If your Ford had a Matthew McConaughey, it would be a Lincoln

Daily Wagovan

Slow day at work, so let’s talk about the 1986 Civic Wagon! I’ve been driving and errand running in the Wagovan* today, putting the most dynamic** number of miles on it since I bought it, and I am prepared to offer some observations.

*Yes, I know it isn’t technically a Wagovan, but you knew what I meant.

**By dynamic I mean mix of highway, city, parking, and eating plus a couple of hot starts. Basically a comprehensive “if this old car is going to eff up, now is the time.”

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Cold Start

It was 18F when I started out this morning. Too damn cold, but I understand a lot of Oppos are having a lot harder time so... yeah. I will say the Wago was... reluctant to start. I need to do more reading on how to start a carburated engine on a cold morning, but I’d get a brief start, then die, and repeat before it finally sputtered to life. After that, no problems.

Driving

Driving the Wagovan is... weird. Sure the shifter is sloppy and the cable operated clutch takes some getting used to, but there is something about the driving position I can’t quite articulate.

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To say it feel like a go-cart would be inaccurate. It does not drive like a go cart. In fact, it doesn’t really seem to like changing direction at all. When it does, the tired suspension and heavy body protest and try and drag even the most modest line wide. I wan’t planning any track days anyway.

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I think it is more that the interior feels like a greenhouse, even more so than the Alfa and Saab. The windshield is expansive, even by modern standards, the hood is short and steep, and the dashboard seems uncommonly low. Ditto the belt line, actually.

So I guess it is less like a go-cart and more like driving a bubble.

A big blue bubble.

This is pretty cool as it feels more like driving an armchair around then driving a car. You very much feel like part of the traffic, rather than you’re sitting in a little mobile house, dead to the world.

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Other than that the power is adequate but not confidence inspiring, as would be expected from a older car. Brakes meet a similar description. The manual steering is surprisingly sharp and direct with very little slop, though it can be a pain at low speeds.

Wait..So which is it?! Bubble or armchair!???

Uhh... slightly less than plush armchair in a bubble? Next topic!!

Features

It has them.

Sort of.

It has heat and AC.

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The HVAC system has an unusual set of options. Rather than have the usual face, feet, face and feet, defrost options, the Wagovan features “Vent,” “HI-LO,” “HEAT,” “H-DEF”, and Defrost. Aside from HI-LO and Defrost I’m not actually sure what the other mean. This is independent of the large center vent, a wagon exclusive, one can pop up to divert air from the car-width vent under the windshield to the more direct-able center vent.

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You also get analog control of the recirculation controls, which seems to indicate you can choose just how much fresh air you want, rather than the on-off you get in... most every other car. This, of course, is independent of the fresh air vents located on the far passenger and far driver’s sides, which only put out outside, unheated air. This seems to be an 80s thing as the Saab, Cabriolet, and Alfa all feature this. I like it, but still think it is rather odd. Still TBD is these blow hot in the summer, but if they are like the Saab I think they are air-conditioned.

All that said, the heat works well once the car gets warm, a feat in itself thanks to what appears to be a stuck thermostat. I haven’t tried the AC other than to prove it is operable, which it is. Good thing too, because it will need a R134a conversion when the time comes. Pity.

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Other creature comforts include... Well I put in a new bluetooth radio so there is that, but this particular Wagovan was only optioned with two speakers so the sound is functional but not immersive.

Oh and the ash tray is rather expansive and the accessory port is always on... which is a thing.

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No cruise control, power windows, or power locks are a bit of a bummer, I will say.

Ugh.... and no cup holders.

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General Comfort

The seats are comfortable, I like the driving position, and everything with the exception of the radio is very ergonomic. The suspension is jarring and the whole car rattles when you hit one of Tulsa’s many potholes. At any speed under about 80 it feels like any other car. Any more than that... well I’ll get back to you I haven’t tried it yet.

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The engine is surprisingly quite overall and basically inaudible at low RPM. The exception to this is when the choke is fully engaged, at which point you get some horrible induction noise, but that is mostly unavoidable. There is also a mildly annoying drone at highway speeds, but that is probably because I gave my exhaust guy too long of a leash. Adding a resonator or a cat back in should fix that.

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Back seat seems... fine, though I wouldn’t want to sit in the middle seat!

Interestingly, it looks like the rear seats do recline. In 1986!

I mean... they don’t recline much, but they do recline.
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Cargo Space

It is a wagon with fold flat seats. Cargo space is fine.

Economy

Still TBD on this. I’m at 150 miles and still just above a half tank. I’m hoping for 30 MPG and expect to be disappointed. With a 12.4 gallon tank I just might do it, but with a mechanical sender I expect the 2nd half will go much faster than the first.

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Reliability

With the exception of the aforementioned cold start, the thing seems good. The turn signal isn’t the biggest fan of... working due to a tricky switch and the wipers are a bit slow, but as of right now I mostly trust it.

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Hot starting it is wild. If the car is even a little warm it takes one crank before it starts and immediately settles at proper idle. It is unlike any car I’ve driven or owned in that way.

But most importantly: At the moment everything works! The tach, odo, trip, blowers, diverters, trunk latch.... everything the car came with works just fine! Plus I’d say 90% of the plastics are still in good condition.

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Honda FTW, I suppose.

Parts Availability

Notice anything missing?
Screenshot: RockAuto
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This one is a bit tricky. Some stuff, pretty much anything that was available on the normal Civic, is really easy to find. However, a shocking amount of this car is wagon only and that stuff is difficult to find. Honda seemed to go pretty crazy with the customization on these and I don’t understand why. Stuff that didn’t have to be different like the dashboard and side-mirrors are, for no good reason.

Unfortunately, unlike the Alfa and Saab, I have not yet found a retailer specializing in Wagovan parts. This leaves me at the mercy of Rock Auto, Amazon, and whatever I can scrounge up from the forums and facebook groups.

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So far this hasn’t been a deal breaker, but when I go to do a suspension refresh things might get hairy.

When the pavement ends

I did a write up on this when I took it out to the local ORV park and it did... fine. I’ll do a more detailed review after I have some time to work on it and get it where I want it, then try again.

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Overall

I find this little car strangely charming. It is slow and pretty sparten, but it also reminds me of when Honda made interesting, reliable, and well featured cars. The Wagovan was designed just before the “Bubble Era” but it certainly shows a Honda that was willing to embrace the weird and see what worked for them.

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I say all this to say I like this car. I don’t think it has a permanent place in my garage, but it certainly does in my heart.

I know I use this photo a lot, but it is one of my favorites.

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