Nathan's Honda del Sol
An hour after I bought the car in Iowa I've never really been a car person. My automotive life started in 1993 with a green Chevy S-10, and from there tended to get bigger and heavier (much, well, like myself through college). The S-10 was replaced in 1998 by a 1993 Chevy K-Blazer, and then in January 2001 by a grey 2001 GMC Yukon. In early 2003, I started thinking about a car. Sure, I'd never owned one, nor did I find them a particularly suitable choice for pursuing my main hobby, despite some of the unholy things I've done with rental cars (especially bounding down forest service roads, through mud, and fording streams). However, the Yukon was only a bit over two years old at that point, and already had 80,000 miles on it - a good number of those from the 30 miles I drive to work every day, but also a good number from regular trips to Denver, etc. What I wanted was something small, incredibly reliable, and extremely efficient.
My first thought was a hybrid, but after a $35k Yukon, I wasn't in much of a mood to shell out another $20k for a hybrid (especially since there aren't many used ones yet). I looked at numerous Camrys, Civics, and other such without much luck. I found a few cheap ones with relatively few miles on the drivetrain, but they were typically ugly (cracked paint, poor interiors, etc), showing what very little love their owners had put into them. Better looking ones either were completely shot under the hood or were more than I really wanted to pay for basic transportation. On a whim, one day I was looking at the dream car of my high school years - the Porsche 968 Cabriolet. The Porsche didn't fit either the price or efficiency requirements, but it did tug at my heart. I can't remember exactly how it happened, but somehow shortly afterwords I discovered something I'd never heard of - the Honda del Sol.
West of Globe, AZ, on US 60 My previous experience with the small Japanese import pseudo-sports cars was the Mazda Miata. One of my father's friends had one as his fun car while I was in high school, and even then I found it far too small to ride in comfortably, let alone drive. Not tremendously well powered, either, as I recall. Still, the concept was right - small and efficient, yet sporty and elegent enough to be fun. I, being an idiot, had spent my whole time looking at Civics, when I should have been looking at their sportier twin - the del Sol. From the first time I really took notice of one, I was pretty much hooked.
With a 93.3" wheelbase and a height just a hair over four feet, it's a tiny car. At a curb weight of 2387 pounds, though, it's not light, actually outweighing the four door Civic DX/EX in 1995. Under the hood, it's mostly standard Civic parts, making spare components in bountiful supply (except for headlight lenses...) However, as you probably know if you're reading this, the body is a two door sport coupe with a removable targa-style top panel. When removed, it looks like a standard convertible except for the fact that there's a giant rollbar over the occupants' heads. In addition, the trunk is literally huge given the car's size, a handy convenience for storing all my stuff. The body style is either something people seem to like or dislike - but it's definitely unique in the car world.
Just outside Benson, AZ, in the evening sun My personal del Sol experience started at work in the last week of June. I'd been looking at the little cars for nearly a month on eBay and in the local papers, as well as checking out used car lots every time I'd pass by. Finally, I'd narrowed down what I wanted - a 1995 del Sol, in Honda's Granada Pearl Black please. 1995 was a necessity, as I didn't want to have a vehicle whose A/C system still used R-12. 1993 and 1994 had that problem, but 1995-1997 used R-134a. Plus, the body and paint had to be in good shape - half the fun of the car is its looks, and there's nothing worse looking than a convertible in deplorable cosmetic condition. While I'll save you the exact details of getting the car, I'll say that it's originally from Illinois and I located it only a handful of miles from my parents' house back in Iowa.
It certainly wasn't quite new, but it was close enough. A solid week of cleaning, fixing, buffing, polishing, repairing, and taking it for a test run every hour or two (how could I resist?) dramatically improved its condition. The paint once again would shimmer in the Iowa summer sun, the fog lamps worked again, and sound was restored from the awful factory radio to the rear speaker. Really, for a car that was pushing a decade old, it was in remarkably good shape. Better yet, the powertrain was still extremely solid, and Honda's fine engineering had given me a car that was not only an absolute blast to drive, but also could make 40 miles to the gallon if I was careful.
I never dreamed I'd become this attached to a car I originally bought as a commuter car. Ever. Especially one this underpowered. No matter what, though, it's the most fun I've ever had, and I wouldn't trade it for any other. While my Yukon is technically superior in just about every manner, my Sol has become my vehicle of choice. About the only time I don't take it are when the conditions are beyond it's capabilities (offroading, etc.), or when weather conditions dictate otherwise.
