Home » Nice But Crappy, Or Crappy But Nice? 1981 Oldsmobile Omega vs 1989 Honda CRX

Nice But Crappy, Or Crappy But Nice? 1981 Oldsmobile Omega vs 1989 Honda CRX

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Happy Monday, Autopians! Today is all about compromises. We’re looking at a good example of a horrible car, and a horrible example of a good car. But before we get there, let’s see which overpriced toy you chose on Friday:

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Yep. It’s hard to resist the appeal of the VW Scirocco. And someday, I would really like to have another one. But I sure as hell won’t pay twelve grand for it.

Let’s get back to some reasonably-priced fare, shall we? Doing that, of course, means giving something up, because you can’t have it all if you’re shopping at the bottom end of the market. So which do you choose: a clean, low-mileage example of a fundamentally undesirable car, or a desirable one that has been ridden hard and put away wet?

1981 Oldsmobile Omega – $3,250

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.8 liver overhead-valve V6, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Odometer reading: 28,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

The “malaise era” – a term coined by the celebrated Murilee Martin – is difficult to define, but the characteristics of the cars from that era are well-known: low power, poor build quality, gaudy trim, and utterly miserable driving characteristics. Generally, these traits can be found in cars from the mid-1970s, when emissions, safety, and fuel economy standards caught the American auto industry off-guard, to the mid-1980s, when technology finally started to catch up to the new regulations. All these cars were awful, but arguably the worst of the bunch were the early examples of the new breed of American cars: front-wheel-drive platforms still relying on old complicated carburetors, built in plants that didn’t know how to assemble the new designs, and put into production on a shoestring budget. Cars, for example, like the 1981 Oldsmobile Omega.

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Oldsmobile’s version of the ill-fated X-platform featured slightly different bodywork, shared with the Buick Skylark, but was mechanically identical to the notorious Chevy Citation. This Omega is powered by the dreaded 2.8 liter V6, rather than the gutless but more reliable “Iron Duke” four. It powers the front wheels through – what else? – a three-speed automatic.

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This car has only 28,000 miles on it, which accounts for its condition, and really, its existence in 2023 at all. Quality, reliability, and longevity were not words often associated with any domestic brands in 1981. The seller says it runs fine, and you can drive it home, and I guess what happens after that is your own problem. It’s not perfect; the bumper filler panels seem to have all disintegrated, and there is a minor dent behind the passenger-side door, but there is a very real possibility that this is the nicest ’81 Omega coupe left on the planet.

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Whether that is reason enough to spend money on it today is a question I leave up to you.

1989 Honda CRX Si – $3,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter single overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Monroe, WA

Odometer reading: 218,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

In sharp contrast to GM’s X-body fiasco, Honda’s second-generation CRX might just be the perfect small car. It’s lightweight, nimble, efficient, reasonably comfortable, rock-solid reliable, and wasn’t all that expensive when it was new. The Si model in particular was celebrated – it added just enough horsepower to wake up the chassis without sacrificing any of the CRX’s good qualities, and became a legend.

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CRXs were built in sufficient numbers that they were available as cheap used cars for a long time, so they rode the import-tuner wave of the 1990s-2000s in the hands of their second or third owners, and all sorts of horrible things happened to them. Engines and suspensions were often haphazardly modified, body kits were slapped on, interiors were stripped out or hacked up, and the remaining CRXs that escaped such torture command some truly silly prices. Those that remain affordable are, well, like this.

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The seller of this CRX at least appears to know a thing or two about cars, judging by the collection of classic Volkswagens visible in the photos. [Editor’s Note: Holy Shit a Type 3 Ghia! – JT] But this screaming yellow zonker lived a hard life before it came to this garage of wonders, and although they say it runs and drives well, one can only imagine the hard driving it has endured in its 34 years on the road. The misaligned body kit pieces and mismatched paint are disheartening enough, but look at the state of this interior plastic:

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Granted, you could strip all that out and turn this car into a track toy, if it runs and drives as well as they claim. But it takes the right sort of person to want to do that to a car. Are you that sort?

