By on April 28, 2014

17 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBefore Subaru finally nailed down the sales-clinching formula for a car that had four-wheel-drive but didn’t seem too truck-like, all the major Japanese car manufacturers took at shot at building little sedans and wagons with power going to all the wheels. Since I live in Colorado, I get to see examples of each of those 1980s efforts, most of which didn’t result in much showroom action but are still pretty interesting today. In this series, we’ve seen a Camry All-Trac, quite a few Corolla All-Tracs, lots of Tercel 4WD wagons, countless elderly Subarus, and so on. The Honda Shuttle aka Civic Wagovan shows up in Denver wrecking yards as well, and I don’t bother to photograph most of them. This late Wagovan with the futuristic “Real-Time” four-wheel-drive system, however, is a rare find even in Colorado.
26 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinReal-Time 4WD didn’t require the driver to throw a lever or push a button when snow or mud threatened, and thus you didn’t have to worry about leaving the car in four-wheel-drive on dry asphalt and tearing up the tires (or worse). Of course, there was a fuel-economy penalty for using a center differential and driving all four wheels all the time, but Subaru proved that this doesn’t hurt sales.
22 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere are emblems boasting of this technology all over the car.
03 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe ’88 4WD Wagovan also got a super-low (I assume that’s what the “SL” stands for) first-gear, which was probably great for climbing steep driveways and busting CV joints.
12 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinUnder the hood, the pretty-potent-for-1988 106-horse D16A6.
02 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNearly 180,000 miles. No rust on the body, interior not too bad, so my guess is that a blown head gasket doomed this car.


I couldn’t find any Japanese-market ads with the screeching tires and macho voiceovers that the Civic Shuttle deserved.


At least they still appreciate the 4WD Wagovan in Sweden.

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51 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagovan...”


  • avatar
    psychoboy

    fun fact:

    The Honda catalog lists the 1988 Wagovan trim seprately from the 4WD (1600) trim and the DX trim.

    The only differences I can find between the Wagovan and the DX are the seat covers and the WAGOVAN sticker that lives where this one has the RT4WD. Neither of them have the D16 MPFI motor or the RT4WD system.

    • 0 avatar
      psychoboy

      second fun fact:

      the car is designed to have selectable 4WD, but the US market never saw it. I dunno if any other market ever did, but the catalog has all the drawings for a second shift lever that will slide a collar on the rear output stub.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Always impressed at the solid bodies on these finds.
    If somebody loved to wrench and could tolerate the boredom of driving the same thing forever, it seems like a “forever” car.

    • 0 avatar
      honda_lawn_art

      They are. We just dragged a $600 91′ hatchback from the abyss and did the head gasket, head deck, and exhaust special on it. A friend’s got a carbureted CRX that he brought back to life, and my brother has a carbureted CRX that they put a D16A1 in from an Integra plus the sub frames, it’s a fun little rascal.

  • avatar
    Quad442

    I wonder which is more forgotten the 4WD Wagovan or the Suzuki Esteem next to it?

    • 0 avatar

      Every time I see an Esteem in the junkyard, I think I ought to photograph it. Then I just get bored looking at the thing and walk away. Someday I’ll shoot one.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I’m always up for some Suzuki bashing, because man, the miniscule number of Suzuki cars I’ve seen tells me they must be crap.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Eh, they are crap but that’s not why you don’t see lots. They were never “mainstream,” just always an afterthought. Sort of like Isuzu passenger cars, Suzuki was always more into making other things.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          I think the lack of dealers is what doomed them.

          My daughter choose a new 2001 Esteem over a Lumina as her first car; I thought she was crazy; but that car was unkillable. She was involved in three accidents; it was still sitting at the body shop when Hurricane Rita hit; while it was sitting up after the storm; someone stole the four wheels off of it.

          The shop replaced the four wheels; but did a lousy job putting the front end back together, and the hose came off the transmission oil cooler. It pumped itself dry, leaving my wife, daughter and son-in-law stranded in East Texas. The shop guy finally showed up with transmission fluid the next morning, put the hose back and refilled it; it never gave us any trouble after that.

          I got it from my daugher, and started daily driving it about 2011. While driving home after working late; the fan belt broke while driving through south Dallas that night. That is not a safe place to be broken down; realizing that the battery would keep the lights on, that I could do without power brakes, and as long as I kept moving, the engine was staying cool; I just kept driving it until I was out of town and to the next small town 20 miles away. There were traffic lights after that; so I parked it until my son-in-law could tow it in the rest of the way. The fan belt was replaced, and the engine was fine after that. The A/C did not go out until about 2011; a record for our fleet of cars in Texas.

          When I got the Taurus fixed, it became my son’s first car; he just drove it around town mostly. He continued to drive it until he slid on black ice and ran into someone a few months ago; totaling it at last.

