Photo: Kurt Bradley

For those who crave wheels from the Radwood generation, getting a super clean 1980s Honda these days is no easy task. This particular 1984 Honda CRX looks showroom condition now, but it certainly didn’t stay in this condition all its life. It was meticulously restored by a guy in Austin that truly appreciates all the CRX is. Discovered under a tree in Wimberley, Texas, it had seen better days.

I’m a sucker for older Hondas, having owned tons of them personally. My first car in high school was a 1988 Civic. I’ve also had three generations of Civic Si models, an Integra Type-R, two S2000s, two TSXs, and a 1992 NSX, so I’m in good company with this owner. He has loved Hondas since high school, and enjoys tinkering on his car toys.

Sure, you could restore something more expensive and vastly more powerful, but this guy really wanted to have himself a special ’80s time machine. And after driving it, I can tell you it worked.

(Full Disclosure: The owner of this CRX works at First Texas Honda in Austin, and has it on display on the showroom floor, and when I learned it was restored to this condition, I had to find out more. After chatting with the owner for a while, we agreed I had to review this car.)

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Some Background

Honda introduced the CRX as a smaller, two-seat hatchback version of the already popular Civic. Engine options were the carbureted—yes, these had carbs back then—1.3-liter four-cylinder producing a measly 58 horsepower or the 1.5-liter packing a much better 76 HP. This particular CRX in question has the bigger engine, as well as a five-speed manual transmission. (The later CRX Si had a thundering, visceral 105 HP.)

Sure, it’s not working with big numbers, but these were meant to be economy cars. Again for economy, they only weighed around 1,600 pounds, something that’d be nearly impossible with safety and tech requirements today. People bought them to be practical, and they were rewarded with a reliable car which easily got over 50 miles per gallon.

And of course, their lightweight, fun nature—and the simple fact that they were Hondas—made them prime targets for tuners, some of whom did a better job than others.

Found Under A Tree

With a trailer hooked up, and no real vision of what they’d discover, the owner and two of his buddies rolled down from Austin to Wimberley, Texas. They had been in touch with the then owner of the CRX, and knew he had a bunch of land, with a few cars thrown about the place. As they pulled up, they came to realize that the property was up an unpaved hill, and there was no way in hell they’d be able to get their trailer up it.

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After a decent hike, they came upon the little old Honda, sunken into the Texas earth, under a nice shade tree. A quick walk around, wipe of the windows, and quick look for any possible critters roaming inside, they dug in.

Prepared for what was likely a rotted out set of rubber, the buyer showed up with a fresh set of wheels and tires, as the Michelins last replaced in 1990 were flat and rotted. Jacking up the car was required to get the wheels swapped and the seized brakes released with a nearby wrench.

When they tried to pull it out of the ground, they prayed that those brakes would work once they got it rolling down the hill toward the trailer. A moment later, the car’s momentum downhill was just enough to load onto the trailer without smashing into the back of the truck.

Photo: Seth Hamilton

A Truly Rough Body

The previous owner of this ’84 CRX had a background in Hondas, but this one couldn’t get the time and attention he felt it needed. Getting it back to showroom condition was no easy task.

Exterior condition in miserable shape, it needed to have the plastic bumpers and trim replaced and it needed to have any rust fixed by replacing the metal. Body panels were easily available, but cost a pretty penny. Fortunately the owner hit up HeelToe Automotive, who was stocked up.

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Next was sanding down and repainting the body in the original colors. In the process of replacing trim pieces, the owner upgraded to slick JDM rear fog lights, bought new rear window louvers in the States, got New Zealand-market window visors, which took forever to ship, and a reflective center garnish was shipped in from Florida. At the end of this process, two years had gone by.

Photo: Seth Hamilton
Photo: Seth Hamilton
Photo: Seth Hamilton

Mechanically Simple To Sort Out

Once the outside was sorted, the engine needed some serious attention. Having a Honda dealer service shop at his disposal, the owner did all of the mechanical work. The motor wasn’t seized up, but every gasket and piece of rubber needed replacement, so while the engine was out, it was rebuilt and resealed. Every single valve was stuck, so they needed to get torn out and replaced.

The original Weber 32/36 carb was magically functional when they first fired the 1.5-liter engine, but it got rebuilt. Fuel that sits for over a decade isn’t exactly the fresher, and this car’s gas was definitely varnished. The system was replaced, along with the brakes. That five-speed transmission was resealed too.

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On The Inside

The interior trim is mostly original, and has been cleaned up to perfection. Still rocking the original cassette deck, the dash is as perfect as it was in the 1980s, and the car is now sporting a UK-market steering wheel. Its shifter was updated with the knob from a 1999 Civic.

The back hatch storage area is spotless, rocking some plush carpeting. I forgot just how good Honda seats were back then, until I popped into these. Not only are they cool looking, but they’ve got some good support.

Taking It For A Spin

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Look, this isn’t a sports car, and by no means can this engine compare to more modern offerings. When you think of momentum cars, this CRX definitely falls into that category. It’s still perfectly connected to the pavement, and is quite nimble due to that flyweight body and chassis. The shiny little 13-inch wheels and tires are not only cool but cheap to replace.

Like any Honda from the ’80s and ’90s, you’ve got to rev the engine to get any power out of it, not that extracting 76 HP is making a huge difference at any point in the power band. On the hilly and twisty FM 2222 west of Austin, you had to work second and third gears to keep a fun pace up and down any grade, but the chassis made up for the lack of power. Steering isn’t power-assisted, and the brakes are drums which definitely need to put some force into them to get a solid response, but that doesn’t matter.

The CRX was a small car in its day, and on the road next to modern machines, it’s damn near invisible. At one point along a fun road, we were next to a 4x4 Ram that was rolling coal so badly we were choking. Next to ordinary new coupes and sedans, your head is still only halfway up the door panel of the car driving next to you. If you’re near a bro truck, you might be tempted to slide under its chassis. In Texas, this is a common concern.

By no means will it blow any doors off any other car on the road, but its light weight and crisp steering feel brings a smile to my face on a winding stretch of pavement. This car is a nostalgic project, and it’s a great throwback to the simple cars I knew and loved in my own high school years.

The World Needs More Of These

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The guy that spent this much time and money restoring a car worth a couple grand is someone to admire. He’s doing the Lord’s work, or at least feeding the nostalgia of my generation. There are tons of more popular restorations on more powerful or cooler cars of our past, but that doesn’t matter.

Back when I was a teenager, I’d go to school and see a parking lot filled with tons of 10-year-old Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans. Reliable, affordable cars, good choices for kids starting to drive. But these fine cars quickly revealed themselves as more than just budget transportation. Some of us were hooked on them for life, or if not on their boring Accords and Camrys then the more fun cars in the same families, like this CRX here.

When I was in it, I had a good bit of my own past sweep over me. I wanted to play some Pearl Jam over the stereo (which has the optional rear speakers fitted), calling to my youth. I felt more free and innocent than I have in any car I’ve recently driven.

Isn’t that what this sort of thing is all about?

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