Junkyard Find: 1987 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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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  • Rp2s Rp2s on Sep 06, 2011

    My "RealTime 4WD" Civic looked just like this one. It had a 5 spd manual, very much needed with the 1.5l 74hp four. It actually was very good in our Pittsburgh winters, and averaged over 35mpg. I kinda miss that little guy. Paid $9,400 for it new.

  • K2MTB K2MTB on Sep 07, 2011

    I HEART my Wago! I bought the '89 Civic WagoVan in Philadelphia with 190k for only $400 After 6 years and multiple cross country moves (all in the wago) the car is living it up out here on the Colorado front range. I now have over 273k and its still running on hopes and dreams. I put literally just $100 into it a year (aside from gas) and it just keeps running! So if your a starving artist like me and have no money or desire to do any of that maintenance business, find a wago. btw, I checked the mpg last week.. 40. suck it diesel.

  • ToolGuy Here is an interesting graphic, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • ToolGuy Nice website you got there (even the glitches have glitches)
  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.