Chasing BCR at Lac La Hache, BC Two months after I got the car, I was making plans to leave Colorado on a two week trip to central British Columbia in order to photograph the final months of BC Rail. (See the photo to the right - a very dirty Sol near Lac La Hache, BC, following a southbound BCR) While normally I wouldn't think twice about taking the Yukon (since parts of central BC is pretty darn close to the middle of nowhere), I decided that for a two week trip covering 6,000 miles, a highly efficient convertible might be just what the doc ordered for my work-stressed self. So, thus marks the first major round of maintenance - new timing belt, water pump and filters, adjust the valve lash, and replace a few other worn components. Total cost: ~$800ish from the local Honda dealer. Add to that a set of front brakes that I wound up doing myself the night before leaving - around $20. Not bad for catching up on all the routine maintenance for a car with 120k miles on it.
Solitude at 75mph in NM Clearly 6000 miles with that horrid stock sound system wasn't going to do, either. A return visit to eBay rounded up a nice MP3-playing Kenwood head unit and a Sirius satellite radio receiver. (Why Sirius over XM? Easy - three words - National Public Radio) In combination with better speakers, this quickly brought the audio up to par with what I require.
The Canada trip went without incident, and consequently I'm now about to take it down to Tucson, AZ, in late March and then to upper Minnesota (to see the final days of the DM&IR) in early July. In fact, the only thing I've had go wrong with the car unexpectedly is the failure of both back tires - both Firestone FR380s from the same batch. Both failed with "manufacturing defects" - bulges or flat spots on only part of the tread - and were replaced under warranty. One died outside Puyallup, WA, and the other was replaced here in Colorado Springs. Other than that, the car has been the utmost in reliable - a testament to the talent of Honda's engineers in the mid-1990s, considering how I drive.
The CRV and the Sol - stablemates in my garageUpdate (9-Jan-2005): The Sol is still going strong at 170k miles. It's been to upper British Columbia (above the Alaskan panhandle, actually), Tucson four times now, Vegas once, Iowa twice, and just around Colorado quite a bit. However, it's sold me on Honda, though. I dumped the GMC Yukon (also known as the hangar queen, lemon wagon, etc., because it was always needing repairs) in mid December 2004 and picked up a 2002 CR-V to fill its space. The picture on the right shows the black Honda stablemates in the garage together. The only remaining GM in the family is my wife's 1/2 ton Chevy.
Update (29-Apr-2005): Last Saturday, a woman in a GMC Jimmy tried to merge over me, smashing the Sol between her rear door and the curb. It's out of commission for the moment, but rest assured it'll be back. It goes in for estimates on Monday, and even if it is totalled, it will be rebuilt. Period. The car is worth far more in sentimental value than in resale value (as if I could ever sell her)... and I have the technology (and cash) to put things right again.
Update 2 (15-Jun-2005): As luck would have it, on the first major trip after getting it fixed from the last wreck, it was rear-ended by some sort of pickup. No real damage, but the paint on the bumper is broken and flaking off. So it'll need some paint to get it fixed.
The Sol has a new companion
in the garage - a 2004 S2000Update (21-May-2009): The Sol is now at 259k miles, and is starting to show its age. The hood needs paint, the driver's seat outer bolster cloth is worn through, and the engine just doesn't make the power it used to. Don't worry, I have no intention of getting rid of it, and over the course of the summer it will start receiving the attention it needs. That said, it's been supplanted as my primary convertible, though. I'm now the proud owner of a 2004 S2000 as well. The two of them occupy the garage, while the CRV has been relegated to its spot back outside.
Update (8-Aug-2010): I'm afraid the day has finally come. The Sol just passed 273k, and it's just wearing out. The engine has problems making adequate power now, and is only showing a compression of 120psi in all cylinders - as opposed to the 180-190 that's spec. It burns about a quart of oil every 1000 miles. That, in and of itself, is fixable with a new motor. However, severe hail damage from a pair of thunderstorms earlier this year have essentially left it beyond practical repair. I just returned from California, where I purchased its replacement - a 96 del Sol S with 151k. Some of my improvements will be transplanted to Sol #2, and my original one sold within a couple weeks.