(first posted 9/15/2011) The traditional automotive architecture: front engine; rear wheel drive. It was once as ubiquitous as brick buildings are in some parts of the country. The 1976 Honda Accord wasn’t the first space-efficient front-wheel drive car sold in America. But it was the most influential, and if any one car is responsible for the predominant architecture of almost all the cars we drive today, this is it.
Within four years of the Accord’s arrival, GM launched its mega-billion dollar X-Bodies, Chrysler bet its future on K-cars, and Ford eventually came on board with FWD revolution too, in a big way (Taurus). But not only did the Accord start a revolution in Detroit, but also in Japan. The Accord’s effect on Toyota City was like an earthquake that saw the stodgy old mini-Galaxie RWD Corona get dumped for a completely new US-centric FWD Camry.
The rest is history, and what a glorious one it is: a record 21 out of 25 years on C/D’s Ten Best Cars list; numerous COTY awards, repeat visits to the top of the US sales charts. Now the Accord is as American as apple pie, literally. From a tiny 2000 lb 68 hp hatchback smaller than today’s Fit, it’s now become a full size car, and not all that different from an updated version of the cars it made obsolete and irrelevant.
Read the middle paragraph on the right side of this ad: “Right here we would like to reassure you on one point. Although we fondly refer to the Accord as the Big Honda, it is only big by our standards. We don’t build what are traditionally called big cars. And we don’t intend to start”. Honda may have been sincere when they said it then, but things obviously didn’t turn out that way. And therein is the fundamental difference between the VW Golf and the Accord: they both started out the same size and basic shape, and although the Golf eventually grew too, its growth was always in low-calorie European terms.
Meanwhile, the Accord super-sized itself, and became a genuine corn-fed American. Ironically, VW has tumbled to the secret of success in America after thirty years, and the new 2012 Passat is as big or bigger than the Accord and Camry. Better late than never, I suppose, but did it really need to take thirty five years to figure out what went wrong?
Speaking of irony, the Accord was originally conceived to be a Mustang-sized car with a V6 engine! Or at least, so goes the legend. It wouldn’t surprise me, since Honda was a very ambitious (actually overly so) company just prior to the Civic. It tended to extreme manifestations of technical superiority, like the brilliant but expensive and unprofitable Honda 1300. But the Civic was the sea change in Honda’s thinking: a revolutionary but pragmatic cheap little hatch, to be built in massive quantities.
Honda would never be the same, and the same progressive pragmatism that spawned the Civic naturally took the next step in the Accord, and eventually with cars like the Odyssey, Pilot and Ridgeline. Would anyone have guessed that in 1976? Well, eating one’s words is a good exercise, and can be highly profitable, in Honda’s case.
Regardless of what the Accord was originally meant to be, it came as a very tidy but practical two-door hatch (the four door followed in 1979). Its wheelbase of a mere 93.7 inches is five inches less than the previous generation Hyundai Accent, and it was about the same length overall (160″) as that almost smallest of cars recently. But Americans ate “The Big Honda” up as if it were an apple pie eating contest. It’s difficult to describe just what a huge hit and fad the Accord was when it appeared, unless you were there at the time. The fact that it came just three years after that equally huge hit and fad the Civic, made Honda undoubtedly the fastest growing new brand ever launched in the US. Keep in mind that when the Civic first appeared in 1972, they were being sold in Honda motorcycle dealerships. By the time the Accord hit, Honda car dealerships were licenses to print money.
Everyone raved about the Accord when it appeared. And it hit the market in a very different way than the Golf/Rabbit. VW was still anxious about preserving its vaunted “cheap car” status, and was frantic about offering the Rabbit at a sub $3k price. The only way they did that was by making a special “super stripper” version, with cardboard door panels and rubber floors.
Honda took a totally different approach with the Accord: priced at $3,999, exactly one grand (33%) more than the stripped VW, but lavishly equipped like no other car before in its price class. It came standard with a level of equipment unheard of in that time, even for Japanese cars: nicely-upholstered cloth seats, a tachometer, intermittent wipers, and an AM/FM radio. And everyone raved what a great deal it was. VW misread the market completely: Americans were ready to pay as much as a big car for a small one, if it had the comfort, style, pizazz and (most of the) convenience of a big one.
Of course, the Accord’s timing was exquisite, arriving one year after the first energy crisis. But it was more than that; Americans were ready to embrace smaller cars wholesale, especially on the west and east coast. And let’s face it, American coupes, typified by the Ford Elite and the like had miserable space utilization, horrible efficiency, were mostly poorly built and wretched to drive. Detroit didn’t just open the portcullis with its obese “mid-sized cars” of the seventies. It actively invited the invasion, and Honda led the charge.
That’s not to take anything away from Toyota’s pioneering and on-going success, but it never had the sudden and almost explosive success Honda did. Toyota had been cultivating its beach-hold since the early sixties, and in 1969 the Corolla became the number two selling import, after the Beetle. Toyota paved the way, identifying the soft underbelly of the beast Detroit. But Honda charged in for the kill, at the right moment, with the right weapon. By the mid-seventies, Toyota’s Corona (CC here) had become a pretty stodgy affair, built on very traditional architecture.
The Accord set the standards for all its future successors to come, if in embryonic form. It was never quite the brilliant and sparkling performer the Golf was, or could be in its best years (or when it was running right or at all). But the Accord had a complete and balanced dynamic that every one bearing that now-traditional name has had since: a smooth, economical and relatively responsive engine, a slick transmission (don’t ask about the early two-speed automatics though), accurate steering, capable handling, and a consistently high degree of mechanical and assembly quality. No, you won’t find fanatics of early Accords like the Golf Mk.1′s cultish followers, rebuilding their beloved cars endlessly. Instead, you find Accords still hard at work on the streets (not in the rust belt) like this and numerous other examples hereabouts.
The Accord’s soon to be proven legendary reliability was still largely unknown in 1976. But already then it spoke of a palpable quality of organic wholeness, a car that was as comfortable in its skin as it was to drive. There were no unknowns or surprises in the Accord: what you saw is what you got. Americans could do without the Golf’s Germanic brilliance, because they could smell the risks inherent in that. The Accord was the squeaky clean, cute girl with the winning smile in the local school’s cheerleader outfit next door. She might have been Japanese, but nobody even noticed or cared anymore. They were utterly seduced, and she was assimilated.
And when the Accord’s four door big-sister showed up in 1979, the front doors of suburbia really flew open. Some say that Detroit’s generally-miserable small cars were the cause of its decline. That may have been the case in the heartland, but in the influential West Coast, followed all-too soon on the East Coast, folks were dumping their big Cutlasses and Monte Carlos for Accords, unless they had a really big family. They were really closer in price. Anyway, it was the heyday of the multiple car family, so unless one was ferrying a big brood, the two and three Honda car family was quickly taking hold.
The Accord went on to enjoy several years at the top of the charts, until Toyota’s even more-American Camry eventually displaced it. Whether the Accord’s slippage in the current market is temporary or permanent is yet to be seen. But clearly the competition is more brutal than ever, including the ascendant Hyundai Sonata and VW’s new super-sized Passat. The fact that all of them are now really full-sized cars makes the Accord’s claim to “not build what are traditionally called big cars” somewhat ironic, but not really untrue. Who still builds traditional big cars? Nobody.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Honda still made it simple? I wonder if you put some modern EFI and engine management on the 1976 Accord could you beat the Prius for mileage?
I was just talking about these early Accords with someone yesterday. In the rust belt you were never able to take full advantage of the jewell-like mechanicals because they exploded into rusty bits within 5 years.
