 2000 Super Saloon four-door hardtop (MS90) front 3q © 2010 TTTNIS PD Aaron Severson mod

Although Toyota did offer a pillarless two-door hardtop version of its flagship Crown, all four-door Crown hardtops were pillared, featuring an assortment of distinct roof treatments. All S90 Crown hardtops had six-cylinder engines, using either the carbureted 1,988 cc (121 cu. in.) M-C; the similar M-E with Bosch-Denso electronic fuel injection; or the carbureted 2,563 cc (156 cu. in.) 4M. (Photo © 2010 TTTNIS; released to the public domain by the photographer, modified 2015 by Aaron Severson)

1975–77 Toyota Crown 2000 Super Saloon four-door hardtop (MS90) rear 3q © 2010 TTTNIS PD Aaron Severson mod

This S90 Crown four-door hardtop is a 2000 Super Saloon, powered by the 1,988 cc (121 cu. in.) M-C six. It is 183.3 inches (4,655 mm) long, 66.5 inches (1,690 mm) wide, and 55.9 inches (1,420 mm) high on a 105.9-inch (2,690mm) wheelbase, very similar to the dimensions of the rival Nissan Cedric and Gloria; all these cars were constrained by the need to keep the cheaper models within the bounds of the less-expensive “5-number” tax class, although the 2600 and 2800 models fell into the pricier “3-number” class. (Photo © 2010 TTTNIS; released to the public domain by the photographer, modified 2015 by Aaron Severson)

1972 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special Brougham side © 2010 Gangster Car Driver CC BY 2.0 Generic Aaron Severson mod

The roof treatment of Toyota’s first four-door pillared Crown hardtop is very reminiscent of the roof design of the contemporary Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special Brougham, although Cadillac advertised the Sixty Special as a sedan rather than a hardtop — go figure. (Photo © 2010 Gangster Car Driver; modified by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Whether pillarless or not, both of these cars were very popular with Japanese buyers in this class, so the four-door hardtop body style continued into the subsequent 330 Cedric/Gloria, launched in June 1975. Toyo Kogyo followed suit in late 1977 with the new edition of the Mazda Luce (a.k.a. 929) that included a four-door pillared hardtop with a roof treatment very similar to that of the S90 Crown.

It’s notable that the new Mazda Luce four-door hardtop actually replaced the previous hardtop coupe. Similarly, the 430 Cedric and Gloria, launched in June 1979, retained their four-door hardtops, but abandoned their two-door bodies. Toyota’s two-door Crown hardtop would survive for one more generation, finally expiring in 1983, but the two-door hardtop version of the Mark II (a.k.a. Cressida) expired in February 1979, a year and a half before the end of the X30 generation.

1979 Nissan Cedric 2000 SGL-E Extra four-door hardtop (332) front 3q © 2013 Ypy31 PD

This Nissan Cedric 2000 SGL-E Extra four-door hardtop appears to be a late example of the 330 Cedric line (chassis code 332), powered by the fuel-injected L20E, a 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) SOHC inline six with 130 PS JIS gross (96 kW). Since the hardtop weighed about 3,250 lb (1,475 kg), straight-line performance was not among the Cedric’s major virtues. (Photo © 2013 Ypy31; released to the public domain by the photographer under a CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

1979 Nissan Cedric 2000 SGL-E Extra four-door hardtop (332) rear 3q © 2013 Ypy31 PD

Unlike the rival Toyota Crown, which retained body-on-frame construction into the nineties, the Nissan Cedric was unitized. In other respects, the 330/331/332 Cedric and Gloria were thoroughly conventional, with double wishbone/Hotchkiss drive suspension and disc/drum brakes. (Photo © 2013 Ypy31; released to the public domain by the photographer under a CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

Big two-door Japanese hardtops did not so much expire as switch to an emerging class of large personal luxury cars like the Mazda Cosmo, Nissan Leopard, and Toyota Soarer, and even some of those would offer four-door versions. Four-door hardtops, meanwhile, were becoming a mainstay of most large Japanese car lines and would remain so for the next two decades.

