All right, all right: You’ve put up with some real nightmares from me recently. Time for some less frightening cars. Today we have a pair of Japanese mid-sized sedans that are both more than old enough to drink, which is convenient, because they’re both wine-red.
But first, let’s see which stray you took in yesterday:
Yep, that would be my choice too. I don’t expect that Fiero to stick around long; it’s a great cheap project that could be really rewarding for the right person. The BMW, well… as one commenter reminded us, “There is no such thing as a cheap BMW.”
All right. Let’s look at something nice and reliable. In the 1980s, while Ford was introducing us to the Taurus, GM was GMing, and Chrysler was still wheezing out K-cars, two Japanese four-doors were quietly taking over the US. First came the Honda Accord, which sold like hotcakes but the early ones dissolved like wet tissue paper, and then Toyota came along with the Camry, a dowdy but undeniably practical car that quickly gained a reputation for competence and longevity. The two battled it out for decades, and they’re still at it today, though both now take a back seat to their respective companies’ crossovers.
These two – the third-generation Accord and second-generation Camry – are the ones that really took off and filled suburban driveways and parking lots at a staggering rate. Choosing between them, then as now, comes down to the little details. Let’s dig in.
1988 Honda Accord LXi – $1,250
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter inline 4, 4 speed automatic, FWD
Location: Portland, OR
Odometer reading: 169,000 miles
The third-generation Honda Accord is, to me, just about the ideal everyday car. Not too big, not too small, efficient, comfortable, not a complete snooze to drive, good-looking, reliable, and durable. It just does everything well, and it’s a four-door sedan with pop-up headlights. I mean, come on.
Even better, this is the LXi model, which features a fuel-injected version of Honda’s A series engine. Carbureted Accords are plenty reliable as well, but if you can choose the easy starting and drivability of electronic fuel injection, always do so. This Accord is an automatic, which I know will immediately cause a number of readers to reject it out of hand, but cheap manual Hondas that haven’t been mangled by the Fast & Furious crowd are getting harder to come by, and personally I choose condition over pedal count.
And this car is in nice condition. Suspiciously nice, actually; either there’s something wrong that the seller isn’t disclosing, or they have no idea what it’s worth and someone is going to score a hell of a deal, possibly by the time you all are reading this. It does have dealer plates on it in the photos, though, so a good thorough once-over is mandatory.
But if all is as it seems, this is a screaming deal. Hell, if I weren’t flat-broke at the moment, I’d be looking at it myself; this is a whole lot nicer than my beat-up Corolla.
1989 Toyota Camry – $1,500
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter inline 4, 4 speed automatic, FWD
Location: Seattle, WA
Odometer reading: 290,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does
As nice as that Accord is, however, this is Shitbox Showdown. I can’t just show you one car and call it a day. Luckily, a natural competitor to the Accord is also available nearby, for close to the same price, albeit with more miles. So here it is, the car that needs no introduction: the Toyota Camry. Love it or hate it, it has been part of the American automotive landscape for 39 years now, and will remain so for a long, long time to come, because a new one sold today will probably still be on the road 39 years from now.
The second-generation Camry features Toyota’s essentially eternal 3S-FE four-cylinder, displacing 2 liters. Despite its seemingly racy twin-cam spec, this is a workhorse engine, perfectly happy to live out its days sending power through an overdrive automatic transmission, as in this car. The transmission in these has a switch to choose between two shift modes, labeled “PERF” and “NORM,” for Performance and Normal. It’s telling that Toyota used the term “Normal” to denote the everyday mode, rather than “Economy” or something; it’s as if they’re saying that wanting more performance is somehow abnormal.
Boring or not, a Camry of this vintage is a consummate daily driver, every inch the equal of the Accord, and possibly a bit more comfortable and smooth-riding. Toyota’s design department in the ’80s definitely took “form follows function” to heart; the Camry’s interior works, but not with any flair. And sadly, it also has these monstrosities to deal with:
How do I hate thee, motorized seat belts? Let me count the ways.
Really, passive restraints aside, you can’t go wrong with either of these cars. The Camry has a ton of miles on it, but still should have a good chunk of service life left. The Accord has fewer miles, but even here on the west coast, it should be checked carefully for rust, Honda’s Achilles heel. These two rivals are very similar; I fully expect a few “they’re the same picture” comments, but boring competent cars do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the simple business of being a car. They deserve a little respect for that. These two have aged well; it’s up to you which one to add to your collection.
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
Two things that killed the Toyota’s chance to be part of my fleet: motorised shoulder seat belts and press-the-damn-button-to-extract-the-ignition-key-every-time feature. Not to mention the ghastly maroon interior that probably came from the brothel.
So, it’s Honda for me. Additionally, I can swap the shitty US sealed beam headlamps for the superior Cibie ECE headlamps.
So, both of these are close to, if not peak designs and durability for their respective brands.
Aside from the seat belts in the Camry being a point against it, when I think of the Accord, THIS is still the design that pops into my head. Plus, I like the Accord’s interior more, and pop uop headlights FTW!