No modern EFI at least EFI that meets modern emission standards would kill it’s MPG. The trick was the CVCC engine’s stratified charge. That provided a rich enough mixture to ignite with a spark through a tiny barrel to the pre-combustion chamber where the spark plug was located. The main barrels provided a very lean mixture to the main chamber that was lit by the flame from the pre-chamber. That is what gave them the MPG that they had and allowed them to meet CO emissions standards w/o a Catalytic converter, however they were at the ragged edge of exceeding the very lax NOx standards of the day. Pretty much the only way a stratified charge engine “works” is with a carb.
And a 1.8 litre, 2800 pound, 5-speed automatic 2006 Civic is capable of 35 mpg. Yes, EFI would work wonderfully.
You’re a knowledgeable dude Scoutdude, I’m impressed!
Somewhere there is a Honda Fit Hybrid waiting for you 🙂
Richard Jewell is now dead, and why are you comparing an Accord to him? They didn’t explode; they just melted away.
I really miss Honda. My family had some brief, early experiences with Civics and had been impressed. Here in the midwest, Honda’s big growth decade was the 80s. Other than the rust problem (which was serious), these cars became All Americans by then. The first Honda I lived with on a day-to-day basis was the ’88 Accord that my wife bought new shortly before we met.
You are right – Honda’s secret was always that the car always looked like you had paid more for it than you did, and everything was of highest quality. These Accords carried an attitude whenever you go into it: “Hey, Cool! Let’s go somewhere. It’ll be a blast!” So much different from the Camry, with the more sedate attitude of “OK, so where do you want to go?”
I sometimes think that my 2007 Fit is the last real Honda – I mean a Honda with the soul of a Honda. I hope I am wrong.
I have a 2008 Gen 1 Fit and I love it and yes, I consider it to be the last, great, Honda. It screams, zooms, handles like a go-kart and isn’t actually going that fast doing so. I also rides like an ox cart, but that is another story.
I, too experience the ox-cart ride. My wife is the primary driver of the Fit, but it is a fun car for around town or short trips. I have taken it out on the road a few times, but prefer my Town & Country on trips.
No replacement for… wheel displacement.
My wife is also driving the Fit, which on short, urban drives, is perfect, since it is easy to park and can swallow a huge pile ‘o stuff.
I spend a lot of time in the car, so the TL is the way to go for me.
And you know, the difference in fuel consumption isn’t that great. 9.0 L /100 km city for the Fit, 10.5 for the TL. The consumption on the highway is, get this, 7.5 Fit and 8.0 TL. The TL does use premium fuel, however.
We do MPG here. Greek to me.
Sounds a lot like my 1977 Civic CVCC hatchback…which was a great car. I still love my 2003 Accord EX four-cylinder sedan, though.
As a Honda owner – well – my wife drives it – I don’t want one for myself as long as I have a choice. I do remember all the hoopla over the early Civics, how they melted in your hands to rust, but the engines were superb – that is, they started and ran – every time! Oh, yes, they sipped gas, too. They soon got bigger and bigger…
Then Honda grew up…
“Right here we would like to reassure you on one point. Although we fondly refer to the Accord as the Big Honda, it is only big by our standards. We don’t build what are traditionally called big cars. And we don’t intend to start”.
Those sentences in the Honda Accord ad remind me of a very different kind of boast, made by Chrysler Division a mere decade earlier, as it promoted the lower cost Newport:
“This is no junior edition. We don’t make any. All Chryslers are big.”
How quickly times had changed in 10 years. Chrysler made hay out of the fact that it did not offer an intermediate-size car, as Buick and Oldsmobile (Chrysler’s closest competitors) were doing at that time.
Honda turned that on its head, and promoted the fact that it did not make full-size (as the term was understood in the mid-1970s) cars, and that all Hondas were small and economical.
Both approaches initially brought each respective company considerable success…and both companies would heavily revise those strategies, in reaction to a changing market.
Excellent analysis Geeber.
I am old enough to remember when the Accord hit the market (heck, I’m old enough to remember seeing the first Honda 600, and laughing at it because it was so small and I distinctly remember the front turn signals which even as a 5-year-old recognized as motorcycle turn signals); my across-the-street neighbor was on a waiting list for the better part of a year in 1977 just to get one. He replaced an early 70s VW Beetle with it, and boy oh boy was that ever an upgrade! He got the 5-speed manual transmission of course. I was stunned to find out that you could only order one or two option packages, and other than that, could only choose the paint color.
I replaced the water pump in it 5 or 6 years later for him, and I was dumbfounded to discover that no knuckle-slicing laborious gasket scraping was required (standard when replacing American car water pumps for decades) due to the O-ring seal in a cast aluminum channel. It really opened my eyes to superior design. I recall also being amazed at how leak-free the entire drivetrain was while I was working on it for a car that was several years old.
As perfectly stated above, this car was the right car, at the right place, at the right time. It represents the leverage point about which the entire American car industry was flipped onto its head. Too bad that it took about a decade (or more?) too long for our companies here to figure it out. Oh well, it’s human nature I guess. The exact same thing is happening in the software industry right now, and you only get one guess which company is the “GM”!
OT but is anybody else having issues with the comment box scrolling up and down by itself as you enter text in the lower part of the box? It is very frustrating as every time I stop typing, the box scrolls up a few lines and prevents me from seeing what I just typed.
The paint color choices on the first Accords were gold, silver and medium blue. That was it. Even today, Honda isn’t too generous with its color selection, compared to other automakers.
My dad laughingly referred to a friend’s early Civic (this would have been in around 1975-76) as “two motorcycles bolted together with a body thrown over them”; now he has an Acura TL. I had an ’82 Civic, and my wife had an ’86 and then (once someone rear-ended the ’86) an ’87 wagon. Oddly enough, we never had an Accord, though. A friend of my parents’ had one of this generation, though, and I remember thinking it was roomy for its outer size and thoughtfully designed.
Your dad was right.There is a cult Australian film, Malcolm, which apart from many transport modes,features a Honda Z.It is a great comedy,especially the Z.
Great looking car, but where is the part about where you found it? I like hearing a little of the background of the find along with my CC car history!
Looks like he had a parking ticket too… 🙂
The seatbelt hanging out of the door seems out of place also.
That is the standard for most people today. They don’t care about their appliance. It is a shame that this person is using this classic Accord as an appliance.
Honda is infamous for their DEFECTIVE seat-belt retractors.
And the NHTSA let them bargain their way out of doing something useful, like fixing them.
Neither party–Honda nor NHTSA–gave a crap about the American Public that got cheated.
We must confess that Paul is on a well-deserved vacation, and this was a piece that he had ready before he left. In general, though, sometimes the story of the particular car is relevant to the theme of a CC piece, and other times it is not. This is particularly true with Paul and Laurence, who live in areas where it seems that every third or fourth car was made before 1980. For those of us in the rust belt, the sighting of an oldie is such an event, that we make a bigger deal about the find.
That’s an apartment building in downtown Eugene. Friend of mine used to live there. And as said, it’s uncommon NOT to find old classics like this around. Oregon is where old cars to keep going.
A few months after I bought my new ’77 Civic CVCC 5-speed, the Accord came out. The dealer called and offered to take my Civic back on an Accord, so I drove one. Basically the Civic with more room, a better ride and a little less performance. I was in love with my pocket rocket Civic, which was perfect both for my life in Boston and my Turnpike commute (fifth gear, a novelty then), so I turned him down.
The Accord was a huge phenomenon its first year. A Car and Driver columnist (Yates?) told us how a famous NASCAR driver (forgot who) loved his Accord and how it was catching on among his friends. If you weren’t around then, you can’t imagine just how incredible it was that NASCAR people would prefer a Japanese car to the Detroit iron.
