From Pinto-engined Mustang to Honda CRX:
My Road-Dancing Partners Over The Years



1979 Metallic Cherry Red 302 (5.0) V8 Mustang:  If it was a convertible, it would have been the engine-heavy, mellow Harley of the car world; no comparison past 3,600 rpm to the later H.O. V8 based on it.  It did have the sound though (a prevous neighbor told me it was it inspiration for his wanting to drive).  Without oil additive, it got 12 mpg; with, 16.  With 190/65HR-390 TRX tires, it cornered okish, but was skittish on bumps and of course throttle steer was extremely easy.  It was humiliating in the rain, and couldn't compete with newer ('88) decent economy cars in any way but sound effects.  It was sold to a couple Navy guys on break for modification into a dragracer (it badly needed a new engine anyway).


1980 Two-tone grey Mustang, recammed 2.3L, 5 spd, then with SVO-inspired Motorsport sway bars with stiction-free bushings & adjustable Konis (same as the SVO units).  The two completely eliminated front wheel hop, and nearly entirely rear wheel hop, while making it maybe busy (depending on strut & shock settings) but comfortable and utterly stable on any bumpy road.  Unfortunately, the steering rack was worn out, which added steering slop.

Its power output was basically like one bank of a carbureted 5.0 H.O., and usually drank fuel at a corresponding 17 mpg.  It was a bit lame, with lots of valvetrain noise (supposedly incurable vacuum leak).  I found that when I made a much bigger vacuum leak (unplugged the brake booster hose), it could take off from intersections like a maniac.  Rpm would flick to 6,000 rpm (its redline), and popping the clutch there would spin the 220/55HR-390 TRX tires enough to keep the tach planted at 5,000 rpm nearly until the car's speed reached the tires'.  That reaction to extra air probably relates to the same engine type's reaction to massive turbocharging and low-restriction exhaust systems, such as on British Cosworth RS500s, etc.; in the late '80s it made it go from tame gas eater to champion guzzler of mountain rally courses.

It was sold to a girl, via her father, whose reaction to its having the vastly improved suspension, etc. was "It's nice, daddy.  Whatever you say."  She had had an accident and was feeling guilty...
 


Years of the Beast: My Black Turbo and I
 


Side view


 


1980 Black Turbo RS Capri: The Black Beast, considered some kind of demon-machine by my mom still to this day (over six years after I sold it).  Its valvetrain died early (110k mi.), largely from insufficient camshaft oil coverage (design flaw; not enough oil pressure for the turbo + engine?).  Before the cam had problems, and was only clicking a bit, it did manage to reliably take myself and my dad on a 1300 mi. road trip to New England and back.  It got 23 mpg overall despite not having a fifth gear (engine just too noisy past 70).  It also gave my dad, upon driving it vs. his '71 Volvo station wagon, an ear-to-ear grin largely from the quick, no-slop steering coupled to 220/55HR-390 Michelin TRXes (which BMWs also used).

Oil in any Ford I've had, and Fords friends have had, have all blackened their oil by only 3,000 mi.  Whether it's from excessive hot points oxidizing it severely, or what, I do not know.  The '79-'80 carbureted Ford 2.3L turbo motors used a 9:1 compression ratio, while the later, much better EFI ones used a more appropriate, easier on the bearings, 8:1 ratio.  Fords even use higher oil pressure than much more reliable Honda engines, so perhaps something has just not been right with them.  With hard use I've found my Fords to also use / leak signifigant amounts of oil (unlike Hondas which don't seem to believe in reduction of non-fuel fluid levels).

Like a turbine, the power the Capri produced was more like thrust than horsepower - exact same shove from 3 1/2 - 4 grand right up to 6.2 grand [prior to cam replacement].    I loved the idea of the CRX but not its 2:1 F:R weight distribution; I hadn't driven one yet.

Epitaph for the Capri:

With the rear axle ratio changed from 3.51:1 to 2.79:1, the best way to launch was to punch it, then release (not quite pop) the clutch when the tach showed 6200 [transient redline]. The tach would promptly hang at about 5,000 for a quarter second, then the turbo would kick in. The needle then pops to redline, and you flick your ankle off the loud pedal and smack it back down again. The skins grab, kicking the car onto the highway. The roaring engine winds itself up to a full-boost launch to 6200 within a second, prompting a wrist-flick slap to second quicker than most slushboxes can muster. As the car kicks your back harder than it did under launch, the boost gauge has flicked from 5 to -13 to 8 or 9 pounds, then settles to 5 psi after the overboost buzzer blares out. By 6200 you're doing 50.