          By that time, it had 230,000 miles and 13 years under it’s belt. It was buzzy and rattled from loose body panels, one strut was broken and needed replacing; and we replaced the radio with an aftermarket radio. A pain to daily drive 120 miles a day because it did not have cruise control; but man; we got our miles of it.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m not anti-Suzuki, just can’t seem to work up the interest in the Esteem that I have for, say, the Hyundai XG.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            If you find an Isuzu Impulse, can you please take pictures of it?

            That’s one of those cars I’ve never seen in person, along with other illustrious automobiles like the Chevy Monza and diesel Oldsmobile.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Better yet, if you can’t find an Impulse, maybe you can find one of those oddball Isuzu compact trucks, the ones before they just sold a poorly hidden S10.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I believe you’re referring to the Mighty Max?

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Nah, the Mighty Max was Mitsubishi. I’ve actually seen an early Mighty Max in 1st gen Dodge Ram 50 guise.

            The Isuzu truck was called the “P’up” in America. Now that I think about it, Murilee might have found one before…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Yeah I realized P’up after I said it. Ridiculous name!

          • 0 avatar
            TheyBeRollin

            NoGoYo: My grandfather custom-ordered a 1980 Oldsmobile Delta 88 with the diesel engine just before he retired. He sold it in 2007 after he decided to stop driving (~27-28 years). It was still running well with well over 200k miles. The only major problem I recall it having when he sold it was that the sun had taken the life out of the plastic behind the bumper under the license plate (which flipped down for filling the car up and was the only plastic part of the body). It also had some paint problem in the early 80s that it went back to the dealer to get fixed.

            I’d like to learn more about them, too. I heard they were based on gasoline engines and had horribly reliability, but I never heard anything bad about that particular car. It was incredibly comfortable and had numerous similarities to my first car that was built on the exact same platform (down to the cutting-edge coil springs all around) 14 years later.

            As for the Impulse. I hope he finds one with the grid wheels. I remember them, but never knew anyone that owned one. Suzukis, even the more modern ones, were always oddball cars that were never popular. Only the Swift that begat the Geo Metro ever became somewhat mainstream. Swifts are still out there, too, but probably sold at 1/100th the rate of the Geo-branded ones.

        • 0 avatar
          brandloyalty

          Ahem, don’t people drink more pop than milk?

          I’ve had an ’06 Suzuki Grand Vitara for over 8 years, and it is by far the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned. Even despite the fact the ’06 was the first model year of a new generation.

          • 0 avatar
            Steven Lang

            I bought a Y2K Suzuki Esteem wagon with only 90k or so miles on it for $700 at a public auction back in late 2012.

            How do I remember such an obscure purchase? Because that car had very nice aftermarket wheels and an interior that seemed to come from the time warp that was the Clinton Era.

            It was a weird night, I somehow managed to buy three $700 cars that evening. All were in perfectly good condition.

            An 89′ Ford Tempo w/ 60k.
            The Esteem with 90k.
            And a !992 Tercel with about 150k.

            The first two I sold for cash. The Tempo sold for $1500. The Esteem sold for $2000. The Tercel I am financing, and if I told any of you how much, you would probably have me shot.

            Out here in rural Georgia, $50 a week for guaranteed low-cost transportation is a perfect fit for a lot of folks. I couldn’t finance a Chevette to anyone short of a crackhead. But plain Jane transportation is always in demand if the mpg is high enough.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    Not sure how Honda’s real-time 4WD worked back in 1988, it was worthless on our 2003 Honda Element.

    • 0 avatar
      Pinzgauer

      What was so bad about it? Had a 97 CR-V with the same system, I never had any complaints. It gave plenty of traction in deep snow. That being said, I wouldn’t expect it to do any real off roading, that’s not what it was meant for in my opinion.

      • 0 avatar
        dswilly

        If I remember it only allows for about 28% or less to go to the rear wheels and it is not variable. The Element had too much weight or weight shift to the rear which caused the front wheels to spin hopelessly and thus go nowhere, or go very slowly. It was worse on wet pavement. I wasn’t expecting any off-road performance just decent winter traction, our rear drive E46 with Blizzaks would smoke it in the snow.

        • 0 avatar
          psychoboy

          assuming the system is functioning correctly, the only time the rear wheels are powered in the CRV/Element is when the front wheels outrun them.

          The front diff drives an output shaft that spins a pump in the nose of the rear diff assembly. the rear wheels drive a second pump in that nose. when the pumps disagree on wheel speed (front spins faster, usually), they build hydraulic pressure that engages a set of honda automatic style clutch plates that lock up and drive the rear wheels. it’s not instant on, it’s not computer controlled, its merely dumb hydraulics. and it works…every single time.

          if you had problems with your element, either you weren’t standing on the throttle long enough to pressure the pumps, or you felt like you weren’t getting far enough fast enough. or…something was broken, and you needed to fix it.