Honda has been slipping away from its core character in recent years, since the founder, Soichiro Honda, died in ’91. Honda and Sony have a lot in common, both postwar startups outside the MITI institutions, driven by strong leaders whose personality imbued every product. Steve Jobs learned a lot from Soichiro Honda and Sony’s Akio Morita, who died in ’99.
Honda was an engine man, a true engineer, and every Honda was built around the brilliant engine at its heart. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soichiro_Honda) My Civic’s engine was a free-spinning jewel, a driver’s delight, both fast and green. Accord’s success had a lot to do with those engines. For all their practicality, they were driver’s cars. The rest of a Honda had to match the character and performance of its engine.
Sony was the Apple of its time, cutting-edge technology, top quality and fine design, like Honda. Sony went to hell after its founder died. Hondas seem to have lost some of their personality and performance since Honda-san died too. I hope Honda avoids Sony’s fate.
PS: Paul/JP, I think the first US Accord was a ’77 model, arrived mid-’76.
I have only been in one Honda,as a passenger,the 1st series Civic.I found the necessity to almost lower yourself to the sidewalk to sit in it and the thin uncomfortable seats and ride,uncomfortable.Access to the rear seat from the front doors was a chiropracters dream.My friend later sold it and following my advice bought a used 1977 VW Golf/Rabbit,a much more comfortable and fun car and incredibly reliable.Sony was a great company with very good products,but over the years corporations desire to reduce quality to improve sales and profits,the ever shortening product life cycle.There is one brilliant American product designed to last and of exceptional quality,style and performance.It is Tivoli Audio radios designed by the late Henry Kloss.Small with a very big sound and no distortion.I use mine as a monitor/speaker for my laptop.You should really listen to one.
That’s such a nice-looking blue Accord hatchback that I’m surprised the driver closed the door on the seatbelt. That and the parking ticket imply that someone was in a big hurry to get somewhere….
Our first Accord was a burgundy version of the greeny sedan shown. The color looked almost candy-apple red when we got the car in 1982 but all the yellow faded out of it, leaving it kind of a darker pink-champagne color. It had all the Honda virtues and we liked it enough to trade on a newer Accord.
One of the things I remember about the early Hondas was the almost jewel-like metallic silver paint they put on the wheels. They came out looking so nice when the car was washed, and the paint lasted for years, while the silver paint on contemporary VW wheels, I’m fairly certain, started noticeably rusting on the initial drive home from the dealership.
“I’m surprised the driver closed the door on the seatbelt.”
Ask anyone who owned one. Failed seat-belt retractors were epidemic. Honda cut a deal with The Government (USA) to avoid fixing them.
The Government was so generous that I’m still hearing about weak seat-belt retractors in Hondas, decades later–but I’ve no experience there, I gave up Honda for dead in the mid-90s. One car…one motorcycle…no such thing as customer respect…NEVER AGAIN.
“on the East Coast, folks were dumping their big Cutlasses and Monte Carlos for Accords” didn’t always apply. We lived in Scarsdale NY and my parents bought a 77 Accord to replace a BMW 2000 (starting to rust and my mom complained about the heavy clutch). So we got on the waiting list and finally got a Gold 5 speed with bumper guards. This was the car I learned to drive stick on and defined my image of Japanese cars for a decade or so. I also though it was way more fun to drive and way easier to service than the 1984 Accord that replaced it.
I appreciated the simplicity and neat details but my VW Scirocco was still way more fun. On the other hand Accords sold a lot better and became common as dirt by the late 80s.
I have driven Honda products for years and I constantly hear about Honda “losing its way,” etc but I doubt many people, especially middle aged, overweight Americans (and Canadians for that matter) are going to buy a car as small as a 1970s Honda, nor could it be sold in today’s market due to safety an emissions requirements. The car buying populations has aged (like myself) and Honda’s products have grown up with them. Do they still feel like Hondas? Well, I think they do. The cars are endowed with fabulous engines, they are still light for their size and they still handle very well. More importantly, they are still good buys and they don’t rust to pieces like the older cars did.
What has changed is price, especially here in Canuckistan. An Accord was big car money for a small car in 1976 but since there was really nothing to compete with them, they sold like hotcakes. The Civic was a similar phenomenon, there was simply nothing to compete. Fast forward to today. There are loads of competent vehicles competing directly with the Civic and Accord, which no longer carry the 25% price premium they once did. Want and example? In 1986 I bought a stripper Jetta for $10,000 Canuckistani Pesos. I seriously wanted a four door Accord LX which was, however, $13,800. I could not justify the extra 38% for the Honda at the time and the Jetta was really the only other choice. Now there are loads of choices. There is no way Honda could charge $31,000 for an Accord when Toyota is selling a Camry for $25,000 and the Koreans charging even less.
The prime target for car marketing is now 45-60, the people that have the money to buy nice rides. I am smack in that market and I would not buy a new car the size of a ’76 Accord, with that little power and resistance to rust. Nor are many buyers that age group going to buy a ’92 Civic, it is to small and rides too hard. Times have simply changed.
The great thing about any Honda built since 2000 is they are still reliable, well built cars and they stand up well used. A good used Accord is not hard to find. A good used TL is harder to find as they have often led hard lives, however.
As a long-time Honda owner, I agree, with two exceptions.
Honda seriously messed up with the five-speed automatics installed in various V-6 powered vehicles from 1999-2003. That was a HUGE issue.
And the second-generation Odyssey wasn’t one of its better efforts in regards to reliability.
Agreed – the second (and even third) generation of minivans has not endeared itself to a lot of folks. Even the Acura TL suffered with that transmission issue.
My bigger problem is that since the mid 2000s, every generation of Honda looks a little odder, is a little softer, is a bit less agile, and just seems to lack what I call “the Honda soul.” For example, I love my Gen1 Fit. The Gen2 does nothing for me.
Agreed. The transmission in my TL was replaced under the extended warranty. At least Honda did it relatively painlessly. The same was not the case with the Ultradrive.
My sister has a Gen 2 Fit. It is larger and rides a lot better, but it has lost the “mad terrier” demeanor of the Gen 1.
I am not much of a mini-van type so I don’t know a lot about them.
If I could could get a brand-new version of my fathers, since passed down to my brother, ’88 Accord EXi I would buy it. Everything about it was right,
except for eating control arms on a regular basis.
I had a 1990 Accord LX. It was a great car. I would suspect the control arm issue would be related to those smooth, snow and ice free Saskatchewan roads. My business partner from there talks about replacing front end stuff there all the time.
Here on smooth Coast roads, I haven’t really had that problem.
Those control arms were carrying a massive load with tension-loaded ball joints also. I never had any trouble with them on my 2001 Accord.
Love that “mad terrier demeanour”. That describes the Gen 1 perfectly!
I remember that a friend of my mother’s was an early Accord customer. I was strictly a Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Mopar fanatic at the time, being about 6 years old. I was perplexed that someone would get on a waiting list, pay a huge mark up, and then accept whatever showed up in order to buy a car I didn’t find any more attractive than a Monza or Mustang II. I recall that whatever combination they wanted, they wound up with a gold hatchback. I don’t remember which transmission it had, but I recall that the waiting list was served in order of car appearance. When your number came up, you could take or leave the next car off the truck. If it was a silver automatic, you either got a silver automatic or the option of another 9 months on the waiting list. In exchange for this abuse, you would have a car that started and ran. Detroit and Europe had nothing that could compete.
Wow thats a forgotten car to me considering the thousands that populated the roads here and in OZ I cant remember the last one I saw, salt air and humidity is extremely efficient at disolving cars.
