Two Very Different Two-Doors: 1989 Buick Regal vs 1991 Honda Civic

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Welcome back! Today it’s Two-Door Tu–er, Wednesday, because I completely forgot that I was supposed to feature these cars yesterday. (Hey, I’ve got a lot on my mind.)

Speaking of yesterday, let’s see where we ended up:

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Looks like the Lincoln has it. Personally, I think I’d go for the Olds between these two, just for a little bit better gas mileage and a little bit less rear overhang, but as many commenters said, either one would do. Two nice cars that are actually worth the trouble; imagine that.

Today’s choices aren’t quite as nice, but they both run just fine, and they have both had a lot of recent work done. They don’t have much else in common besides the number of door handles per side, so it’s a bit of an odd matchup. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what you all think after we look at them.

1989 Buick Regal – $1,850

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.1 liter OHV V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Camas, WA

Odometer reading: 137,000 miles

Runs/drives? Perfect, the ad says

Fun fact: For the first couple of years, the third-generation Buick Regal, along with its W-body sister models the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Pontiac Gran Prix, were only offered as two-doors. I’ve always liked the door handle design of these, with a vertical handle hidden in the B-pillar. (I believe our friend Jason would categorize these as Class 2 handles, but oriented vertically.) A 4 door sedan joined the range in 1990, with traditionally-located and therefore far less interesting door handles.

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This early FWD Regal is a bit of a mishmash of new-for-the-time technology and very conservative elements: it has a digital dash and electronic climate controls set into a fake wood dash with a column-mounted shifter. It has GM’s multi-point fuel injected V6 mounted transversely and driving the front wheels, but retains the split bench seat of more traditional personal luxury coupes.

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This Regal has fairly low miles, and it sounds like it may have only had one previous owner, who used it for short trips. The stereotypical “little old lady who only drove it to church,” I’m sure. The frequent short trips did it some harm, it sounds like, and some work was done to revive it: a new battery, new starter, and all six fuel injectors. A good old-fashioned “Italian tuneup” would probably do it a world of good; cars don’t like to sit, even cushy old-lady coupes.

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Cosmetically, it looks fine; the beige paint may not be to everyone’s taste, but I think it works on this car. And at least it still has all its paint, unlike a lot of American cars from its era which shed pigment in sheets.

1991 Honda Civic DX – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter SOHC inline 4, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: Hillsboro, OR

Odometer reading: 244,000 miles

Runs/drives? “Turn key n go,” they say

When was the last time you saw a Honda Civic hatchback of this generation that hadn’t been modified all to hell and back? Yeah, me too. The fourth-generation Civic got hit by the import tuner fad hard, and was well-suited to it, actually, with excellent handling from a far more sophisticated suspension system than it needed, sturdy construction, and an easy to work on and modify family of engines. Young tuners latched on, the aftermarket went nuts, and Civic hatchbacks (and CRXs) strayed far from the way they left the Honda factory.

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This Civic is the DX model, with a 1.5 liter engine putting out only 92 horsepower. There was an even more basic model, with 70 horsepower and a 4 speed manual, but I think I’ve only seen one of those ever. It doesn’t have power steering (not a big deal on a car this small and light) or air conditioning (a deal-breaker on a daily driver, for me at least, these days), but it will handle like a go-kart, and keep running until the end of time. It has had its cylinder head rebuilt recently, along with lots of other work, and the seller says it’s ready for anything.

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The only modification I can see, if you can call it that, are the plywood boxes someone added in for aftermarket speakers. I can’t fault anyone for that – good tunes are a must-have in any car with a less-than-melodic exhaust note.

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The rest of the car looks scruffy but honest, like you’d hope a car with nearly a quarter-million miles on it would. This could make someone a nice little commuter, or a good basis for a fun little project. It’s stock now, but that doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. And if you did want to mess with it, you won’t find many more chances at one that hasn’t been messed with already.

They’re very different cars, not really comparable, but both have some appeal. I guess it depends on what you’re expecting from a car. So what’ll it be?

 

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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71 Responses

  1. We had one of these Regals with a 2.8 MPFI in the family, my eldest son couldn’t kill it even though for 4 years he did only the maintenance that it required to make it move and stop, brakes and oil change every year. We had initially replaced the spark plugs (even the back bank which had never been done previously) to cure a miss and pass an emission test. The next year we replaced the ignition module to cure another miss, another time for a no start condition we replaced the crankshaft position sensor, for which we had to drop the cradle and the oil pan and punch it out from inside the engine. Finally the ECM was changed to cure driveability issues. He only parked this car after his girl friend got a Grand Am and his neighbor had offered to fix the exhaust for him. After the Regal had sat in my driveway for 2 years I pulled it out of its parking spot and found what was left of the floor on the ground underneath it, and convinced him to send it to the scrap yard. He drove it there. I have a lot of respect for Buicks.

