My first car was a 1977 Honda Civic CVCC. My best friend named the car Kato after the Green Hornet’s sidekick played by Bruce Lee, and because it was little and Asian like Bruce Lee. It was 1986, and I was 18, just out of high school. I was late in getting my license, considering how obsessed with driving I had been my whole life. I didn’t get my license until I was 17, a few months before my 18th birthday. I spent the first 6 months after getting my license driving the left over family cars … my mom’s 1982 Vanagon, my step father’s 1972 Buick Sport Wagon (he wouldn’t let me near his 1977 Corvette), my brother’s 1978 Dodge Aspen wagon. They eventually got fed up with me driving their cars. Truthfully, I managed to get a speeding ticket in every one of those cars in that first 6 months. I got $500 from my grandmother for graduation and my stepfather agreed to lend me $500 more. My grandmother gave me some sage advice. It was especially sage, considering she never had a driver’s license. “Buy a Honda.” she told me.
When you are 18 and you are thinking of your first car, Hondas don’t come to mind. I pictured myself cruising in a VW Cabriolet, top down, with my nonexistent girlfriend by side. Maybe I would tear up the street in a new VW GTI. I could create a new exotic persona and drive an Alfa Romeo Spyder. I could be the envy of all my punk/new wave friends and get a Datsun 510 wagon or a right hand drive mini cooper. My dream car since birth, though, was a 1968 Plymouth Road Runner with the 440/6 pack. Even in 1986, my $1000 dollar budget quickly crushed those dreams. I was left looking at early 70’s economy boxes or late 60’s land yachts. Since my step father had a vested interest in this car search, the decision was not mine alone. My step father banned me from considering anything with a more than six cylinders in it. His stated reason was because of fuel economy, but I had 3 tickets in 6 months. In hind sight he was probably trying to make sure I lived to 21.
The first time I saw what would become my first car, I have to admit, I fell in love with it. It was a metallic light blue and someone had gone overboard with the white pin stripping tape all over every panel. It was one of the rare models that had a trunk compartment instead of a lift back. It was a very well maintained stock example. My step father talked the owner down from $1500 to $1000 and I drove it home. I quickly wasted no time in making the car mine. I covered it in punk rock stickers. I peeled off the white pin striping only to discover that the car had faded over the years and now instead of white pinstripes I had dark metallic blue pinstripes. I scoured junk yards for some fresh new rims, or maybe even some cool hub caps or trim rings. However these were stock 12” wheels, not a common size in the U.S. , and I could have spent the rest of my life on that search. So I painted the wheels black and silver to look like they had trim rings. I also removed all the chrome and painted it black. After a few months I was able to afford a $99 Earl Schibe paint job. When you say “$99 paint job,” it is exactly what you picture. I am pretty sure they never even wiped the car down before they sprayed over it. I had it painted gloss black and I thought it looked great. I even got some personalized plates that said “Kato”. As was the trend in the late 80s, I covered all the lights and windows in black pinstripe tape, I put “turbo sport” mirrors on and put a Wink brand “5 mirror rearview” inside. The Wink mirror completely disabled my visors, so I removed them, which made sunglasses mandatory. For the sound system, I went all out. I had a $25 dollar tape deck from radio shack and these two giant speakers that I got from the flea market for $10. I didn’t even have a speaker box, they were just zip tied to the underside of the package tray in the trunk.
I loved my civic. It was mine and no one could tell me what to do with it. I kept my cigarettes in it. I smoked those cigarettes in it. I made out with a few girls in it. I blasted my music through those crappy speakers and loved every minute of it. I drove that car as fast as it would go, and yeah, I got a couple tickets in it. Even though I wouldn’t be able to prove it, I am 100 percent convinced that the person who wrote the commercial below based it on seeing me and my best friend driving Kato.
One night I was cruising on the El Camino and I met a couple guys who also had Honda Civics. We started to hang out as a loose club for a few weeks. The only thing that happened of any real significance was that we lowered my Civic.
Unfortunately, we did it by cutting the springs.
Now for those of you who don’t know anything about cars, your shocks and springs maintain the ride height of your car. Because the shocks and springs are flexible, you can ride over rough, uneven surfaces without even feeling it. Cutting springs is very tricky. The slightest amount too much will make the springs useless and cause the car to sit on the stoppers, taking away any flexibility the car had. You must take the same exact amount off of each spring or the car will sit unevenly and may list to one side or worse to one corner. It is precise work that requires concentration. Needless to say, don’t start a spring cutting project AFTER you and your club buddies have consumed several six-packs of beer. We ended up taking too much off of each spring. While it looked totally cool, it made the car almost un-drivable. It was very bouncy, and every bump and hole felt like the car was dropped off a cliff. The front fenders got dinged up from turning the wheels too hard and the car was very unstable over 60 miles an hour. Yes, I still drove it that fast.
When you have grown up as a gear head and you constantly dream about cars, like I did, you very rarely stop to think about maintenance. It’s not anything that you really think about until you actually own a car. Things like maintaining proper air pressure in your tires, keeping the radiator full, keeping transmission fluid and motor oil at the correct levels. I never thought about maintenance. Not even when I was sitting on the side of the freeway, 60 miles from my house staring at a hole in the block. Not after I borrowed $1,000 to replace the engine. Not after I found myself on the side of the road staring at another hole in another block. It still didn’t occur to me when I borrowed another $1,000 to replace another engine. The connection didn’t quite sink in until I was forced to sell the car. My parents came to me with a bill. I owed my parents the initial $500, plus the $2,000 for two motors, and another $1,000 for miscellaneous expenses like tires and radiators. Being $3,500 in debt for a car that I was forced to sell for $500, certainly put things back in perspective for me. Being forced to buy my second car with money that I had in my pocket also increased my clarity.
Yes, that lesson eventually sunk in, and I was eventually able to pay my parents back, and spent the next 3 years driving a car that I bought for $200. Despite that experience, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Civics. I have owned three more Civics, and two Accords, one of which I am still driving today (it is very well maintained). I still look back at the few pictures I have of my little “Kato” and enjoy the memories and lessons I learned from my first car.