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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James Carson
James Carson
2 months ago

The cockroach of cars – Camry please.

Alec Harvey
Alec Harvey
2 months ago

Kinda Ironic that Honda used to make some quite interesting designs, now they generally put our bland designs while Toyota has gone the opposite way and injected some flair into their lineup

Aznriptide859
Aznriptide859
2 months ago

I made an account just to comment this, but Camry 100%, because that car pictured is the exact color and design of the car that I first grew up in. My dad bought an ’89 Camry as his second car (his first I believe was an ’87 white Corolla) and it was the car I spent almost the first decade of my life in. He taught me how to change oil, swap tires, and I helped him do basic maintenance growing up on that car;. It was also the first car that I remember my dad having an accident in, and since then the specific cracker I was eating during the accident we have endearingly called “accident crackers’ in Chinese.

Sadly my dad had to sell that car in ’04 or ’05 for like $1000 since my mom couldn’t stand 3 cars in our driveway after they got their ’03 Highlander. I’ve always wondered what happened to that car. Seeing that picture of that light blue Camry brings back a ton of memories, and almost makes me want to buy that car just to restore for posterity’s sake.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago

I’ve had both of these so this was difficult…I went with Honda because I like that body style better and pop-up headlights…used to have 2 late 80’s Accords w/ 5-spds

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
2 months ago

To borrow from some bumper stickers that were popular when these cars were new, I’d rather push an Accord than drive a Camry. This was one of the easiest showdowns in weeks.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
2 months ago

Ahem, it’s not just Cali. Both of these are still, well not common, but not unheard-of sights on the roads of the southeast as well.

As for me, both of these are severely hampered in desirability by their automatic transmissions, but I’ll have to go with the Accord anyway.

A Laguna Gold Metallic 1988 Accord DX 5-speed hatch was my chariot from senior year of high school until shortly before graduating from college. A co-worker of my dad’s had purchased it new and was ready to trade it in, and offered it to me for trade-in value. So I got a very well-kept 7-year-old car with 141,000 miles for $1500 in 1995 money. It still ran great when I sold it in 1999 with 216k. That car, being a DX, had few options and made do with the carbureted version of the A20A engine, good for all of 98 hp. It was reliable, but tended to go through ball joints.

I do still love wedge-shaped ’80s hatchbacks with popup headlights.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

Cali

Please no. 
Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago

I’ll take the Accord for $400, Alex.

Mike F.
Mike F.
2 months ago

Since I live in NorCal and have to worry about such things, the non-op on the Honda worries me. If it’s due to not passing the smog test, then I want no part of it. Factor in the far better overall condition of the Toyota and it’s an easy win for the Camry.

Cyko9
Cyko9
2 months ago

As much as I wanted to vote for the fun looking Honda, the Camry is the better bargain.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
2 months ago
Reply to  Cyko9

Yep. Save $500, get 8 more valves and a car that doesn’t look like it would dissolve and blow away in the wind in a Thanos snap.

Doug Schaefer
Doug Schaefer
2 months ago

Come on people!

2 doors > 4 doors
Hatch > sedan
Pop ups > flush lights
Red > silvery blue

The Honda is a no brainer.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
2 months ago
Reply to  Doug Schaefer

That Honda looks like a sand sculpture painstakingly built from the ground up by a coven of Tibetan monks, grain-by-grain, ready to blow away in the evening breeze as a symbol of the impermanence of life.

Parsko
Parsko
2 months ago

$2500 for this, and that Caddy last night was only $12k???? Wow, what a world we live in.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
2 months ago

Ah, the days when cars looked trim and unpretentious.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
2 months ago

The red hatchback is cool with the rear wiper and pop-up headlights, but the Camry has 4 doors and is in better condition, so I voted for the Camry.

So far, there is only one vote difference!

Isis
Isis
2 months ago

I’d rather the Honda but picked the Toyota b/c I think it has more life left in it.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
2 months ago

These are both a little too boring and worn out for me to really want either. At least the Honda is a now novel shape, so Honda it is.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
2 months ago

I’ve already told the story about accompanying my sister on her test drive of an ’88 Accord LXi, 5-speed hatch, black over ivory.

