Of all the Japanese carmakers, Honda has always been a bit of an oddity. They were neither an offshoot of a powerful industrial group like Mitsubishi, Mazda or Subaru, nor were they an established vehicle manufacturing concern like Nissan, Toyota or Isuzu. They grew out of a motorcycle maker who was not MITI-certified or part of the old boys club. Maybe that’s why they became the most American of all Japanese carmakers.
That’s not to say that Honda dominate the US market. There is also Toyota, and there’s still Nissan. But those two are truly global. Honda cars, on the other hand, are not commonly seen outside Japan, certain Asian countries and North America. In Europe, the marque has always been very discreet. Their market share was 1.2% in 1980, but 40 years on it’s only 0.8%, compared to over 10% in the States and Japan. In certain global markets such as Africa, Russia or South America, Honda cars (as opposed to bikes) are not very popular either, contrary to Toyota and Nissan, though the firm’s footprint in the Asia-Pacific region beyond its home market is significant.
That’s not to say that Honda didn’t try. They followed the usual strategy and opened assembly lines in both America and Europe (well, the UK, which technically was in Europe back then), but not on the same scale. The US plant became one of Honda’s essential assets in a way that the British one, which incidentally is set to close later this year, never really did. By the time this generation of Accords arrived on the scene, Honda had become at least partially American and the US plant was tasked with producing wagons for the whole world, Japan included.
And I guess this Accord wagon, proudly claiming its heritage on its flanks, illustrates the strangely symbiotic relationship that Honda has with their number one foreign market. They literally slapped a big “Honda of America” badge on this thing, complete with golden eagle, just to underline the point. What it lacked in subtlety, it made up for in crude symbolism. Kind of like George Bush senior blowing chunks on the Japanese PM during a state dinner.
Back in the ‘80s, selling foreign-made Japanese cars on the JDM was a groundbreaking concept. Not completely unheard of (the Mitsubishi Eclipse comes to mind), but quite novel nonetheless, as the Eclipse was a niche PLC, not a family wagon like this Accord. Honda was not the only Japanese carmaker to have a turned to America as their main country of adoption, but they’ve done it more successfully than most. Subaru are in a very similar position, i.e. straddling the Pacific, but nowhere near Honda in terms of volume. Mitsubishi once tried to be that way too, but the Chrysler tie-up ended in tears. Isuzu went further and became partially owned by an American company for many years, but quit passenger cars altogether.
Despite their good reputation, Accords of this generation
(1987-91) (MY 1990-1993) are getting quite scarce on Japanese roads. This one is a bit worse for wear – more so that the usual old cars I’ve been catching here, but it’s not like immortal Nissan Cedric/Gloria or Toyota Mark II wagons, which are still a dime a dozen.
I don’t know how many imported into Japan to start off with, but the yen was kind of low at that point in time, so shipping them over from the other side of the Pacific must have made some sort of economic sense. The Japanese economy was booming back then, so perhaps this did somewhat reduce the (im)balance of trade with the United States. It was a nice gesture either way and hasn’t hindered Honda’s growth in the slightest, as they are now pretty much tied with Nissan as Japan’s second carmaker (which also says a lot about Nissan, but that’s another topic).
Tired though it may be, I’m glad to have found an illustration of how American Honda was, even 30-odd years ago, and remains today: the most US-centric Japanese car marque. I’ve only seen a handful of old Accords about, but then I don’t notice these much in saloon form. As a wagon though, they do have a bit more cachet. Must be the golden eagle effect.
Curbside Classic: 1990 Honda Accord – Naturalized Citizen, by Perry Shoar
CC Outtake: 1991 Honda Accord Suburb Squire – It’s One Thing To Build Hondas In The Midwest; It’s Another Thing To Sell Them There, by PN
Curbside Classic: 1992 Honda Accord EX – Simply The Best?, Brendan Saur
COAL: 1990 Honda Accord EX – My First Car, by Kyree S. Williams
COAL: 1990 Honda Accord LX – Sublime Perfection, by Len Peters
COAL: 1991 Honda Accord LX – A Game Changer, by MDLaughlin
CC For Sale: 1991 Honda Accord Wagon – Peak Accord, by PN
Is it just me or is it slightly lower than the highest point of that Prius next to it?
It reminds me a bit of the Audi 5000 station wagon with its sloped rear window.