Never having lived in Japan, we have no special insight into the unique preferences of that market, but we will hazard a theory abut why big four-door hardtops became so popular there. Style was undoubtedly a factor, but we suspect that another consideration was that a substantial percentage of large Japanese cars like the Crown and Cedric (which were not cheap or cheap to own) went to government and commercial fleets. The mere fact that hardtops were more expensive than four-door sedans was anathema to the typical fleet buyer, whose stinginess transcends cultural boundaries to become something approaching a universal constant.

1976 Toyota Crown Super Deluxe sedan (MS80) front 3q © 2013 TTTNIS PD Aaron Severson mod

The Toyota Crown and Nissan Cedric of this era were exported, but only in pillared sedan form. Although the Crown and Cedric sedans were generally offered in the same trim levels as the hardtops, a four-door sedan like this one was more likely to be a fleet vehicle than owned by a private individual. (Photo © 2013 TTTNIS; released to the public domain by the photographer under a CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, modified 2015 by Aaron Severson)

Driving a big hardtop, therefore, immediately signified that you were a well-heeled private buyer, not a taxi driver, and a four-door hardtop allowed you to do that without sacrificing too much of your and your passengers’ convenience in the process. Judging by the proliferation of these cars, many Japanese buyers apparently considered that a useful compromise.

34 Comments

Add a Comment
  1. Great article about a model I’ve always found compelling. And look at the list of sources – the depth of research is what really sets this site apart.

  2. I think it can be argued that Honda replaced the CRX/Del Sol with the Insight MK I. While it never had any sporting aspirations, it did fill the same basic role as the CRX HF in that it was a small, light, extremely fuel-efficient 2 seat commuter car. To this day it still holds the title of the most fuel-efficient gasoline powered car ever sold in the US market. While it was a flawed vehicle (due to battery life issues), it was still a better effort than the CR-Z at filling the sporty commuter car role. As far as the CR-Z goes, I don’t see how it is an improvement over the same product had it just been fitted with the drivetrain from the Fit/Jazz. It would have been lighter, within 2-4MPG of the hybrid system and far cheaper to produce and buy.

    1. There is certainly a case to be made for the Mk1 Insight as the next-generation CRX, although in that case more than CRX HF than the Si or VTEC editions. You could have fun with an Insight, but it was not a sporty car in any quantitative way other than having only two seats. The original Insight was also more of a sui generis piece like the NSX; the Mk1 Insight had a bespoke (and very expensive) chassis and engine where the CRX, even the del Sol, was a Civic derivative.

      The CR-Z is, to my eyes, a neat-looking car that tries to do two quite different things at once and ends up not being great at either of them. You have a point about the powertrain; the CR-Z is more fuel efficient than the Fit on the EPA cycle, but not dramatically so (the difference between a five-speed Fit 1.5 and a CR-Z six-speed is about 17%) and if you subtracted the added weight of the IMA system and battery (something between 110 and 150 lb, if it’s comparable to the Jazz Hybrid) it would probably be a wash. On the other hand, that would itself leave people searching for the point, since you could always just buy a Fit/Jazz, add your own suspension tweaks (which at this point Honda dealers might even sell you — I haven’t looked recently), and come out ahead in just about everything but looks.

      Of course, if Honda had really wanted to cheer up the faithful, they could pull the hybrid gear and battery pack from the CR-Z and install the K20 engine. They wouldn’t win any fuel economy prizes that way, but they could probably have matched the old CRX Si (27 mpg combined on the post-2008 cycle, compared to 24 mpg for the last of the previous generation 2-liter Civic Si) and there would be a lot less moaning about the old car being better.

      I think the bottom line is that Honda appears to be really stung by the fact that Toyota has made the Prius practically synonymous with hybrid cars while a lot of Honda hybrids have gone nowhere commercially. Honda keeps looking for a space in that niche they can call their own (the sporty hybrid, the cheaper hybrid) and so far they haven’t found it.

