Honda made the Civic bigger and more powerful for the car’s third generation, which ran from the 1984 through 1987 model years, and sales figures were spectacular. North American Honda dealers couldn’t get anywhere near enough of these Civics to meet customer demand, and most of them were high-trim-level cars with the very efficient 1.5-liter CVCC engine. For those Honda shoppers with thinner wallets, though, the frill-free Civic 1300 beckoned; very few of these ultra-cheap cars were sold here, and even fewer managed to survive into our current century. Here’s an ’84 hatchback that beat the odds and lived to see its 36th birthday in Colorado.
While Accords began rolling off Honda’s new assembly line in Ohio in 1982, American-made Civics didn’t hit the road until 1986. Due to the limitations of the Voluntary Export Restraint agreement for Japanese car manufacturers, which went into effect in 1981, it made sense for Honda to focus on the more profitable Accord during this time. That led to a Civic shortage here through 1986, which allowed some dealers to jack up prices and— particularly in Civic-crazed California— delve into some unsavory business practices. If you were already going to pay well over list price for a Civic, why buy the proletariat-grade 1300?
No air conditioning. No power anything. No tachometer. No clock. No cigarette lighter. No rear window defroster. Just reliable transportation with incredibly good fuel economy, period.
The 1.5-liter CVCC engine in the upscale ’84 Civics (which included a sedan, a wagon and the two-seat CRX in addition to the three-door hatchback) made 76 horsepower and moved these flyweight cars (ranging from 1,713 pounds for the CRX to 2,015 pounds for the Wagovan) very well. This 1.3-liter non-CVCC engine buzzed out a mere 60 horsepower, which meant that drivers had permanent gas-pedal marks on their shoe soles from all the desperate floorboarding on uphill freeway on-ramps.
However, the 1300 engine in the lightweight hatchback delivered 39 highway miles per gallon, which would have been a more persuasive selling point if gas prices hadn’t been nose-diving in the middle 1980s. One big plus with the non-CVCC engines of this era was the relatively simple underhood vacuum plumbing when compared with the “Map of the Universe” diagrams of 1984-1987 CVCC cars. By the 1988 model year, all North American Honda cars had electronic fuel injection and had de-spaghettified engine compartments.
As far as I can ascertain, the only transmission available on the 1984 Civic 1300 was the four-speed manual, which was fine for the Point-A-to-Point-B grind. While four-on-the-floor econoboxes could be purchased in North America into the 1990s, nearly all manual transmissions, here, had five forward gears by the middle 1980s. Anyone with the extra cash for an automatic or five-speed would have popped for the Civic DX, anyway.
This may be the lowest odometer reading I’ve ever seen on a Civic more than 25 years of age, and I’ve documented plenty of junkyard Civics over the years.
How cheap? If you found a dealer willing to sell a Civic at MSRP (not likely in 1984), one of these cars cost a stingy $5,242 (about $13,325 in 2020 dollars). The faster and cushier Civic DX hatchback had a $6,292 sticker, and prices went up from there. If you wanted a cheaper four-wheeled new ride in 1984, you had very limited options. The hilariously obsolete Chevrolet Chevette could be purchased for $4,997, but even the spartan Civic 1300 felt like an intergalactic starship next to that relic. Subaru offered a stripped-down $4,989 Leone hatch (known as the “Subaru STD” here at the time, and I’m still saddened by the lack of STD badging on those cars), Mazda had the $4,995 GLC (which evolved into the 323 and then the Mazda3), and that’s about it for Civic 1300 price-beaters. The Tercel and the Sentra cost more. Hell, even the wretched Plymouth Horizon cost more.
Given the very high level of build quality of these cars, you couldn’t beat the Civic 1300 in the value-per-buck department in 1984.
Inexpensive… and a Honda!