Your exit is Market St., a couple miles ahead. You activate the indicator, and go to the left side of the right lane. You speed to 70. As the bumper is about to pass the start of the exit, the you move the steering wheel an eighth turn, darting the front end into the entry of the exit. In a slightly loose 4-wheel slide, the tires squeal for a split second as the whole car does a brief glide over a dip in the exit pavement. The car settles into the raise after the dip, the wide, low-aspect rubber scrubbing deeply to push the car to a half foot of the apex, slowed to 65. A split second before the second apex flashes past, your guts shift from above the left bolster to above the right as you prepare to enter the right lane of the Market St. intersection. Then there is only the low humming of the 2.3 and its exhaust as you sit, waiting for traffic from downtown to show an opening.


If I ever had a Christine, the Capri absolutely was it.  It even caught fire once when shutting it down after the drive to work.  Once the fire was put out, the all smoke from the paint of the melted engine bay and broiled fiberglas hood scoop drifting from its front to the back, coupled with its already being a black-colored car (and my excessive work on it), completed the Christine effect.

No matter what, when it did run everything from the whistle of the turbo spooling up to the crazed launch behavior was a blast.
 


Top view


 





Wake-up time: from Ford junkie to dedicated fan of small Hondas
 

1981 Clear-Coat Copper Civic 1500DX - Where had my brain been all those years?!?!  It was slow at highway passing, but proved to be a miniature, front wheel drive Jeep in the worst in memory, nearly unimaginable winter of '93.  It was an eager, fun in its own way, Japanese interpretation of the British Mini for America.  Only rust could kill it.

The Honda's terminal velocity may be much less vs. the Capri, but its NVH [noise, vibration and harshness] level above 70 or so is much less, even though the engine is literally almost at one's feet. The Capri's primitive T-88 [engine block type] in its trip to and fro New England did not seem at all happy above 3000 rpm / 70 mph (4th gear, its overdrive). It would lunge from that to 80 in a nary a blink and would go maybe 115, but was buzzy ... [under boost] the large-piston pressurized engine made a strong droning noise and blurred the mirrors. The engine could really haul, but not with any grace.

With the tires swapped front<->rear the car oversteers despite its 2:1 F:R weight distribution [185/70R13 F vs. 155/80R13 R]. The rears are the first to squeal. The ignition timing was retarded by the previous owner, and with that dealt with, it starts immediately and won't stall in any weather. It also now has useful power right up to its 6000 rpm redline, about 500-750 rpm better than before. That's with a dirty air filter. With the dirty air filter, a fifty pound sound system and the retarded ignition timing, it beat a Lynx RS (Escort GT) without exceeding 5500 rpm [and an '86? 2.3L Mustang without exceeding 5,000 rpm].  The engine bay gives the impression that for the drivetrain to need more maintanence than an electric motor over 300,000 miles would be a matter of grave dishonor by and for every employee of Honda Motor Company past, present and future. The clutch, gas pedal, idle speed and ignition timing calibrations, and oil, oil and air filter, antifreeze, cap, wires and plugs replacements could all be done by a housewife. Considering that the car leaks nothing and uses absolutely no oil at all at 195,003.8 miles, I doubt that other maintenance, besides valve lash adjustments every 15,000 miles, will be warranted.  [killed by very out of control floorpan rust within a year]

I had to wake up the Honda on when it was -19 (Fahrenheit) outside.  It repeatedly used 6 or 7 crank turns to fire up (instead of its normal 2) before stalling (which it NEVER does normally). The tach cable squealed above 1500 and it sounded and felt like the engine was bolted directly to the floorboard [rubber engine mount dampers too cold], and took nearly 15 minutes for all four cylinders to stay awake. By then the insides and windows had warmed up enough to make anti-ice efforts worthwhile (about a third or quarter inch, vs. about a half inch to a full inch on the morning of the 8th). It must have been about half an hour before the car was ready to travel.

It could swallow 8 Mustang tires (195/70-14 to 220/55-390 TRX) with room for 2 more.
 



 


My All-in-One Machine:
Reliable Roomy Economical Comfortable Commuter & Champion Road Dancer
'85 CRX!

my Civic Runabout Experimental


 


Here's my current car, a 1985 white / grey CRX DX.  It's worth preserving, very like a reliable aging Japanese interpretation of the MGB GT, with enough room to swallow a 27" bike + lots more with the hatch closed (Mk II CRXes have even more room).

I was kidded about entering the company parking lot on always on two wheels when driving the old Civic (I didn't really!).  Now with the CRX, I can drive hard without wondering if the car is up to the challenge.  It was designed for the challenge!

