Home » From The Land That Rust Forgot: 1988 Honda Accord vs 1989 Toyota Camry

From The Land That Rust Forgot: 1988 Honda Accord vs 1989 Toyota Camry

Sbsd 1 30 2024

Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Since you were all such good sports about yesterday’s fancy piles of scrap metal, I thought today I would offer you a little palate-cleanser in the form of two humble, but stalwart, Japanese cars that only exist these days in warm salt-free climates.

And about those piles of scrap metal: I think we have established that yes, that is, in fact, the worst Boxster in the world. If you have a want for such a thing, you now know where to find it. It’s so bad, in fact, that a V8-swapped Jaguar that hasn’t run in seven years actually looks like a better choice. And really, if you don’t care about aesthetics, the Jag doesn’t look like a terrible project. The basic mechanicals – small-block Chevy, TH400 automatic, Jag independent rear end – have been underpinning hot rods for several decades now, and all are still easy to find parts for.

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In fact, were I a man of leisure with space to work on such a thing, I’d consider a project like this, just to mess with the Jaguar faithful at next year’s All-British Field Meet. Leave the interior and exterior exactly as they are (minus the cobwebs), but rebuilt everything mechanically and make it spotless under the hood. Equip it with some glasspacks, rumble into the Jaguar section, and watch heads explode.

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Today’s choices are much less frightening, just two old Japanese cars from the Bay Area in California, where old cars don’t rust. While most Japanese cars this age have long since rusted away and been recycled into soup cans or washing machines in other parts of the country, California is like a nature preserve for them, where they can live out their days free from the perils of the oxide monster. Let’s take a closer look at them.


1988 Honda Accord LX-i – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Napa, CA

Odometer reading: 210,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but on non-op registration


Every generation gets nostalgic about the cars they grew up with. For the Baby Boomers, that means all the car-show classics: tri-five Chevys, first-generation Mustangs, maybe a VW Beetle or two. But when we Gen Xers cut our teeth on cars, there was a new player in town: Japanese imports. “Ask your daddy for the keys to the Honda,” sings Chuck Prophet in his nostalgic hit “Summertime Thing.” And I don’t know about any of you, but the car I picture them driving down to the river to go skinny-dipping is this one: the third-generation Accord, with its iconic pop-up headlights.

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This is the fancy LX-i model, ‘i’ for fuel injection. Lesser Accords of this generation used the same 12-valve SOHC engine, equipped with a two-barrel carburetor, but the LX-i received fuel injection, and, for 1988, a bump in power, to 120. It still won’t set the world on fire, but it’ll take you on plenty of adventures. This one runs fine, the seller says, but has been unregistered (and presumably off the road) for a while. They note that the tires are old and need replacing, but you should probably replace a bunch of other rubber parts too.

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This Accord has seen plenty of adventures already. It has 210,000 miles on its odometer, and it looks like it. Cars in California may not rust, but the sun has its own way of weathering cars, both inside and out. Faded upholstery, cracked plastic, and chalky paint are all too common. The door caps on this car have lost their vinyl altogether, and the driver’s seat has been replaced at some point. I’m fine with that; I’d rather have a mismatched seat with intact upholstery than original seats with cheap seat covers.


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Outside, it’s, well, kinda pink. Red paint suffers in the sun more than other hues, and from the looks of it, this car has never seen the inside of a garage in all its thirty-six years. The cracked taillight is kind of a bummer, but it looks straight otherwise.

1989 Toyota Camry – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Berkeley, CA


Odometer reading: 146,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but check engine light is on

The Accord’s chief rival, the Camry, never was as cool, but it was at least as reliable and durable. The second-generation Camry really took America by storm, and cemented the sedan’s reputation for dependable, pleasant transportation. Everyone knows someone who has or had a Camry, and it has been mentioned in a song as well, but with less skinny-dipping and more terrifying lake monsters.

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This car also has a two-liter four-cylinder engine, though Toyota opted for twin cams and four valves per cylinder. It may sound racy, but somehow Toyota manages to take an engine configuration made famous by the likes of Offenhauser and Alfa Romeo and make it stodgy. But if it’s as reliable as a sunrise, it doesn’t have to be exciting. This one runs fine, and it just passed a smog test – but then promptly threw a check-engine light. Better after the test than on the way to it, which happened to me once.


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This is a pretty low-mileage car, a little under 150,000 miles. It wears one of the dreaded seat covers on the driver’s seat; it would be worth a peek under it. What we can see of the interior looks pretty nice, so maybe the seat is all right under there. Sadly, this generation of Camry also featured those idiotic motorized seatbelts; Camrys wouldn’t receive airbags until the next generation, in 1992.

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Outside, it looks nice and straight, though the paint is only in a little better shape than the Honda’s. I always thought those big black battering-ram bumpers looked cheap and tacky, but in these days of $40,000 minor crashes, I’m thinking that appearance should maybe sometimes take a back seat to practicality. The 5 MPH requirement was repealed in 1982, but it wouldn’t surprise me if these could take such a bonk.

I can see jaws dropping all over the midwest and east coast after seeing the photos of these cars, but these are still not uncommon sights on the roads here out west. They’re not everywhere like they once were, but you do see them here and there, chugging along just like they did thirty years ago. These both need a little work, but once that’s taken care of, they’re just as capable of being daily driven as they always have been. All you have to do is choose a flavor – Honda or Toyota.


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
28 days ago

Nothing wrong with non-op. Ensures there’s no egregious California back fees.

29 days ago

Tough choice, these are pretty evenly matched. I have to go with the Honda for nostalgia’s sake, as I use to own an ’86 Accord, and I loved it (although mine was a manual).

29 days ago

Voted for the Camry, I had a 4 cyl 1989 with a manual and that thing was indestructible. The A/C clutch seized when I was a broke college student so I replaced the belt with one from a non A/C model. Got into a fender bender and the insurance totalled it, but I still miss that car, mouse belts and all.

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