      1. "You could always just buy a Fit" pretty well sums up my thoughts on most new cars under $50k. I might add "and a motorcycle".

      2. "Of course, if Honda had really wanted to cheer up the faithful, they could pull the hybrid gear and battery pack from the CR-Z and install the K20 engine."

        Sweet Jesus man, it is cruel and unusual to even discuss something so easily do-able and yet so thoroughly un-fulfilled; especially considering the audience is made up of almost nothing but gear-heads. Somehow, the notion feels even more tantalizingly realistic when hearing you say it. Alas, the possibility exists only in the world of engine swaps for now and, I fear, the indefinite future :(

        There seem to be a lot of these common-sense type solutions kicking around that plenty of automakers have been picking up as of late. I mean, good god, just look at Ford, Hyundai, or even Toyota with the bold-move FRS/BRZ platform and even a looming collaboration with BMW. If you can’t beat ’em, coerce ’em into helping you build something that doesn’t suck. At least they’re doing <b>something</b> to inject some vitality into the brand.

        Honda, on the other hand, seems to be sitting on their hands. The Acura brand is a great example. It has made money for them in the past, but now it withers on the vine with more than one of their models falling seriously short of sales projections in recent years. The cars have good tech, Honda’s SH-AWD drivetrain is among the best in the business. Yet somehow the final package they’ve been putting together has been falling short. The RLX is, objectively, a perfectly decent sedan in its price range, but <b>nobody</b> has bought the thing.

        It seems to come back to Honda’s corporate culture. They just don’t do U-turns. They’ve been incredibly dedicated to the parrot-face family-resemblance front grille. Nobody likes it. Nobody <i>ever</i> liked it, but that doesn’t matter to them. This is what they planned and they’re doing it, period. Over at Toyota, Akio Toyoda has been wreaking havoc, changing all manner of product plans. So far, his efforts appear to have yielded entirely positive results. They’ve gained hugely renewed consumer interest in the brand and yet none of their "core customers" are abandoning their 2014 Camry buying plans just because Akio has pushed to build a few interesting cars. All is well for them. Sadly, it seems such is not the case over at Honda.

        I deeply want to continue being a Honda fan. Some of my greatest automotive experiences have occurred in or around one of their cars. However, hardly anything in their 2014 lineup sparks my interest. I’d <i>love</i> to be driving a Honda, but I recently scooped of a ’10 Hyundai Genesis Coupe fresh off a trade-in instead. Powerful V6 engine, 6 speed manual, RWD, and all for way less than $20K even though the thing still had 30K miles of warranty left on it.

        And the thing that really irritates me is how much better my car would be if it were a Honda. Honda could *easily* build a car just like the Genesis Coupe. Only if Honda made it, its engine would be more powerful, more fuel efficient, and more refined. Its interior would be made up of much higher quality materials to make a more quiet and comfortable cabin. The gearshift would be a nearly-orgasmic joy to operate rather than merely adequate. It wouldn’t have such an absurdly small amount of front bump travel. Its handling would be snappy, agile, and precise. Its ride quality would be supple with perfect damping. Its steering would feel tingly and wonderful and perfectly weighted.

        Alas, it would have been $6K-8K more expensive and-OMG I WOULD NOT HAVE CARED! <i>AT! ALL!</i> I would <i>so</i> prefer to own a Honda-built version of my Genesis Coupe.

        Honda! Hooondaaa! Please! Please just build *one* proper enthusiast’s car?! With no hybridized whatever? Just wheels and a meaty engine and some seats and perfectly ergonomic controls and every other exquisite, driver-focused quality that we all *know* you can build into a car.

        Aaron Severson has penned an ode, yet another lovingly detailed history of an incredible strain of automobile. It is truly baffling to read it to its end and then consider what Honda’s product tree looks like right now. What a shame.

        1. It should be said that however much the recent Civic and Accord models have been lambasted by the enthusiast press, both have been selling quite well in the U.S., so they seem to be going over okay with consumers.

