Lessons Learned: Sight Unseen Purchase

Over the years, I’ve been know to take chances on cars and trucks that were put out to pasture decades earlier. There’s a reason for this, and it’s wrapped up in a belief that many decent vehicles are abandoned when a simple fix or nominal investment is needed to keep them on the road. Rather than feed into rampant consumerism, I like to see just how far gone an older car or truck can be and yet still re-emerge as a trustworthy, road-going vehicle. Having now done this multiple times, you could say I got cocky with my latest rescue attempt, a very Radwood-friendly 1986 Honda CRX Si.

The early CRX has been on my list of cars to own for years, as I attempt to re-create the dream garage of my high school days. An Si is the ultimate spec, with a modest bump in power that made a big difference in the light-weight chassis. Over the last few years, I’ve had a business arrangement with a friend in Georgia whose property includes 300 vehicles in varying condition, wherein I attempt to sell the more desirable ones in exchange for a modest commission. On two occasions, I’ve chosen vehicles in lieu of cash payment: one, a 1986 Isuzu Trooper two-door that is incredibly rust-free and running around quite happily at the moment (after an engine swap and suspension overhaul, of course) and this, a 1986 Honda CRX Si. Unfortunately, lightning did not strike twice with the iconic Honda.

Now, I have a frighteningly high tolerance for taking cars and trucks that many of you would shake your heads at, and pour silly amounts of time and money into reviving. Given I typically acquire these vehicles for nominal outlays of cash (or no cash whatsoever), it hasn’t ever bothered me too much, especially when starting with cars that are, at their core, good foundations: no rust or major accident damage is where I like to begin, as every mechanical component can be rebuilt or replaced, especially on a mass production vehicle like a CRX. Unfortunately, this car had very little going for it, as the valve cover wasn’t attached and the timing belt cover showed signs of a severe belt explosion given the gouge marks inside the housing. These are interference engines, making this a forboding sign. Even with this, I had already sourced a good replacement engine should it come to it – I wasn’t panicking yet.

This, however, is when I pressed the ejection button. That’s the driver’s side A-pillar, going down into the door where it meets the fender. There wasn’t rust of any significance on this car, but reviewing the mismatched paint on the roof and A-pillar indicated a possible roll-over that was poorly repaired, leading to an explosion of rust inside the door frame. This is too much, even for someone with my standards, as now it’s mechanical, bodywork, and general deferred maintenance / upgrades you’ll be tackling in order to make this CRX a desirable specimen once again. And despite some auction outliers with big dollar sales, there’s still a huge contingent that believes these are cheap, non-collector cars, making the prospect of seeing your money back on the other side exceedingly slim. 

Not only that, the car just left me cold when it arrived. I currently own a 1986 Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 Cosworth that came out of a Pennsylvania junkyard, also loaded with a fair amount of rust, but I love that sports sedan. I am eager for its rebirth. It doesn’t make much sense to revive it, but it’s a special one – a car too rare to die. Even the Trooper, despite its modest value, is at least part of an emerging class of vehicles (foreign-made squarebody SUVs) that will likely appreciate as I continue to improve it. The last Japanese car I owned was a 1988 Subaru XT6, and I had the same reaction: this car has no soul, and I don’t want to put another dime into it. And that’s just what I did here: the CRX was listed for sale and sold in roughly three days, $100 shy of the amount I paid to ship it north. A loss, yes, but one that felt far better compared to the prospect of sinking deep into yet another basketcase project. Have you ever overplayed your hand and pulled the rip cord on a massive project? 

  1. Mike G

    I performed vehicle inspections for many, many years and I learned that people lie. I was often given the link to the e-bay listing or craigslist listing and many times the vehicle was nothing as described. There were also the vehicles that people owned for a long time and were genuinely ignorant to it’s true condition. Despite my experience with shady sellers, I once bought a car relying on the integrity of the seller. I should have known better and am truly ashamed of myself for thinking this guy was trustworthy. A lesson learned and a couple of thousand dollars lost. It hurt but I should have known better. My point, DO NOT BUY ANYTHING SIGHT UNSEEN.

  2. William WHite

    Wow, I have scrapped nicer cars than that.


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