(I no longer have any pictures of either car I’m writing about; all pictures in this post are from the internet.)
I got my first car when I was 13 years old, and I fell in love with it right away. It was a 1979 Honda Accord hatchback with a semi-automatic transmission that had been my grandmother’s car. I drove it back and forth in our driveway, which was about 50 yards long, and dreamed of the day when I could drive it on the street. I looked at it from every angle, and sat in it, and played with all the features. But when I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, it was not mine to drive, because it had been a present to both me and my older sister. I would have to wait until she was done with it.
Not a Japanese Scirocco
In the meantime, I was lucky enough to have another car to drive, a hand-me-down from my cousin, who had received it from my other grandparents, Grandma and Poppa: a 1981 Buick Skylark Limited. In 1985, at age 16, this was a pure dork-mobile, and I had to drive it while my sister drove our ’79 Accord!
But I wasn’t relegated to the Buick all that often, as I was away at boarding school most of the time, and when I was home, whenever I could, I would borrow my Mom’s 1984 Volvo 740 GLE wagon with a 4-speed + overdrive manual transmission. Then in 1986, my sister got a brand new VW Jetta and I moved up to the Accord.
Two-speed semi-automatic transmission
Despite the semi-automatic, I couldn’t have been more excited to finally have this cool car to myself! No more AM Radio (like in the Buick), as the Accord had a Panasonic tape deck and aftermarket speakers in the doors. No more smoke coming out from under the hood every time I turned the wheel, like in the Buick. And this Honda was fun to drive, with a very direct and solid feel that was most similar to the BMW 2002 I owned years later.
My first car accident was with one of these
And within almost no time, I crashed it fairly hard. I was trying to jump the car off of a peak in the road to show off for my buddy, and as I looked to see his reaction, the car in front of me swung wide left and then turned right to enter a driveway, and by the time I saw the car and slammed on the brakes we couldn’t stop and smashed into the side of a big, late-70’s Thunderbird! No one was hurt, but I smashed the Thunderbird’s big passenger door in, and smashed up the front of the Honda, and neither the driver’s door nor the passenger’s door of the Honda would open. We had to climb out Dukes of Hazard style.
Well the Honda had $3,000 worth of damage, which meant it was totaled, but my generous Dad opted to fix the car anyway. He even got the whole car painted so it wouldn’t have mismatched paint.
All was well for a while after that, as I drove the Accord throughout New England in summers, and whenever I could on other school breaks, and even occasionally between boarding school in Massachusetts and my girlfriend in New York City. The car only had two-speeds, but could hit 50 mph in first and about 97 or 98 in second. My highway speeds would often move past 80, and more than a few times past 90, and the car would scream down the highway, at 4500 RPM or more in high gear. In fact, I regularly got only 19 mpg in the Accord as a result of the 2-speed transmission.
Because of my habit of speeding, and because my parents were both speeders too, I used a hand-me-down Passport radar detector, made by Cincinnati Microwave, to reduce the danger of speeding tickets.
License and registration?
On the way to visit the college I would soon attend, Bates College, I was pulled over doing more than 90 in a 55 on I-95 near Ipswich, Massachusetts. When the policeman asked me for my license and registration, I had to confess that I’d lost my license in New York the prior weekend, and I could not find the registration in my glove compartment. I did have an insurance card, and I did have a radar detector. He said “you don’t have your license or your registration, and you’re a professional speeder?” as he pointed at the radar detector. I said it’s my Mom’s radar detector, and he said in a exasperated voice, “WELL THEN YOUR MOM IS A PROFESSIONAL SPEEDER!”
He said: “Son, do you realize that in order to give you a ticket, I’d have to arrest you and hold you in jail because I can’t even prove who you are?” Fortunately for me he decided that was more hassle than he or I felt like dealing with, and he let me go with a stern warning! I drove the speed limit the rest of the way!
My second accident was with one of these
Then in 1987 I graduated from boarding school and planned to go to college in the fall. A summer spent as a sailing instructor in Rhode Island was fun, but unfortunately, a bit hard on the Honda. When driving from one party to another one night with two friends, I was following an Alfa Romeo Milano at about 3 car lengths on a country highway doing about 45 mph. All of the sudden the driver in front of me stood on the brakes and came to a complete stop. I slammed on my brakes and seeing that I didn’t have enough stopping power, I steered to the left to try to pass him. ( I did not yet know to pump my brakes unfortunately.) My front passenger wheel locked up and my driver’s side wheel did not. I nearly stopped, and nearly got around him but in the end, I hit the driver’s side corner of his rear bumper with my far passenger side headlight, still moving somewhere between 3-5 mph. Since we were both braking hard, the tail of his car was high in the air and my car’s nose had dived. The result was my headlight was smashed and I had a small, one inch dent in the sheet metal and trim next to my headlight. His trunk was smashed in, however, and none of his doors would open. (I still can’t figure out how Alfa Romeo passed the 5 mph bummer test.)
