Compact Cult Classic: The 1984-1991 Honda CRX

The primary reason for this shift was the Mazda MX-5 Miata (Eunos Roadster in Japan), which had debuted around the same time the Mk2 CRX received its midlife update. In sharp contrast with the technological overload represented by the turbocharged, AWD Diamond Star cars and many pricier Japanese GT cars of the time, the MX-5 was a return to the simpler formula of the MGB and Triumph TR4. That recipe proved very popular even at a time when sales of most sporty coupes were collapsing.

Rather than simply imitating the Mazda, which for best results would have required a small rear-drive platform, or lopping the top off the new Civic hatchback, Honda opted to develop a new Civic-based notchback coupe with a retractable rear window and a removable roof panel à la Porsche 911 Targa. The result, dubbed CR-X del Sol, debuted in Japan in February 1992.

Honda made much of the del Sol’s combination of open-air pleasure and coupe security, but the new car’s big party trick (and the main thing distinguishing it from the many T-top and lift-roof coupes of the seventies and eighties) was an optional mechanized roof mechanism dubbed “Trans-Top.” Trans-Top used a series of electric motors to automatically raise the rear deck to slightly above roof height, slide the roof panel backward into its rack in the decklid, and then lower and lock the deck into its normal position. The whole process took around 45 seconds and was impressive to watch, although it could not be done on the move and added 110 lb (50 kg) to the del Sol’s curb weight and ¥170,000 (about $1,400) to the list price. Without Trans-Top, you had to lift off the 24-pound (11-kilogram) roof panel and stow it in the trunk yourself.

Honda Civic del Sol front 3q © 2008 Rudolf Stricker (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From the front, the del Sol bears a general resemblance to the EG Civic, although the del Sol doesn’t share any of the Civic’s exterior sheet metal and differs quite a bit in detail. The del Sol was 157.3 inches (3,995 mm) long on a 93.3-inch (2,370mm) wheelbase, 66.7 inches (1,695 mm) wide, and 49.4 inches (1,255 mm) high, making it longer, lower, and wider than the CRX it replaced. Unfortunately, it was also substantially heavier. (Photo: “Honda Civic del Sol front 20080108” © 2008 Rudolf Stricker; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Although it had unique sheet metal and a different dashboard, the del Sol was mechanically much like the contemporary Civic three-door, albeit with the wheelbase shortened 7.9 inches (200 mm). Overall length was about 3 inches (75 mm) shorter. The suspension, shared with other EG Civics, was much like that of the previous generation Civic/CRX, but there was now a solid lower wishbone up front rather than the previous radius rod/lateral link combination. Base CR-X del Sol VXi models were powered by the latest fuel-injected D15B engine with variable intake valve timing and 130 PS JIS (96 kW), while the SiR had the DOHC B16A, now making 170 PS JIS (125 kW) and 116 lb-ft (157 N-m N-m) of torque (engines with automatic were limited to 155 PS/114 kW). A driver’s side airbag, ABS, electronic traction control, and a viscous-coupling limited-slip differential were optional and the SiR came with four-wheel disc brakes and bigger 195/55VR15 tires.

European cars arrived soon after, dubbed CRX del Sol. In most markets, the del Sol was offered in ESi and VTi trim levels approximating the Japanese VXi and SiR, although the engines had DIN ratings of 125 PS (92 kW) and 160 PS (118 kW) respectively. Some markets, like Spain, offered only the base engine, presumably to keep the price within reason.

The U.S. del Sol, identified as a Civic rather than a CRX, debuted in September 1992 as a 1993 model. The more powerful DOHC VTEC engine was initially absent, so American buyers had the choice of two SOHC engines: The del Sol S had the 102 hp (76 kW) 1,493 cc (91 cu. in.) engine from the Civic DX and LX while the pricier del Sol Si had the 1,590 cc (97 cu. in.) four from the Civic Si and EX, with 125 hp SAE (93 kW) and 106 lb-ft (144 N-m) of torque. A del Sol VTEC model with the B16A engine debuted for 1994, making 160 hp SAE (119 kW). U.S. cars did get power steering and VTEC models got ABS for 1995, but the Trans-Top was never offered in the States, again probably for cost reasons.