Some unusual stats and other good stuff about my '85 Civic CRX DX:

Its Cd (coefficient of aerodynamic drag) is either 0.35 or 0.32 (I've read/heard both).  For the Mk II CRX ('86 - '91 vs. '84 - '87), it's either 0.29 or 0.32.  The higher numbers may be for the wider-tired Si models vs. the skinny-tired ultra-lean HFs.  In any case, the best today's luxury cars can do, where low wind noise, minimal CAFE mpg violation and relaxed speed are all essential, is 0.27 (a new Audi, don't remember the model).

Because of that, it is supposed to be able to manage 105 - 110 mph, but I suspect it can do more (I haven't maxed it out), while being rated at only 76 hp.  While my basically box-shaped 59 hp '81 1500DX Civic was ok in town but lacked reserves on the highway, my wider CRX is ok in town and has absolutely no power problem on the highway.  They both weigh about the same (1810 lbs. vs. 1800 to 1900lbs. for my CRX).

On my CRX, the plastic piece framing the (old-style, very affordable to replace rectangular) headlights has slots in the lower panel for headlight-deflected air to go through, reducing drag a bit.  That's the kind of meticulous attention to detail Honda puts into their cars.  American cars have traditionally been very comfortable and look good, but often been vastly lacking in the details catagory.  My '85 Civic CRX has everything from four separate interior storage compartments (+ extra-deep slide-out ashtray, used as a second coin holder) to precombustion chambers to get the most bang out of each gallon of fuel, allowing older Civics and CRXes to both pass emissions testing with tired engines and even disabled catalytic convertors and still outrun and especially outcorner many new cars.

Hondas alone have unique labyrinth dual drum brake seals in the cars like mine with (rear) drum brakes, keeping the drum interior clean after many, many miles.
 


MkI CRX suspension


 


The suspension, especially front, is designed to bend upon hitting curbs so the unibody / frame isn't damaged (and thus doesn't have to be heavily overbuilt), and so nothing breaks.  The part in compression is L-shaped, basically I-section high-strength steel while the part in tension is a fairly thick sheet of spring steel.  If the L to its rear is bent back, the spring steel will hold the works together and won't need replacement with the L piece.

To lower the hoodline, torsion beam suspension is used with struts (front only); the back of each L piece twists a torsion bar whose other end is attached to a long (simple to adjust) floorpan assembly.  Torsion bar and multi-leaf spring suspensions are the two most reliable, sag-proof suspension designs.  The former also has the least unsprung weight.

Probably largely to improve cornering performance, a simple beam-type rear suspension was used (replacing my '81 Civic's independant coil around strut rear suspension).  Held by trailing arms and a single diagonal beam (Panhard rod), with good tires there is no better suspension for maximum cornering ability on smooth roads (too much unsprung weight for bumps; requires good gas-charged shocks to deal with it).  With its few attachment points, the structure that suspension is attached to can be minimal in weight (and allows the beam to contain the rear sway bar, reducing weight and space with no performance penalty).

With good tires and slight suspension modifications only, a couple Mk I CRXes have managed to pull slightly over 1 G (the force of gravity) in cornering, vs. about 0.96 for a new Corvette.  The factory-original cornering capability rating for my '85 CRX DX is 0.82 G, the same as an '85 to present Mustang GT.  An '85 CRX Si could corner at 0.84 G, the same as that year's Corvette.  The from-factory cornering rating for Mk II CRXes was a little higher, partly due to a more sophisticated suspension design.  The rear suspension became much lighter, with the beam replaced by an independant strut arrangement which used an adjustable toe-in control link.  Both front and rear suspensions had more travel, changing the ride from busy and go-kart like, to more tolerable for commuting while generating higher numbers and not having the body sway of MkI CRXes.  On the other hand, the earlier design kept the rear tread parallel to the road at any deflection or sway angle. That's why the MkI has such great autocross abilities even without suspension mods.  When using gummy autocross tires, it will go through the cones quickly by any standard, even while showing off truly incredible amounts of sway.  Unlike many other front-drivers, a MkI CRX will not (quite) lift its inside rear tire off the pavement in a hard corner.
 



 


No, I don't also own this one... wish I did though!  I've seen it autocross; it did well against Porsches, twin turbo RX-7s and Supras, and other newer (meaning heavier) Hondas.  You don't need power to go around corners; only agility, which the '84 - '85 CRX's very light 1800 - 1900lbs. weight provides even without modifications.
 



 


Notice how even with a collision-damaged rear suspension he's still ahead of some interesting company.  These cars are great!

If you'd love to hear the CRX above, well, I can't quite help you completely, however...

I've edited together a select compilation of the wonderful CRX howlings from Ricky Crow's CRX site (which in turn relies on some of Vince Mora's creations, like converting Honda's highly creative and entertaining '88 HF ad into a QuickTime movie) into a fabulous Windows Start file (a 410kB .wav)!  Ever wondered what it sounded like for a high-revving watch-maker's engine to just keep bouncing off its fuel cutoff rev limiter?  It's in there!