          I’ve had a couple of these CRVs that have seen offroad duty and autocross track duty and, for what they are intended to be, this system works excellently.

          • 0 avatar
            dswilly

            Perhaps the pump delay was the problem, or it was broken. But I was neither going to sit at a light and fry the front tires off waiting or take it to Honda to fix. We dumped the car due to other issues.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I have an AWD Element and a FWD Pontiac. The Element is much easier to drive on snowy roads, the AWD works just fine. You do have to change the differential fluid periodically, I think Honda’s schedule is overly optimistic. Maybe yours had tired fluid?

    • 0 avatar
      poohbah

      I have an 04 Element with 146K. It’s fantastic in the snow. I do change the rear diff fluid every 2 or 3 years myself, easy job.

  • avatar
    sproc

    Wow, that must have just arrived in the yard. Looks like lots of prime parts ripe for the picking. The tires alone look like they’re in great shape and worth as much as the hulk.

    What a great little car. Makes me sad that Honda only offers the handsome and hugely practical Civic Tourer overseas.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Fantastic cars, this one is perhaps the most desirable variant with RT4WD, 6spd, and the d16a6 with multi point fuel injection. My family had a fwd 1990 Wagon in a lovely Cappuccino metallic, unfortunately it was saddled with an automatic transmission and the d15b2 1.5L 92hp engine with throttle body injection. Owned it from 1996 to 2006, I was getting tired of fixing rust each spring. Sold it for $1400 with 167k miles on it, I saw it a few years ago much worse for the wear but still running. I felt awful to see my pride and joy which I waxed twice a year now festooned with a bunch of awful “mods,” the rear hatch rusted to hell.

    The layout and design of that car was much better (IMO) than the 2007 Fit we replaced it with. The Fit feel tippy in corners and visibility is nowhere as good. Cargo space was also better in the Wagon. Interior was a fantastic tweed cloth, door pulls were chromed metal. Door cards had soft touch vinyl and tweed cloth inserts. Once I put on some ’99 Civic Si alloy wheels with Eagle GT tires, I could whip through corners at speeds the Fit can only dream of! To be fair the Fit is hamstrung by stock 14 inch tires.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      How does the fit feel tippy, being it’s so short? I wouldn’t think it would have a high enough center of gravity. <No sarcasm, btw – genuinely asking.

      Also, I've never seen a Wagovan in a color other than beige or that light steel blue.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        It’s not the length so much as the taller profile of the Fit. In the Civic Wagon, you sat closer to the ground, and the car had a wider, squatter profile. Maybe the 4 wheel double wishbone suspension had something to do with it as well. But man, that Wagon handled like a go-kart compared to the Fit. That’s ironic because I keep reading in reviews how the Fit handles as if it were a go kart.

        I think the wagons came in that creamy beige, light blue, red, white, gray, the gold as in the featured junkyard find, and cappuccino metallic brown. Interiors were brown/tan, grey/black, and blue/light blue.

        Also, featured car looks to have hubcaps off of a previous gen Civic (84-87), unless this is some sort of 88-89 option. I always thought the 4WDs had the white painted steel wheels with a plastic center cap. FWD models had no hubcaps, just silver painted steel wheels.

        • 0 avatar
          psychoboy

          The 4wd wagons can also be had in red. A shop mate of mine has one he uses for track duty.

          http://i174.photobucket.com/albums/w106/LowFlyinOK/Wagon/WagonRPF1_zps5b48c9fe.jpg

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Dennis went out to the Civic and opened the door. The shredded seats greeted him once more. However, he must have snagged the torn fabric with the back pocket button of his jeans. A huge shred lay draped off of the cushion. With his arms resting on the roof and open door, his head dropped in despair, and Dennis sighed. He knew what had to be done.

    An ewe cried out in the distance as Dennis strolled out into the field. He racked the shotgun.
    “Sorry about this little fella.”

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      Neat! A Last Ride story… on the seat covers! They are pretty gaudy, though!

      Kind of tells you the story on the rest of the car:

      Dennis must have been a teenager who bought this car, because “It’s a Honda!” His McDonalds salary (and probably some “drifting”) resulted in shoddy maintenance, which results in us mocking his awful seat covers.

      Let’s have a moment of silence for the ugly artificial animal that donated it’s synthetic material for seat covers.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    The system in this car is not the same as the CR-V’s. The CR-V’s use a system that requires wheelspin at the front in order for the rears to kick in. The Civic Wagon had a viscous compling that drove all wheels all the time.