So that’s our question for this Monday morning: Do you go for something empirically awful but well-preserved, or something once-wonderful but beaten half to death?

 

(Image credits: Olds – Facebook seller, Honda – Craigslist seller)

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70 Responses

  1. The CRX was a good car. Mom had one for a long time and she loved it. Dad was a bit worried about the high miles and convinced her to get a last gen Prelude to replace it. I liked the CRX, I did not like the Prelude, nor did dad, we didn’t fit in it as well as the CRX. Mom liked the Prelude but not as much as the CRX. But we’ve had some good, tossable FWD cars in the family. The CRX, the Prelude and my 2003 Mini Cooper S.

    As for this CRX, getting it right would just be so much of a pain. I suppose that’s what makes this a contest because if that was just a tired but stock CRX, it’s a no-brainer.

  2. Something that has been bugging me for years is a memory of visiting Epcot center in Orlando back in 1987. I remember a ride where the cars looked like the just released 1988 CRX. I think the ride was Spaceship Earth but I can’t find any pictures to support this recollection. That was the only time I’ve been to Florida. Anyone else remember Epcot from back then and what ride that was?

      1. Sales guy to manager: Uh sir, there’s a kid sitting in the CRX making car noises and shouting about being at Epcot. He’s got a big tube of glue and is huffing the hell out of it.

  3. “The Si model in particular was celebrated . . . and became a legend.”

    Interesting. I thought only the Integra shared a platform with the Civic?

  4. Wow. Crash Test Monday!
    I was a passenger in a crashing then new Citation. I’m surprised we walked away. The owner was grateful for the excuse to buy a better car.

    I had a drunk in a CRX crash into me, writing off the CRX. I felt sorry for the loss of the CRX.

  5. I figured out the CRX and the state of the interior panels!

    This car was probably used primarily for displaying a huge stereo setup or dB drag racing. The CRX trunk space, with it’s tall back glass section, is particularly well suited to a ‘subs up, ports back’ speakerbox design, to the extent that a ‘CRX box’ is shorthand for that design and alignment in (older) car audio circles. I know CRX’s were a staple of 90s-00s custom car audio generally, too.

    The spottiness on the panels is probably glue residue from felt or carpet for sound deadening. The MDF mount behind the speaker hole in the panel also supports this theory, as MDF is the preferred material for speaker boxes and mounts – it’s heavy and isolates well.

    1. TIL Sound Advice is still in business. Signed, guy who went to high school in Florida in the ’90s. DAH-ROP! I imagine that CRX is good for donating engine parts to an extant example.

  6. I recall reading reviews of the FWD GM X-body cars… and one issue they didn’t have was “utterly miserable driving characteristics”.

    Of course they’re crap by today’s standards. But for that time, they were quite good. But yeah, the quality, durability and the overall design was crap.

    The FWD A-body cars that came after were apparently based off the fwd X… but with one key difference is that GM fixed most of the problems.

    Now having said that, I voted for the CRX as it was/is a great car compared to any GM X-body. And thus, this molested CRX deserves to be saved and restored.

    1. A comment by one of my co-workers regarding a recent election seems an apt description for malaise era in general. It went something like this: “We have a choice between a ***t sandwich and a ***t sandich with corn. I guess corn is ok so that one I guess?” Sometimes it’s fun working with old farm boys that lack filters.

  7. I was going to say CRX…but that thing is rough. You could strip it and make it a track day car, but who knows how long the rest of it will hold up? Engine, suspension, front end, etc. will all likely need attention. You would almost certainly spend hours fixing some dumb shit the previous owners hacked together. I can’t believe it, but I voted for the Olds. It’s dull as dull can be but it looks comfy and has remarkably low mileage. And it hasn’t been modified by god-knows how many previous owners.

  8. I don’t have much love for the Xs as I experienced a Citation, an Omega, and a Cimmeron in 87-88. The later two had tall, skinny tires and are most memorable for squealing at the slightest curve. The Citation had wider tires and handled pretty well for that era. Pretty tough, too, as it survived 6 years & some 140k as a pizza delivery car before the owner was told the engine (V6) had to be removed to replace the power steering pump( I don’t know if that’s true-or if her mechanic just didn’t want to work on it anymore).