Our little car market was vastly different to the US/Canadian scene Hondas were sold thru British Leyland dealers and competed with the likes of Morris 1100s for the Civics while Accords were up against Triumph 2000/2500s and strong buyer resistance against Japanese products the term Jap crap was very true back then those cars fell to pieces with rust What won the buyers over eventually was fuel economy no Accord will stay with a Triumph on a twisty road or ride anywhere near as well but it uses half as much gas and rides ok just dont hurl it into a corner at full throttle and expect to stay on the road coz you wont. Hondas were not cheap here the Civics put the small BL products out of business and eventually the big stuff wenr away too but here in relatively rust free Napier I see few older model Accords lots of 80s versions but few early examples or Civics. I drove an 82 Civic as a work beater for a whilee recently and rarely saw myself coming the other way it was a good car for what it was.
There is a beautiful ’86 Accord on my street, totally rust free. The environment here is very easy on cars. Lots of rain to wash any crud away and very little salt ever used. In addition, no atmospheric fallout and we certainly don’t have much of an issue with Uv damage!
I grew up in an family that has only bought Japanese since the early ’80s, and almost exclusively Honda/Toyota. We had two Accords – a 5th and a 6th gen – and those were the cars I learned drive on and owned as hand-me-downs for a time. I’ve long been convinced that the ’94-’95 was the ultimate Accord, but each successive revision has made the car worse, but everything but the current model was still a class-leader. Even the hideous ’03-’07 still looks like a phenomenal used buy to me. But the ’08+ is just too much, literally. It’s a total boat, and the interior is a cheap ergonomic nightmare.
I think the “Honda keeps getting worse” narrative is a bit overplayed. They’re hit or miss. Much digital ink has been spilled over how lousy the new Civic is. But it’s easy to forget how widely derided the ’01-’05 was, mostly because of its switch to a cheaper MacPhereson strut front suspension (never mind that the vast majority of buyers, myself included, can’t tell the difference) and that it looked like a bad carbon copy of the previous generation. Still, my current ride is an ’02 LX that has held up a lot better then the Focus all the magazines told me I should have bought instead. And that’s why most people buy Hondas – not because they’re some sort of jewel-like ideal of what cars should be, but because they’re more dependable than the cars everybody else is selling.
I had a ’79. Single worst car I have ever been around. In fact, that memory has completely put me off the Honda feed. I cannot think of a single positive feature.
I hate for that to be my first post on this great blog, but man was it bad.
Happy to see Aarons post. Until now I thought I was the only guy who ever owned a Honda lemon. 83 model I think and a Hatchback. Electrical problem that took forever to fix. In fact, don’t know if I did. Haven’t owned a Honda since and I keep feeling guilty because I know the company that made some really great bikes (that I owned) must have been better than that. Had a honda engine in a 2007 Saturn Vue. When one vue (4 cylinder) died from a thrown timing chain and the Honda engine was a $1200 maint project, I sold the car. Bought a nissan cube and haven’t stopped grinning since. It’s very early honda like.
Well to be fair, you are going back to 1983 for one Honda “bad experience”, and then a 2007 non-Honda product, the Saturn Vue, which only had a Honda engine in the V6 model. The 4-cyl wasnt a Honda, and even the V6 still got a GM transmission, drivetrain, electronics, and everything else, it wasnt a quality product like a same-generation CRV.
IIRC, the 1983 Honda had some issues trying to add more modern electronics to the old design. Our 84 Civic was a dream, nothing ever went wrong. My family has owned Hondas ever since, and none ever had any trouble. My sister had a 1997 Accord with 150k miles, it looked like crap (was her high school car), but never broke down. She replaced it with a new Civic coupe last year. My dad currently uses a 2006 S2000 as his daily driver/commuter, 100+ miles a day. It has over 120k and still is rock solid, drives like new, nothing has ever gone wrong, except tires, it eats tires. Funny thing, the dealer he bought it from had a deal: free tires for life. And yes, it applied to the S2000 even. After his 3rd set, they started using dealer bargain special tires instead of OEM, and after it hit 100k they said no more tires, sorry.
I just bought my mom’s CRV from her for my youngest daughter’s first car. A 2002 EX AWD with… wait for it… 190k miles. The only repair it ever had besides regular maintenance was new wheel bearings on the front. There is nothing wrong with it, it literally drives like new, looks perfect, the interior is perfect, we use it as our “family car” now, I’d drive it anywhere. And before you think that it was babied, no way. My dad maintained it mechanically, yes, but my mom doesnt take care of cars. She almost never washed it or waxed it, never cleaned the inside, never used a sunshade, it never had a garage.
Its ironic though, to replace the CRV, they didnt buy a Honda. They didnt like any of the new Hondas. They got a new Hyundai Elantra, my dad says it reminds him of the Hondas they used to make. Lets see if it lasts as long.
Actually didn’t go back to 83 or even say it was fair. The 83 hatchback was probably about 10 years old. Actually said in so many words that it probably wasn’t fair. Had some great honda bikes. Also never said the 4 cyl vue was a honda. But it sure did get me thinking about timing chains. It was $1200 to change the chain on the honda and I had just about had enough with vues. Honda supplied both the engine and transmission with the vues according to Saturn. It never missed a beat. The 83 was a lemon. The 07 just had the misfortune to be mine when I finally had enough GM. The list of repairs on the 2002 vue makes me gag so I won’t go thru it. Just think of european electronics in a first year model and you can guess.
True, you did say that, and I wasnt clear that you had 2 different Vue’s (why would you make that mistake twice?? LOL) I did think the trans was still a GM part, not the Honda part. But since that was the “bad” Honda auto, I guess it doesnt really matter.
I always thought the benefit of timing chains over belts was that they didnt need to be changed, at least not for a very long time? At 190k, my moms CRV never has had it changed. From what I understand, it is monitored and will trip the maintenance light when its time to change it.
I never trusted Honda V6 engines anyway, I like the 4cyls better. But I drive a VW, so what do I know? 🙂
I’m glad I’m not the only one who had a bad experience with this gen of Accord. In fall 1980, my then girlfriend got a 1978 Accord automatic as a hand me down from her folks. I had a brand new 1980 Mercury Capri RS Turbo with a manual. Since she didn’t drive stick, anytime she wanted to drive we took the Honda. I was initially impressed with the car, as it was assembled rather well, even better than my Fox body. To be honest, lots of things were better assembled than any Fox body.
But when we drove the thing, it was an absolute turd! My part of Northeast Ohio is rather hilly, and the combination of the larger Accord body, the 4 banger and the 2 speed autobox were a pretty sad combination. It was nearly lethal in the summertime when we had the air on. The motor had one speed, but several straining noises. It’s a good thing her folks put in a nice aftermarket stereo.
By the time she got the car, the front fenders had been replaced under a “secret warranty”, and the trans was occasionally making odd noises. By the time we stopped dating two years later, the carb had multiple issues, the trans was really acting weird and the replacement fenders had holes through them. The interior had gotten saggy and the paint was faded in two shades, original paint and the paint that was on the replaced fenders. It looked a little strange, to say the least.
The hatchback was a nice feature, but it was roughly the same size as my Capri’s hatch area. The Capri was much better at the acceleration game, but by 1982, it had terminal turbo syndrome, and I was looking for it’s replacement too.
By 1983 I had a new girlfriend and new car.
A lot of Japanese cars of that vintage struggled to cope with slushboxes and A/C. I had an ’80 Subaru and I used to switch the A/C off when merging onto the freeway. And it took both Honda and Toyota a few years to come up with automatic gearboxes that didn’t seem like halfhearted attempts to appease shiftless American customers.