          As for the hybrids, the last time I checked, the Prius was by a healthy margin the bestselling car in Japan by a substantial margin and it and the Aqua (the car sold here as the Prius C) account for a substantial portion of ALL cars sold in Japan right now. By contrast, Honda has had a lot of difficulty carving out a piece of that market; Toyota has really branded itself as the hybrid company at this point, which has left Honda trying to maneuver around them.

          Also, Honda today is in a very different position than it was when the original CRX was developed. Back then, Honda was just barely edging out Mazda for fourth place in Japan during a period when the Japanese economy was really starting to boom and the auto industry (after some sluggish years in the mid-seventies) was taking off. Those are the kind of conditions that seem to inspired companies to produce their best products — periods in which there’s obviously money to be made (and thus more incentive to take expensive chances), but where the company isn’t so far out in front that they second-guess themselves to death try to hang onto their established market share.

          Today, Honda is I think still No. 2 in the Japanese industry, having displaced Nissan, and one of the top-selling automotive brands in the U.S., but the Japanese economy has been rocky for some time — the earthquake certainly didn’t help — and the auto industry in general is in a weird and uneasy place for everyone but the high-end German brands. Those are the sort of conditions that discourage companies from taking chances; there’s a lot to lose and not necessarily a lot to gain.

  3. When I first heard of it, I was really hoping that the Scion iQ was going to pick up where the CRX left off…tiny, nimble, quirky, efficient, and unapologetic about styling. Sadly, it appears to have been a flop in the U.S. at least.

    So what is the CRX’s closest successor? The MINI products are a little too form-over-function, the MX-5 is too expensive, we (U.S.) got the wrong Smart, the MR2 Spyder was apparently not as fun as it looks, etc.

    I’m calling out the Mazda2…and the Fit, of course.

    1. Well, neither the Fit or Mazda2 is really the same sort of car. The Fit/Jazz is in size and purpose basically a cleverer, modernized version of the EA Civic Shuttle/Wagon five-door. (The Fit is about 3.5 inches shorter, but 2 inches wider and about an inch and a half taller.) The 2/Demio is a supermini like the Fiesta that shares its platform. Neither the Fit nor the 2 is particularly sporty — which is not to say they’re bad to drive because they’re not, but being fun to drive is really not their primary mission.

      Of the various smaller hot hatches, I would say the closest direct comparison is probably the Suzuki Swift Sport three-door, not sold here. If you want to be technical, it’s closer to the EA Civic Si than the CRX, but the Swift Sport is about as close to a "back to basics" small sporty car as you’ll find these days.

  4. I’d like to know why Honda was able to make money offering such a wide range of Civic variations back in the ’80’s. Heck, they even offered 3 versions of the CRX (CRX, CRXhf and CRXsi). Plus the Civic hatch, the 4-door Civic and the Civic Wagon.

    Now it’s 2-door, 4-door or hit the highway.

    Same with most of all the other car companies.

    Back in the ’60’s you could get a full-size Chevy in 4-door sedan, 4-door hardtop, 2-door sedan, 2-door hardtop, station wagon and convertible. Most if not all in Caprice, Impala, Biscayne and 210 variants.

    Maybe the car companies would sell some more cars if they gave us some choice.

    1. Well, Honda does offer a Civic hatchback and a wagon/MPV (the Stream), just not in the U.S. Conversely, the Civic three-box sedan and two-door coupe aren’t sold in Europe. In both cases, the reason is that in the past three generations or so, interest in hatchbacks and small wagons in the U.S. has been minimal, while European buyers have a similar feeling about notchback sedans and coupes.

