1983 Honda Civic DX Wagon

Our hero (me) is now driving a turd of an old Accord, and the wife has the shiny new Accord wagon. I had a little cash laying around, and it was clear that the old Accord would not continue to be a “going concern”. Instead, it going was a concern. Fortunately, I happened to notice (imagine that) a really cherry little 1983 Honda Civic DX wagon sitting on a dealer lot downtown. It was in great shape, had the 1500 engine (base was 1300), had working A/C, and it was a 5 Speed!!! One little problem though, they had the head “reworked” and it still didn’t run right. But it did run, and I bought it fairly cheap. I think I paid $850 for it. The photo you see here is not of mine, but an identical one.

1983 Honda Civic DX Wagon

I still had the old Accord, and after a brief examination I realized that they had the same hub bolt pattern. But the Accord had 13×6″ wheels with decent tires and the Civic had 13×5″ wheels with crappy skinny tires. SWAP! Took about 30 minutes, but made a world of difference on a 1900 lb. car. The skinny tires were good enough to sell the old Accord, which is what I did.

So now I’m driving the Civic wagon, and it’s slow. I affectionately named it the “Silver Bullet”. But it kept getting slower and slower, and smoking more. Finally one morning it started bellowing white smoke from the tailpipe, and would not keep running. It was DOA, but it would still turn over, and would run if you kept it floored. Something was up in the engine, and my emergency mechanic (father in law) thought it had blown a head gasket. “No problem, let’s take it to my house, put a new gasket on, replace the bearings and such, and it’ll be good as new.” Not quite.

We pulled the engine, and as soon we got the head off there was clearly a big problem. He had correctly guessed that the head gasket was blown, but it had apparently been out for some time, on adjoining cylinders that were at opposite ends of the stroke. That meant it had been running on two cylinders! Basically there was zero compression in two cylinders because one would push the air into the other. But it still ran on two, what killed it was that the stress & vibration from running on two cylinders caused a wrist pin to slide out of the piston which carved a nice 1/2 inch flat spot in the cylinder wall of one of the two working cylinders. Unfortunately the poor thing just couldn’t run on one cylinder. Thanks to the deep groove the block was ruined also.

My father-in-law found a used engine at a junkyard a few days later from a car that a been rear-ended, so it was a fair bet that it at least ran. Our plan was to take the new block, clean it out, put new rings and bearings in it, and put it back with the good head and transmission from my Civic. As soon as we pulled the head off something else wasn’t right. The cylinders were larger with more space between them! The outside of the block looked almost identical, but I checked the numbers and it was clearly a different engine. “You got this out of a Civic, right?” “No, an Accord. I thought they were the same!” I knew the Accords had an 1800cc engine putting out about 20-25 more horsepower/torque than the 1500cc engine in the Civic, but he didn’t. Engine upgrade!

The problem now was would it fit? After some side by side comparisons it was clear that the Civic head would never work so we were going to have to use the old Accord head. The mounts were within 1/4″ of each other, so with a little trimming on the mounts they would work. The problem came down to the transmission. It bolted up perfectly but the flywheel on the Accord was sligtly larger which wouldn’t allow the clutch assembly to fit. And the Accord crank had a larger end on it, which would not let us put the Civic flywheel on it. Luckily father-in-law knew a good machinist and got them to turn out the Civic flywheel hub just enough to get it on the end of the crank.

We did a quick assembly with the major parts (block, crank, flywheel, clutch, transmission) just to make sure all the issues were resolved, and it looked good. So then we took it back apart and built it correctly with the new rings, bearings, gaskets, etc. The head actually didn’t look too bad so we didn’t bother trying to rebuild it, just cleaned it up well. The engine went back in the car cleanly, and if you didn’t know any better you would swear it was the original engine. It took a little cranking at first but then fired up just fine.

But how did it run? Man oh man, it ran! Consider that the 1500 was rated at about 70hp, and the 1800 at about 95hp. When I drove it originally it was probably running well below 50hp on two cylinders. To get in that thing with 95hp was amazing! I could easily smoke the crappy tires in first gear, and get a pretty good burn in second. If I really tried I could chirp third gear. The Silver Bullet became the Silver Bullet! I estimate that it easily ran 0-60 in under 8 seconds after the swap, which in 1997 would keep up with a new Civic Si.

So what ever happened to the Civic from hell? I have no idea. After taking a month to build, I had gotten new car fever again and thanks to a job change could now “afford” a cheap new vehicle. So I got one, and gave Silver Bullet to my father-in-law for all his help and for refusing to even take payment for the used engine or the rebuild parts. He still drove it several days a week six months later when I got a divorce. Sometime after that he sold it.

Other Flashback Fridays:
#14: 1972 Chevrolet C-10
#13: 1999 Mazda Miata
#12: 1997 Mazda Protege LX
#11: 1997 Chevrolet S-10
#10: 1983 Civic Wagon
#9: 1982 Accord LX Sedan & 1996 Accord LX Wagon
#8: 1989 Voyager & 1996 Saturn SW2
#7: 1971 Chevrolet C-10
#6: 1971 MG MGB
#5: 1989 VW Cabriolet & 1989 Oldsmobile Ciera
#4: 1988 Honda Civic LX
#3: 1986 Honda Civic DX
#2: 1981 Chevy Caprice Estate & 1983 Toyota Tercel
#1: 1972 Chevy Nova