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
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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago

The Camry looks slightly less roached and has lower miles, but I had a red ’88 Accord hatchback, bought at about a year old and 10,000 miles for a out $10k, it had a manual. Anyway, it was a nice car for the day, though it looks like most of the joy has been baked out of this one, I still see it as more desirable than the Camry, pop up headlights and a hatch, plus better styling if nothing else (though, like me, the days of anybody looking at the body of this car and finding it attractive are long gone).

Last edited 2 months ago by ProudLuddite
SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
2 months ago

I almost always say, “NO!” to mouse belts and catalytic converter and muffler deletes. We all have our hangups.

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago

Accord please! My dad had a 1989–four door in brown–and I loved that car. I was only five when they sold it. Part of the reason I was so sad to see it go was because it didn’t have an airbag on the passenger side, so I could ride up front.

That one looks a little rough, but single stage paint can usually be brought back to life with polishing, and I’m a sucker for red cars. It’s worn through in some places, I’d either leave that as is or get the offending panels repainted. Interior trim bits shouldn’t be too hard to find either.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
2 months ago

Hatchback Honda with popups vs 4 door Toyota with mouse-ran-up-the-clock seatbelts? Easy choice.

I’ve driven both of these (although the Honda I drove was a 4 door) when they were new. The Honda was light and agile whereas the Toyota was a deadly dull appliance. The Camry was the start of the period when Toyota dropped all their interesting cars (Celica, Supra, MR2) for transportation pods.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Canoehead

This Camry was 4 years before the 4th gen Supra released which sold until 1998. 1989 is decades before peak boring Toyota.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
2 months ago

I normally prefer Accords and there’s surely some rarity to it by comparison, but it’s the cheaper, lower mile, slightly/somewhat better condition Camry for me. Hatch+pop-ups have that nostalgia factor, but that’s also not that unusual as 80s rides go as far as 2-doors go, with most every brand having some kind of small or sporty car that offered them. Not like an Accord sedan with the pop-ups would have.

KennyB
KennyB
2 months ago

Pop ups and a hatchback for the win.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
2 months ago

I’ll take the Honda for the 2 less doors. Plus, it’s still pretty cool looking

Tbird
Tbird
2 months ago

I absolutely LOVE this gen Accord, probably peak Honda. But with 500 buck discount I’m going with the less roached, indestructible Camry without a second thought.

Last edited 2 months ago by Tbird
Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago

I like the Honda better but if you are buying either of these it is not for looks or driving experience. The Toyota has more cheap miles left with less obvious expenses needed.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
2 months ago

Had an 89 Camry (stick shift) in college/grad school. That thing was indestructible even on “roads” it shouldn’t have been on. Still miss it, so I voted for it today even though it was against a 2-door hatch with pop-up headlights. If the Accord was a stick I probably would’ve leaned that way.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago

That is absolutely my favorite Accord, but it looks way more sun-baked than the Camry.
Also, a Toyota with an automatic is perfectly normal. A Honda with an automatic is a crime against nature.
Better condition and a manual would net the Accord a win, but not this time.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago

My thoughts exactly. Every Honda/Acura I’ve owned has been a stick. Almost every Toyota an auto. The Accord costs more and will probably require more cash to get it road worthy again.

StLOrca
StLOrca
2 months ago

I’ll take the Camry and restomod the fuck out of it. Also, for some weird reason, I never fit right in Hondas. I’m not especially tall or large (at least, back in the day I wasn’t), but they always felt cramped to me. I never figured out why.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago
Reply to  StLOrca

I’ve heard for a long time that it’s basically just because Japanese people tend to be smaller so the cars are built smaller

MEK
MEK
2 months ago

Nostalgia! Back in college (and grad school) wife and I each had a version of both these cars, same years. I had a 88 Accord LXi but the sedan with a 5 speed and my wife had the 89 Camry in station wagon form. Unfortunately being in New England, the Camry started to dissolve eventually but the Accord hung around for more than 200k. I ended up trading in the Accord on a Contour SVT that was more fun to drive but not even on the same planet as far as reliability went.