  2. Wow this one I had to think about. On the Regal side, well I’ve always liked a Regal, these FWD versions were actually stylish for the time, that dash is cool and it looks like a comfortable commuter.
    On the Honda side, well, it’s a Honda, these hatches were also nicely styled and while it doesn’t seem to present as well as the Regal, the 5MT, potentially better gas mileage and utility, just edged out the Buick..

    Good match up!

  3. I gotta go Honda. This generation of cars Japanese defeats America in all areas. Not too mention I had a 89 4 door civic DX I wrecked, flipped over 4 times like in a movie. It was ugly still ran and I sold it for $400.

  4. Regarding the civic with the big motor, 90 horsepower might scare you. I have a 91 base model with the 4 speed that I bought for $750 3 years ago and still running strong.

    Honda all day every day.

  5. As someone who has owned an EF generation hatch (almost identical to this one but red). I can confirm that this is a FUN s***box. I DD a tuned Golf Sportwagen which is super comfortable, much faster and generally better (automatic, wife can drive it and loves it). However, my hatchback got wrecked a few years back and there hasn’t been a week that goes by that I don’t miss rowing gears in that buzzy little econobox. The 4-3 downshift alone made the car worth owning. Yes it smoked oil like no other but it never left me stranded and was easily the funnest car I’ve had. This one is overpriced but so is everything these days.
    Even in its aged state, being redlined regularly, I still never managed worse than 30 mpg.
    If you just want a comfy radwood cruiser the Buick seems like a good time! For me however, the entire purpose of a fun, second car is to have something with a stick that I can hoon around and tinker on (without going into major debt (cough cough my VR6 GTI that needed timing chains)).

  6. Depends on what point in my life I was at.. ????
    When I was a @%%hole teenager, I’d have grabbed the Honda. As an adult the Regal all the way.
    I know this will ruffle some feathers but that particular year Buick was among GM pavement cockroach-ery. The 2.8 and 3.1 V6 would run til either the car rusted to oblivion or the owner just wanted something different. Or until no one wanted it even for free. That’s not good for business, is it?
    Then GM had a clever idea. They put plastic gaskets and plastic coolant lines on them so they’d die not long after being paid off..
    As for the Honda? We ALL know that story

  7. In 2002, my friend and I took his Regal across the country and back on a road trip. His was a few years newer, a baby blue color, and it was a four door. Nostalgia hits deep, I’d pick the Buick.

  8. Wasn’t there a Top Gear episodes where they had a beige something or other made for old people with the comically large bumper and single “just right” HVAC control? They could have easily substituted that with this Buick.

    Beige vs 3 foot pedals. Too easy.

  9. The light tossable precise 5MT ALL. DAY. LONG. I once rented an early 90s Buick and we didn’t get along at all. It seemed like a good motor wasted. So much bushing compliance and chassis flex that it never seemed to be going in one direction at a time. Even slowly feeding in an input and waiting for it to settle didn’t work. I gave up and swapped it for a Geo and was happier.

  10. I would have voted Civic just because it seems like a much more fun and long lasting car, but the lack of AC kills it for me. Its just too hot too often here for me to rely on dropping the windows, so Buick it is.

  11. Depends on what point in my life I was at.. ????
    When I was a @%%hole teenager, I’d have grabbed the Honda. As an adult the Regal all the way.
    I know this will ruffle some feathers but that particular year Buick was among GM pavement cockroach-ery. The 2.8 and 3.1 V6 would run til either the car rusted to oblivion or the owner just wanted something different. Or until no one wanted it even for free. That’s not good for business, is it?
    Then GM had a clever idea. They put plastic gaskets and plastic coolant lines on them so they’d die not long after being paid off..
    As for the Honda? We ALL know that story

  12. If it’s to drive, I’ll take the soap bar Buick over the tin can Civic.
    If it’s to modify, it’s the Civic all day long.

    Optioned this way, the Civic was solid basic transportation when new. It has been worn out and worked over, and there are several other interesting and tunable Honda and Acura models out there. It is still a great platform for a build, but it’s just not one I’m interested in right now. If I had a storage building for future projects…

    For me, not having AC eliminates the Civic for almost all other purposes. Because I don’t want a Civic project right now, and can’t lock it up for later, I picked the Buick as a winter beater/Gambler 500 car.

    Today, I expect my personal choice will lose because the Civic has such a good and well-earned reputation. This is a good matchup, actually. This was another nearly 50/50 decision for me after yesterday’s H-body/Panther showdown.

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