I’d forgotten switching off the A/C to accelerate until you mentioned it. Enough power to sorta/kinda move the car, but not enough to drive an option probably seldom ordered in the home market at the time.
The only Honda I’ve ever owned was a CB750F0, but I’ve spend some time in earlier Accords and similar vintage Corollas. Other than the road noise being higher than the competition, Honda cars have seemed quite nice up until 2005. My father in law’s 06 Civic is uncomfortable and requires the driver to wear earplugs on the freeway. The last Accord I rented was a bulbous mess.
I miss the simplicity and functionality of the early Accord. Switchgear of decent enough quality, easily at hand. A steering wheel that has room for your hands at pretty much any position you want to put them. A light, smooth clutch and a gearbox better than most anything else ever.
That light weight of Hondas is at the expense of having less sound insulation. Fair trade off for me.
That may be so,but I often think of how the 1960 Peugeot 404 was the quietest car on the planet,more quiet than a Rolls Royce,Cadillac,Jaguar etc and yet used no insulation,just rubber mats on metal floors in the front and thin carpet with no underlay in the back.Minimal padding on the firewall also.
Am I having a bad case of deja vu, or isn’t this a repost? I know there have been several Accord columns. Or maybe it was on The Truth About Cars. Anyway, even if it’s a repost, it’s fun to see more commentary about one of my favorite cars. I still remember where I was the first time I saw a 3rd gen Accord (1986-89) and I lusted after one but never got one. I’m now the owner of a classic ’79 which has been interesting so far (parts are NOT easy, and I’m talking mechanical stuff, not just body) and I would love to find a great unmolested 3rd-gen. The ’86-’89 Accord was just the perfect car design in so many ways. It’s a little hard to see these days when they’re at the depths of value and condition and modification, etc., but it’s definitely one of the great classic cars. IMO It’s almost destined to be the ’57 Chevy of the ’80s.
I have a thing for the 3rd gen Accord myself. My wife bought a new ’88 a few months before we met, and we kept it for several years after. We were quite a couple with complementary cars – her with the Accord and me with a ’66 Fury III. Anytime we needed a/c, we took the Accord. I plan to write something on these at some point.
I’m old enough to remember when these things were new as my parents bought, as far as we know, the very first Accord in Tacoma back in ’76 and yes, it WAS the blue on blue with 5spd manual. my parents loved it but due to 2 daughters in college and my Dad a school district administrator (safety and risk), something had to give and so it was with the Honda and sold it to his former boss’ son in ’78 or so.
Loved that car and it has had a soft spot in my heart ever since, and they’ve had Hondas on several occasions since, an ’85 SE-I that they bought used in ’87, a ’91 EX four door they bought new and Mom bought a 2 YO Accord EX-L in ’99 and that was her last Honda as they just sit too low for her and now drives’ an ’04 Dodge Stratus.
I owned 2 Hondas myself, an ’83 Civic hatch and an ’88 Accord LX-I,the first car I’d own with fuel injection. Both were fantastic though both got rear ended but both were around 182K when that happened.
I just have to say the level of analysis in some of these articles is approaching magnificent, especially on Paul and Cavanaugh’s part. Just amazing. I sill aim to write the be all and end all ’88 New Yorker piece once I spot one sitting still outside a transmission repair shop lot or junkyard, so please guys, don’t steal my dream!
This site and Severson’s are easily the two best on the web for this kind of stuff. If we could just get Severson a little tipsy while he writes to loosen him up, and then have him do research for Paul and Cavanaugh’s stuff while he’s sober…nirvana.
Thank you for the complement. But I’m still a little unclear – should I be more sober or less in my own research or writing? Maybe I’ll give both a try. On the New Yorker, go for it. I have some great photos of a ’91 owned by a co-worker that I have been planning to do soon, but there are more ways than one to approach such a car.
After owning a good few old Fords and working on them almost daily, my dad went and bought a 8 year old Honda Quintet in 1991. And never worked on a car again. And after doing almost the same myself 17 years later I bought a 1990 Accord 2.2. It was an abused lowered ‘boy-racer’ car with 150k on it that I got for a reasonable price. Only reason I sold it after two years was that the cam belt change and front wheelbearings (you have to change them after dismantling the brake discs) would cost more than the car was worth. And the front seats were kinda flat (american style) and it wasn’t a hatchback, so it was not very practical. I regretted the sale a bit, and got on with owning some euro-trash cars, which always needed working on (BMW*s are the worst) Now that I’ve got two more small kids the last two years I needed a car that could seat a 5’7″ 12 year old and two baby seats in the back, but I still wanted a compact nippy car for everyday driving, and I happened to find a 2002 CR-V.(ERuro-spec 2.0 I-vtec) Still not very cheap, and as soon as the dealer warranty is out, I will open up the interior and doors to add (a lot of) sound insulation. But I’m quite sure I won’t have to do anything other than ‘regular maintenance’ on it (which compared to euro-trash standards is nothing….) To me it still has a lot of the spirit of the older Honda’s. It may look like a small SUV, but it’s a real compact MPV. Even if it needs some gas to work. (almost 6′ tall and 6′ wide means it gets short of breath above 60mph, but the general speed limit is 50-55 here anyways)
Anyone who’s read the history of Volkswagen and the Beetle, knows of its teething pains…engine tended to overheat; a non-synchro crash-box; a crank for those times the six-volt starting system let you down. No heat; not even through to the end. The quality came through only with development; and not only the car, but the company itself, Volkswagenwerk, had to be built up from, basically, scratch.
But VW had been in this market twenty-six years. The product and the minds behind them were fat and wealthy; the thinking stale. The same economic forces that made West Germany rich again, made its exports expensive to the world.
Honda was in an entirely different situation. The company was young; Soichiro Honda had founded it in a garage after the war. And he was still active in the company; an engineer, leaving his precepts on design as a personal imprimatur. Cars were a very new product to them; obviously one they had studied much and applied fresh-thinking to.
The Accord was new thinking; the Rabbit/Golf was from an aging company which had to be dragged away, kicking and screaming, from air-cooling. It was a response to Fiat’s transverse models…a response, not a new concept.
The Accord was hatched from excited engineers. The Golf had the cold, dead hand of bean-counters all over it. In retrospect it is no surprise that Honda’s star rose, breathtakingly so, as the VW juggernaut came close to crashing just over the horizon.
What ailed VW, ails Honda today. Not to the extent that VW suffered; but the signs are there. Size has grown. They’ve moved into markets alien to their simplicity/practicality thinking…SUVs and trucks. Having proven that the size of the first Accord can be used as a roomy, practical family car…they’ve nonetheless bulked up their models.
Today, the practicality, the elegant simplicity (to the extent that government standards allow it) seems to be eminating from Korea. In twenty years hence, it will seem plainer. But Honda has become…Establishment.
The one big flaw, which was surprisingly not fatal to its future sales, was rust. Not in the midwest, but Japanese car stronghold West coast and Hawaii. My aunt’s mint green 1st gen Accord literally rusted from the top down, junked at 40,000 miles. Even the cool, mild seacoast of California was fatal to the sheetmetal, like no other car I ever saw before or since.
Paul, thanks for another great article. It reminded me that I bought an old one of these from a friend who ran it into the ground and it was still impressive enough to make me buy the 1986 version. It really did make a big splash in the automotive world but was, as many have noted, very subject to rusting away. I had a friend who had a new ’65 Mustang and followed it with the 76 Accord. She could really pick ’em!
The 1st Accord is a true classic. But I think in the 70’s there were many Vegas, Gremlins, Stang II’s, and Pintos traded in, along with VW Beetles. In the 80’s when Accords were built in Ohio, then the Cutlass trades came in mass.
