Fast-forward to the Reagan era, when gas was cheap and few people cared about oil reserves. Honda's 1984 Civic CRX hatchback nevertheless picked up where the CVCC left off, continuing its pursuit of fuel efficiency with clever tweaks to the Civic sedan's spec sheet and a cheeky mind-set. The difference? Unlike the CVCC, the CRX was a fun, refined, quiet, and relatively modern car, and it still comports itself well today.
Consider its engine - a 1.3-liter, aluminum-block four-cylinder that's barely larger than a briefcase. Although it was based on the ordinary Civic's 1.5-liter unit, clever updates such as smaller crankshaft journals and fewer piston rings (two per cylinder, versus the 1.5's three) were implemented in the name of reduced internal friction. An aluminum cylinder head, a plastic valve cover, and a hollow camshaft helped reduce weight; a lunchbox-sized catalytic converter was tucked up underneath the exhaust manifold in order to be both as small and as effective as possible. All told, the engine weighed about 200 pounds, produced an impressive 60 hp at 5500 rpm, and churned out 73 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm.
Still, there's more to high mileage than a pint-size, punch-above-its-weight powerplant. Compared with the Civic, the base CRX (Honda also offered a slightly porkier, less-efficient 1.5-liter model) employed a handful of canny chassis tricks. The gas tank, cooling system, and front disc brakes were all Lilliputian; a plastic nosepiece and front fenders helped cut weight; and the CRX's bobtail shape yielded a wind-cheating 0.33 drag coefficient. A widely geared five-speed manual put the power to the ground through skinny thirteen-inch rubber. When Honda's engineers finally put down their pencils, they had created a midget monster: in 1984, the base CRX was the lightest and most fuel-efficient car money could buy.
The car you see here, Northern California resident Gordon Baeyen's 370,000-mile 1985 CRX HF, represents what came next. Honda gifted the CRX with a mild revamp in '85, bumping the base model's displacement to 1.5 liters and adding an "HF" badge, but the rest of the car remained essentially unchanged. The HF's significance lies in the fact that it was marketed solely on its fuel thrift - most ads for the HF touted the glories of the 50-mpg life. (Despite its age, Baeyen's car regularly averages 40 mpg.)
As you might expect from a car that weighs just over 1700 pounds, Baeyen's CRX is tiny. Really tiny. Acres of glass and toothpick-thin roof pillars tend to fool the camera lens, but in person, the CRX comes across as a believe-it-or-not Mini-Me, a shrunk-in-the-wash version of a real car. The hood wafts open with the lightest of lifts, as thin and tossable as a potato chip. The peashooter exhaust could be clogged by a golf ball. Bowled over by how tiny it is, you circle the car in a daze, amazed that everything works - "Look," you think, "it actually runs! The hood even opens! How cute!"