Maybe I’m later to this idea than some of my peers, but I’ve been giving more thought lately to dressing more in line with what would be expected of someone my age, versus wearing some of the more youthful styles I might have been wearing, say, fifteen years ago. It has been said of me that I look young for my age, but one byproduct of this has been that I’ve lost my barometer in terms of how someone my age is actually supposed to dress and look like. Sure, I have friends my own age, and social media has enabled me to keep up with many people I’ve known from all stages of my life. It’s just that it has become sort of a balancing act between retaining my personal, signature sense of style without looking like somebody’s embarrassing uncle. I’m just not quite at the point where I’m ready to stop caring about how I present myself in terms of my appearance.
My father was quite a bit older than my mom, and was literally old enough to have been my grandfather. There was never any threat of my being ashamed of his sartorial choices, given that he was a scholar and deep thinker who was satisfied on most weekends with wearing a golf shirt (with or without the university logo) and some khakis. He looked exactly what a professor was supposed to look like, at least in my mind’s eye. Dad never tried to look cool, but would sometimes end up looking accidentally cool when he would wear some old, outdated (what I would think of as “vintage”) shirt or slacks that my mom had picked out of the closet for him to wear that day. My point is that he was never trying to look young or hip when he was my current age. He always looked age-appropriate, and I’m sure some part of me appreciated this as a kid.
When then third-generation Honda Accord arrived for model year ’86, I was immediately confused. It had a clean yet overtly rakish look that I was just not ready for. I wasn’t used to family sedans trying to look sporty, and in the case of the new Accord, mostly succeeding. I had no issues with its typically-’80s angularity, low beltline, curved rear window, and stylish, horizontal taillamps. All of those elements came together to project a solidly upper-middle-class, well-engineered, put-together, typically “Honda” image. Walking around to the front of the car was where my personal turmoil started. Who had stuck the front end of a Prelude onto the family car? It wasn’t that the headlamps were concealed. Retractables of all sorts had hit the mainstream and were popular on some upper-scale sedans and wagons starting in the ’60s.
The new Accord four-door, however, had pop-up headlamps, which had previously been reserved almost exclusively for sports cars, and at the very least, two-doors and coupes. The only other four-doors with pop-ups that I can think of at this writing are the Aston Martin Lagonda (I don’t recall ever having seen pictures of them in my youth with their headlights in the open position) and Honda’s own Acura Integra, which followed this Accord and gets a free pass for being a hatchback. Seeing one of these Accords from the front at dusk with the lights on was jarring. It was like seeing one of my otherwise conservatively-dressed teachers of some fact-based subject like math or science show up to class in acid-washed denim, Bugle Boy cargo pants with the cuffs rolled tightly at the bottom, or with lots of hair product shellacking things into place as was the style in the ’80s. You’re just not supposed to do this. Go back and look mature.
I think of myself as being a reasonably “cool” uncle, with the qualifier being that at my core, I am, and will probably always be, a dork. Maybe that’s the part of me that learned to live with the pop-up headlights on these Accords in some act of knowing self-recognition. Buyers loved these mid-sized Hondas, making the ’89 model like our featured example the best-selling passenger car in the United States that year, wresting that title from the universally loved, first-generation Ford Taurus by over 14,000 units (362,700 vs. 348,000). This was an upset and the first time a foreign-branded car (they were built in Marysville, Ohio) had achieved best-seller status. Welcome to the end of the ’80s. A new, much more conservatively-styled, fourth-generation Accord would debut that fall, looking more like your nicely dressed, middle-aged aunt without the blonde-frosted tips.
The base engine for the Accord DX was a carbureted, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that yielded 98 horsepower, but the LXi got a fuel-injected version that put out 120 horses. The car weighed only 2,700 pounds. A period test from MotorWeek showed their specimen going from 0-60 in around eleven and a half seconds with the optional four-speed automatic transmission for acceleration that was deemed adequate but not fast, even for the day. Looking at the truly impressive condition of our featured car, I’d also guess that it has an automatic… and also that it hasn’t been doing a lot of wild acceleration runs over the course of its thirty-three years.
I saw this Accord passing slowly in traffic in front of the Lincoln Park Zoo while waiting for the bus, and I found it as intriguing as some of the animals and other creatures I had just spent time with. What struck me the most is how its once stylish and boundary-pushing design now looked very conservative compared to all the other vehicles parked on the side of North Stockton Drive. I sense it might have been a challenge to convince someone half my age that the styling of this Accord was once in vogue, or that pop-up headlights had once been a thing for sports cars and unheard of for family sedans.
I may have to continue to test the waters with each passing year in terms of what youthful-leaning styles I can get away with wearing, but I’ll never forget when Honda stylists stuck what looked like the front end of their Prelude sport coupe on their workaday Accord. North American buyers not only gave this look their approval, but declared the Accord their favorite passenger car in the final year of this series’ run. Success is ageless.
Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, May 29, 2022.