Now, the current Accord is a modern version of the Cutlass or even Delta 88!
I believe I’m in love!
I purchased my Accord new in 78. Been driving it ever since. I am finally having to have the engine rebuilt after 34 years, 260K miles but looking around, I don’t see anything new I like better. I do take exceptional care of my vehicles but the inherent solid design and simplicity of the Accord is the main reason it’s still on the road.
Let me show you my 81 Accord, 70,000 miles approx. Quebec car but never winter driven. Well, a bit on its first years but has been undercoated properly.
So impressed with Dennis Rowan’s 34yo accord, and his sentiments. Our first honda was a brown 78 cvcc civic, it was always the first choice, we took it everywhere. Residing in CT, with sometimes brutal winters, the new fwd inspired confidence. With the new 86 accord redesign, I replaced my Olds. with a silver 4 door, it had tight wishbone suspension, 5 speed, more space and better visibility than what I replaced. My 2 favorite details were the small item trays on the dash and the flat interior floor.The power, comfort and style for $11K was spot on, raising the bar again. 3 coworkers went on waiting lists for their own.
After posting some thoughts on another CC article, I started thinking back to my childhood memories of my aunt and uncle’s silver Honda Accord and an accident that could have been tragic.
This Accord hatchback was the family car of a husband and wife in Tennessee with two teenaged boys, and they loved it. It all came to an end on a fall evening in 1982 when this family was headed home from Chattanooga. Upon starting the long, winding drive down the west side of Sewanee Mountain, a truck hauling a bulldozer on a lowboy trailer missed a curve and veered right into the oncoming lane of traffic, directly in front of my relatives traveling in their ’78 Accord. My uncle swerved to avoid being hit and ended up skidding through loose gravel and right into a brick barrier on the side of the road.
Strangely, nobody in the car was hurt. The car was ruined, but so was the brick wall. (The highway department demolished what was left of the wall and then installed a guardrail.) We couldn’t decide if the car was unusually tough or if the wall was too weak to withstand an impact. At least nobody was hurt, but sadly the car was a total loss and had to be replaced.
We had many of these in my hometown when I was growing up. Lots of the green color 4 doors. They smoked a lot after 7-9 years on the road. It was not unusual to see the blue smoke behind them.
Here in north Florida, there is a 78 blue hatchback for sale on Craigslist…it even has a manual transmission. The St. Augustine Craigslist has a 1980 Accord sedan that looks pretty good for a 35 year old car. That car, unfortunately, has an automatic transmission. Price is about $3,000.
What the Accord did is help make FWD cars acceptable to folks who wanted/needed more than a super cheap/stripper “economy” car. It’s my guess that the Accord would help Toyota decide to replace the RWD Corona with the FWD Camry and Nissan the RWD 810 with the FWD Maxima.
Honda effectively duplicated Rambler’s strategy in the ’50s: a small car with std. goodies to soften the “blow,” adding Deming’s quality-control, leading-edge driveline technology, & driving panache into the bargain. Thus one could charge a premium for a small car, heresy in Michigan.
On the last point, well… sort of. Toyota and Nissan were certainly not oblivious to Honda’s U.S. success, but Honda was still small fry. There were also other considerations, like the fact that Toyota and Nissan wanted to sell more cars in Europe and were looking at competing with Volkswagen and Fiat.
Toyota and Nissan came at FWD more like GM and Ford did. Both Toyota and Nissan were selling a huge number of cars worldwide and had a combined share equal to more than two-thirds of the home market. They already had a wide range of RWD models in different segments, so adopted FWD was going to cost hundreds of billions of yen in tooling changes alone. That made it a matter of deciding at what point they were in danger of losing more from not switching (especially in smaller classes that were more concerned with packaging efficiency, but also in terms of seeming old-fashioned) and whether it was worth developing new products rather than risk alienating existing customers.
Honda came at FWD from basically the opposite direction. Except the S500/S600/S800 sports cars, pretty much all of Honda’s passenger cars had been FWD. Honda also wasn’t building nearly as many cars (and wasn’t building cars in nearly so many segments; their Japanese market share in the late ’70s was 6 or 7 percent). To add a somewhat bigger FWD car leveraging Civic technology was a logical extrapolation and was likely to be added volume (the failed 1300 notwithstanding).
So, Honda’s U.S. success was one consideration, but I think to say it was the definitive factor would be a big exaggeration. Toyota’s president of the time, Eiji Toyoda, made the point that what worked for a small company with relatively few products in a few categories wasn’t necessarily going to work for a big company with a broader range. He was talking specifically about Honda’s CVCC technology (which Toyota actually licensed), but based on what I’ve seen about the arguments surrounding FWD, it probably went for that as well.
The Corona was NOT replaced by the Camry except (sort of) in the U.S. lineup; the Camry was a completely separate product line. The first Camry, not sold here, was basically a restyled version of the RWD A40 Carina, which in the ’70s was positioned between the Corolla and Corona in size and price. (They were generally not sold in the same dealerships; Coronas were sold mainly through Toyopet, Carinas through Toyota, and Corolla through its own network.) The FWD SV10 Camry was developed specifically for the U.S. market, but was also sold in Japan through Corolla dealers; there was also a restyled version called Vista for the new dealer chain of that name.
The Corona switched to FWD in the early to mid ’80s (the sedans, coupes, and wagons switched a different times), at which point the Corona and Carina were combined onto a new FWD T-platform shared with the FWD Celica. The V-platform Camry and T-platform Corona/Carina were mechanically similar in many respects (similar suspensions, some shared engines and transmissions), but they weren’t the same platform or the same car. The Camry/Vista was somewhat bigger and didn’t offer the smaller engines available on the T-platform sedans. The Carina and Camry were offered simultaneously in some export markets, eventually including the U.K.
TL;DR. The upshot is that it’s risky to assume too much based solely on the U.S. market, particularly in that era.
Excellent analysis, Aaron. I would have to agree with your statement that Honda may have influenced others to go FWD, but not solely based on their success here in the US. Both FIAT and VW were selling FWD cars (that weren’t curiosities) in the US market before Honda became well known. (Even though they had an audience here, the Mini was something of a “boutique” car also and by the mid 1970’s you couldn’t purchase a brand new one anyway.)
I could see where larger, more established companies would have a bit of a tough time deciding when to adopt this layout for their cars. They had a lot invested in RWD tooling and facilities, these things don’t switch over with a magic wand. It’s kind of hard to imagine the big change that happened back then, we were quite used to the same layout as the horse and buggy days. Then this comes along and is heralded as the second coming. Which in a way, it was.
Also, how do the Japanese makes keep all of their marketing straight? They have more channels than a decent cable TV package!
I think it’s sort of like, say, ice cream. You can get certain popular varieties at whatever store happens to be most convenient, but if you acquire a taste for a particular store’s house brand or you have a hankering for a flavor only one chain carries, you’ll have to go to one of those stores.
It’s an imperfect analogy, but you get the idea. For example, Toyota sold the Corolla through its own chain along with the Camry, the Celica, and the Supra. You could also get a version of the Corolla (the Sprinter) through Toyota Auto stores and a version of the Camry (the Vista) was sold through Vista Stores, but if you wanted a Celica or a Supra, you had to go to a Corolla Store. (For a while in the ’90s, there was a twin of the Celica sold through the Vista chain, but it didn’t last terribly long.)
