Time-capsule look at 1990 Southern California student cars via 35mm negatives

1984 Pontiac Firebird nose at IMW 1990

Orange County, summer of 1990

As I dig through my stash of old photographic negatives, I run across a fair amount of interesting car-related images of the 1980s and 1990s. I spent the second half of the 1980s living in the Irvine Meadows West RV Park, which was a student-housing trailer park on the University of California, Irvine campus. I did a lot of car-related activities at IMW (after doing my best to lower the property values of The Irvine Company). On the day I moved out, in August, 1990, I shot a photograph of every trailer in the park before I hopped in my ’65 Chevrolet Impala sedan and drove away. As it turns out, those photographs captured an interesting moment in American automotive history: the cars driven by a cross-section of Southern California broke-ass college students 25 years ago. Here’s what I captured.

IMW was an idyllic place to live, and many an engine swap took place under the benevolent Orange County sun back then. The Man bulldozed the place in 2004, to make room for more parking spaces, but I’ve got these photos to remind me of what I and my neighbors drove during the period a couple of weeks after Saddam invaded Kuwait.

Murilee Martin’s 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan at IMW, 1990

So, whatever cars happened to be parked in front of trailer spaces (technically, residents weren’t supposed to park in those spots, but— like so many things about this laissez-faire community— such rules weren’t really enforced) got picked up by my AE-1. Then I drove away forever.

Honda CB125 at Irvine Meadows West RV Park, August 1990

Rent at Irvine Meadows West was $100 per month in 1990 (it had been $73/month for years before that), so the residents here tended to be living on very tight budgets. What vehicle could be more cost-effective than a Honda CB125 motorcycle?

First-generation Honda Civic at Irvine Meadows West RV Park, 1990

If you were going to take a step up from two wheels back then, the first-generation Honda Civic was a very smart move. Dirt-poor college students in 1990 mostly went for the mid-1970s Toyota Corolla or the 1973-1979 Honda Civic. Here’s a fine example of the breed.

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