Rich suggested I drive it as well, and when we got off the drive, we ordered two. My sister took the one she drove, I waited a few weeks for another: also black over ivory 5-speed.

All in all, a fine car and even with 120 HP, it had that little Honda “growl.” We both had good luck with the cars.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
2 months ago

I voted Honda (and pushed it into the lead on this incredibly close SBS!), and ironically enough it’s because seeing it made me nostalgic for a Toyota.

During my senior year of college I paid $200 for an ’84 Celica with the same basic body shape as today’s Honda. What a great pizza delivery car. Every once in awhile I’d have to break out the magic hammer and tap on what I think was the fuel-pump relay, but other than that it served flawlessly. Too bad I ended up having to drive it to the junk yard just before rust claimed the last remaining structural millimeters holding it together.

A hatchback with popups, but also an automatic. A certain loaf of meat knows just what to say about that.

Last edited 2 months ago by Boulevard_Yachtsman
JDE
JDE
2 months ago

had it been a 2 door Celica, then the decision would have been harder. Pop up head lights and the illusion of sportiness in the form of a 2 door hatch is what made me pick the Honda. But honestly I do not think either are worth the money being asked.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
2 months ago
Reply to  JDE

But honestly I do not think either are worth the money being asked.

That has been the case on a number of these.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
2 months ago

Yup. In a just and sane world, either of these would cost a week’s worth of pizza delivering wages and no more.

JumboG
JumboG
2 months ago

Dude, I used to deliver in an 85 Celica that I bought for about the same price.

Aaron
Aaron
2 months ago

If I wanted to daily a 30+ year old Japanese car, it’d be a tossup with slight favor towards the Camry. But the Accord has better *vibes and is probably going to be the more fun of the two.

There was a question the other day about which totally normal car you’d meticulously restore. This Accord would be a strong contender…

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago

My vote goes to the Toyota mainly because the Honda has the non-op registration and looks to be in rougher shape.

If that Accord had been a manual, then it would have gotten my vote.

Last edited 2 months ago by Manwich Sandwich
OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
2 months ago

The Camry is probably the better choice but I am a total stan for peak era Honda (let’s say ’86-’92 or thereabouts) and I used to drive an Accord of that era – the only car I ever had with pop-up lights. Honda all the way for me personally, but I’m a little surprised that stout little Camry isn’t running away with the win.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
2 months ago

Your headline has me all nostalgic now for the thing that first pulled me into the Old Site–Down on the Street by Murilee Martin, written from The Island that Rust Forgot (Alameda).

Oh, and I would take the Camry.

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 months ago

This is a tough one. This is my favorite generation of both the Accord and the Camry. The view out of the windshield on these Accords was phenomenal thanks to the low cowl. This one is in pretty rough shape, though, and I wouldn’t want the joys involved in finding a replacement tail light lens for it. Due to the better cosmetic shape overall, Camry for the win on this round for me anyway.

Peter Nagy
Peter Nagy
2 months ago

I’m not surprised it’s close, but for me the Honda has 3 big pluses:
1) 2 doors – there aren’t enough coupes around
2) Hatchback with rear wiper
3) Pop-ups.

It’s just a cooler car in general.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago

If the Accord was a manual and maybe didn’t require about a !K to be spent after buying, I’d choose it. But it does and the Camry is a Camry and will do Camry stuff and outlive us all. Hopefully the CEL is a minor fix. The Accord is just a little too worn out and an auto. Both were great in their own way back in the day.

John Beef
John Beef
2 months ago

My mom had a ’90 Accord with the automatic seatbelts. We hated those seatbelts! The tensioner for crash protection would engage randomly, causing the seatbelt to lock up and the driver to be stuck in the car. It’s the reason I chose the Accord over the Camry.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
2 months ago
Reply to  John Beef

I have to laugh when I’m at a car event with fellow ’80s car enthusiasts and some young kid sees a set of decapitator belts and says “That’s so cool!”

No it’s not! They sucked and we hated them.

Last edited 2 months ago by TriangleRAD
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