Your Cars : A Honda Civic lesson in Bangernomics

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

Honda Civic

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.

Honda Civic

Honda Civic

  • 194,452km
  • 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?

Rover 400 Tourer

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…

Morris Minor

Keith Adams


    • @ Conor, I’m sure the three door was made in Swindon as well, but there were no differences between British and Japanese Hondas regarding quality. All nineties Civics and Accords made in Swindon were very reliable and built like Mercedes, which helped Honda’s sales take off over here.

  1. For a short while I had a 1997 Civic 1.6LS 5 dr. (HHR style) company car – Swindon built? As far as I know, the 5 dr and Tourer estate were UK built, but I thought the 3 door was Japanese – imported? An inoffensive looking car…

  2. Yes the three door was imported. It didn’t share any body parts with the 5 door, which was made in Swindon

  3. Weren’t Honda importing Civics back to Jaosn? Sure I read that some time. I know Nissan did with Primeras, stuck a union jack and sold them for a premium because they were better built.

  4. I remember when this model of 3 door Civic first went on sale in the mid 90’s. Looks Ok now as I have become brainwashed by all the ugly new cars but back in the 90’s I thought that this new shape looked hideous at the front with those oversized headlamps. I was on holiday in Edinburgh and there was a navy blue one parked on the road (somewhere between Waverley Station and The Royal Mile if I recall). I had never seen one before as it was a new model. As I walked past it I said, out loud, “my God that is absolutely HIDEOUS.” As I did this I noticed that the drivers window was open (it was in August) and the proud owner of the brand new Civic was sitting in the drivers seat. I hurried my pace and quickly carried on walking……

    • However, the 5 door Civic looked so good, being similar to the Rover 400, and looked far more upmarket than its competitors. The 3 door was OK, but looked more like a large supermini. ( Honda did have the Logo supermini in the late nineties, but this was more like a city car and never took off outside Japan.) Looks aside, any Honda from the nineties was a precision built, ultra reliable car that would last a long time.

      • And yet I have never, ever aspired to Honda ownership. Somehow they’ve always struck me as soulless, antiseptic cars devoid of “personality”(whatever that is in relation to cars). I know that at one time their build quality, reliability, and engineering was renowned, and that Type R VTEC engines were insane screamers. But they just leave me cold. Not even the NSX or S2000 tickled my fancy. My loss, I’m sure.

  5. I loved my brother’s MK1 & 2 Accord hatches / and MK1 Prelude. My Dad also had a late 1985 Accord – great build quality. I was destined to get a MY 2000 Civic 1.5 Sport as a company car (sadly that never occurred)

  6. After having 3 Honda based AR cars, my Gran’s last car was a Honda Civic, though I don’t think he got to use it as she was only doing local driving by then, & with some persuasion gave up driving as she wasn’t getting her money’s worth.

  7. The original Accord, which was available as a useful three door hatchback or four door saloon. might not have sold in huge numbers like its rivals from Datsun and Toyota due to import controls, but was a superior car, looking less chintzy and tacky than the Datsun Violet( stupid name) and being better to drive. Honda, like Mitsubishi, represented the more upmarket end of the Japanese car market and made cars that weren’t sold purely for their reliability and value for money.

  8. I agree the Honda’s / Mitsu’s were perceived as more solid and upmarket than Datsun & Toyota back then. My brother’s 1979 Accord certainly was, more so than my own Datsun Cherry. Of course in the 70’s and early 80s, Datsun & Toyota had a bigger model range than Honda when you add in the Bluebird, Laurel, 280C, Skyline 240K and 280ZX.

    Equally an Accord Hatch was more attractive than a Violet 160 SSS coupe (hatch)

  9. I always wanted one of those Accord 3-door hatches in the 1980s. but at the time couldn’t afford one. By the time I could afford one, Honda had stopped making them and I didn’t want to buy one which was at least 6-7 years old.

    It’s a good example of why Honda are in the mess they are now; they stopped making cars people wanted.

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