Both were rock solid, reliable rides but I’ll take the Accord any day of the week, it was far more fun to drive than the pedestrian Camry. The Accord is one of the few ‘normal’ cars I’ve had over the years that I can truly say I miss and would buy again if I could find one in good shape.

Great poll!

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
2 months ago

Living in a state with no back registration for the previous owner, the Honda works for me.

Good college car and can fix if you want to or abandon when it does break.

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
2 months ago

As wore out as that Accord is, it’s amazing the plastic grille is still intact. I’ll take it!

Racingtown
Racingtown
2 months ago

I’m going to take the formerly red accord with pop up head lights.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
2 months ago

Accord hatch wins by a mile. It’s just more interesting, even if it’s an auto.

Now if this were a ’88 Camry wagon…

Douglas Lain
Douglas Lain
2 months ago

When we first got together, my wife had an ’86-87 Camry. Her step-mother had an ’89, It’d bring back lots of memories…

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago
Reply to  Douglas Lain

My MIL had a ’90 with the V6, it was actually fast as hell.

IanGTCS
IanGTCS
2 months ago

My dad had a 1987 Accord Hatch and it was the first car I ever drove. His was light blue with a 5 speed. Probably his favourite car ever. Southern Ontario rust and general wear got the best of it at 315,000km. Easy vote for me on this one.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
2 months ago

I knew so many people with Hondas of that era. The difference in quality and design between Japanese and American cars was really stark. Plus I love that dash. Honda for me.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
2 months ago

I will never quite understand the lengths people go to in order to hide a license plate. Is getting a cereal box (maybe it’s instant oatmeal, I don’t know) and deconstructing it just so easier than simply removing two screws? I won’t even get into the fact that I don’t think it’s worth hiding your license plate to begin with anyway.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

Yeah, they’ve “been told” that “evil forces” are “out to get them”.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

But at least they are getting enough fiber.

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
2 months ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

Wait. I thought the Camry came with a raisin dispenser! Now I have to reconsider my vote….

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
2 months ago

I want the Accord – because it’s a coupe, it’s red, and it doesn’t have those automatic seatbelts.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
2 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Don’t forget the popup lights!

NebraskaStig
NebraskaStig
2 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Those rear windows pop out for ventilation as well! It has pop-ups and pop outs!

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
2 months ago
Reply to  NebraskaStig

They’re also easy to pop open with a pry bar so someone can steal your Discman. Ask me how I know.

NebraskaStig
NebraskaStig
2 months ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

USB accessible? ????

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
2 months ago
Reply to  NebraskaStig

Two of the best standard features ever. Honda for the win for sure.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

That Accord hasn’t been red since the Bush administration. The first one.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
2 months ago

Pink is just another word for Light Red.

A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago

Honda, please.

It has more miles on it, but it does not have motorized seat belts so it wins. I think it would also win (perhaps narrowly) from a parts availability perspective.

The paint on the front passenger-side fender doesn’t seem to match 100% but frankly at this point it doesn’t matter.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago

Ok, but why is the Camry sticking its tongue out at me?

A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago
Reply to  10001010

I was curious about the box, so I zoomed in on the picture. It appears to be from a company called Seeds of Change, and this is on their web site: “Seeds of Change creates a unique seed-to-plate experience for people who cherish the goodness of nature.”

I know it’s Berkeley and I don’t want to stereotype, but…

10001010
10001010
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

So the new owner might find some quinoa under the seats. I’ve certainly found worse in used cars.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
2 months ago
Reply to  10001010

That’s not quinoa…

AlterId
AlterId
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

It’s quinoa and brown rice, sold at Costco even in markets like mine, the anti-Berkeley.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago

Hatchback AND pop-ups?!? I think we’ll all be together in one Accord, just like in the Bible.

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