They still look good. The roof rails seem to be rarely seen over here, if at all, I don’t recall them but they’re obviously part and parcel of the thing. And no overt Made In America badging.
Numbers here have dwindled and the ‘yards are where I see more of them than elsewhere, although that just means that recently they were still prowling the roads and I’m just in the wrong places at the wrong times….
When we went car shopping in 1999 for our family (us and two young girls), I assumed we’d buy an Accord wagon, because Suv’s were not the thing they are now, and the new big Honda Odyssey was brand new – I didn’t like first year models.
To my surprise (I hadn’t been paying much attention to cars with two young girls) Honda had discontinued the Accord wagon in 1997. When I looke to toyota, I found they had doen the same thing.
So I swallowed my new model concerns and we bought the Odyssey, which we kept for nine years; but was problematic early on (power sliding doors) and toward the end (transmission).
the point – I regretted Honda and Toyota’s decision to scrap the Accord and Camry wagons, both personally and generally. They were large but kept sedan dynamics. That may be less of an issue now with CUV’s that handle more like cars, but one less option in the market is never a good thing.
We were in a similar position in May of 1998. We needed a vehicle for a growing family and I was looking at wagons not minivans. The Accord, Camry, Chevrolet – all gone. Ford had the jelly bean Taurus which neither my wife nor I could take seriously. Volvo had just introduced the V70 and I brought one home for an afternoon but when we sat down and crunched the numbers it was a bit more aspirational than we could afford to be. Shortly afterwards I read about the newly redesigned Volkswagen Passat and went looking. The local dealer had one w a 5spd manual and after about 2 weeks we brought it home for good. It had its issues but it served us well and after 240,000+ miles we retired it to the junkyard, a rare one owner, full lifetime vehicle.
Ahead of their time, both wagon and sedan. A debate can be had about which car, this or the 87-91 Camry, was the better one, but the design of the Accord was clearly a generation ahead. The Camry looked distinctively late-80s while the Accord looked solidly 90s and 30 years later is the more contemporary style.
Interesting perspective on Honda’s history and limited global market share, Tatra. I would have thought Honda’s strong road manners and efficiency would have done well in Europe.
In some European markets Honda cars are considered with the same scorn as Buicks were (are?) in this market, a car for older folks. If Honda is capable of a (near) deadly sin, it is of being too conservative.
And I could be wrong, but at the same time Honda was sending American built Accord wagons to Japan, the company was also sending American built Civic coupes overseas. And the late 80s Accord 2 door coupe(?) beat both of those cars. Though in the case of the Civic and Accord I don’t know if either were exported to Japan (the Civic was sent to Europe).
I had a 1986 Civic Si Coupe for which I could make a fair argument that it was the all-around best car I’ve ever owned (including a Corvette, BMW Audi and Mercedes). If Civics of this vintage were sent to Europe and failed, there must be an explanation beyond the cars themselves.
One of the explanations is that they couldn’t persuade geriatrics to stop buying them.
UK motoring press reported that the bold styling of this Civic was a deliberate attempt to scare them away. They just bought the Jazz (Fit) instead.
Japanese cars in general tended to be driven by older people, in the UK anyway.
Looking back to the 80s and 90s I knew 3 people with Japanese cars. Two WW2 vet uncles, and a school friend whose family’s Nissan Sunny was a hand me down from grandpa.
It’s kind of ironic that when younger people thought a crappy Escort XR3i was cool, my elderly uncle was driving a car with a revvy VVT engine and double wishbone suspension. (And a slushbox. And driving gloves)
The coupe was also exported from the US to Japan, already starting with the previous generation.
The new 1990 Honda Accord was the first car* to bear headlamps with all the optics in the reflector and a window-clear lens. The technology was developed by Guide Lamp (GM’s in-house lighting division) and described in an SAE paper in 1972, but was first commercialised by Japan’s Stanley Electric for the headlamps on the ’90 Accord. Instantly, headlamps with lens optics looked old-fashioned and the worldwide vehicle lighting industry strove for window-clear lenses—faster and better in Japan and Europe, slower and worse in America.
*Not counting very early headlamps that had no real optics anywhere in the system
Wait a sec, I’m confuzzed:
Hrr? I was under the impression this CB9 wagon and its CB7 sedan counterpart were ’90-’93, versus the previous ’86-’89 models.
