Closeup of two decals on the right rear of a 1990 honda civic. One is an “Oregon duck” sticker; the other is of Antarctica

The Champ

Published 2005-08-30
This is one of my favorite blog posts

1990 Honda Civic, Runs, Sort of - $250 (SW Portland)

Reply to:
Date: 2005-07-24, 6:47PM PDT

This is a Champagne (transl: “Gold”) 1990 Honda Civic 3-door STD model. Yes, the model number is actually “STD,” which apparently means “standard.” This is the most basic Honda you can buy. When I purchased it, it didn’t even have an AM radio. It runs, with a caveat: you have to get it started. See Issues, below.

I bought the Champ in 1997 with about 140,000 miles on it. It performed like a champ for 5 years, which is why I call it The Champ. Actually, I call it the Champ because of the color. But still, it does run like a champ. The Champ moved me to and from Montana and Southern California. It has about 186,000 miles on it now. I did about $2000 of work on it, almost all maintenance: new timing belt, two new batteries, new tires, work with the radiator and suspension. The Champ only gave me trouble twice, both times related to half-assed maintenance attempts by my first wife’s extra-marital boyfriend. It was a very “modern” marriage. I can’t blame the boyfriend entirely, the whole thing was precipitated by Oil Can Henry, who put antifreeze in the battery, and I was the first one to step out of the marriage. Don’t worry, all these issues were sorted out years ago.


The very day my first wife and I went to court to finalize our divorce, the arm that supports the driver’s side seatback cracked. The seatback flopped into the backseat. There’s some symbolism here somewhere I’m sure. Regardless, the Champ pretty much went into retirement after that. I was riding my bike everywhere anyway. It still ran, but the driver’s seat is held in place by a milk crate wedged between the back seat and the seatback. The divorce was finalized two weeks later on my ex-wife’s 30th birthday. More symbolism, I’m sure. I hate even to write about my first wife as “my first wife.” It was like a pretend marriage.

After my Real Wife and I moved in together in 2003, the Champ became our Emergency Backup Vehicle. Mostly it served to ferry the dog to puppy daycare. My Real Wife did use it to learn to drive a standard transmission. What was it Winston Churchill said about second marriages: “the triumph of hope over experience?” What that guy didn’t know. I’m constantly falling in love with my wife. We just got married last month, and it feels great. Anyway, we bought a new car last summer, which pretty much rendered the Champ superfluous. Sorry, guy. Since then it’s been haunting the garage. I don’t think we tried to start it for upwards of six months. See Issues, below, for more information about the Champ’s current health.


What can I say? This is the Standard model. There aren’t many features.

  • 1.5 liter engine with good compression
  • 4-Speed manual transmission
  • Rawking AM/FM/cassette stereo (after market)
  • Reasonably new battery and tires
  • A way-cool NSF Antarctic Program bumper sticker.
  • Outstanding gas mileage. Like 30 mpg. No fooling.
  • Really good paint and body for a 16-year-old car. Wait a minute. Is that true? Someone born in 1990, when I was in college, can legally drive a car? Eek.


If you’ve ever owned a Honda, you know what to expect. The engine is always the last thing to go. And for a 16-year-old Honda, there’s not much wrong with the Champ. I am certain that, with a little love, the Champ has plenty of service left in it. Even if it doesn’t, it has plenty of good parts left. That said, the Champ has issues.

  • It doesn’t start. This is a big one, I know, but I’m confident it’s no big deal. There’s spark but no fire. So it’s either air or fuel. Could be as simple as a new air filter -- the Champ has been sitting in a dusty garage for the better part of a year. But who knows? Well, you, if you buy the Champ.
  • Driver’s side seatback is held up by a milk crate.
  • Hatchback doesn’t stay up.

Own the Champ

You can own the champ for $250. Yes I’ll negotiate. No I won’t tow it to your house. Send me an email and own the champ today.

Update: 8/31/05

I was overwhelmed by the response I had to the Champ. I had maybe 50 emails and couldn’t respond to them all. Jenny and I pushed the Champ out into the street, and after charging the battery up from the Subaru, the Champ, true to form, started. After that, I figured it had to be worth more than $250 but of the dozen or so respondants to whom I offered to sell the car (for more than $250), exactly zero of them would pay. OK, so I didn’t ask everyone, I’m sure someone would have ponied up $500, but after six or eight angry responses I decided to stop trying. I hope these people aren’t buying houses in Oregon right now.

Anyway, I donated the Champ to the Humane Society. They sold it a few weeks later at auction for $400. That’s a dealer auction, guys. You can probably find the Champ on a really run down used car lot for $1000 or $1200 now.

$400 buys a lot of dog food.