  5. Great article (you keep spoiling us, Aaron!). I owned a ’77 Civic CVCC and an ’85 CRX and the CRX was such a quantum leap over the Civic. Maybe that’s not a fair comparison given eight years of progress separating them, but the ’77 was such a piece of crap I swore I’d never own another Honda, so when I broke that rule and bought the CRX it was so good it more than evened the score. I figured I’d quit while I was ahead and have yet to buy another Honda (as if I could even afford a new(er) one…

  6. I had a 90 Si with a b16 and IHE, brake upgrades.
    at 50 years old I had a fast! fun, and reliable car that I drove every day.
    God, the fun I had with that car…

  7. Great article! Well written and probably the only one so far which captures the fact the CR-X Ballade Sports started its existence in 1983… Although the first month of production was May 1983 (not late 1983 as written). Chassis numbers started as AF1
    The 1.6l DOHC CR-X did come out in 1984 but again as a Ballade Sports with the chassis number AS100 whilst the Si model on 1986 had the chassis number AS110.

    1. To the author: I own a 1983 cr-x ballade sports which was early build number 29 and also a 1.6 1984
      Ballade sports with the chassis AS100. I also have a parts book which shows the models if you’d like that for reference. Thanks.

    2. By introduction, I’m referring to the public announcement rather than the start of production, which for obvious reasons would have been somewhat earlier. Honda announced the new model on 23 June 1983 and according to their press release, the car went on sale through Honda Verno stores on the first day of July.

      I didn’t mean to imply that the JDM Si was not still a Ballade Sports CR-X, which it was (as can be seen by the identification on the back of the black car), and have amended the text a bit to make that clearer. The main issue was that it can get tricky to describe cars sold in distinct versions under different names without making the text very cumbersome…

  8. <cite>The factory estimated a top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h) for the 1.5i, which was wildly optimistic</cite>

    I have an ’84 1.5 I purchased new from a dealer in AZ. The best I ever got out of it was 105. 124 is is wildly optimistic.

    1. The factory figure was for the more powerful Japanese-market injected engine. The car you had was the less-powerful carbureted U.S. 1.5; I don’t know if Honda ever released estimated figures for that version, although your 105 mph result is quite consistent with the independent U.S. tests.

      Either way, 124 mph was optimistic. The JDM 1.5i had probably just about the same net output as the later U.S. CRX Si (i.e., about 92 hp SAE net), which didn’t get close to that speed without aftermarket help. Even the European injected cars, which were almost certainly more powerful than the JDM version (no catalytic converter or EGR), couldn’t manage 120 mph in independent tests, much less 124.

  9. The photo of the S800 brought a tear! I owned an S600 Coupe (essentially the same car as the S800) and drove it for 18 years in and around Vancouver. With its 9500 RPM red line, what a hoot that car was! Still have the original (and incredibly detailed) shop manual for the S600, as well as one for the S800.

  10. THANKS for writing such a thorough and interesting history of the CRX! I truly enjoyed it!

    My sister’s first car (in ’88) was a very gently-used ’85 CRX (1.5) with only 34k miles on it. It was red with an after-market pop-up sunroof and oh-so-80s rear-window louvers that rattled constantly. Questionable accessories aside, it was still a blast to drive. Just a few weeks later, her best friend got a dark blue ’85 model, but with the dreadful 3-speed automatic.

    In 1990, shortly before I turned 16, my sister graduated high school and my dad bought her an ’86 Nissan 300ZX from a friend. Even though I always loved her ’85 CRX, I wasn’t thrilled to get my big sister’s hand-me-downs. But if I didn’t take the CRX, it was very likely that I’d be getting my mom’s ’77 Cutlass Supreme….so I took the CRX! =)

    Four months later, I lost control in a curve and put it into the guard rail at 70mph+. I walked away with just a few bumps and bruises, but the CRX wasn’t so lucky. I replaced it with a white ’86 CRX Si and kept it for almost two years, until I graduated high school in 01/1993.

    I went thru a series of Integras, Accords, a Prelude and even a Legend over the years. In 1999, when my daily driver was a ’94 Legend GS, I ran across a deal on a black ’90 CRX Si that I couldn’t pass up. It was pretty tired with just over 200k miles on the clock, but it was still fun for to play with for a couple of years until the head gasket blew.