Honda Civic del Sol rear 3q © 2008 Rudolf Stricker (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The U.S.-market del Sol was badged as a Civic rather than a CRX. Base S models had a 102 hp (76 kW) 1,493 cc (91 cu. in.) engine, no anti-roll bars, and rear drum brakes, presumably in an effort to keep list prices as low as possible. (Photo: “Honda Civic del Sol rear 20080108” © 2008 Rudolf Stricker; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Honda’s strategy of looking for unique niches rather than going head to head with entrenched rivals had served the company well in the past, but the del Sol proved to be a commercial miscalculation. Although it was a pleasant little car, it fell into an awkward middle ground. The del Sol didn’t offer the full open-air experience of the MX-5 or Ford Capri roadsters, but the compromises imposed by the removable roof undermined the Honda’s appeal as a sporting car. Even without the heavy Trans-Top, a del Sol SiR/VTi was over 300 lb (140 kg) heavier than an EF CR-X, much less aerodynamic (claimed drag coefficient was 0.40), and noticeably less rigid. With the hotter engine, the del Sol was respectably quick, capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in the mid-7-second range and a top speed of about 130 mph (210 km/h), but the B16A cars had to be pushed hard to extract such performance and even with their stiffer sport suspension couldn’t match the sharpness of the lighter RWD Mazda.

The del Sol survived into 1997, after the rest of the EG Civic line had gone, but sales fell short of expectations and the lift-roof coupe expired without a replacement. (The Honda S2000, a considerably more hardcore rear-drive roadster, cost over 50% more than the last del Sol and wasn’t really comparable.)

ELECTRIFIED REVIVAL

At the Tokyo auto show in October 2007, Honda unveiled a concept car called CR-Z (for “Concept Renaissance Zero”), with styling cues clearly inspired by the Mk2 CRX. In keeping with Honda’s new preoccupation with green technology, the CR-Z was not described not as a reinvention of the old CRX, but as an environmentally responsible hybrid sports car.

The production CR-Z debuted in early 2010. Like the old CRX, it was a sporty three-door coupe based on a family hatchback: in this case the Mk2 Honda Insight hybrid. The CR-Z shared the Insight’s suspension (MacPherson struts in front and a rear torsion beam, borrowed in turn from the Honda Fit/Jazz) and Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor and battery pack. However, unlike the Insight, the CR-Z used Honda’s more powerful 16-valve 1,497 cc (91 cu. in.) i-VTEC engine and could be ordered with a six-speed manual gearbox rather than a continuously variable transmission, which was optional. Also included were fatter 195/55VR16 tires on alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, stiffer suspension, and a sportier interior treatment. Electrically assisted steering and ABS were standard.

2011 Honda CR-Z front 3q © 2010 S 400 HYBRID (released for all use with attribution)

The production Honda CR-Z coupe is 160.6 inches (4,080 mm) long on a 95.9-inch (2,435mm) wheelbase, 68.5 inches (1,740 mm) wide, and 54.9 inches (1,395 mm) high, making it bigger in every dimension than even the del Sol. Its claimed drag coefficient is 0.30, the same as the 1988 EF CRX Si’s. Although the hybrid powertrain’s combined output is now listed as 130 hp (97 kW) and 140 lb-ft (190 N-m) with manual gearbox, that is with the added power of the electric motor and thus greatly dependent on battery state. When the battery is drained, the engine itself produces only 119 hp (89 kW) — 113 PS (83 kW) for 2011–2012 cars — which isn’t much for a modern coupe weighing more than 2,600 lb (1,200 kg). (Photo: “Honda CR-Z front 20100704” © 2010 S 400 HYBRID; released for all use (with attribution) by the photographer, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