When the cops got there, the other guy explained that he thought I had my brights on and was trying to force me to pass him. Turns out that one of my headlights was miss-aimed and hitting his mirror. The insurance properly identified the accident as my fault, despite his road-rage approach to getting me to pass, and as you can imagine my Dad was livid. He threatened to take my driver’s license away, but my Dad was in New York City and distance protected me. Insurance paid $5,000 to fix the other guy’s car, and Dad continued to pay my insurance.
My third accident was with one of these
I’m embarrassed to share this even now, but 9 days later, I fell asleep at the wheel driving home from a party when I had been encouraged not to drive, and drove right into a grassy ditch. While the car was still moving at probably 25-30 mph, the car hit a driveway that interrupted the ditch and launched into the air, while simultaneously a highway reflector scraped down the driver’s side of the car, smashing the mirror into my face through the open window, waking me up as I flew through the air and landed back in the ditch on the other side of the driveway and came to a stop.
I took a look around, no lights, no cars, no damage to anything but my car. I restarted my car (it had stalled in the accident) and drove back onto the road and home. Knowing that even my over-indulgent father would not stand for this, and would take away my car and license, I came up with a cover story that my car had been sideswiped. The lie stuck (forgive me Lord!), until I confessed it years later, and nothing happened, but I did get my act together, finally.
Then about a week or two later, I was giving my mom a ride somewhere and she noticed that the passenger side front suspension was not working properly, as the impact from landing in the ditch had trashed it. She said “Matthew, this car doesn’t feel right.” I said sheepishly “Really?” She then reminded me we’d just had the struts on the car replaced, and dragged me right up to the garage to get it sorted out.
How I expected my Dad to look
I thought, well the jig is up! Up we went to the garage where the mechanic checked the car out. He pressed down on the driver’s side, and it was normal, then he pressed down on the passenger side, and it bounced twice. He said, “wow, in all my years, I’ve never before seen a defective strut, but I guess you see everything once. I’ll get another and replace it.” Bullet dodged!
I went off to college in my Accord and met my roommate. The first thing we did once his family left was to set out together in the Accord to buy beer, with no success. Weeks later, when my roommate discovered that the Honda had a semi-automatic, he confessed that he thought I was strange for always shifting the automatic in my car.
Fall was fairly uneventful, from the perspective of the Honda. A few trips down to visit Tufts in Medford, MA, including one night when my buddy and I had to sleep in the car. Fortunately the front seats reclined completely.
The Accord’s new owner (actually a representation of him)
When I took the Accord home for Thanksgiving, my mom took it out for a drive on an errand, and that was it. She said this car is ugly (it still had the huge scrape down the driver’s side) and unsafe (the brakes were no longer working properly) and you can’t take it back to college. Next thing I knew, she sold it to the UPS man, who gave it to his mom!
Back to the Skylark
So it was back to the beige Skylark with the smoke pouring through the vents from the leaky steering rack. But not for long, because when I was home for vacation in February, Mom sold the Buick to the UPS man as well! And for a while I was car-less, until this!
Good grief! Your parents indulged you to an amazing extent. I can’t help feeling a twinge of envy. 🙂
Hey Doug, if it’s any consolation, I now drive a Camry like everyone else;-)
But even a 4-cyl Camry nowadays can get you into trouble, with 178hp on tap.
I had a 2015 Camry SE rental recently. It was a four cylinder, and the car was, in my opinion, very light on its feet and certainly didn’t need more power.
Yeah, I have a 2014.5 Camry SE and it’s actually a pretty nice and fairly fun car!! im glad to see some Camry appreciation here!
Here’s my (mostly) favorable take on a 2014.5 SE rental: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/trackside-rental-car-review-2014-toyota-camry-se-all-aboard/
Camrys are good if you know how to “use” them!
I’ll say. My parents would have grounded me and when I got to their age I would have grounded you myself. I told my son that if he can’t think clearly, rationally and in a mature manner then I will do all his thinking. Loss of my respect is a very big deal.
Oh, if asked about when I was 16 I did have a cool car that I paid lots of 1970 money for so I treated the car with respect. In fact within 3 months I banned anyone from ever sitting in the back seat and the front seat was limited to one friend and dates only. No one has sat in that back seat for the last 45 years now.
