Good morning, and welcome to Thursday’s edition of Shitbox Showdown! Today, as promised, we’re looking at some nice reliable Japanese sporty cars. Before we get to them, however, we need to finish up with our broken-down Italian thoroughbreds:
Looks like the crusty Alfa scared of just enough of you to give the Maserati the win. Honestly, I think I’d go the other way – I’ve had a soft spot for the Alfetta sedan for years, and I’d like to see this one live again, even as a stripped-out LeMons racer or rallycross toy or something.
Now then: Today’s contenders were “foreign” to me when I was growing up in more ways than one. We lived in a heavily Union town, and buying Japanese cars just wasn’t something you did, at least if you didn’t want to get dirty looks at the gas station or get your car egged at a high school football game. (But somehow, my family’s Volkswagens were fine.) So I have no fond memories of growing up in Toyotas or Hondas, and as such, I don’t quite understand the prices they’re starting to command. But these two, at least, don’t seem to be too far out of line yet. Let’s take a look, and I’ll try to see what the big deal is.
1982 Toyota Celica GT – $3,200
Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: San Jose, CA
Odometer reading: 262,000 miles
Toyota’s Celica was sort of a Japanese Mustang: flashy styling with the underpinnings of an ordinary sedan. And like the early Mustang, most versions looked better than they went. But they looked pretty damn good. This is the third-generation Celica, with angular styling that just screams ’80s, and very strange pop-up lights:
Like the Porsche 928, the Celica’s headlights point skyward until you turn them on, and then they flip forward into position. Neat, huh? This wedgey shape was propelled along by Toyota’s famous 22R four-cylinder, also found under the hoods of countless Toyota pickups. It’s not the most powerful thing around, but these engines will chug along for half a million miles without complaint. As befitting a sporty GT car, this Celica has a five-speed manual transmission.
It has a lot of miles on it, but according to the seller, it was towed behind an RV for many years, so the engine could have far fewer miles on it. Old mechanical odometers like this just keep clicking off the miles whenever the drive wheels are turning, whether the engine’s running or not. Its carburetor has recently been replaced, so hopefully the rat’s nest of vacuum lines connected to it have been checked out and replaced if necessary.
It’s a little rough around the edges, but not bad. There’s a little rust on the lip of the rear hatch, but a new hatch is included. It doesn’t match, but it doesn’t have any rust either. The rest of the car looks tired, but intact.
1985 Honda CRX HF – $2,900
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Camarillo, CA
Odometer reading: 178,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does!
Now this one, I understand the appeal of. I’ve admired the Honda CRX since it came out in 1984. This little two-seat runabout was ostensibly a commuter car, but look at it: this thing just screams fun. This is the HF version, set up for maximum fuel efficiency; it can break 50 miles per gallon on the highway, but still has the go-kart handling that made everyone fall in love with the CRX.
This CRX has a Weber carb feeding it, and larger front brakes from an Integra, so it might go and stop a little better than a typical CRX HF. It has had a bunch of other parts replaced recently, including the timing belt, clutch, ball joints, tie rod ends, and more. It “drives very nicely,” according to the seller.
But this is Shitbox Showdown, so you know there has to be a catch. In this case, it’s a salvage title from some front end damage. It has been repaired, but things still look a little wonky. A dinged title doesn’t seem to be a big deal in California, but if you plan to register it somewhere else, you should check with your local DMV first, and probably your insurance agent as well. If the car drives all right, it shouldn’t matter, but you know how paperwork has a way of screwing things up.
I think I’ve said this before, but man I love Honda interiors from the 1980s. They’re just so open and airy, with damn near perfect ergonomics, and a nice clean look. And this one is in nice condition.
Well, there you have it: two Japanese neo-classics, cheap enough to enjoy but nice enough to take some pride in. Neither one is without its faults, but both run and drive fine, and both let you shift your own gears. The only thing left for you to do is choose which one you’d rather put in your driveway.
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
Mr Honda wins hands down. I love “Sillicars” and have even done a nut and bolt resto on a 1st gen but this 3rd gen is Gawdawful. My dog’s butt is better looking that this car.
Had the 1980 coupe version of that Toyota. Always liked those headlights and that engine is damn near indestructible. That 1980 was my first new car and I was pretty irresponsible about keeping the oil level up but it just didn’t seem to matter. Boy, was I surprised when my next car got all upset over a low oil level and cost me an engine rebuild.
Celica all the way.
1982 toyota with a stick shift AND cruise control? Dang…that’s fancy.
Based on the janky fit of the driver door and other jankiness I’m seeing on other body panels, I have a feeling the ‘minor front end damage’ the CRX supposedly had wasn’t all that minor. And it looks like it was repaired in a half-assed way.
So the Celica gets my vote in this case.
If it wasn’t for the salvage title and jankiness, I would have voted for the CRX.
That CRX is just too clean to vote for the Celica. And I like the Celica- my mom had the same gen, just a light blue notchback.
Take a close look at the panel gaps around the driver door…. particularly in this picture:
Then consider the ‘salvage title’… and the claim that the front end damage was supposedly ‘minor’. And then consider how this is likely to be bullshit.
Are you *sure* it’s truly a good example?
