AROnline reader Jorge Santos needed a car to back up his beloved Rover 400 Tourer, so where better to look than in the direction of a Honda Civic?
Here are his thoughts on running one and getting it back to full health.
Words and photography: Jorge Santos
A haircut and a Honda Civic please
Being a compulsive car buyer isn’t good for you at all!
As you know, my Rover 400 Tourer had its cracked head repaired and was running well till summer temperatures set in and cracked the head again! Being on vacation in Silves, inner Algarve for a week in August brought a certain smell of coolant fluid which, after investigation, meant it wasn’t yet as bad as previous year’s disappointments, but soon would need great attention.
Peugeot XUD engines will run forever with this disease – now I was in full disgust mode with the Tourer: it had been nothing except a constant source of worry about overheating issues and money thrown away! Of course, it was a true family car; of course, it loved bends on B-roads through Alentejo to the Algarve but, although the Moura-Serpa-Mértola-Vila Real de Santo António-Silves route takes in some of the most beautiful roads in Portugal (newer cars were hardly a threat on a bendy ‘Tour Historique’ road), on one of the hottest days this summer, the trip had led to another moment of despair.
The Tourer was on its way out from the fleet! And I now needed another car because of my daily teaching commute could no longer be full of roadside water fill-ups!
A banger would have to step in again!
Looking in Honda’s direction
Near to my present school there’s a hairdresser and, in need of a haircut, I called in! Never could I have realised that compulsiveness was just around the corner! As I got a call from a friend suggesting a petrol Mercedes-Benz A-Class (not within my definition of a banger!), the hairdresser said:
– Are you looking to buy a car?
– I am! Have you any for sale?
– My boyfriend and I have bought an Audi A3. Our Honda Civic is on its way out – it’s had two owners before us and we are looking for €1100.
A Honda Civic! Now I felt an itch of curiosity, and a drive was soon arranged! After a test ride I found out that I was going to buy it! A deal was struck at €980 (Hondas of this age still have strong resale values in Portugal) and I was advised that I should do the cambelt straight away, ‘…because we believe the mechanic conned us!’ Little did I realise it! This is what I bought, and here are the jobs I’ve done so far.
- 1.4-litre 90bhp non-VTEC engine
- All is working including A/C!
- The cambelt (below) was on its last gasp, probably original!
- Full change of oil, spark plugs and all filters, all in dire need!
- A new radiator and thermostat were recently fitted, replacing 23-year old-originals, because, you know, Portugal is a hot country!
Anyway, that’s set me thinking again about the Rover-Honda agreement of 1979: why were Hondas blessed with a good quality build feel? This is a Swindon-built Honda. It has no water leaks through windshield like the Rover 400 has! No failing door cards! And a greyish interior that is well above the nice-looking, but fragile interior of the R8 in terms of quality!
Honda was never interested in continuing the partnership after the opening of the Swindon factory: indeed, they could have bought Rover for pennies and developed Land Rover as Ford did and keep the cars as siblings, thus doubling volume and market presence – as years went by after the divorce, Rover closed for good and Honda lost most of its market share every year to Hyundai-Kia, and has now, of course, closed Swindon.
How did the Honda and Rover compare?
Either way, driving both cars for a month was like having a family car and a better one for a quick drive: where the Tourer was quiet, refined and economical the Civic was well-mannered and sometimes made me feel like a ‘Boy-racer’! It is also very frugal on petrol and a joy to drive, never missing a beat one day after another!
The Honda impressed so much that the Tourer was sold to a mechanic who said he would replace the cracked head – I suppose he has because it has now been sold again.
Being on vacation in Silves, Algarve, the Tourer did get some attention from Brits on holiday and ex-pat residents, who were always kind enough to say: ‘Still running? That’s great!’ I also got to know a senior resident British couple who havebeen living in Silves for many years now and are the owners of this lovely right-hand-drive Morris Minor Traveller (below)!
Will I ever live without a proper banger? Most certainly not! I will let the Council know and then complain about roads full of German cars…