You’re quite right. It slipped past me. I’ll put in a correction.
Oops! That was a placeholder that should have not been holding on that long (and doesn’t even match the feature car’s MY). Thanks for the heads up!
Negative, the CB9 wagon debuted almost a year after the sedans as a 1991 MY, also receiving the driver airbag one year before the rest of the lineup
I know that the Civic four-year model run of the period ran ’88 to ’91, because I bought the first ’88 Civic wagon that the local Honda-Oldsmobile dealer had on their floor. I still have it. That Accord wagon is a beautiful thing, to my eye. I asked my mechanic if those wheels would fit my car and was told, sadly, no.
I’ve always wondered about the dearth of Hondas in the EU. I saw very, very few on the Continent and just a smattering in the UK, while Toyotas were ubiquitous in both.
I love the golden eagle badge — never known of that badging before. As I was looking at that eagle trying to figure out just what the design reminded me of, it struck me… it looks a whole lot like one of those generic golden eagles one would find that’s used as a finial atop a flagpole.
Even without the eagle, I liked these wagons. I very likely would have bought one had I been in the market for a wagon in the 1990s.
I immediately thought of this, as I have an immobile one lying in my garage.
Aha! So Honda had golden eagles in its parts bin. I hadn’t thought of the Gold Wing. There are definitely some similarities between this and the Accord eagle (the phrase “Accord eagle” just sounds odd)… such as the open talons, for instance.
For me, the design of these cars represents Peak Accord. Low cowl, low waistline, plenty of glass; it has those proportions which could only be Old Honda. And the wagon rear section is so well-integrated with the rest of the design.
Love that eagle badge too!
While this example may have seen some wear, it doesn’t have terminal cancer of the rear wheel arches which killed them in the Great Salted North. I mourn the death of the wagon.
The tall side glass is a bit shocking nowadays.
I wish simple disc-type wheels like these would come back in fashion. I really don’t want to see your brakes. More tire sidewall would be good, too.
It reminds me of the Hornet Sportabout wagon (in a good way)…
This generation of wagon was automatic only in some US markets, including California. Wanting a stick shift wagon to replace our unreliable 528i in 1993, the Corolla we ended up buying was pretty much the only choice besides Subaru and Escort/Saturn. The following generation Accord wagon offered an MT again … if only we had waited. Since that time, my favorite Honda sold in the US was the Civic Si hatch imported here from the UK.
This was the only Accord wagon Australia received and they were all automatics here too.
Not that I cared, but I as whikst the sedan’s design was pleasant enough, the wagon almost looked like an aftermarket conversion to me.
An Accord Euro/Acura TSX wagon woould be far more my thing.
A co-worker has a sedan of this era, which is in great shape for a New England car.
Youve only seen a handful of Accords well most of them are here, US and Euro models were quite popular as used imports, most are getting a bit long in the tooth now and are being scrapped when something goes wrong instead of being repaired, but plenty of ex JDM Hondas on the roads here.
Occupant protection is now such that this sort of thing can’t be built. The forces the roof pillars must briefly absorb are hard to fathom, other than to try and comprehend that only about half the crash is over by the time it reaches a passenger compartment that must “spring” ever so slightly to take the rest without collapsing.
That said, surely it is possible to move the game on, using some sort of upper roll-cage/spaceframe that would allow for thinner structures doing the same job? Or is such clean sheet too much?
I strongly suspect that many motorists aren’t thrilled by driving about in Maginot Line gun placements (in the same way it turned that many weren’t thrilled by huge and low cars earlier), and would flock to an airier car where they could use natural vision and senses to see out.
By me I see a lot of those plastic add-on rain shades that seem to effectively double the a-pillar thickness as far as visibility goes. I don’t know how they can see around all that when making turns without sticking their head out the window.
One oddity I remember about Accord wagons in the US was that they were all equipped with airbags (on driver’s side) back when they weren’t available on any Accord sedans or coupes, which at the time meant other Accords had those nasty motorized shoulder belts to comply with American laws.
My 1992 was the best car I ever owned. Quick, handled well, interior design was perfection, visibility was awesome, and it looked good. I sold it with 475,000 miles on the clock, and then only because I moved overseas.
I remember being particularly impressed with their elegent suspensions and the complex engine mount systems. Honda’s W124. Even the auto trans gear selector was way over built. One of the best front drive handlers, too.