Combined with the 14 PS (10 kW) electric motor, the IMA drivetrain produced 124 PS JIS (91 kW) and 128 lb-ft (174 N-m) of torque, increased for 2013 to 130 PS (96 kW) and 140 lb-ft (190 N-m) on six-speed cars. While the motor provided a useful boost in low-end torque as long as the batteries were charged, the CR-Z still had a rather modest engine coping with about 2,650 lb (1,200 kg) of curb weight, which made for lackluster performance. Honda claimed 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in around 10 seconds and a top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h), which was notably slower than the old B16A-powered CRX. The CR-Z’s fuel economy — 34 mpg (6.9 L/100 km) on the current EPA combined cycle for the six-speed, 37 mpg (6.3 L/100 km/h) for the CVT — also fell well shy of the old CRX HF.

Critics weren’t thrilled with the CR-Z’s handling, either. It was competent, but reviewers complained that it didn’t have the agility or poise of similarly priced hot hatches, due in part to the synthetic feel of the electric steering assist.

2011 Honda CR-Z rear 3q © 2010 S 400 HYBRID (released for all use with attribution)

Like the 1984–1991 CRX, the CR-Z is a three-door hatchback with a transparent panel in the lower portion of the hatch for better rear visibility and, like the original Ballade Sports CR-X, has small rear seats to qualify as a 2+2. Unfortunately, despite the CR-Z’s longer wheelbase, the rear seat isn’t much more useful for adult humans than was the folding jump seat in the old CR-X. (Photo: “Honda CR-Z rear 20100704” © 2010 S 400 HYBRID; released for all use (with attribution) by the photographer, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

As with the del Sol, the CR-Z’s attempt to carve out a unique niche for itself seems to have fallen flat. Automotive enthusiasts — the sort who wish Honda had skipped the IMA hardware and installed one of the company’s more powerful twin-cam engines in a shortened Fit platform instead — have thus far been rather frosty toward hybrids. At the same time, the CR-Z is not efficient enough to perk the interests of green buyers, for whom sporting behavior is seldom a high priority. In Europe, the CR-Z’s generous equipment levels and 117 g/km CO2 emissions (which have a strong effect on running costs) make it a decent value, but that hasn’t been enough to overcome a lack of badge cachet and the fact that rival turbodiesel hatches can match or beat the Honda’s fuel economy while offering better chassis dynamics.

LOOKING BACK

The 1984–1991 Honda CRX is rapidly becoming a cult car. A fair number of weathered and battered survivors are still in service as daily drivers, but good examples are being snapped up by collectors and tuners, who seldom hesitate to install the hotter twin-cam engines the factory did not.

48 Comments

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  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…

    1. Purchased a new 1987 CRX-Si in July of ’87, last of the original generation. Loved the way it drove. Installed a Jackson Racing suspension kit on the car and it handled like it was on rails.

      The first and second generation CRX cars were some of the best handling of all time. Light weight, great handling and excellent power to weight ratio for their day made these car instant classics.

  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. “The initial price for the CR-X Si was ¥1,503,000 (about $6,300), roughly £200,000 (about $850) more than a CR-X 1.5i.”

    Boy, the Pound really took a beating in the ’80s, didn’t it? ;)

    1. Oops! Yes, that would be some pretty serious markup. Luckily, it was just a typo and easily fixed.

  16. This article is freaking deep. Excellent work!! Definitely gonna keep on browsing through this site.

  17. I’m a bit late to the party but I have a 84 with a weber carborated 1.3 anyways my question is regarding the aftermarket digital dashboard. I was wondering where one might go about finding one.

    1. I’m afraid I can’t help with parts or modifications — I haven’t the foggiest. I suppose it might be possible to mail-order the pieces for the JDM digital dash, but I really don’t know how available something like that might be at this late date.

