Junkyard Find: 1987 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon
Living in Denver gives me a great perspective on the history of the four-wheel-drive car. Nowadays, it’s pretty much an all-Subaru affair around these parts (an observer who never left Denver would make the extrapolation that Subaru is one of the top-selling— if not the top-selling— marques in the world), but there was a time when Eagles and 4WD Tercels and many others slugged it out with the machines from Fuji Heavy. Here’s an example of Honda’s nearly-forgotten four-wheel-drive wagon, finally heading for The Crusher’s cold jaws after nearly a quarter-century of work.
By 1987, Honda had pretty well cemented its popular reputation as a builder of sensible, well-built cars. The Civic 4WD Wagovan seemed like a good bet to sip gas, run 200,000 miles, and crunch through the Colorado winter snow without getting stuck pulling out of the driveway.
The “Real-Time” four-wheel-drive system was just another way of saying “We know you stupid drivers can’t figure out when to engage four-wheel-drive, so we’ll just leave it going at all times.” Sure, it cost a few miles per gallon and added complexity, but it made the car an easier sell.
The Tercel 4WD wagon (which was much more this car’s competitor than anything from Subaru) had a lever that enabled four-wheel-drive, and its lack of a center differential meant that you’d beat up the drivetrain and/or tires if you drove it on dry pavement in 4WD. In addition, the Tercel had an archaic longitudinal-engine-above-front-differential arrangement that jacked up the center of gravity and made the car less aerodynamic. However, you couldn’t kill the Tercel with a Blue Steel missile, and the Civic suffered from the same weakness that afflicted all Hondas of this era: overheat it once and you’ll blow the head gasket.
With just 76 horsepower under the hood, the Civic Wagovan still managed to be more fun to drive than the competition (although you could still get the AMC Eagle, which was way more fun for mud-soaked off-road madness, in 1987).
I haven’t seen one of these things on the street, even in Denver, for quite a while. Several live on in 24 Hours of LeMons racing, however, and their teams are waiting for the race when it pours rain from start to finish… at which point they’ll get their doors blown right off by the Audi Quattros and 90s Subarus.
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