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Vintage Views: Honda CRX Si


Story By Alan Cesar

“You develop a lot of obscure muscles in your arms from that unassisted steering with 9- or 10-inch wheels and a Mugen differential. We call ’em ‘Honda muscles.’”

Driving his old C Street Prepared Honda CRX wasn’t just another day at the gym for Bret Norgaard, though. The abrupt nature of the car’s torque steer is a potential hazard in a slalom on a wet course. All of Bret’s CRX-driving colleagues have either badly sprained their wrists or fractured their thumbs due to their cars’ violent steering.

“We’ve all hurt our wrists driving these cars in the wet,” he cautions. “But the joy of getting it right offsets the fear of getting it wrong and getting hurt. With the right driver, not much can beat a small, front-wheel-drive car through a slalom.”

The CRX arrived for 1984, with the sporty Si following the next year–those swoopy aero headlamps became standard in 1986. Attendance is testament that the formula works. If you’ve gone to an autocross in the last two decades and so much as opened your eyeballs, you’ve seen a CRX. The sporty and efficient two-seater version of the Honda Civic can boast high fuel economy in HF trim or speedy autocross runs in Si form.

First-generation CRXs cemented Honda’s dominance in the autocross world, only to be supplanted by the second generation of the same car. Today, the CRX is still very popular in E Prepared and G Prepared. The second-gen cars often take the trophy, but the earlier ones still have their place in the mix.

The aforementioned HF trim, though valuable to hypermilers for its ability to hit Insight-level miles per gallon with decades-old technology, isn’t of much interest to enthusiasts as a package. Its engine makes the car a wheezy commuter, and its gear ratios are extremely far apart. That can make it a chore to drive around.

A CRX Si is properly entertaining. Though around 100 pounds heavier, it also comes with a more powerful, fuel injected engine and a suspension tuned for sportier driving. Bret tells of taking his car to a drag strip and, on Hoosiers and completely set up for autocross, putting down a 14.1-second quarter-mile.

“These are the quickest cars I’ve ever driven in 20 years of racing with regard to the amount of sensory overload and the attention needed to drive them,” Bret says. “My car was CSP-legal and weighed 1600 pounds. That makes for a great power-to-weight ratio.”

These cars are still in the bargain-basement price range–though they have been climbing a bit recently. Look to spend $900 to $1500 for a 200,000-mile car on its original engine; rebuilds fetch more money. Garage finds with low miles can approach $3000.

Shopping & Ownership

Bret Norgaard, longtime autocrosser and president of CRX tuning shop Yawsport, built the most developed first-generation CRX in the country and competed with it for seven years in SCCA Solo. He earned a second-place finish at Solo Nationals in 1998–at the time, it was classed in C Street Prepared. He still builds CRXs to this day. He gave us the following tips.

Generally speaking, these cars are very reliable if they’re given the proper maintenance and care. Fuel pumps go out, pump prefilters need to be changed regularly–nothing you wouldn’t expect on a car that’s a quarter-century old. “There weren’t any issues you could really focus on,” Bret says.

It’s hard to find clean cars for sale. You’ll have better luck finding one that’s not rusty in the West and Southwest regions of the country. If you’re shopping somewhere that actually has weather, rust can be a real issue. Look for rot in the rear fender wells and lower rocker panels, the rear trunk bulkhead and around the taillights. Any rust on the suspension is usually just cosmetic except for the occasional broken anti-roll bar link.

The hot ticket for low unsprung weight on the rear axle is to swap in the piece from the superlight HF model. These are smaller in diameter, have no internal anti-roll bar, and use finned aluminum brake drums.

All together, these add up to 20 pounds removed in unsprung weight, which helps offset the weight of big wheels and tires. You can restore rear roll stiffness by retrofitting a chassis-mounted aftermarket anti-roll bar. Without the aftermarket bar, you’ll have a really spongy ride with a lot of body roll.

The torsion bar spring used on the front strut makes it difficult to pick spring rates because of limited offerings. The largest you can fit inside the torque tube is a 27.5mm spring, which is basically the spline depth diameter. Anything bigger and you’ll have to make custom torque tubes. Though the Si engine made just 91 horsepower, you can gain a solid 30 percent without any internal engine work. Just add a good aftermarket header, individual throttle bodies and programmable fuel injection.

The body blow to ownership is that the valve spring retainers tend to fracture. When that happens, the valve will drop and grenade the motor. The following uppercut: They’re no longer available from Honda. You have to scour eBay Motors and hope to find one from somebody’s old stock.

Connecting rod and crank main bearings are also becoming hard to find. If you’re looking to compete in a class that doesn’t allow custom or aftermarket bearings, you’ll have a hard time doing a factory blueprint. The front fenders are made from plastic, and they don’t age like their steel counterparts.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
Vigo
Vigo PowerDork
12/13/13 1:34 p.m.

Front fenders "dont age like their steel counterparts". You win an award for understatement. How about "just TRY finding a 1g CRX with truly good front fenders on it". Or "in worse news, the lower door cladding is just as fragile but much harder to locate replacements for".

They're neat cars.

PubBurgers
PubBurgers SuperDork
3/15/14 2:13 p.m.

Also of note, the mounts for the panhard bar are bad for rusting out. They definitely warrant a check when looking to buy a 1G.

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