    To the person that had no 4wd luck with the Element, one thing. Crap tires will slip alot, beit 2 or 4wd. I owned two CR-V’s and can tell you, tires make all the difference.

    Oh, I also owned one of these, complete with the 6 speed w/SL. It will tow an F250 out of a mudhole and make the truck owner’s friends laugh in the process.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    I imagine this would be a great winter beater if A.) parts were readily available and B.) it could actually reach 80 miles per hour without crying out for dear life.

    I bet first gear takes you all the way to 6 or 7 miles per hour, on par with that of an Austin Healy. lol

    Nah… I still have a “thing” for mid 80′s Tercel 4WD wagons. The tall, horrific looking ones. With their plaid seats and skinny tires. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why I would love to own of those…?

    Here in St. Louis, that 4wd Civic is an absolute unicorn. Bring one of these in running condition here, and sell it for a hefty premium.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I remember looking at one of these in about 1990/91 with my dad at the Honda dealer. I could have sworn in Canada they had a crazy sticker that said “Fun time 4WD” but maybe that’s just what my 14 year old brain remembered at the time. It was a unique car, but we ended up buying a 4-door Tercel sedan instead for whatever reason.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    It’s a crime that this vehicle was sent to the junkyard in that good of condition. Up here in the PNW, that vehicle is in high demand even today, and running specimens are selling for $2-3K (or more, depending upon what engine and aftermarket accessories it has). This one was definitely worth fixing.

    The only annoyance are the auto-strangle shoulder straps – that’s one good thing about the 1988 model – first year of this body style, with the conventional seat belts.

    This was one of Honda’s best-designed vehicles ever, IMO. I have owned two of these wagons (but in 2WD) and they both had over 300K miles on them. The outward visibility is unparalleled.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      You’re right, it’s a total fishbowl inside. Higher seats than other “EF” civics and a more upright windshield. Combine that with a low dash and the view forward is epic. Everyone that rode in the car commented on it.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      I sort of agree, but it’s hard to tell what shape the underbody and mechanicals are in from these pictures.

  • avatar
    bkmurph

    I’ve always been fond of this generation of Civic. I appreciated the fact that Honda equipped the rear seats with head restraints, something Ford would not do for the Focus until the 2009 model year. (The Escort and Contour never had rear head restraints, either.)

  • avatar
    otsegony

    My wife and I had one of these (an ’86 or ’87) back in the early ’90s we had from new. It was a great car around town and on Vermont and Adirondack winter roads. However, on the highway it was the slowest car I have ever drive except for perhaps a Volkswagon bus. It was pre-Realtime so there was a button on the dash to activate the 4wd function. It also had the super-low first gear which I never found a use for. I later drove a ’90 2wd version of it, which was a much better car. I’d buy one today if they were available…

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    In the 80′s in central Massachusetts – these were EVERYWHERE.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Bought one of these new. A 1987 Real Time 4wd Wagovan (tall boy wagon) in light blue. Had the dealer install A/C as at that time no Hondas came with factory air (at least in Canada). It had the 6 speed manual (yes the ‘super low’ gear. Also got the windows ‘tinted’ as there was a definite ‘fishbowl’ effect. The dealer had installed a manual ‘sunroof’.

    The dealer (Roadsport Honda in Scarboro) had brought in about a 1/2 dozed of them and they sat on the lot for months. Every time I visited we had an 86 Accord and 82 Civic) I took a look at the Wagovans and thought how useful they would be for the baby seats, etc.

    Then I read an column in the Toronto Sun written by their editor (a 6’3″+ 300lb plus behemoth) who raved about his Wagovan and the fact that he fit easily into it because of its headroom. That convinced me to take the plunge.

    Dollar for dollar and pound for pound it is probably the best new vehicle I have ever purchased. Great visibility. Reliable. Unstoppable in the Toronto area winter. Lots of interior room. Good driving position. Seats that flipped and folded in multiple ways, the even all folded flat to turn the interior of the car into a bed.

    These were not big sellers until Honda ‘upsized’ and ‘upmarketed’ the basic concept as CRV’s. Yes check out the original CRV and I believe that it is very much a similar vehicle.

    Should have kept the Wagovan much longer. But we had another child so I traded it for a Caravan. While I was negotiating the trade the owner of the Dodge dealership came over, spoke with me personally and worked out the trade-in as he wanted the Wagovan for his daughter, who was a skier. He continued to give me deals in the service department for the 5 years that I kept the Caravan, because she was so happy with the Wagovan.

    Now we have a Kia Rondo in the driveway and except for the 4wd and the flip/folding seats it reminds me very much of this much lamented Honda.

  • avatar
    kinsha

    Maybe your Element was FWD they made both

  • avatar
    hondalover89

    Hey is there any way that I can buy the fenders of this civic for mine? Please let me know when you can thanks.


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