Very nice article. Yes, the indiscretions of our youth…….
The first generation Accord, in coupe or sedan form, is really a hallmark vehicle – just jewel-like. While I was impressed with all of its features, what struck me most was the refinement and quietness of its engine – all the 4 cylinders I was acquainted up until then with were rough and noisy. The Accord had that Honda unique “whirr”……….
I actually saw a first-gen Accord on the road last week for the first time in well over a decade. They really were remarkable for their time, and the design has aged well.
I consider them attractive now. Back then I thought they were completely idiotic cars for the idiotic. I had zero understanding at that time why anyone would even consider one as a new car. As a cheap high mileage used car for a kid who could not afford anything better I considered them understandable since I was a fan of Honda motorcycles from way way back and understood the reliability of a Honda motorcycle engine.
But they rusted
Those early accords were a nice drive with a manual Ive never even seen the two speed semi auto just the Hondamatic some Civics were saddled with but after having a two speed powerslide in a tired HK Holden Ive no desire to experience one either.
You were very lucky to have such little repreccussions from your youth. I do have a great deal of sympathy for your parent’s insurance company. Whatever they were charging, it wasn’t enough.
I wonder if Honda had any clue that their Japanese Scirocco would over many generations morf into an Impala from Ohio. Most all of the generations were successful but there seems like there should be a deadly sin in there somewhere. Paul talked the other day making the interesting point that the current Mustang now owes more to the Zcar than the early Mustang as it has become a more purposeful sport coupe. What a counterpoint the Accord is, as it evolves ever further from it’s roots.
I’ll say this for newer Hondas, at least they now have back seats fit for adult human beings. They were pretty tight there in the ’70s, and even my ’88 Accord had little to spare.
The 86-89 generation was my favorite, not too big or too small. Perhaps Honda’s greatest styling advancement were the low hoodlines on their front drive compacts. The 86-89 with the pop up headlamps were the lowest of all.
Morphed into an “Impala from Ohio.” Brilliant and spot-on description of the Accord’s transformation from a small hatchback into today’s large, everyday workhorse sedan – the immigrant who has totally assimilated.
He’s lucky to be still ALIVE!!!
Honda fitted a semi-automatic to motorcycles as well, IIRC. College buddy of mine had bought a used motorcycle with a Hondamatic. As for your adventures, Matt, well-told and I enjoyed reading this – held my breath a few times. If that was me, my parents would have made the Honda go buh-bye much sooner. LOL
Not sure I’d go so far as to call the Accord a Japanese Scirocco, to me they always seemed more luxury oriented….so a Japanese Thunderbird?
I doubt my parents would ever have indulged me as your parents did you. In my household 1 totalled car would have relegated me to walking until I bought my own car and insurance. And the tickets….
BTW, it’s just a guess but from the sound of your stories I’m guessing a seatbelt wasn’t worn all that often?
Seatbelts were worn 100% of the time by me and 95% by my front seat passengers!! That’s why I can tell these stories!;-)
I really wanted one of these when I got my first and then second car back in the mid-80s. I had saved up about $1,000 by high school graduation, but my mother would pony up only enough extra for me to get a genuine 1979 German Scirocco. What a pain in the ass that car was – it was fun to drive, but had all the integrity of a Louisiana politician. After a year or so battling electrical gremlins, I traded it in – not for an Accord coupe like I should have – but a genuine 1982 German Scirocco. Used Accords were considerably more expensive, so I settled for another cracked dash electrical nightmare. Maybe it was for the best. I was a lousy driver and no doubt would have rued the misadventures I had in the Sciroccos much more if I had them in a car I didn’t come to hate.
Thanks for sharing your memories of this car and time. I was somewhat harder on my parents during the same period, and I know that these stories no longer seem as fun to tell as when I was only separated from them by a decade.
A buddy had one of those Buicks. His was immaculate and had a dark brown leather interior. He claimed the ladies loved it, but he also had lots of female companionship when he drove a blue Chevette with a top speed of 55 mph, so maybe it wasn’t the car.
Spoiled beyond belief! I didn’t even had a driver’s licence until I was 26 and my first car was a 13 yr old AMC Concord wagon.
In the 90s my dad had both a mid-80s Honda Accord and a Buick Skylark. The Accord was by far the better car, smallish but very well put together with an engine that ran smooth as glass. The Skylark – not so much. Thanks for the memories.
Made me cringe throughout, Matt. Perhaps the 19 mpg was less the Hondamatic but your driving “style” at the time ;-}.