    For the record, I hated the del Sol, but the current CR-Z could have some potential! Screw the hybrid crap, borrow the powertrain from the Civic Si and I’ll be first in line to buy one!

    1. I suspect the CR-Z won’t be around much longer. I saw news the other day that the Insight on which it’s based has ceased production and since CR-Z sales have never been great, I have to assume there isn’t a strong business case for continuing the CR-Z much longer. If it had become a cult favorite, keeping it might make sense as a goodwill-building gesture, but the people who might have made the CR-Z that kind of success have largely turned up their noses at it.

  11. Excellent article. I owned an 87 CRX DX for a few years and still own a 1997 Del Sol VTEC (bought new, but sadly the rust belt is about to claim another victim), but noticed you claimed the suspension didn’t change between the second generation CRX and the Del Sol. The Del Sol inherited the same suspension used in the same generation Civics (which is why most of the parts I’ve been buying lately are Civic parts), which is a true double wishbone up front and a trailing arm multilink arrangement in the rear. It is a funny looking double wishbone, I’ll grant you, with the two wishbones connected by an extended hub (Honda calls it a knuckle). There are some exploded parts diagrams of the suspension on OEM parts sites if you want to verify my statement (assuming Majestic Honda hasn’t yanked the Del Sol from their online parts catalog). I’ve been toying with the idea of replacing the Sol with a CRZ but for some reason the insurance rates for one in my neck of the woods are outrageous – I can insure a Pontiac Solstice GXP for less. Now if only I could afford the GXP… and the maintenance…

    1. I wasn’t trying to imply that suspensions were identical or interchangeable, but that they were substantially similar in layout. However, you’re quite right about the lower wishbone change — I’d missed that when I was looking at the itty-bitty diagrams in the del Sol press kit. One could argue (as I imagine Honda engineers would have) that a wishbone formed by two links is still functionally a wishbone; it sort of comes down to how picky you want to be. In any case, I’ve amended the text on that and to better describe the extended steering knuckles, which are shared by both generations.

      1. Agreed, though I think they’d need to be really picky indeed to argue that a lower control arm that consists of two pieces bolted together and attached to a single ball joint at the bottom of the knuckle isn’t a wishbone. It could have just as easily been a solid piece (indeed, some aftermarket arms did just that) with two horizontal pivot mounts on the car side connecting to a ball joint on the knuckle side. I don’t fault you for scratching your head at the diagrams, I just stared at one now and had to puzzle through what was what, and I’ve held the arms in my hands before. The steering tie rods almost look like they should be a load bearing piece. And I’m sorry, I didnt mean to infer that they would be interchangeable either, just that the design had changed between 88-91 and 92-95. Thanks again for the informative article. Oh, and if you haven’t read "The Honda Myth" before I can’t recommend it more highly… It’s a really compelling story about Honda’s history.

        1. My dilemma with the diagrams was that I originally looked only at the del Sol press kit, which has only one very small image of the front suspension — and that from an angle where the lower wishbone is completely hidden behind the knuckle. I went back and looked up the press kit for the Civic line, which had a more complete set of illustrations from several angles. (I assume since the del Sol followed on the heels of the other Civics, Honda didn’t see the need to belabor the point.)

          It’s sort of interesting that they went back to a solid lower wishbone. A lot of times automakers go the other direction, principally because creating a "wishbone" of several links gives you more flexibility in tailoring bushing compliance in different directions. I suppose it might have been a cost-saving thing, since by that point the Japanese economy was a mess and Honda was fighting to hold the line on export prices. It might also have just been an about-face in terms of philosophy for any number of reasons — I really don’t know.

          I have read the Masaaki Sato book, which was fascinating. There was a lot of stuff about Honda’s early history I really hadn’t known and it gave me a new perspective on some things, like the proposed auto industry consolidation that prompted Honda (and Mazda) to get into the passenger car business in the first place.