    2. i have a 85 and one 87 (soch 101hp/dohc 130bhp) but pretty much everything on these cars are hard or impossible to come by so take care of that old girl ;D

      1. I can imagine. I once had a third-generation Prelude that at that time was approaching the end of its factory parts availability window. (It wasn’t past it, but it was getting there.) Even then, parts took quite a while to arrive and were always sourced from one specific warehouse, which I once joked to my mechanic must have been located somewhere deep in the Andes, accessible only by burro.

        I don’t think that’s a problem specific to these cars or to Honda, but rather endemic to moderately priced economy and family cars that are typically driven to death and discarded rather than preserved.

  18. Hi. In the article, you wrote that the claimed drag coefficient for del Sol SiR/VTi was 0.40. Can you tell me, what is the source of this information? I was browsing, trying to find del Sol’s drag coefficient and depending on site, it was said that it is either: 0.35, 0.35-37 or 0.42, so there are some significant differences between these values. I’m currently looking into del Sol’s aerodynamics, and it would be very interesting for me to have a reliable reference value of drag coefficient for a stock del Sol.

    1. The 0.40 Cd figure came out of the specifications in a CAR Giant Test in July 1992. The Japanese press kit’s otherwise comprehensive specifications don’t quote a Cd — curious, since they did for both the two previous generations — nor do any of the brochures I’ve checked. U.S. brochures brag about the aerodynamics, but also decline to state a figure. Judging by what the manufacturer data DOES say, it appears the priorities were minimizing lift and top-off turbulence rather than reducing drag.

      It’s entirely possible that the 0.40 Cd figure is an average value, since with a car like the del Sol, the aerodynamics would naturally differ depending on whether the roof panel is on or off; the average of 0.37 and 0.42 would be 0.395, which one might round up to 0.40. Looking at the car, 0.37 for the wide-tired SiR/VTi/VTEC with the roof in place and 0.42 with it off sounds reasonable, with the 0.35 perhaps applying to a buttoned-up base car with narrower tires. I’m afraid I don’t have anything more authoritative than that, though!

      1. Thanks a lot for the reply and your efforts to find out the answer, I really appreciate it!

        1. No problem. I was curious about it myself — the press info for the first generation included not only Cd, but CdA figures; the second generation had Cd and not CdA; the del Sol listed neither. It’s hard not to assume that the reason the figures were omitted was that they didn’t look terribly impressive.

          1. I think that these figures look OK when you compare them with similar type of cars (open roof). However, in comparison with the 2nd generation CRX, they do look pretty bad, and I agree that they wouldn’t be a good selling point.

            On the other hand, second generation supposed to have a better Cd and CdA than the first one, so there was no reason to conceal CdA there. Maybe, at some point they also changed their policy about the data that could be released to the press.

          2. Frontal area isn’t all that common in official specifications, admittedly, and including a single figure for models with different combinations of features that would affect the total raises some questions about how it’s calculated. (Ditto Cd, but that’s another can of worms.) I doubt it was a policy decision so much as whoever on the product team was responsible for putting together information to hand off to the communications office either not having those figures handy or not including them for whatever reason. Honda had fairly recently gotten some flack, at least from the American press, for the CB Accord being less aerodynamic than the CA in the interests of a more upscale, conservative look, so it’s possible some senior engineers were touchy about that — I really don’t know.

            As far as the CRX goes, my strong suspicion is that the 2nd-generation car’s CdA was either unchanged or a bit worse than before. The Cd was lower, but with the increased width (by 50mm, not insignificant), the frontal area was certainly greater, and I don’t think the Cd was enough lower to compensate. Looking at European tests of the first- and second-generation 1.6i-16, with the twin-cam ZC engine, there’s no improvement at all in 0-100 mph acceleration or top speed, which doesn’t suggest a net aerodynamic improvement considering that the gearing and power were about the same. (With the ZC, the second-generation uncatalyzed cars had a bit more power, but I wouldn’t expect 5 PS to make a noticeable difference at speeds over 120 mph.)

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