Vintage Review and CC Outtakes: 1976 Honda Accord – The Anti-Mustang II

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Rather than spend anymore time explaining why I was never fond of the Mustang II, or showing you how it could have looked a lot better, I’ll just focus on what I consider to have been a much better alternative. Ok, it’s true, the Honda Accord didn’t come out until three years after the MII, but the two just couldn’t be more different, despite being roughly similarly sized and priced, although the Accord was vastly better equipped. And this time, rather than my own caustic words, I’ll let Road and Track do most of the talking. And having run into two green gen1 Accords the other day, a hatchback and a sedan, within two blocks of each other(!), I’ll sprinkle some shots of these survivors in with the R&T review.

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There was essentially unanimous accord among all of the magazines that reviewed the all-new Accord: This was the best automotive buy for the money ($3995) bar none, unless of course your taste lay in an altogether different realm. The Accord initially came only as a hatchback coupe, and in only three colors, silver, gold and blue. The green was added later, or it replaced the gold, IIRC.

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For that price, the Accord had standard equipment unlike any American small/economy car. Back then, everything from a radio to the most minor convenience items were inevitably optional, and those options quickly jacked up the low price of a stripper car. Which means that the base price of a 1977 Mustang II hatchback ($3901) was not really comparable.  The Accord came standard with an AM/FM radio, a monitoring system for maintenance and all exterior lights, side window defrosters, flip out rear windows, and all sort of little minor convenience items like a coin tray, etc. And it was nicely trimmed, inside and out.

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R&T made lots of comparisons with the VW Scirocco, because of their similarity in design (accidental), and their general configuration. But they were actually designed for quite different purposes: the Scirocco had a very low and compact body, and its suspension was tuned for maximum sportiness. Good luck trying to sit in the back seat of one. The Accord was targeted to the heart of the American market, meaning its ride was almost surprisingly supple and soft, even if it was at the expense of some handling sharpness. But that turned out not to be a liability, given how most Americans use their cars. In fact, it was a key part of what would propels the Accord to the very top of the sales charts within a bit over a decade, a truly remarkable feat. The Accord was an exceptionally all-round well-balanced and well-built small car, a feat that would elude the Big Three for decades.

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As it’s clear from the review, the Accord didn’t really excel in any specific performance category; it was the classic case of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. Everything exuded a sense of precision and attention to detail, which was in contrast to the sloppy way too many American cars were being built at the time. One could rightfully say that this was the very first small car that didn’t punish the owner for buying one. Which meant that the Accord transcended the typical buyer demographics for small cars; an Accord was essentially a classless car, comparable to the image the VW Golf similarly acquired in Germany and other parts of Europe. No one would look down at you for buying one, no matter where it showed up.

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Adding a four door sedan was of course a key ingredient to the Accord’s success, as that was becoming the new heart of the market after the coupe’s (think Olds Cutlass Supreme) long run at the top during the 70s.

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It should be noted that while the Accord’s rise was truly meteoric, with waiting lists and dealer mark-ups, the Mustang II really only had one big year, in 1974, thanks to the energy crisis.

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The MII looked a lot like a shrunken-head version of the big American coupes that dominated the sales charts during that decade, but the energy crisis had everyone scrambling for a smaller alternative, at least for one year. The Mustang II was one of the obvious choices, given its T-Bird mini-me looks. After selling 386k units in 1974, sales plummeted by over 50% for 1975, and then further in the subsequent years. It’s a classic case of being at the right time with the right-sized car. If it hadn’t been for OPEC, the MII would have sold about the same as the oft-maligned 1971 version. But we’re here to talk Accord.

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Performance stats were mostly typical for its time and class; today a 0-60 time of 15.4 seconds would be laughable. But then it had all of 68 hp! But the little 1597 cc SOHC four had the usual Honda veleverty-smoothness in its running characteristics, one that alone put it ahead of anything in its class. And ahead of any small car engine GM would build for the next 30 years. Measured fuel economy was excellent for the times, 32 mpg.

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Gen 1 Accord have become pretty rare even here in Curbsidelandia, so finding these two on the same walk within two blocks was a bit unexpected. This one is showing some surface rust, from the paint finally just wearing out. But other than that, it’s survived pretty well. Yes, they were rather allergic to salt, like so many other cars of the times.

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The upholstery fabric on these Hondas was clearly not as durable as the rest of the car, as it tends to just disintegrate with time, use and/or the sun. One might think a cheap set of seat covers would be more pleasant than sitting on (or looking at) the bare foam.

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The back seat has survived better,

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except for the backs of the head rests, which are inevitably totally gone due to the UV radiation’s effect.

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I suppose one could argue that comparing an Accord to a Mustang II is like comparing sushi to Sloppy Joe’s. I doubt there’s many folks who have positive feelings for both of them, or did at the time. They represent two completely different approaches and solutions to the sporty coupe market, although the Accord wasn’t really overtly sporty. But then neither was a basic Mustang II four cylinder, despite the name. Between the two, the Accord was undoubtedly more fun to drive, with its slick-shifting five speed and eager but smooth engine that revved joyously to 6000 rpm.

The Accord re-wrote the book as much as any car did, and the results are everywhere. It became the model for every sedan in its class going forward, and the benchmark that almost always moved a step forward just as the competition was closing in, on the previous generation. Not that it was perfect by any means, but it certainly did define the modern sedan. And I suspect most of us will be in accord with that final thought.

 

My more in-depth look at the gen1 Accord is here