I kind of miss hog-trough buffet restaurants. Hometown Buffet, Ponderosa, Ryan’s, Golden Corral; staples of good eatin’ for poor families with kids. Growing up not-so-wealthy and religious meant that I’ve spent a lot of Sunday afternoons decked out to in my best Value City $49.99 suits and Stacy Adams square-toe dress shoes, shuffling around the fried chicken and honey-butter rolls on tap at the Corral. Overstimulated, my preteen self would overindulge and pile multiple plates high with mac ‘n cheese, and whatever else the hell I wanted. I’d waddle my way back to my table, where my mom would disapprovingly look at my too-high stacked plate and say “you’re not going to eat all that food, I know it.”
She would be right. I had eyes bigger than my stomach. Those nearly full plates would be whisked away by the waitstaff after I nibbled at a little bit of the stuff I got from the buffet.
I didn’t grow up. I still have eyes bigger than my stomach, except now the buffets I shop at are local classified ads for used cars. And I’ve gone and gotten myself another one: A 1993 Honda Accord EX that has all the attributes car writers can never stop crooning about: A manual transmission, wagon body, and a brownish exterior. It also has a very cool maroon cabin and a big stack of documents including the original window sticker it left the dealership with almost three decades ago.
Compulsively (usually while procrastinating writing my Car Bibles drafts) I’m checking the classifieds for generally no reason. Killing time, looking for deals, trying to find weird cars to lampoon and chat about either on Twitter or our blog here for your viewing pleasure. Imagine my surprise when I was making my rounds and found this holy grail of ’90s cars for sale near me.
Is it… pre-OBDII? Check. Is it a station wagon? Check. Is it a manual? Check. Is it brown? Eh, dark beige, but I’ll let it slide — it’s brown enough. Is it a diesel? No, but whatever, most people don’t actually want to spend real time driving an ancient diesel around anyway.
The car looked clean in the ad, especially for being a Cleveland-area suburb car. The body had some rust, but for a car as old as me, things weren’t that bad. I’m from the Cleveland/Akron/Canton area, and most of these Accords had rusted into oblivion by the mid-2000s. Seeing one in this vintage with a relatively minimal bit of rust, was like stepping into a time machine back to the year 2001.
Similar to the lack of rust, the odometer is also a portal to 2001. Somehow, in this Accord’s 28 year run on Earth, the odometer showed a scant 95,000 miles. The owner claimed the car’s clutch had gone out, and he didn’t have any more time to futz with it, and it was now listed for sale for $1,200.
I had a dilemma as soon as I saw it. I had purchased two cars within two weeks, both broken. Did I really need a third car? The listing had been up for a full day; with so few miles on the odometer, wagon body, high-spec options list, that car was as good as sold. I put it out of my mind and went on about my day.
And yet, it nagged at me. “I’m going to feel awful if I don’t try and get this car,” I thought. What the hell, I’ve got the cash. I sent a text message and waited to hear back.
Through text messages, I learned that the car was owned by an elderly man, completely unaware of how to work a computer. The man had deputized his middle-aged son to screen potential buyers. Somehow, the car was still available — two people had looked at the car ahead of me, but they flaked out at the last minute. Was I going to flake?
I was headed out of town, roughly in the same direction as the Accord anyway. It couldn’t hurt to make a bit of a detour and take a look at the car. About a day later (and en route to my vacation), I drove to Cleveland to check the wagon out.
In the quiet Cleveland suburb, I met the Accord’s owner, who turned out to know a thing or two about turning a wrench. In his driveway, the Accord stood completely off the ground.
The owner had inherited the Accord wagon from another elderly friend, who bought it new back in 1993. The man had given up his keys sometime in 2008, and his wife lost her ability to drive a little bit later. From there, the car sat in a garage from 2008, until early 2017. The previous owner reconditioned the vehicle, and drove it from 2017, until the clutch went out in April of 2021.
“I just want to make sure you know what you’re in for,” he said. He explained that the two previous potential buyers passed on the accord. The first tried to browbeat the old man to less than $800. The second claimed the wagon was too rusty, and too many things unknown. The man had set up a tarp for any buyer to check the underbody.
The man was clearly a car enthusiast himself. His yard had several manual-transmission Audi 5000s, and a really nice five-speed E39 BMW 525i.
“Please, check underneath the car. I want to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into,” he said. The last potential buyer said the vehicle had a rusty fuel tank and needed a filler neck, had exhaust holes, and that the vehicle had all sorts of rust issues.
Listen, I’m realistic. This is a ’90s Honda that spent its life near the Great Lakes. I knew I wasn’t going to find some rust-free cream puff, but underneath, the Accord looked generally good for the age and location. Yes, the rockers are rusty, and there’s a bit of surface rust in the door jambs, but there’s no structural damage or holes. All of the chassis mounting points look good. The fuel tank and filler neck look great, all things considered.
The previous owner explained that the car was serviced near religiously at either a dealership or a local indie shop. He had the receipts to prove it too; with regular timing belt, spark plug, ignition coil, tire rotation, oil change services done completely on time. The receipts even had a senior discount — I knew this man wasn’t lying to me.
The man had taken great care of the car; he reconditioned the car, making it drivable after it had sat in someone’s garage for near a decade. He replaced the brakes, tires, lower control arms, spark plugs, and even assured the air conditioning worked. After the clutch went out, he realized he had too many cars. Changing gears and working the clutch was getting harder, the older he got.
So he let the Accord go. He wanted it to go to a good home.
I knew that if I didn’t buy it, it wouldn’t go to a good home. It would end up parted out, maybe poorly modified by an aspiring tuner who’d run it into a light post trying to show up a BRZ or something who knows.
So I bought it and had it towed 115 miles back to my home (or mechanic’s place, rather).
I know a lot of car internet has a real love for cars like this. I mean, we’re now living in an era in which a base-ass Toyota AE86 got bid up well past $40,000 on Bring-a-Trailer. The ’90s nostalgia is strong these days.
I don’t have as much of a sweet tooth for nostalgia as some seem to. Old Hondas are cool, but I didn’t grow up with them. My family, my friends, didn’t have the credit score, income, or skin color to drive what would have been a very nice (and expensive) Honda like this. They drove old domestic iron, cars that were total crap. Most of them didn’t start “switching” to Japanese sedans until dealership and credit terms improved sometime in the early 2000s. We’ll see what it’s like, maybe this car will charm me, and paint a rosier picture of cars from this era, or and maybe my childhood.
First things first, the clutch has got to be replaced. After that, there’s an Out Motorsports rallycross that’s right up the Accord’s alley.