I will virtually never accept a salvage title but I am also a massive peak-era Honda fanboi, especially for the CRX and EF/EG Civics. That and the exceptionally reasonable price for the local CA market (won’t speak for elsewhere) point me to the CRX. Subject to a thorough PPI, of course.
Take a look at this picture:
I’m pretty sure that the CRX will fail the PPI.
It’s a 38-year-old car. It’s been around,and seen some things. But you can have a LOT of fun with this thing for $2900, and at the end of the day it’s still a CRX and will probably always be worth $2900. As long as it’s not too bent for a proper steering alignment, who gives a shit about the fender fit?
Only one of these was in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. CRX is the only choice for me.
I have owned a version of both these cars; slightly later models but the same body styles.
The Celica is hands down a much more fun and satisfying car to drive. I threw a set of some junkyard ’86 Supra wheels on it with way more tire than the car could ever use and it was tons of fun. It made just enough power to be interesting to drive but was just gutless enough that you REALLY had to work to get yourself in real trouble.
A 1983 notchback was my college car. 22R-E with a five-speed. I did thousands of miles of (ahem) spirited driving in that car. Not as fast as I wished it was, but it handled like a go-kart, I could row my own gears, and the drive wheels were on the correct end of the car. I’d love to grab another one cheap, but they seem to have all disappeared.
Usually a salvage Title is an automatic NO, I am of the opposite view on CRX, in that I see no reason for a 2 seat hatch back with the weakling High Fuel Economy engine. It baffles me that these opposite paradigms exist in one small blob on the road.
But still, the manual trans and overall outward appearance makes me thing the CRX is still the better choice. I suppose I would take it over a Goldwing motorcycle as that is pretty much what it is to me, just no wind in the hair.
Honda for me. The Toyota is a bit too rough, and that extended shift lever is a huge poor taste red flag. If it appeared to be better cared for, I would take it. I owned an ’85 GTS in the early 90’s and really enjoyed it.
Have a look at this picture in the CRX ad:
Then reconsider the ‘salvage title’.
The CRX is rough too… just in a more janky sort of way.
Getting a salvage titled car registered where I am is not a problem and I know the CRX and it can be a joy. But it’s an experience I’ve already had. The Celica should be more in my wheelhouse now, but isn’t something I particularly crave, I don’t think I could improve and flip it without losing money. So I’m going Honda.
CRX for the win!
My sister had a CRX like this but the sport (non-HF) model. It was an absolute blast to drive. Revvy, light and agile.
The Celica (sell-EE-ca in Canada) didn’t get good until the next generation. This generation was underwhelming (unless you bought the Supra) – and what’s with that gearshift?
The Celica is more my style, and I can imagine driving it. The CRX is a little scrappy & a paperwork headache, but a good car for the ones who want it.
Always loved those Celicas, and bought a beautiful one about ten years ago. Texas car, not a speck of rust, low mileage, one owner, etc.
That thing drove like a god damned pickup truck. It was slow, the handling was clumsy to say the least, and it was about as rev happy as a can opener. I’m sure it’ll outlive us all, but what a disappointment of a car.
I’ll take the nimble little Honda.
Yeah, I’d drive the hell out of that Celica. I really need to do my car shopping in California.
Somebody obviously put a lot more work into one of these cars than the other, even if it had a salvage title – and I respect the efforts they made.
I owned one of these Celicas (mine was red). I eventually sold it to a friend. He got rear-ended and the car got written off. It was a good car but not particularly quick. I still have the NOS nose bra for it somewhere in my garage.
I had totally forgotten about car bras! Talk about peak ’80s cool…unlike in the ’90s when people who didn’t know what they were for kept them on 365 days a year which then led to unintentional two-tone paint jobs.
I really like that CRX, blue interior FTW!
Dang, I want both of them. I had to go with the CRX, but it was close. They both would be more than welcome in my garage.
Exactly, god help me, I went FWD not RWD here, but how could you not? Salvage title whatever, HOW is that civic so tidy-looking?
This is a genuinely tough one, and I’m kind of a Toyota-stan. If not for the concerningly mis-aligned door coupled with a salvage title for front end damage, I’d go for the CRX.
In light of that, I’ve gotta go Celica by a hair. That said, I really like that CRX…
My dad had a Celica identical to that. It was a weird purchase. The only other Japanese car he’d owned was a Mazda B2000. He always drove GM products then one day he comes home with a brown Celica. Me, being like eight years old, thinking GM was the holy grail of car companies because that’s what I grew up with, considered him a traitor.
That’s a lot of dorky 80s fun today! Celica definitely. And how did that CRX pass smog with the Weber conversion? I guess you have to cross your fingers and hope they don’t ask to look under the hood.
Celica. All day and twice on Sunday. Owned a 1982 Celica through college. Took it from 93K miles to 207K, and I still miss that car and look its VIN up from time to time to see if I can find it. I’d happily pick up again with this one.
This is an entirely emotional decision, but I’d probably find a rational argument to back it up. Eventually.
Are you me? I bought a 1983 Celica GT notchback before college in 1990. It had 93,000 miles on it. I drove it past 235k before the head gasket went. And I made the exact same emotional decision.
DID WE JUST BECOME BEST FRIENDS?
That Honda is clean but it looks like 2 cars have been badly welded together. I’ll go for the scruffy Toyota with the legendary 22R.