Wish the current Accord would be built with such a small console and not the space robbing log that splits the interior into twin bathtubs. That interior shows how roomy, bright and airy a car could be. No wonder they were so popular.
Amazing what we could get away with in the young and stupid days. Not all of us though. 5 classmates were killed in a Honda trying to go around a train crossing arm and getting stuck on the tracks. 2 were killed in a VW Squareback T-boned by a cop going 70 in a 40 without his lights or siren going, One was killed speeding down a steep hill in his Charger into a power pole. And a few going off the side of Angeles Crest Highway. I also drove stupidly but am still around due to good luck as much as anything.
This was a riveting story, Matt! And I commend you for having the courage to own up to being, in your own words, a ‘spoiled rich kid’ Not many can!
Great article, and an interesting contrast to my old man and me. Dad was of Irish farmer stock, so at the same time very strict and affectionate. We had such respect for each other I wouldn’t have dreamed of wrecking his car. The worst thing I ever did was put a crease of about 10 cm in the right rear door of his Impala. Since my bother had totaled my mom’s 1970 Toyota Corona, that wasn’t that bad.
At the same time, my dad had high aspirations for me, and insisted that I work for everything I wanted, and so I did. First as a youngster doing odd jobs to shoveling out walks for people, and later in farm work. By the time I was 16 I was working almost full time as a Theatre Technician, and making good coin doing it. At age 17 I had a Datsun 1200 and a Honda CB550F and they both ran very well.
And I never totaled any of them. I have never particularly liked working hard, but I like the benefits it gives me. Thus, I have been very careful all my life about crashing things. Even by age 16 I was smart enough to have personally seen plenty of invincible young people splatter themselves, and in my grade 12 grad class, three boys of the football team were killed why driving along drunk. Therefore, it never seemed a very good idea to drive like a fool, and especially drunk, and just have to deal with so much stuff. That would seriously get in the way of my having fun doing stuff time.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like to drive fast, I do, and I am darned good at it, even if I do say so myself, since I drove a cab on and off for almost a decade. I got one ticket in that decade. But there is a time and place for everything, and if you want to be bad, pick that time and place carefully.
Dad taught me the direct link between my stuff and my slaving to attain said stuff. That was a good lesson I think.
A good read Matt ;
Glad you’re still with us ~ only by the grace of God am I still alive from Automotive Tomfoolery .
Seat belts ! then , now , _always_ if you don’t buckle up , my vehicles doesn’t move .
Nate, thank you thank you for your comment. I am here because of the grace of God as well! I praise him in the name of Jesus!
Well Matt ;
Not to get all Churchy on the Best and Brightest but The Good Lord protects drunks and fools and I stopped drinking long ago yet I’m still here , not hard to figure that one out .
Watching the muzzle flash of a .410 shotgun coming up the barrel that’s pointed in your face eyt not even being *touched* by the discharge that blows a hole in the ceiling , cabinet and wall you’re stand8ing in front of , changes one’s viewpoint a little bit .
That was just _one_ of the many times I should have died , even a dolt like me began to pay attention eventually .
I think your mom was banging the UPS guy.
Wow, that was an absolutely harrowing story! I own a 1979 Accord (you used my photo of its interior, by the way, which I don’t mind at all) and I can’t imagine taking it to 90 mph! Good to know that it would do it, but I probably won’t try it anytime soon. I do enjoy driving the Hondamatic, though. Glad that you made it through all that and hopefully learned some lessons along the way.
Chris, thanks so much for the pictures!
Sure. Enjoyed the article!
Your car is absolutely beautiful! Ours (my sister’s and mine) had only 15,000 miles on it when we got it in 1983 and my sister didn’t put all that many miles on it. I can’t remember exactly, but until I crashed it a few times it was a very tight and confidence inspiring car to drive fast. There was a planted, heaviness about the car at 90 that my later Saab didn’t share. The Saab got light in the rear end because it lacked the spoiler of the higher end models and the fastback induced lift. For some reason, the fastback of the Accord didn’t cause the same problem to my recollection.
I guess its all relative
I’ve always thought these hatchback Accords were such good-looking cars. I wasn’t the best driver in my youth, but I didn’t have anything quite to the level of these misadventures–glad you made it through to tell about them!
Oh, the NESCAC. May she never change…I feel like I’ve been a passenger, some of these stories, locations, and CARS are so familiar…a Camel here.
Camel is Connecticut College? A bunch of my high school classmates and friends went there!
Loved those original Accords. Those were the days Honda built great products and improved each year. Now they just build bloated garbage and are renamed Honduh.