My supervisor had been a service manager at a Honda, VW, BMW dealer in Baltimore in the ’70s. Told me the Hondas were great for the first 60K miles or so; nothing broke, no issues. Then the troubles started, he said they would fall apart faster than most of his customers could afford to chase. Rust being the big one, even in sunny Baltimore! Lots of carb problems, sheet metal diverters in the exhaust manifold breaking loose and stuffing up the exhaust. Intake manifolds that carboned up the tiny third runner to the pre-chamber. And the infamous headgasket campaign. He had techs that could do a complete job in less than 2 hours; they were all on speed, but that was what it took.
When I had my NZ assembled Civic I had carb issues and went to the library to get info NZ had no emmission equipment installed so the carb was relatively simple but the diagramms and diagnostic information on the US version was quite the revelation ye gods what a mess.
The comments that they were 60K cars is just about right, At that point it was just one thing after another and many parts were dealer only and not cheap. Those first-gen Civics and Accords were ubiquitous back then. 10-15 years later they vanished from the face of the earth.
Blasphemy, the early Hondas were nothing short of perfect cars that never needed any repairs. Never did a head gasket, water pump or fan switch fail at 50-60K nor did the axles or front wheel bearings start making noise at 80K, The heat shields inside the exhaust manifold (thermal reactor) would never come loose and plug up the exhaust. By the way that thermal reactor with interior heat shields was there just for fun, it wasn’t necessary to clean up the emissions.
It didn’t take being on speed to do a head gasket on a non-AC equipped CVCC i two hours it just took not following the book procedure. Instead you slide the timing belt off of the cam sprocket w/o taking off the lower cover, then leave carb intake, exhaust manifold and distributor on the head.
No I haven’t done those procedures on those engines dozens of times, it is all in my imagination, or so all the Honda fan-bois tell me.
I see what you did there…
As I related my experiences several years ago, I’ve never understood the emotion people attach to these early Hondas. Going back to the early 80’s, even with as bad as my Detroit designed and made Ford product was (and it was pretty bad, no lie), it was still better than the Accord my former girlfriend had.
But, to each their own. I kept on buying Fords until the 1990’s. Then I gave up.
It’s natural for a mechanic to see only the downside of a car. Evidently the naysayers here would have us believe that upstart Honda had hypnotic powers over customers which Fiat & Renault, for example, lacked.
What downside? They were very profitable.
That’s a Truism: What car is so reliable that it’s a money-loser for specialist mechanics?
My ex had an 81, the same color. I had thought it was a two speed HondaMatic with a lock up torque converter. Paul corrected me, it was a three speed, with only two forward gear selectors-Drive and Low.It was fine around town, but passing on two lane highways was scary, second was only good for 55mph, which I thought was first. And 70 was about 4000 rpm, though quite tolerable for the engine was silky smooth. It had 150k miles, and only smoked after starting due to tired valve stem seals. Never had a carb issue or head gasket failure.
Then I learned Honda went to all four speeds in 83, even for Civics. It was an in house design, not sourcrd from Borg W, ZF, or cloned from GM as Toyota. A few Toyotas had overdrives around that time, the AOD was clunking around, the 200r4’s were getting destroyed by Olds Diesels, and Mercedes had had four speeds going way back, though without torque converters- hydraulic coupled as the Hydramatic. Honda was again innovative, too bad they messed up their recent five speed.
Honda had a philosophical commitment to developing in-house technology, which is one of those things that can be both good and bad. Sometimes, it gives you useful innovations, but sometimes it just points out that certain things are orthodox for a reason.
In the grand pantheon of bad years for cars, I put the time frame that encompassed stuff like the Vega, Citation, Olds Diesel, Cadillac V4-6-8, Pinto, and just about all of Chrysler’s stuff, say, about a half dozen years prior to Iacocca showing up.
It was into this world that the Honda Accord was borne. Although that car certainly had issues, too (the 60k mile mark seems to be when the things started coming apart), it must have been nothing short of revelation to the American car buying public compared to everything else (non-Japanese) that was being sold at the time.
Personally, I can’t say I’m much of a Honda fan. Had one, a new 1985 Accord sedan. When the front rotors warped and needed to be replaced (non-warranty) at 10k miles, it was my last. And, from what I’ve read, nothing’s changed.
With that said, Honda still sets a pretty high mark. Stuff like every one of their current vehicles having a back-up camera standard goes a very long way to maintaining a loyal customer base. Honda might not have the reliability aspect covered quite as well as Toyota, but they more than make up for it in a much more rewarding driving experience (in most cases) and their vehicles are all packaged extremely well.
Funny you should mention him, I was just thinking with the mention of the Elite that after these years even Lee “Sell the Sizzle” Iacocca had to start paying attention to engineering and basic product quality, at least a couple days a week…
It’s been a long time, so my memories could be hazy, but the “60k mileage lifetime” statements surprise me. I recall many friends who put 150-200k trouble-free (I mean zero problems – gas, oil, tires, filters and maybe front brake pads) commute miles on late ’70’s Civics and Accords (in California). In fact I think of this generation of Hondas as being one of the first cars that truly made 100K seem like just broken in. Maybe I was jealous – I was driving a Vega then ….so anything seemed more durable.
They most definitely did need their timing belts replaced at 60K; I did find that out the hard way, but at least the engine didn’t destroy itself.
By the ’90s, the book said 90K or 105K, but given the potential for valve damage, doing it at 60K seemed like a prudent move. On the other hand, quite a few modern Alfa Romeos need a timing belt change at 30K, so… (I don’t know if that’s still true of the MiTo and Giulietta — I haven’t checked.)
I never cared much for the Accord (but see how much better it looks than the Prius. about 10 times better. As for the 4 door version, well, yuk. I have never seen a 4 door car I had any feelings about. Dull, bland, boring, a taxicab. I’ve never seen one I didn’t think was ugly. What I did fall in love with was the mid ’70s Civic. In yellow. I wanted one in the worst way. I’m even considering buying a new yellow Fiat 500 2 door, because it reminds me so much of that Honda.
As for the Rabbit, I have been an air cooled Beetle lover all my life. But I still liked the first generation of the Rabbit 2 door. While it was still square. And while it may have been spartan, it was not cheaply built. The body was solid as a rock. They lost me when they rounded it off and renamed it the Golf.
It was always called Golf in Europe; why VW USA thought Rabbit was a better name is beyond me. I wish they offered the Polo too, but it must’ve been hard to Federalize or was too expensive to be competitive. I got to ride in one while visiting Germany in the ’80s & was very impressed.
My friend’s brother back then thought “golf” was German for “rabbit.” It isn’t. My H.S. teacher Frau Hodjera drove a Rabbit; she always warned, with pursed lips, “It’s later zen you think!” when her German class got too frivolous.
I remember when the first Accord was introduced, and what a fuss it caused. There really had not been anything quite like it up to that point; it came well equipped, was very attractively styled by the standards of the time, and was neatly finished in a way that neither Toyota nor Nissan had quite pulled off yet.
I bought a 1977 Accord in 1982, and drove it for about five years, until the previous owner’s poor maintenance caught up with it and it turned into an oil burner. There was so much I liked about that car: it was easy to work on (I could change the oil myself, tune it, adjust the valves), it was put together well, it was reasonably quiet, it was comfortable, it was surprisingly zippy and agile, the transmission was decent, and it could accommodate the driver and three passengers in a pinch without too much discomfort. It had air conditioning, and I still got decent fuel mileage. On top of that, I never had to deal with the rust issues that did plague them, because the car lived in a dry climate.
The first Accords were the right car in the right place at the right time. No wonder people ate them up!
