Meet project CRX

This project car update was published on June 15, 2010 on my original WordPress site.

Last August I bought a Civic.

It was a 1993 CX hatchback model, and I bought it for several reasons: I had a long commute to work, so I wanted a car that would get good gas mileage. I wanted a car that I could take out to the occasional autocross (which I will refer to as auto-x from here on in) and maintain a decent level of competition. Most of all, though, I wanted a project—something that I could tinker with endlessly and see the results, hopefully without breaking the bank.

The Civic, then, would seem like an ideal car, right? I mean, it is inexpensive, there are enough parts available to fill warehouses, and it’s a competent chassis for amateur racing. It sure seemed like a slam-dunk to me.

Then I discovered the rust.

Now, I should qualify this. A lot of Civics have some rust—they are especially notorious for developing it behind the rear wheel wells. Some even have a borderline uncomfortable amount of rust and, because they are Hondas, remain salvageable. What I found when I was finally able to put this one on a lift, though, was that the cancer had permeated nearly every part of the car.

Working with a rusty car is a bit like performing surgery on a very old person: even some minor work on one part can unexpectedly cause something much larger to fall completely off in another. I did what I could for a few months, but after dealing with enough cars you get pretty good at realizing when a project just isn’t going to work out. This one couldn’t do what I was expecting of it, so the decision was made to sell it.

The bright spot, though, was that I found a person who said, literally, that he wasn’t at all intimidated by rust.

More power to him.

So once that transaction was finalized I found myself back in the market with the same criteria I had months before.  This time, though, I was a little bit wiser and a lot more patient.

I set my sights on two possible candidates for a replacement: a 1999 or 2000 Civic hatch (which would have appealed to my nostalgic side, since that was my first car), or a Civic del Sol (which would have appealed to my fun side, with its targa top and 2-seater configuration). Either would meet and exceed my criteria, but both proved especially hard to locate in acceptable condition and at an acceptable price.

But I persevered.

Three months later I was finishing another exhaustive Craigslist search of NJ when I stumbled upon an unexpected find. A person in the northwest corner of the state was advertising a 1991 CRX with 104,000 miles on the odometer in bone-stock condition. It wasn’t the car I thought I was looking for and the asking price was a little high, but the prospect intrigued me, so a friend and I went to check it out.

The car was in even better shape than advertised, and after one drive I knew that this was what I had been waiting for, even if I hadn’t been looking for it. I had stumbled onto a gem.

The owner was asking $3100, and the Kelly Bluebook says that a CRX of that vintage, in that condition, should be worth $1800. I knew he had started high so as not to get hosed, but I also knew that the KBB price didn’t accurately reflect the rarity of this car in this shape.

So I set to negotiating. Eventually we settled on an even $2500, which was more than I intended to pay in this process, but the car was worth it.

It took some logistical work, but I got it registered and home to south Jersey and set about getting acquainted.

My early impressions have mostly been good so far. The car is quick for its low power (92 hp, at time of production), and I’ve been able to pull 40 miles per gallon on the highway. It’s also well balanced and surprisingly nimble, despite its nearly twenty years.

I have been especially surprised by the tires, Goodyear’s Integrity model. Even though they wrap a set of measly 13-inch steelies, they have proven competent in all sorts of weather and eminently predictable under hard cornering.

The CRX doesn’t appear to need any maintenance items, either. I have my doubts about the quality of the brakes and I might do a tune-up, just to err on the side of caution, but these are all niggles that I will work out after its shakedown at the first auto-x of the year.

The South Jersey Region of the SCCA opens its solo season on April 11 and I can’t wait to see what the car is capable of.

I think I found the perfect starting point; all that remains to be seen is how far I’ll be able to take it.

About Chris Nelson

Chris is a writer and communicator with backgrounds in public relations, communication, political science and automotive technology. He holds an M.A. from Rowan University and a B.A. from Susquehanna University in addition to a certificate in Auto Tech from Lincoln Technical Institute.

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