Good morning, and welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, after spending most of the day yesterday ripping out soggy stinky carpet in my basement (which is even less fun than it sounds), and I’m ready to show you some cool old cars, far better than yesterday’s exhaustion-induced snooze-fest. Speaking of which:
Looks like you’re all going to keep on truckin’. Given that I already have a truck I like way better than this one, and I’m a well-known Mopar apologist, I have to swim against the stream on this one. That Cirrus is too good of a cream-puff to pass up.
Now, today, we’re looking at two sporty red coupes. Both have carbureted four-cylinder engines and manual transmissions, but apart from that, they don’t have a whole hell of a lot in common, except that I built model kits of both of them in my youth. Both of them are rare sights these days, but I still think they’re pretty cool. Do you agree? Let’s check them out and see.
Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 2.3 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD
Location: Woodland Hills, CA
Odometer reading: 76,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yep, and registration is current
Let me set the scene for you. It’s the 1979 Chicago Auto Show, at McCormick Place, and my dad is shopping for a new car to replace his aging, rusty VW Beetle. Ford’s captive-import Fiesta hatchback is on the short list, so he’s checking them out. Meanwhile, his six-year-old car-crazy son is gazing in rapt wonder at a sleek silver and black sports car on a rotating dais: the all-new Ford Mustang. It was love at first sight, and I’ve had a thing for the Fox-body Mustang ever since. I haven’t owned one yet, but there’s still time.
1979 was, of course, right smack in the middle of the doldrums of the malaise era, and as cool as the new Mustang looked, it was no performance car, no matter which engine you picked. This Cobra is equipped with the 2.3 liter “Lima” four-cylinder, with a turbocharger and a two-barrel Holley carburetor. Turbos and carbs don’t play well together generally, but this one runs well according to the seller, and it’s registered, so it must have passed a smog test. It spins the rear axle through a four-on-the-floor, like it should.
But the real star of the show here isn’t under the hood; it’s on it. Automakers replaced horsepower with graphics during this era, and while the Fox-body Cobra is toned down from the previous year’s Mustang II version, it’s still a sight to behold. It came in last in Jason’s big roundup of the Class of ’79’s hood graphics battle, but I still like it. Though now that I look at it again, it kind of looks like the snake has breasts – which is cool, too, I suppose.
Condition-wise, it’s not terrible. No cars from this era held up particularly well, but this one is at least intact. It has some questionable add-ons, namely tacky LED (or HID?) headlights, and that hideous steering wheel, but those are reversible. Its original three-spoke alloy wheels are gone, probably because they need expensive Michelin TRX tires. The late-’80s Mustang LX wheels it wears now look OK, but they aren’t quite right.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter overehad cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Portland, OR
Odometer reading: 203,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs great, they say
When someone mentions the Honda Prelude, this is the car I picture: the second-generation, in red. It’s my favorite era of Honda design, with sharp angles, low beltlines, slender window pillars, and the all-important pop-up headlights. I built an expensive Tamiya model kit of this car in my younger days, a rare splurge for me back then – most of my models were five-dollar Monogram, Revell, and MPC kits. You can still get them on eBay, but they’re not cheap now either. The real car, on the other hand, seems to be a bit of a bargain.
The second-generation Prelude had a couple of odd quirky features, namely twin side-draft carburetors instead of a single downdraft carb like the Accords with the same engine, and of course those weird seat-reclining levers. But it also has that pitch-perfect mid-1980s Honda driving experience, with great dynamics and easy ergonomics. This one runs and drives well, and everything works except for the air conditioning, though the seller is working on that.
It’s on Oregon “SP” specialty-vehicle registration, which is a permanent registration and sidesteps smog requirements, but it also doesn’t allow the car to be used regularly, only for “special events.” I see plenty of people daily-driving cars on SP plates, but if you get pulled over, the specialty registration could get revoked, and you’d have to get the car smog-tested and put regular plates on it. Personally, I’m not sure I would want to use a car like this every day anyway; it would get used up in short order. Better to save it for fun driving.
Many Hondas from this era and later ended up heavily, and sometimes questionably, modified, but this one is still mercifully stock. In fact, the seller actually did some work to return it to stock by tracking down the correct steering wheel, as shown above, in place of the 1986 Prelude wheel it came with.
I know I keep bemoaning the lack of simple two-door coupes available today, but dammit, why can’t we still have cars like these? They’re easygoing, charming, affordable, and fun. Somewhere along the line we forgot that those were supposed to be virtues. Thank goodness a few of these old relics are still floating around, and are still affordable. Yeah, in either case you have to deal with carburetor hassles, but they both run fine now, so don’t sweat it. So what’ll it be – the gaudy fun Mustang, or the crisp and clean Prelude?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)