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By Ben Selby
When it comes to cars, everyone has a favourite. We all have that one car which we would quite happily have in our garage more than any other. Many of us covet a piece of European exotica, while others champion a V8 powered piece of American history. For Geraldine’s Dave Peters, the car he wanted more than any other was a 1981 Honda Civic four door hatch.
Dave’s love for the Civic began while house hunting in 1981. “It all started when I was looking at a house about 40 years or so ago,” he says. “I knew there was a car rally taking place in the area. Then I saw this smart looking hatchback gleaming like new. It zoomed up the road like a rocket. It was so lovely as it went passed me. I said to myself that I would own that car someday.”
The next time Dave would see a similar Honda Civic was 20 years later. By then he was the proud owner of a Rover 96. However, the Honda was always in the back of his mind. Little did he realise what was instore for him when he went to view a car collection in Motueka. “I went with someone I knew to a farm in Motueka. The owner had a large collection of cars but around the corner in this garage sat an immaculate 1981 Honda Civic,” he says.
Dave was transfixed. There was something very familiar about this Civic. Then it hit him, this was the same Honda he saw all those years ago. The car he swore he would own someday. “The sunlight came in through a gap in the garage and shone over the car. It was like the Honda was smiling at me. It was then I knew that I had seen it before. I said to the owner, ‘I first saw this car 20 years ago in a car rally.”
When the owner saw Dave’s passion for the car, he asked if Dave wanted to buy it. “He offered me the chance to buy it and I agreed without hesitation. His wife was after a daily runabout so I essentially swapped my Rover for the Honda,” he says.
From then on, Dave was in automotive heaven. He at last had his dream car. “I have owned Buicks and Chevys, but that little Honda was the best car I have ever owned. It also set the standard for all small cars you see around today,” he says.
With its plucky 1.3L CVCC four-cylinder engine producing 44kW, Dave was initially quite surprised at just how sprightly his new car was. “I could happily wind it up to 140km/h no problem. I even once had the speedometer off the clock but that’s another story,” he laughs.
Dave was fanatical about keeping the Civic in top condition. “I even paid a man to clean and polish it every week.” Despite driving it at every oppourtunity he could get, the resilience of the Honda’s mechanical components was profound. “I took the Honda to Pleasant Point for a WOF check. A brand-new set of brake pads were bought, thinking after my years driving, they would need to be changed. The mechanic took the wheel off, took apart the brake calliper and was amazed. He said to me the pads looked like brand new,” he says.
As time went by, Dave’s Honda began attracting all manners of attention. Every time he would stop for fuel, he would be approached by countless people wanting to buy it. “When I first bought it, I was asked by a man who had just bought a then-brand-new Jazz if I wanted to swap my car for his, I declined saying I would never sell,” says Dave.
The offers continued in earnest. “When I was on Memorial Avenue in Christchurch, a woman began to follow me, flashed her lights and so I pulled over. She got out of her car, flash as heck, walked over and offered to buy the Honda off me for $5,000 then and there. I said no,” says Dave. “Six weeks later, the same woman saw me in traffic. She approached me again, said she wanted to buy it now for her daughter and told me to name my price, I told her again I couldn’t do it.”
Dave reckons he has been approached by 30 people during the time he owned the Civic asking him if he would sell. However, these people severely underestimated just how much the Honda meant to him. “Money doesn’t really matter to me. I wanted that car all those years ago and I wasn’t about to let it go.”
The reason for people being so interested in buying the Honda off Dave may have something to do with the fact that you just never see a Honda Civic like this around anymore. “You just never see them anymore and it seems to attract more attention than something costing five times the price,” says Dave.
“I can remember parking it outside the library in Fairlie in 2011. A group of school kids came over and spent ages just looking at it. A 12-year-old came up to me and asked if this was the latest Honda? When I told him it was built 30 years before he was born, he just couldn’t believe it. Those kids loved the car. I reckon I could have left the keys in with the engine running, walked away and the kids would have protected it for me,” laughs Dave.
Now 95, Dave resides in a rest home in Geraldine and has been unable to drive the Honda for some time. However, while he knew it was time to let someone else enjoy it, he didn’t want it going to just anyone. “I would hate it if the car was bought by someone and thrashed, bashed and just not appreciated,” he says.
When Dave spoke to Gloria from Waimak Classic Cars, he knew he had found the right custodian for his beloved car. “When I spoke to Gloria, I knew that she and her Husband Jesmond from Waimak were the right people for the Honda to go to,” he says. “However, I would let them have the Honda for their museum if they promised never to sell it.”
True to their word, Jesmond and Gloria still feature Dave’s Honda Civic as part of their museum collection. Despite having the chance to sell it over and over, Dave can be safe in the knowledge of his pride and joy remaining in its current condition as the jewel in a collection of fantastic machinery.
Aside from Dave, Jesmond and Gloria, no one else gets to drive this Civic since Dave bequeathed it to Waimak. That was until Gloria allowed this motoring scribe a few hours behind the wheel. I will admit, I did not know the full extent of the story behind the Honda before I drove it, but when you see this car for the first time, you know it is something truly special. This second generation Civic is totally mint, probably the most original I have ever seen. Small wonder every man in sundry wanted to buy it from Dave.
Hop inside and you surrounded by beige and brown and black. In its day, this Civic interior colour combo was perfectly normal. It is so much quirkier and more interesting than the average black on black we often see today.
The seats themselves are more like armchairs than your average run of the mill car seats of yesteryear. You find yourself sloped back a bit and have to shuffle forward when reaching for any of the buttons and switches.
Turn the key and it only takes a fraction of second for that spritely four pot to turn over. At idle, the Civic is amazingly quiet and refined despite being 40 years old. Honestly, it feels as tight as a drum.
First gear selected and you are off, and already a smile started to appear on my mug. The early Civics were always about getting you from place to place as safely and economical as possible. That said, much like Dave attested to, it can still shift really well. Due to weighing next to nothing, it is mighty eager to move. Small wonder Dave once left a truck drive dumbfounded as he overtook him at speed outside Dunedin.
With no rev counter, you have to listen carefully to that subdued four-cylinder engine as the revs rise. This was back when the relationship between car and driver was based solely on feel and listening to what the car is doing.
What really amazes about the Civic is just how comfortable things are at speed. Sure, the seats will swallow up your rear posterior no end and leave you sitting almost reclined sometimes, but it really is a comfortable place to be. The bumps? Well, they aren’t really a concern. Honestly, I would expect this level of ride comfort from something with a Jaguar badge.
Tackling some back roads just out of Sefton in North Canterbury was much easier in the Civic than I first thought. If you work the five-speed manual gearbox well before hand and keep those revs up, that peppy four pot wakes up and while you aren’t cornering flat, the Civic can eat it up easily.
The Civic is one seriously happy car. You get the distinct impression as you drive along that it is giggling as you put your foot down and shoot through corners with verve and enthusiasm. Its almost as though a part of Dave Peters is still very much thriving in this little Japanese car.
Dave still thinks of his Honda often. While he wishes he was still able to drive it, he is happy it will bring joy to others as part of Waimak Classic Cars.
Who would have thought that day seeing this jewel zooming past that house all those years ago would continue create such amazing memories? Then again, creating memories are just what cars are all about and that is why we, much like Dave, fall a little bit more in love with our cars with every single drive.