Curbside Classic: 1983 Honda Accord – Honda Revolutionizes The US Industry, Again

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(first posted 3/14/2011)    If it wasn’t enough to build The Most Revolutionary Small Car In America (1973 Civic)  And The Most Influential Modern Car In America, (1976 Accord), in 1982, Honda revolutionized the industry again by opening the first modern transplant factory (VW’s brief experiment notwithstanding). Honda’s timing was perfect too, coming right on the heels of the 1981 Voluntary Export Restraint Agreement (“VER”). At a time when the Made In USA flag was being waved even by WalMart, Honda looked like a genius. American workers in depressed rust-belt Marysville, Ohio were cranking out exactly what the market wanted: a high-quality efficient compact car. No wonder this Accord set the stage for its climb to the the number one sales spot just a few years down the all-American road.

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If memory serves me, Marysville only cranked out the sedans, at least to start with. So the red hatchback coupe may well be of Japanese origin. No matter; although some aficionados of the brand claimed to be able to tell the difference between domestic and Japanese built Accords, in reality there was no substantial difference. And in a way, that was the really the biggest story of all.

Quality at US car plants had been slipping precariously all through the seventies, and the whole domestic industry’s rep was in tatters. Botched new cars like the Aspen/Volare (1976) and GM’s X-Bodies (Citation, etc; 1981) fueled the exodus to quality, which the Japanese had been sending this way for some time. But the idea of a US-built Honda was not nearly as easy to swallow then as it soon became.

The whole story of Honda’s unexpected arrival in Marysville was fascinating to watch as it unfolded; an experiment in trust-building all the way around. But it soon became the model that has been, and still is being replicated repeatedly, although generally further south to be more securely away from the clutches of the UAW.

I remember being a bit dubious myself; we’d convinced ourselves that American auto workers could never meet the notorious standards of what we saw on tv from the Japanese factories: calisthenics, gleaming factories, workers able to stop the line without retribution, and workers meeting regularly to figure out ways to improve build quality as well as to reduce costs. Compared to what had been going (wildcat strikes, sabotage) on at GM’s Lordstown, Ohio plant not far away, it might as well have been another planet.

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But the time was over-ripe for a revolution in car production, and the UAW knew it too. Throughout the eighties and ninetees, the Marysville model was increasingly adopted as America’s own. GM entered into a joint venture with Toyota (NUMMI), Chrysler did the same with Mitsubishi (Diamond Star), and the experiences gained are now SOP. But in 1982, Honda was the true pioneer.

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So what about these gen2 Accords as cars other than industry history? They typified the steady incremental improvements Accords would (generally) see every four years, until more recent times, anyway. Size was up, as always. The second generation had a decidedly more substantial feel to them, and was the first step in its evolution from a compact to today’s full-sized car. But none of the precision feel was lost; if anything, the gen2 Accord felt better built and exuded a distinctly higher quality feel.

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Mechanically, the prior Accord’s 1751 cc CVCC four was carried over, to be enlarged to 1830 cc in 1984. They still had carburetors, which Honda somehow managed to make work remarkably well in that era of rapidly tightening emission controls. With 75 hp, the Accord was decidedly not a sporty car per se, yet it was always quite willing to impersonate one. Honda never really pursued any over enhancement of the Accord’s sporty abilities, instead choosing focusing more on the profit-rich upscale direction, with the 1984 SE-i which sported fuel injection, 101 hp, but a decidedly plusher interior. No Brougham, though.

These Accords were what Accords have always been: providing a degree of tactical and mechanical refinement one step ahead of the competition. And of course with legendary reliability. There are a fair number (update: a few) of this generation still in front line duty hereabouts, but there vulnerability to rust in other climes is known. I picked these two, because they’re both of the first two year variants (’82-’83), before the front end restyle. I happen like this style better.

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The jump that Honda had over Toyota in this era was remarkable. Honda was already introducing second generation FWD cars and US-built ones at that, while Toyota was still selling RWD compacts. The Accord would become the first Japanese nameplate to reach the top of the US sales stats in 1989. Heady times, and decidedly revolutionary ones at that. That doesn’t exactly happen very often, the closest thing being Hyundai’s recent explosion. But they’re really just playing by Honda’s play book, as old and tattered as it now is.

More Accords:

CC 1976 Accord (gen1): Modern Architecture  PN

CC 1986-1989 Accord (gen3) : Ignoring The Future In Favor Of The Present   Perry Shoar

CC 1990 Accord (gen4): Naturalized Citizen   Perry Shoar

CC 1996 Accord Wagon (gen5): You Might Think It Was The Last Of The Breed  Jim Grey