I've noticed, however, two problems:  1. rust, hence the CRX Rust FAQ, and  2. pinging.  Earlier Hondas, esp. aluminum engine block ones, seem to develop pinging (meaning preignition) problems after several years (or sometimes only a few).  That's what has driven me to develop a transistorized, fully adjustable, mostly automatic, and reliable water ingestion system for it, for needed low-cost octane boosting.

Sorry, no more CRX-specific rambling here... if you really want to hear my and about 300 other folks' comments (at least 40 a day total: beware!) on CRXes and related stuff, join the CRX List by sending  subscribe CRX your email name in the body of email to majordomo@crx.org.  Miscreants take heed, though; the List is administered by a very knowledgeable and equally, umm, direct Admin, and anyone who wants to be a barbarian (including random picture emailers and sales types, among other non-CRX Faithful) will be privately and sometimes publicly blasted into oblivion by myself, the Admin, and lots of others.  AOL subscribers are either already on the List, like myself, or won't be on the List because of an AOLer "named" ChopDaddy and others who proved themselves to be absolute, total losers who contributed nothing but gargantuan volumes of incredible noise. Too many AOLers (and others) have never heard of and/or don't practice netiquette, so they aren't welcome on the List.  In short, don't be an idiot.  If you can avoid that, you'll find it fun and valuable.  There is a Digest format that stufffs about 20 messages per email.  Instead of subscribe CRX your email name, type subscribe CRX-Digest your email name in the subscription email to majordomo@crx.org.

Even more info on the late, lamented CRX & the fun world (except for extra non-owner law and outlaw attention) surrounding the survivors can be found at http://www.crx.org, the official CRX Owners Group (COG) home page (I'm member #21).
 

What the (Internet) CRX List is for:


What the COG is for:



General Automotive Musings

While Honda was continuously optimizing their cars, Ford was still using '60s technology for their compact cars, and '30s to '50s technology for their larger cars.  Their compact cars used stamped A-arm, coil-sprung tall Macpherson strut front and beam-attached, coil-sprung live axle rear suspensions vs. late '30s-based stamped twin A-arms front, horse-drawn carriage / truck-based multileaf-sprung live axles in back.  The former could corner ok only with lots of power steering and expensive tires and mirror-smooth pavement, while the latter was hopeless.

My CRX's cornering is comparable to the Capri's and the SVO-inspired modified Mustang's, while using only the same small, narrow inexpensive normal Civic tire size it was designed to use.  The pounds per square inch on those tires from the road surface is nearly identical to that of the much heavier Mustang GT, leading to the comparable cornering rate while using basically economy tires.  That and steering geometry differences (seemingly no caster vs. lots for the Mustang) are why my CRX, past maybe 1 mph, has no need whatsoever for power steering (especially if the tires are new).  I once tried driving the V8 Mustang with disabled power steering; it was basically impossible to turn the wheel during parking, and almost so into a 90 degree rising corner.

There is a very bumpy approach (from truck use) to a very busy intersection near my mom's house.  I remember that until about the mid '80s, you could easily hear when the lights changed from green by the sound of tires chirping madly with brake use, as all the overweight live axles they were attached to bounced all over those bumps, scrambling for traction.  As Japanese cars (with minimal weight, unsprung and total) became more popular, the sound gradually disappeared (except for pickups, which proudly carry on the tradition).

If it wasn't for the Civic (and less fun, non-Honda Japanese cars), Chryler's potent new Neon would not exist.  It and the Miata are the first cars, of any make, to regularly beat the CRX at slalom-based autocross meets.  The Neon uses basically the same suspension as my car, the only difference being the coils around the tall front struts vs. floorpan-attached torsion bar use (hence the much higher hoodline).  Lee Iococca himself, while in charge of Chrysler in the '80s, said his company would never produce a small, Civic-like compact car.  It took the company two near-bankruptcies (one at Iococca's end) to see the light.  Their compact '80s K-car may have been a versitile, fairly spacious platform (even their minivans were derived from it!), and the OHC 2.2L a durable (but low-revving) motor, but Chrylers from about '72 to introduction of the new models have really generally been somewhere between lame and customer abuse programs.  I had an uncle whose '86? LeBaron had the drivetrain fall out, and all the K-cars and derivatives, minivans excepted, are already mostly in junkyards.  In the early '70s, apparently they got the automatic choke right for a couple years, and then messed it up for the next ten or so (start at first try, or you sit...).  That's the sort of thing that drove them to the edge of financial oblivion twice.
 


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