That being said, if someone needed a daily workhorse on a tight budget, I think this Camry has a known level of durability with greater parts availability (if needed), so they should consider that.
I own a 2016 Blue Honda Accord, so of course I choose the 88 Honda. Also pop up head lights FTW!
They’re both fine deals, but having owned four Hondas and three Toyotas (and a Lexus) so far, I pick the Honda this time. The powered seatbelts work against the Camry, as does the snooze factor. But even though both of my previous Accords were 1st gen hatchbacks with 5-speeds, I do miss how fun they were to drive.
Honestly, I never saw this generation of either the Accord or Camry as “dull”, because look at what they were competing against. I actually still thought these were pretty cool!
The Accord DID become dull during the generation after this one (IMO), but they made up for it in subsequent generations. Whereas the Camry would reach its pinnacle in the generation after this one, and has been on a downhill slide of somnambulance ever since.
(Oh, I voted for the Accord, assuming I checked that thing for rust first.)
I know Toyotas are magic but I can’t ignore the mileage difference. Call me shallow but the Accord is better looking too.
My vote goes to the Accord as I like how it looks better and it is in the year before it needed those stupid mouse-motor seatbelts the Camry has.
Both are cool, but the Accord has a sunroof, so that’s what I chose.
FWIW, the 3S-FE in the Camry is non-interference, so if the timing belt breaks, it’s no big deal.
I had one of these accords about 20 years ago, the sunroof leaked like a sieve. Actually a sieve probably leaked less than that sunroof, it was like a waterfall if it had been sitting in the rain for a bit. Still a great car though.
This is no shitbox showdown.
More like “Japanese Classic Comparo” or something like that.
That Accord is bringing back so many memories for me, and the quality feel of that car, the way it drove, and it’s perfect interior are imprinted on me. I have to go with the accord, even though my mom drive an ’89 Corolla with that same glorious burgundy interior for nearly half a million kilometers.
The Camry has an amazing interior for it’s age and mileage. I suspect an owner with an on the road sales position at one time. Otherwise it would be about the same as the interior of the Accord.
I really want to vote for the Accord just for those beautiful headlights…but went with the Camry. The dealer plates on the Accord is suspect for me as well being that sound of a driver. Why wouldn’t he/she take advantage of today’s used car mark ups?
GARNET! I just can’t decide!
I currant tell a lie, that pun was no brick, berry good, I hope other don’t wine about it.
Honda because lower miles and cheaper. Also because I miss my CD5 sometimes.
Don’t forget the pop up headlights
I owned an ’89 Camry. I bought it with 150K on it, and gave up due to rust around 280k. It was a very well built car. Slow, but with the 5 speed it wasn’t terrible. That said, those seatbelts are one of the worst ideas ever.
The accord is peak Honda but I will admit to some bias on that. I love that interior so much. Pop up headlights!
This might be the most personal choice for me:
My exwife drove a 1991 Camry (same platform/model) when we met in high school (yeah, young love…ain’t it grand!). That thing was pretty amazing all things considered. We never had a single issue with and it. She got it essentially new and we drove it everywhere before we traded it in 97. All over the country because she hated flying. It was pushing 200k when we traded it. Pretty crazy for a 6 year old car.
My current wife (we celebrate 14 years in a few weeks!) had a 1990 Accord (next gen but close enough) and that thing literally saved her life when she had a wicked accident when someone t-boned her going much faster than they should have been. This was before I met her. This was her college car. It was also a two step family hand me down from her grand parents to her dad, then to her. It didn’t have a ton of miles on it as a result. Grandparents barely drove and her dad, it was the extra car. But we all know Honda reliability so it would go the distance. But…it did save her life in a pretty nasty accident.
So which did I choose? The Accord. Of course! Without it I wouldn’t have my wife today. Sappy? Sure. True? Absolutely! Just funny the personal things that cars bring up. Plus, no matter how reliable both of these are it has half the miles and POP UP HEADLIGHTS!
I think I need to move. Either of those is a $4-5000 car here.
As much as I logically understand why we can’t all just go back and drive ’80s Hondas – safety, emissions – they bring so much joy than a ’20s Honda.
Safety… emissions… ehh all bullshit.
I had more fun in my 4th gen, my 6th gen and my 7th gen.. than anyone has the right to.
I did jumps in that car.. lots of speeding tickets.
A HELL of a lot more fun. Ntm, more configurations. Ya had a 5spd manuel, a 4spd auto, wagons, coupe and a sedan / hatchback. Now.. ya just got one obese blob of a vehicle.
Gotta go with the Accord here. With the lower price and significantly lower mileage, it’s not really close.
Given the age and the fact that’s it’s not exactly in the collector car bracket, it’s in really good shape (assuming the pictures aren’t excluding anything)
I had an ’88 LXi 5-speed hatch which I’ve written about before: I went with my sister on a test drive and we wound up buying two cars. Yep, same package, same color (black with ivory interior). It was a really good car with a pretty smooth shifter. Right now I have a ’17 Camry which equally impresses me, so I’m voting for The Crown.