  12. Hi, i own a 1984 Honda city cabriolet and am desperately sourcing for the front shock absorbers and rear tail lights. Appreciate any assistance i can get.
    Thank you.
    Kannan nair
    MALAYSIA

    1. I’m afraid I can’t offer any advice on parts or repairs and I really don’t know where you could find spares for something like the City. Sorry!

  13. I remember when the CRX first debuted here in North America. I was 10 yrs old at the time, and I thought it was the ugliest thing Honda had produced. I thought the Civic was better looking than the CRX. As time went on, I saw it as more of a cute little runabout for a single person to commute to and from work, or a couple who only needs one car. I like it more than the more recent Honda CRZ.

  14. Hi, excellent article as always. From a European perspective I would like to add that the CRX (certainly the first generation) is conceptually and stylistically similar to the Alfa Romeo Sprint, based on the Alfasud. Certainly the second generation Sprint is very similar to the first generation CRX. At the time, the CRX was considered something of a spiritual successor to the Sprint, much like the MX5 is considered a spiritual successor to many British roadsters. The main difference being, of course, that in the Japanese reinterpretations of these concepts, you actually stood a pretty good chance of completing your journey without ending up by the wayside with a smoking car.

    There are famous stories about the Alfasud and its (even by Italian standards) terrible reliability: its factory was an attempt at economically developing southern Italy (the Mezzogiorno), but the workers were accustomed to agricultural labour instead of industrial labour and often went on strike while the unpainted bodyworks of new cars rusted outside – before they even made it to the showroom… These bodies were then gingerly used to build new cars whenever the strike was (momentarily) resolved.

    1. I would grant that the ‘sud Sprint is the sort of car Honda’s R&D people would probably have examined and would likely have appreciated from a dynamic perspective, although I don’t see a stylistic resemblance beyond a certain stubbiness and the cropped Kamm tail, which of course is an aerodynamic feature that predated both cars. (Kamm-effect tails are very common on small cars because it’s challenging to achieve even a quasi-teardrop shape that still has room for human occupants.) The Sprint to my eyes looks more like the Mk1 Scirocco — as I recall, Giugiaro did both — and I don’t see much of either in the Honda except insofar as the Scirocco, the Sprint, and the CRX were all coupes based on cut-down C-segment family cars. In that line, there’s also the Peugeot 104 coupe, which I mentioned in a separate article. Again, I assume Honda R&D was cognizant of all of these, but there’s no one precedent that screams of being an obvious conceptual inspiration.

      As I study more about the Japanese auto industry, I become increasingly frustrated with the Western assumption that everything Japanese is a copy or knockoff, superior or not, of some European or American original. There are of course cases where that was true, but the U.S. industry did its share of borrowing, particularly stylistically, and yet for all the bad things European or British critics have said about Detroit (gaudy, vulgar, uncultured — choose your epithet), one seldom hears similar accusations made of American cars, even the ones that have been consciously and sometimes clumsily patterned after Japanese or German models. Nissan did of course build Austins under license once, but then so did BMW. In any case, if one wants to point out that the Datsun 240Z looks like the adolescent result of a late-night liaison between a SII E-type and a Ferrari 275GTB/4, or that the first Lexus LS400 bore a more than passing resemblance to a W126 S-Class, I won’t argue, but the notion that all Japanese cars are somehow categorically a reinterpretation of some European concept is awfully reductive.

      The Alfasud is a fascinating car and an interesting story of its own that to tell properly would require a more nuanced grasp of Italian labor issues in the ’60s and ’70s than I presently can claim. The ‘sud was a political response to the enormous northerly migration that had been taking place in Italy since the late ’50s, which in U.S. terms was loosely comparable to the combined population of Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia showing up in the greater New York area within the space of about a decade, looking for work, housing, and schools. As with many other politically driven efforts to establish industrial sites in economically depressed areas, the Alfasud project underestimated the considerable logistical and organizational problems of building a factory far from a nation’s existing industrial base and infrastructure. There’s probably a good book to be written about the whole affair, although it would be a worthy thesis project for some graduate student in labor history, industrial relations, or business administration.