    CRX, even if trashed, for me, please.

  9. Tough call. I’d have gone X-body if it was a hatchback Chevy Citation or Pontiac Phoenix but yeah, the Honda might be worth fixing, isn’t *rusted out* and would be fun to drive once repaired to a minimal, David Tracy get-it-legal standard.

  10. Oldsmobile. There’s always going to be a CRX around because of it’s legendary status, but it’s very likely there will be no Omegas left very shortly unless people take the effort to preserve them.

    1. Is extinction really that bad of a thing for these ?

      This car is like a partner from your past that you just want to never ever hear from ever again

      1. I believe all cars should be preserved, no matter how bad they are. In fact it’s especially important to have examples of the terrible ones, because survivorship bias in anything skews public understanding for things like living standards and common practice. Not every house built in 1879 was a Victorian mansion, but those are the only ones standing now, and plenty of people think regular houses of the era were just smaller versions of them.

  11. I must be among the outliers, as id rather the olds than the honda. Even as a honda and gm follower, owned a few of both, and father had a citation II, while not the quickest, itl still keep running 100 years from now, but a 3.4 swap and a trans axle would make this a fun lil car to zip about

  12. As the owner of the Omega it was kind of funny and cool to see this posting while going through Google for those hard to find bumper fillers. And stumbled apon my car. I’d obviously choose the omega even though I’m trying to sell it when I bought the car back in 2019 it had 18000 miles I drove it daily for a year until the heater blower went in the winter. I’ll have revised images up soon did some more work to it recently there’s no more dent. And the Facebook add is my wife’s as I don’t have social media. I can answer any questions. But the car is basically original as it came down to the original window sticker

  13. 1) I’m an unashamed old-school Honda fanboi – my adult son still drives his first car, an EG Civic with over 250k miles, and our family currently has an MDX and a Fit. In the past we have had a CRX and multiple Accords. The MDX is kind of meh but the others have been nothing short of great.
    2) In the 80s I owned an ’81 Buick Skylark – badge-engineered sibling to the Omega. It was a giant piece of junk that lasted me barely a year before I got rid of it for a ’66 Mustang convertible.

    Obvious Honda choice is obvious. The good news is that they are easy to wrench on and parts are readily available. Heck, my son just repaired the ECM on his Civic this past week when it fried during a rainstorm. If a second-gen CRX hadn’t failed a PPI I would probably be driving one today instead of a Fiesta ST.

    The saddest part is that $3900 is something close to fair market value on the CRX, even in the shape it’s in.

  14. Absolutely the CRX. Sure the old sis much nicer but it’s a FWD Malaise era GM product. I appreciate that it still exists in this condition but no amount of niceness makes it a car that I would actually want to own and drive.

    The CRX still looks pretty solid for something that’s been likely used hard for the past 20 years. Plus that front bumper hits that early 2000s sport compact nostalgia sweet spot from when I was a kid. It even has one of the more tasteful bumpers from that era.

  15. It’s the WQED bumper sticker that seals it for me. Other than the dent, the Omega has lived an exceptionally posh life. The dent will come out. My 3D printer will solve the bumper spacer gaps.

    The Omega has been driven less than 750 miles a year. You rarely get a look at a time capsule auto that was actually used as an automobile, and never actually intended to be a time capsule.

    I get it. CRX is a lot more fun. I think I’d take the Olds and drive it back and forth to work on sunny days as if it were incapable of going over 45 mph. There’ll be other CRXes and CRX-like cars available pretty much all the time, because Miata.

      1. It’s a project I haven’t actually had reason to address, and my current plate of projects is more than full. I appreciate your need but I’m not in a position to help right now.

        There was an article here about an old Toyota truck. In the comments, a repository for 3D car part designs was either mentioned or proposed, I don’t recall which, and I don’t know what, if anything, has come of it.

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