I just can’t jump on the early Civic/Accord bandwagon. I owned a ’76 Civic (new) and a ’79 Accord purchased one year later from people moving to Alaska. That Accord was so bad they had to move to Alaska just to get away from it. The Hondas were the worst cars I have owned; worse than comtemporary GM cars of that time, even. Recalls for a thermo-vacuum valve, head gaskets and rust. Failed head gaskets on both, cracked cylinder head; pre chamber seals, fan switch and water pump failures, worn synchros, on and on and on. And the rest of the car was hardly better. A 35K mile car; I knew others with the same problems. I don’t think X cars were this bad.
Look, these were an attractive package with a handsome design, they were mostly fun to drive, and featured an intellectually appealing solution to more stringent emission regulations (the CVCC). I almost bought another one in ’83 before I drove a Civic demonstrator with a worn out 2nd gear synchro (with 600 miles). But really, beyond the way the car was packaged, there wasn’t anything about the early Accord that was revolutionary. The CVCC cars were fragile, had poor driveability, mediocre fuel mileage, and technologically were a dead end street for emissions compliance. By 1977, the VW Rabbit and Scirocco were fitted with both fuel injection and catalytic converters, providing much better throttle response, and were better handling cars with appealing designs of their own. They cost more, but were worth it. And, they just couldn’t have been any worse reliability-wise than the Hondas.
I’d certainly consider a new Fit for my next car, and I liked seeing the $11K 1986 Civic Si a couple of months ago here on CC, but I just can’t understand the depth of adulation for these early Hondas.
It’s interesting to see the diversity of experiences with the early Accords; my father loved his. I had moved to the West Coast by then (home was near Buffalo NY) and I only came home to visit occasionally. I still remember be surprised by the awe in his voice when he said of his 78 Accord, “90,000 miles and all I’ve done is brake pads, oil, and tires”. In those days, the rule of thumb was to dump a car before 50,000 miles. People have forgotten now in the days where 150,000 mile is expected of any car.
As for rust, yeah it rusted but not nearly as badly as the 74 Plymouth he had owned which had orange rust showing through the paint after two years(and which wouldn’t right either, thanks to the pollution controls), and nothing like the Fords
runningrusting around in those days. Buffalo is serious salt-scattering country and I remember seeing a 3 year old Ford with the edge of the trunk lid rusted through along with other holes. Just for the record, after the Plymouth experience, this Accord got the deluxe-deluxe Zeibart rust-proofing on it. That didn’t save it, but there was enough of it left to trade it in at 100,000 or so miles and it was still worth something.
Judge these Accords based on your personal experiences, as you should, but my dad lived another 25 years and never bought another American car.
I wouldn’t mind having a Honda Fit at all, if they made a 2 door model. Notice how most economy cars of that era (American, Japanese, and European) were 2 door? I also liked the Datsun B210 “Honey Bee” It was their cheapest car, they put the Honey Bee name and stripe on it as a marketing ploy to make it sell, and boy did it ever. Today the Versa is Nissan’s cheapest model, but no 2 door. The new Honda Civic and Accord are available as 2 door models, but they are almost impossible to find and cost more than the 4 door model.
Loved the green 4-door starting in ’78. The proportions were unique and I preferred the raised hood over the dipping one on the 2-door. Honda’s clearcoat may not have been the most durable but it looked expensive, more like what you would find on a German car than another Japanese. The chunky Porsche-style mirrors caught my eye and contributed to the premium image. One of the first cars I remember having a dealer markup.
Nice cars of Honda
Thanks for Admin.
We had two Hondas (well, three, if you count the Honda lawnmower that we still own, but haven’t used for 18 years thanks to the fact we got rid of our lawn in 1998). An ivory ’81 Accord 4-door 5-speed that we bought from Honda Auto Center of Bellevue, WA in late 1981 when they retired it from their loaner car fleet and a champagne beige metallic ’86 Civic 4-door with the automatic that we bought in 1989 from the same dealer.
The ’81 was pretty reliable until the radiator leaked all of its coolant out during xmas 1995 and the engine seized about 25 miles away from home. The only other issues we had were with a dead temp sensor for the fast idle unloader valve, so it wouldn’t run at fast idle when cold and the main fuse block started shorting out in 1994. No fires or anything, but it sometimes would lose power. Pop the hood, move the fuse block, and power would come back on. Replaced it with one from the yard. Kept on trucking. After the engine seized, we had a junkyard swap an engine in to replace it. Said longblock was from a JDM 1979 Accord. Supposedly had 95,000 miles, but we suspect that the odometer in the donor car had flipped over at least once or twice. Had head noise and smoked like no tomorrow. Also had a mildly blown head gasket. The first two problems I suspect were caused by the retainers for the auxiliary valves being loose. The early CVCC engines tend to loosen those over time and then begin to smoke like the rings are shot. About a month after the swap, some of the valve springs broke. Sent the car back to the yard and they replaced them, but I think they did it with the head on the car, since it still had the head gasket leak. We sold the car in early June 1996 for $1500. It had some rust in the trunk from leaky taillamp gaskets, but was still solid in the floors and strut towers. Saw the car in 2001 at the local post office, so it survived until at least 2001. It may or may not still be on the road today.
The Civic was also fairly reliable, except that it kept having fuel pump issues (mechanical pump, instead of the electric pump on the Accord), and being rather slow with it having the autotragic and only 84 ft lbs of torque at 3500 rpm, compared to 94-96 (depending on year – 1979-80 were 94, 1981-83, plus california 1980 were 96) at 3000 for the EK1 engine in the Accord. The Civic also wound up having an engine swap done, mainly due to people not listening to me when I’d tell them that it was time to get the oil changed. Ran it for 40,000 miles on the same fill of oil. 9,000 miles later, cylinder #4 went dead. It received an ’84 EW engine from Japan with about 60,000 km when it got pulled and sent to the states. Sold it in early 1997.
Since then we’ve driven either swedish or american cars. I am, however, thinking about finding a decent ’80-’81 Accord and restoring it to mostly stock. Had a chance in 2000 or 2001 when there was a fairly decent ’80 Accord sedan in a yard near Olympia. Was still complete. Had some minor damage on the right front corner which was fixable.
I had a 1979 Accord LX hatchback from 1990-1992. It was bronze and being in northwest Indiana was quite severely rusted. Had 186,000-ish miles on it when I got it. I met my still-now wife with it. Went on lots of long drives and taught her to drive a stick with it. Even the a.c. worked well and it got great mileage. Later we had a 1981 and both had to be junked for the same reason. Complete rusting out around the motor. The front ends literally held together by the engine block. Both were 1.8-ish liter motors and 5- speeds but the ’79 was non-catalyst and noticeably peppier. Easy to fix too until the inevitable. But great memories of that car and starting a life together with a great lady!
Had a 1981 Accord LX Hatchback in Hampstead green. Was my favorite car to drive, for it was light and had aftermarket Tokico gas struts and the best 185/70R13 tires at first Pheonix 3011’s then Pirelli 600’s on the 4-door SE Magnesium wheels… Drove it across the country four times three times west once eastbound, it was shipped to DC by an employer. Stopped being able to have the transmission fixed, replaced it with a Japanese market 5-speed with different gear ratios. Even visited AHM Plant in Marysville Ohio in 1987… on my first move west.
Never got around to buying a Honda, but came close in 1986, this is the model I would have bought. Back then you had to buy the LXI model to get fuel injection, and I wasn’t looking for the power windows and locks that came with it, so I got my ’86 GTi instead.
They stopped making the hatch in ’89, too bad for me it never again coincided with my buying cycle so I never got one. Like midsize hatches, they are basically extinct now.
Saw first one across the street from where we lived in Shelburne, must have been 1977 or so. The former AMC dealer became the Honda dealer, might have gotten it there.
I remember hearing these were prone to engine failure about 50,000 miles, or was that Detroit disinformation?