      1. Excellent points, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the CRX was a knockoff. In fact, I was at a car spotting age when it came out and recall the general consensus being that people were happy that at least <em>somebody</em> cared enough about the concept to develop such a car, as Europe’s car industry – and certainly anything owned by Fiat – fell into a lethargy concerning specialty cars, instead betting the house on hot hatches. With quite some success, it must be said. The CRX made sure that, together with the VW GTI’s, Honda usurped much of the classy, affordable and sporty image that Alfa once owned – at least in Europe. That was the point I tried to convey: both the CRX a and the MX5 are continuations of concepts that European manufacturers no longer cared about, often markedly improved. That doesn’t make them knockoffs but rather like chapters in a continuing story that many people (including me) are very grateful for, since it provides much extra color to an automotive world that tends toward beige.

        To continue on your assessment of the Japanese car industry, I haven’t your depth of knowledge, but I always believed that Honda found its distinctive style in the early eighties – the generation before the CRX, in fact my dad owned a 2nd gen Civic and I have fond memories of it, if not of the interior space it provided. A style that has waxed and waned through the years (I’m sure you’re aware that European Civics of recent vintage are considerably more "daring" than those for other continents, with decidedly mixed results). Other Japanese marquee were not far behind, if at all. Of course, we didn’t get the Datsun 510 in Europe, so the CRX a was probably one of the first Japanese cars to get an emotional reaction in our neck of the woods.

        1. Functionally, I think what happened to the European specialty car market was that cars like the Golf GTI demonstrated that automakers could snare most if not all of the same buyers and create a comparable fan base with a much more modest tooling investment. The eternal struggle with specialty cars is that even if you have a bone-stock chassis and running gear, the body costs as much to tool as a family car’s, the resulting product sells in smaller numbers, and it can easily price itself out of the market if the price is too high. That’s why you ended up with cars like the Mk3 Capri and late MGB, which sold well enough to keep them alive with an occasional de minimis warming-over, but not well enough to bother redesigning or creating from scratch. The hot hatch is a much less risky bet because unless you’re doing something REALLY extreme (e.g., the ’90s Escort Cosworth), the tooling costs are modest.

          The Japanese eventually ran into a similar problem a decade or so later, after the bubble burst, which was compounded by the weak dollar driving up exchange rates and prices for U.S. exports. In the ’80s, the home market was healthy enough to absorb a variety of interesting indulgences not sold elsewhere (including a surprising fad for four-door hardtops, which will be covered in an upcoming story), but the Japanese market sagged in the ’90s and never really perked up in any sustained way. (Looking at JDM new car sales by model now is rather sobering.) So, the only really unique models the home market can support by itself are not sporty specialty cars, but minicars, which are sustained by a series of regulatory loopholes that don’t exist in the U.S. or E.U.

          I think the Japanese automakers in Europe are suffering from an unfortunate catch-22: to capture European buyers’ respect, the Japanese really need products that are more specifically tailored to European tastes, but existing and past efforts in that direction have had very mixed results, as you say, and such dubious prospects don’t exactly encourage companies to make a big additional investment!

          I know the 510 Bluebird was sold in some European markets, if not the U.K. I say this because not long ago I was looking through some old Norwegian brochures for it! Export strategies are sometimes a little mystifying.

          1. The 510 Bluebird was sold in the UK as the Datsun 1400 or 1600, depending on engine displacement. Of course, we got only the 1600 engine in the States.

          2. Thanks! I knew some later Bluebirds were sold in the U.K. (even retaining the Bluebird name, in some cases), but I wasn’t positive about the 510 generation.

  15. No, you’re right. Fixed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Click here to read our comment policy. You must be at least 18 to comment and PLEASE DON'T POST COPYRIGHTED CONTENT YOU DON'T OWN!
Except as otherwise noted, all text and images are copyright © Aaron Severson dba Ate Up With Motor. Trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners.