By on March 4, 2010

This is the companion piece to the Most Influential Modern Global Car: the 1975 VW Rabbit/Golf. Now if I had the same photographic luck as with the Rabbit, there would be a big American car in the same shot, say something like this. Well, the Florence Apt’s [sic] will do fairly well as a stand-in, with its traditional architecture. Because if any one car can take credit for re-inventing the traditional “American” car, it’s this Honda Accord.

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. The Honda super-sized itself, and became a genuine corn-fed American. Ironically, VW has just now figured that out after thirty years, and is developing “American-sized” sedans to compete with 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 utterly impossible to build at a profit Honda 1300. But the Civic was a 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 ones’ words is a good exercise, and can be highly profitable, in Honda’s case. And the opposite, in VW’s: they’re still bleeding mega-millions in the US.

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 was five inches less than a current Hyundai Accent, and it was about the same length overall (160″) as that almost smallest of cars available today.  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 then 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. The Accord went the exact opposite way: 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 lets face it, American coupes, typified by the Ford Elite and the like had miserable space utilization, horrible efficiency, were 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 had become a pretty stodgy affair.

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 it had a complete and balanced dynamic that every Accord 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 still loyal 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. In a recent discussion here at TTAC, it was argued that Detroit’s miserable small cars where 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. 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. But as we speak, the Accord is likely to reclaim its seat at the top in 2010, once again America’s sweetheart. The fact that it’s now a full sized car makes the Big Honda’s remarkable trip into the hearts of Americans and the near-destruction of Detroit all that much more remarkable and ironic.

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107 Comments on “Curbside Classic: The Most Influential Modern Car In America – 1976 Honda Accord...”


  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Had both the hatchback and 4-doors.

    Magnificent machines, and they were responsible for me not purchasing a big 3 product from ’76 through 2006. It was so relaxing having an attractive, reliable, and fun to drive car…instead of the GM junkmobiles that I had the misfortune to purchase previously.

  • avatar
    bmoredlj

    I’m proud to own a successor to the original Accord hatch – a ’97 Civic hatch. While larger than the old Civics, it’s very similar in size to this Accord, weighs 2400 lbs, has less than 100 horsepower, and fits in spaces only MINIs and Smarts can compete for. It’s a fantastic car…but Honda doesn’t currently make anything that could replace it when it (someday) dies. Which is a shame. But then besides the Golf, Americans don’t seem to have a profitable enough taste for the 3-door.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Amen-

      I once had a ’95 Civic. Regardless of where I go and what I do, it will always remain the finest automobile I have ever owned.

      My kingdom for a hatchback Civic. Not a chinzy Fit, not a Civic that is equivalent to the ’90s model Accord, but a 3-door hatchback Civic.

      Perfect commuter car, functional, and a lot of fun to drive.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    My current car is a 2008 Accord EX-L V6. I’m very happy with it and it does everything well but, there’s just something missing.

    The original Accord had a certain jewel-like quality to it that was so surprising in that era. It showed that cheap and nasty didn’t necessarily have to go together.

    Although I like my new Accord very much, I can’t help but feel that Honda lost that magic quality somewher along the journey from size S to XXL.

    The original was full of innovation and thoughtful details and the newer generations are so similar to all the other commodity cars out there.

    It’s actually starting to feel like Honda is now slighly behind the curve rather than way ahead.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      One of the things about my 1980 and 1982 Accords that exemplified their quality was the really nice metallic silver paint on the wheels that seemed to last and to shine forever. Rabbit and Bug wheels surface-rusted after a year or two in salt-free western WA.

    • 0 avatar
      Audi-Inni

      So true and very well and honestly said. “Jewel-like” is very apt – they were well put together and models of efficiency in design and operation. So, so different from anything coming out of Detroit or elsewhere (even Germany) at the time. I laugh at the reference to C/D’s 10 Best because the Accord seems to get a bye from them since there is no way, no how it’s of the 10 Best any longer. It’s competent, but I appreciate your recognition that it lacks a certain quality of the originals through, what I’d say, the late 80′s/early 90′s. The ’83 Prelude was probably the best representation of Honda at that time – a really terrific car.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to say that our own 2008 EXL V6 is the best car I have ever owned. That the new Accord catches such flack here and elsewhere is more a testament to the overall quality of today’s cars, I think.

      What kind of real-world mileage did the original Accord get with unleaded? I’d be interested to see how it stacks up to new ones.

    • 0 avatar
      tallnikita

      I think that magic is lost when they are trying to get $30K for an Accord, never mind that it’s as big as a Buick.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    interesting perspective, paul. these came out in when i was in high school in new jersey. we didn’t really think of them as small cars like the “rabbit” aka golf. they were thought of as a cheap alternative to european cars. we were all sick of detroit metal and envied the people on the hill who were trading in caddies for benzes and bmw’s. the accord was a relatively comfortable way for four people to get around. it handled like a dream and didn’t spend much time in the shop. no one wanted a “gas guzzler.” the rabbit was too spartan and felt cramped. the rabbit was a good car for a teenager but the accord was seen as practical family car and a decent replacement for the malibu/cutlass/sklark gm’s that were everywhere in the seventies. i would really like to see a comparison between the accord hatchback and a 2-door gm.

    http://tinyurl.com/yb2rhfk

  • avatar
    segfault

    “And if we can’t make it simple, we don’t make it.”

    The designers of the proboscis on Acura’s current lineup didn’t get the memo.

    • 0 avatar
      RangerM

      The carburetor in those years was a nightmare.

      Honda didn’t make everything about those cars simple. It was nice to be able to use leaded gas in my ’78 hatch, while it was available.

      • 0 avatar
        Rigaudon

        Agree to that one – I had an ’83 Accord LX hatch and I loved it, but under some condition the car would buck like a bronco getting started. Fuel injection is sooo much nicer. We had an .82 Civic 4 door too and that one had some kind of emissions/carburation issue that caused it to surge, but other than they they were cars that handled great and lasted. Thank God we weren’t in accident though!

  • avatar
    Hank

    Wow. Adjusted for inflation, the Accord was just $15,229.02* well equipped. That’s puts some things in perspective. I drove one of these in ’90. Great car.

    * using the U.S. Dept of Labor’s inflation adjustment calculator

    • 0 avatar
      Juniper

      That is affordable. But the Yen was what? 250-300 to One?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Very good point. I’ll run with it a little:

      That would mean that the current Civic is really the successor to this car, and the current Accord doesn’t have an analogue among Honda’s older lineup.

      This is akin to the prior Curbsider, but in the other direction. Instead of a traditionally big-car nameplate on a small car, we have a small-car nameplate on a big one.

      There is nothing wrong with this. If you liked the 1970-whatever Civic, the Fit would be the equivalent car. If you like the Accord, buy the current Civic. I think that, had the last two Accords been given different nameplates (“Legend” or “Inspire”) and the current Civic labeled “Accord”** that much of the enthusiast hand-wringing would be reduced.

      That this could happen without any changes to Honda’s lineup tells you how much of the “problem” has everything to do with enthusiasts’ suffering cognitive dissonance and nothing to do with the actual product.

      ** and the Fit labeled as a Civic.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      A manual transmission 2010 Civic DX has an MSRP of $15,455. It IS the direct successor to the original Accord. DX trim is also about as close as you can get as far as content as well. No AM/FM radio, but adds power windows, a trade-off. The Fit is too JDM for typical American tastes, even if the size is closer.

    • 0 avatar

      “That this could happen without any changes to Honda’s lineup tells you how much of the “problem” has everything to do with enthusiasts’ suffering cognitive dissonance and nothing to do with the actual product.”

      I agree with this completely. Most of the endless beefs that enthusiasts have nowadays with Hondas seem to essentially boil down to the fact that they don’t like how big some of the models have become. Fine and dandy – but don’t knock what is still a mostly terrific lineup of cars just because you can’t handle the fact that some of the models have grown over the years. Honda quality is still solid; is Toyota’s?

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      @nikita

      No AM/FM radio? You mean you can buy a Civic that hasn’t got a radio at all? You can buy a car that hasn’t got a radio at all? Seriously?

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Truly amazing car. Even more amazing is that it was also Honda who knocked the motorcycle manufacturers of the world on their keisters when they released the CB750 just a few years earlier.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    My soon to be new bride and I wandered into the Honda dealership in the summer of ’77, put $500 down on a car virtually unseen and then waited 3 months for it to show up. If you weren’t around in the mid-70s you can have no idea of the revelation that the Accord was. The levels of fit, finish, performance, and built in options were just extraordinary. It commenced a two decade era in which we probably sold a couple of dozen Hondas to friends and family. And was the first of four Hondas we owned over that period. (Alas we are now stuck up assholes who only drive Audis and BMWs.) Interestingly enough, the first year CVCC Accords were plagued by blown head gasket problems – so buy a ’78 if you are looking for that pristine antique – but even after three in 45,000 miles (all fixed on the qt for free), we still loved it.

    It was a fabulous car, even the one we had with the weird two speed automatic (my wife didn’t drive a stick back then). About the only cars from the mid-late ’70s you ever see these days are those old Hondas. Which should tell you something. Yes, it was a truly revolutionary automobile, and it is nice to see someone write the homage to it that it justly deserves. Now if someone will just explain to me what the Hell Honda is doing replacing the iconic VFR750/800 with that overpriced VFR1200 with the miniscule gas tank I would appreciate it….

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      The VFR, historically, has been the Prelude of Honda’s motorcycle division, their technology showcase. They used to be stupid fast — how many 120hp bikes are there that are eligible for historic tags? I have a garageful of first-generation V4s which, while complex for their time, are not terribly difficult to work on once you master a few esoteric procedures. The VTEC VFR800 is a nightmare to work on — too-tight packaging and a myriad of insanity-inducing procedures just to check valve clearances properly, much less adjust them. And they’re hardly fast any more — competing bikes in its niche are making 75 percent more power with less weight.

      After the V4 RC45 was replaced by the V-twin RC51 and then the I-4 CBR1000RR in production-based racing, the V4s were allowed to wither on the vine for eight years, with essentially no changes, while the race-reps got the technological advances. Now that MotoGP has reestablished the four-stroke V4 at the top of the technology heap, the VFR is carrying the mass-market tech torch again.

      You may not remember how much heavier and slower the 1990 VFR was compared to the 1986-89 VFR700/750 it replaced–but there was a very similar outcry then. I don’t care, personally. I don’t mind heavy bikes. I do wish the 1200′s tank was bigger. But that’s not going to stop me from checking out the new VFR at the dealer on Saturday morning.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Growing up near Detroit, I never got a lot of exposure to this first generation of Accords. Around 1986, while visiting some old friends in Irvine, CA, however, we spent a few days driving around in their 1984 Accord, which was a bit of a revelation to us. I had never been in a sedan that seemed that fun to drive (it was a manual transmission, no less).

    My father’s 1978 Buick Regal had recently done a self immolation trick burning itself to the ground on the driveway in front of our house so we needed a replacement. My Dad ended up picking up a (really, really horrible) used Buick Skylark (85 hp, automatic, vinyl interior) as a stopgap, but the memory of that little happy Honda remained. When the Skylark refused to start on cold days, it got to be too much and it was sold in favor of a 1987 Accord LXi.

    To me, that third generation Accord with the pop-up headlights, the airy cockpits, low front ends, and unbelievable refinement was just so far superior to any other midsize car of the day there was little contest.

    Of course, that ’87 Accord was still smaller than today’s Civic. The Accord has become more like the traditional large car, the Civic has moved into the space formerly occupied by the Accord and the Fit replaced the Civic.

    I haven’t owned a Honda in years, but I recently test drove a slightly used ’08 Civic Si sedan and fell in love all over again. The dashboard design leaves me a bit cold, but the car just felt so happy and eager.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    That Accord has a ticket on the windshield. I think Lutz musta wrote it. ;-)

    I think Honda cars were greatly aided by the acceptance of Honda motorcycles here in the US in that 60′s – 70′s era, something you tangentially touched on. Toyota and the others didn’t enjoy this benefit. Even BMW may have gotten some panache off that, but not nearly as much as Honda. The kids all wanted a 50cc Honda minibike back in the day, and then they had some bigger rigs, too.

    $4k for a small car? That was a HUGE price. Vega and Pinto were set up to move at 1/2 that price. Certainly a huge gulf in price and quality between those 2 philosophies. Honda hit it right, but was it because of a guess? Did the Big 3 just guess wrong? Or was it just beneath them to spend all that valuable product development time on a little soupcan that no car guy would ever be caught dead in? Would they have had to draw the short straw to see who’d be forced to chief-engineer this soupcan?

    • 0 avatar
      Zasdoogy

      Crash, I believe that there’s a book out there that has some revelations on Detroit’s stance and answer to Honda’s Accord being introduced here. I do not remember the publication at hand, but will do research and post it here. I do recall reading, however, that they did *NOT* believe that this car would be of any significant issue, and they had the “the Japs can’t do anything to hurt us” attitude throughout Detroit.

      The overall sentiment from the Big 3 was, “We were here first, we are bigger than they are, and we will always prevail.” Funny to know that 30 some odd years later, the Big 3 is no longer the juggernaut it once used to be.

      IF anyone else finds that book before I do, please post it. It might take a better part of tonight for me to find it.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      Z , it wasn’t just 35 years ago. The Detroit 3 were laughing at that Toyota T-100 as little as 10 years ago. The old truckers may have laughed at it, underpowered wussymobile that it was, but notice they all immediately launched into “tough truck” mode shortly thereafter. And now, Tundra has moved beyond that first generation, and is right there with all of the Detroit 3′s 1500 series. And Tacoma beats all their little trucks. The D3 is poised to lose on even the profitable truck market, if they don’t watch out. Heavy Duty trucks are the only market where the Detroit 3 has no competition now.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @crash sled: I would tend to disagree with your assessment of the light truck segment. While the D3 have all but abandoned the small truck market, with the exception of the Ford Ranger, the larger trucks are still king in the US. What is the best selling vehicle in the US? F-150. Who’s third? Chevy Silverado. Chrysler’s best selling vehicle? Ram. Amurricans love their trucks.

      Outside of the Tundra, what competition do the full sized D3 trucks have, but each other? Honda doesn’t have a truck, the Ridgeline is a Pilot with a box. The Nissan lineup? Not very popular. Mazda? Leftover Rangers, nothing full sized. Suzuki? Rehashed Nissan and nothing full sized, either. The Taco and Tundra are about the only competition.

      As far as I can see the Tundra goes to Toyota owners. The Taco has it’s own following and I would agree that it beats the other small trucks in sales volume. But I haven’t seen an ad for a Ranger, Dakota or Colorado/Canyon in years! I can say that I have been seeing ads for Tacomas lately as Toyota has been blitzing the TV airwaves in light of the recalls.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      geo, I agree the Detroit 3 dominates in truck volume, and will for the near future. I don’t believe Tundra has ever even cracked the 1/4M yearly sales mark. But I was speaking more about class status than volume, and Tundra is basically the equal of the D3 in the 1500 series. In powertrain, I think Tundra has them all beat, particularly Ford. In real fuel economy, it seems to have a small to middling advantage as well, and this attribute is killing this segment as we know.

      But look where Toyota started from… nothing. It’s just like this Accord discussion, where Honda started small, then grew to dominate a market, or at least share dominance. Toyota is angling for that same thing I suspect.

      Nissan is the only other significant player, and they’re still hashing out their issues and not ready for prime time. But they will be, and they’ll both bring on a diesel soon, and head right into that Heavy Duty market, the only thing the D3 truly owns right now. The last bastion. The last portion of the automotive industry they solely hold. Well, maybe vans they own still.

      Tacoma seems to rule the small truck segment. Maybe Nissan making inroads, but not much that I can see. And Honda does not make a truck, don’t let Motor Trend fool you with that Ridgeline nonsense! I don’t see Tacoma ads much, but it’s Detroit, maybe they’re not on here. I think the Detroit 3 has a big miss here. Ford was gonna kill Ranger after 2008MY, if you can believe it, and it hasn’t been refreshed in forever. Colorado is a disaster. Small trucks woulda been a wonderful stepdown during the gas crunch, but they had no good choices available. I couldn’t even buy a 4-cyl Ranger a couple years ago. Poor decision by all of them I believe.

      It’d be a shame if the D3 rolls over on even the truck market.

    • 0 avatar
      Zasdoogy

      @geo: You hit the nail on the head: as of the near-term, D3 has a strong-hold, though looking at the history of cars, they had that attitude about sedans and look where it put them. Lackadaisical thinking ended up where they are now and they seem to have that same sense of non-urgency on the Truck market. Granted, Toyota is the only auto maker getting into this segment in a big way of the 3 Japanese automakers, but let’s not forget that the Koreans are looking towards that market, as well as the Chinese. Honda may not have a real “truck” per-se, but they’ve never really focused on that segment (even at home) and probably won’t. Nissan, on the other hand, with their market-share abroad, may be the next true competitor to Toyota if Renault doesn’t put a kabosh on their truck line future with the economy and all.

      Realistically, the Corona did little to hurt the D3 until Honda came out with the CVCC Civic and Accord, and within 30 years, the top 10 cars sold are mostly Hondas and Toyotas. Though this does little to persuade D3 to up the ante (although Ford lately has taken a way more pro-active approach to this issue) to dismount Honda and Toyota from the top 10. Until the attitude changes to make the TRUE realization that it IS a “global” marketplace, the D3 is headed for a D1 with Ford being the only one truly left to compete in the world. At least they are doing things right to make “global platform” vehicles that don’t cost them tons of money for “localized” one-offs.

      @crash: True that about the T100/Tundra. In the long term, Toyota has the best chance at dismounting ONE of the D3 if not 2, dependent on how GM is handled through their current crisis and what Fiat decides to do with Chrysler/Dodge to keep things in-tact or go a whole different direction. IF anything, so long as Ford keeps their eyes open to the realization that they can be dismounted (like the best selling Taurus* was), they have the chance to reign Supreme and not be 2nd’d to the likes of Toyota or some other manufacturer that has yet to be realized.

      All-in-all, if the D3 doesn’t come away with some heady-duty lessons learned from the crisis they are currently undergoing, they are headed the way of Tucker Autos and Jeff Bridges eventually playing the part of Bob Lutz and getting another Oscar (sarcasm alert!).

      * based on model years sales in which they sold the most vehicles, even the years they were selling to fleet (Hertz) to bump up the numbers. Let’s not get into a pissing argument about this obvious fact since I’m not in the mood, hence the asterisk.

    • 0 avatar
      kwahaus

      Vega and Pinto at 1/2 the price? My dad bought a new 1974 Vega GT and paid $4300 after a bit of haggling. Yeah, the GT was probably the top of the line Vega, but I can’t believe many were rolling out the door at $2000.

    • 0 avatar
      bugo

      I looked at a new Ranger the other day. 4.0L V6, 5 speed automatic. 4×4 extended cab. EPA rated at 18 MPG highway. 18 MPG! I’ve heard of big block V8 barges that got as good or better mileage. I don’t know how they sell any of those gas guzzling dinosaurs.

  • avatar
    Turbo60640

    Great history on Honda’s upstart in the U.S. That hatchback is a beautiful car. It looks like a blast to drive, and someone appears to have loved it for years. That blue is really nice too.

    My last car was a ’91 Civic hatchback with a 4-speed, which was not fast but such a pleasure to drive. This reminds me of that car!

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Great article. The mid 70s were indeed the time of American automakers just not getting the times.

    FWIW: What’s with all the hippy stickers on these CC cars? Is it the neighborhoods or the state?

  • avatar
    octothorpe

    Wow, looking at the wikipedia page for the first gen Accord, it weighs less and has a shorter wheelbase than my 2nd gen Fit. The original “big” Honda is now smaller than the smallest (US) Honda.

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    My family replaced our two door Dasher hatch with a 1980 Accord sedan – our first actual four door for a family of four – exactly like the one pictured, right down to the odd minty, metallic green. From what I remember (I was but a wee tot) it was a revelation for my parents. Still small enough to be wieldy, thrifty and tossable, but large enough to accomodate the whole family in relative comfort. I also remember it being very quiet.

    However, when the time came to replace it six years later, my parents decided that the Accord had grown too large and dull and opted instead for a Jetta GLI. Which brings me to a question that has been bothering me for years. What has changed in the intervening years between that late ’70s and early ’80s to cause a family of three or four to conclude they NEED a minivan, SUV or full size sedan? If our family of four could happily trundle along in a Dasher, gen 1 Accord and gen 2 Jetta, why do modern parents need a full size Accord, Highlander or Town & Country the second a single baby has been added to the fold? I guess we’re all just that much fatter and junk encumbered than we were 30 years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Mandatory use of infant/booster seats, along with a dash of kitchen sink-ism.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      What bumby said, plus add in all the accoutrement that current children MUST HAVE for their days and playdates, that prior generations did without….soccer balls, backpacks, cellphones, playstation portables, etc. Plus, today’s kids are MUCH bigger. I think it’s the steroids in the milk ;]

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Two reasons
      1. Modern carseats
      2. No parent likes transporting three children in the back of a car this size.

      Oh, sure, you can make morally superior comments about how people are fat, lazy, need to truck all sorts of crap, etc, etc. All that tells me is that you a) don’t have kids and/or b) were an only child.

      My family had an 86 Corolla about the same size as the Accord. Believe me, three kids in the back of a Corolla is not conducive to domestic harmony. I think my parents actually staved off their divorce by a decade when they bought a minivan (an ’88 Toyota Van) in self-defense.

      The size of car common in the late 70s to the start of this decade was an aberration. Family cars prior to the fuel crisis were much larger and as efficiency improved so did the size of the cars. I’m not saying that every family needs a Tahoe, but cramming 2.5 kids into a compact car on a regular basis (when public transport and walkable neighbourhoods aren’t common) is not pleasant.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      We are a family of four and happily fit in my 2 door Focus hatch.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Wait until you’re a family of five. Better yet, wait until at least two members are over six years old. Personal space is a valued resource, even for children.

      See how long you can stand “Mooooooom, Billy’s touching meeeeeeeeee” accompanied by the occasional hair pull. Three rows of seats and/or decent hip room starts looking really attractive.

    • 0 avatar
      talkstoanimals

      @psarhjinian, I am not an only child (indeed, I shared space in those smaller cars with an older brother who was an aggressive needler), and the implication that my question was posed because I’m some sort of spoiled brat or a moralist is, frankly, a bit insulting. I’m not advocating telling anyone that they can’t drive larger cars if they so choose. However, I do question the need for such bloat in our automotive choices. Perhaps we need to at least consider that the spoiled ones are the people who think it’s a requirement that they take 20 lbs./15 cu. ft. of toys and gear per head with them every time they step out in the car, or that every person needs their own row of seating.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Other posters above have nailed it. We a ’97 Civic sedan which we used for our first child. My 44-year-old back (which I refer to as Middle-Aged Back or MAB) couldn’t handle bending over and putting our daughter into the middle of the back seat.

      Six months prior to the arrival of our second, we got the 2001 Odyssey. Wow. Slide-open doors on BOTH sides, so no door-bonking the cars on either side of us in tight parking spots, and I can stand straight up while I load our kids into the middle-row seats which are installed in their most outward positions. MAB sez: “Oh yeah!”

      Sure, if I was 22 and poor and had a good back, we could still be using the Civic with our family of four. But after having the (saying it under my breath) minivan, I can’t imagine going back into the Civic. Especially for those weekend trips to visit the grandparents (strollers, cribs, yada yada, all nicely stored in the back).

  • avatar
    200k-min

    Que the VeeDub fanboys claiming that the Accord is not X, Y, or Z compared to the rabbit/golf. Paul has a great editorial here that really hits the nail on the head. Honda was able to read the market while VW, Detroit, even Toyota (early on) wasn’t able to or simply didn’t care.

    Simple, dead reliable, conservative styling with enough features to satisfy the masses. Seems a no brainer but everyone else has been trying to sell something different (more or less) ever since.

    Case in point, my ’98-’02 vintage Accord. A good friend bought a Passat of the same era. He was sold on “German” driving dynamics, styling, etc. Arguably the Passat was more luxurious inside and driving it was more engaging in some ways. Then again, the reliability record, un-necessary complexity of the car from engine to electronics, and less than ideal build quality left a stale taste in his mouth. He now drives a 2006 Accord while I’m still commuting in my ’99 on daily basis after 11 years and 190,000 miles.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I agree with the assessment that the 76 Accord is the most influential modern car in America.

    My family had a 74 Maverick at the time, and a friend purchased a 76 Accord. There was no comparison in elegance, smoothness, quality, economy, or driveability – Honda had it way over Ford. It is telling that my father (a United States Steel worker at the time) eventually purchased a Ford Fiesta in 1978, which served as a ‘compromise’ import without the Japanese stigma so prevalent in western PA at the time.

    Your 76 in the pics is amazingly clean – those cars rusted pretty quickly as I recall.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    So this is one of the driving forces behind American vehicles becoming FWD, smaller, and underpowered. Forgive me if I don’t feel like jumping on the ‘sing Honda praises’ bandwagon. I just thank God I haven’t been 100% limited to these types of vehicles as my only choices yet.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      FWD isn’t a sinister plot – it offers better space utilization – the passenger/cargo area can be made larger in a smaller car. Oh and a smaller car usually means less weight and better gas economy. Performance of brakes is better with less weight to stop. For general automobile purposes, FWD offers several advantages. Honda didn’t invent FWD, they just delivered some of the first cars that worked well in this configuration.
      Yes, if you want ultimate handling and acceleration around Le Mans then you probably don’t want FWD. But most people aren’t doing that.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      So this is one of the driving forces behind American vehicles becoming FWD, smaller, and underpowered.

      Umm, it’s not 1985 anymore. As your screen name suggests, you may want to get out more often. There are plenty of roomy, fast, FWD cars that will blow the doors off your Olds Delta 88.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Underpowered? Last time I checked, a family sedan that can’t do 0-60 in 7.5 was a joke, and any ‘luxury’ car with under 300hp is worthy of nothing but scorn.

      Contrast that with some car reviews I’ve read from the early ’80s, talking about how a 110hp BMW sedan’s 12-second 0-60 times were lightning fast, and I don’t think your argument holds much water. Or cuts much ice. And it definitely doesn’t float my boat.

  • avatar
    Hellhund

    Boy, this brings back memories. A friend of mine bought one of these when the VW dealer wouldn’t deal at all on the popular Rabbit. We were all amazed at the innovative features and, as you say, the “palpable quality of organic wholeness” of the car.

    I’d grown up riding in and driving American cars, as most of my peers did. And when my girlfriend (now my wife) got a 1980 Accord LX (which looked virtually identical to the one pictured here), we were both in awe of everything about it. We took it on a roadtrip and marveled at how we slid up to 80 mph without noticing, so smooth and quiet it was.

    Thanks for the ride down memory lane. And I have to agree with your assessment of the Accord’s influence — it was huge.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    My first car was a 1978 Accord hatchback. Solid, fun to drive, lots of utility, lots of room, peppy, efficient, and full of nice touches that you couldn’t get on a GM car of similar (or even later vintage) even if you tried to pay for it.

    The car suffered my high school age abuse before finally capitulating during my college years to rust and a host of minor issues that would have taken months to fix (or thousands of dollars) — and I had neither the time nor the money. It was not good because it was my first car — it was one of the best cars I ever owned.

  • avatar
    chrisgreencar

    I love this so much, I own one. I was lucky enough to find an extremely well-preserved original 1979 Accord 4-door last year. Here it is:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mistergreen/sets/72157623104387140/

    It is indeed a little jewel, and I love driving it even though it has that dreaded 2-speed Hondamatic. One does feel a bit vulnerable on the highway in this tiny car (and believe me, this “big” Honda is TINY by today’s standards!) But once you get used to that, it’s a blast– zippy, maneuverable, and with awesome visibility!

    I know it’s impossible for Honda to ever make anything like this again (because of safety regs, for one thing). I guess that’s what classic cars are for!

  • avatar
    fincar1

    We certainly liked our 1980 Accord 4-door 5-speed that we bought in 1982. It was the metallic burgundy color, and while it faded to an odd pinkish color (the yellow faded out of it) it was still glossy after two more years of living outside. The seat fabric felt like mouse fur but held up well and didn’t fade. The car was delightful to drive, served us well, and was the first of five Accords we’ve owned.

    A relative had a blue hatchback identical to the feature car, even to the trailer hitch. He wasn’t big on maintenance but didn’t keep the car long – his family got too big – so there’s a chance it’s the same car. Admittedly a slim chance, as I think fully half of those first-year hatchbacks were blue.

    There were a couple of factors that I think held back VW sales in those years. One of them was the fact that Rabbits were so similar to the Omni and Horizon cars from Chrysler, and the other was the Americanized Rabbits from Pennsylvania, which I think did a lot to help insure that VW’s reputation for reliability, gained from decades of selling Bugs, would be transferred to Honda and Toyota.

    I should probably add that I had already owned ’61 and ’67 VW’s, a ’71 Opel 1900 Sport Coupe, and a ’75 Monza 2+2 V8 fastback, and driven Pintos and Vegas plus a lot of other compact cars when we bought that first Accord.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Comparing the numbers on the Fit and the 76 Accord:

    Current Fit:
    North American market
    Engine: i-VTEC 1.5 L I4
    Wheelbase 2,500 mm (98.4 in)
    Length 3,985 mm (156.9 in)
    Curb weight 1,070 kg (2,359 lb)

    1st Gen Accord:
    Engine(s) 1.6 L EL1 I4 1.8 L EK1 I4
    Wheelbase 93.7 in (2380 mm)
    Length 162.0 in (4115 mm)
    Curb weight 2,000 lb (907 kg)

    The Current Accord:

    Wheelbase
    Sedan: 110.2 in (2799 mm)
    Length
    Sedan: 194.1 in (4930 mm)
    Curb Weight: 3200 — 3500 lbs. (depends on model)
    Note: Coupe is 3 in shorter, V-6 0.2 in longer

    =================================================

    Both the ’76 Accord and the current Fit are B segment (sub-compact) cars, the current Accord is a E segment (large) car. The current Civic is a classic C segment (compact) car. Honda needs to add a D segment (mid size) car to its line up.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      The closest car today in size to the gen1 Accord is the Hyundai Accent. The Fit is really a micro-van, and has vastly more interior space than the Accord ever did.

  • avatar
    ExtraO

    I had a used ’78 for a while, same color. For the times, what a car it was, as long as you didn’t talk about the paint. Got it’s best fuel economy at 85mph cruise – 38 mpg on regular gas. If you slowed down to the then national 55mph speed limit, mileage dropped off to about 34-35mpg. Except for a couple of Mazdas I’ve had, that one Honda (and I) have been responsible for the purchase of six other Hondas by friends & family members that I know of, not to mention the 2006 Civic we’re driving now.

    When my Dad -a lifelong GM customer- was considering what to replace his ’82 Impala with I told him -based on my experience- he’d be crazy not to just go look at the Hondas. He drove off the lot in a ’91 Accord and never looked back. It almost got tiring to hear him go on and on about how much he loved that Honda.

    In the early eighties my wife worked as a bookkeeper for a dealer in So. California. Talk about a license to print money. In those days you’d go to pay LIST PRICE IN CASH for your Honda sight unseen, weeks to months before you’d take delivery. You’d buy out of the sales booklets. A couple of times a month a double trailer transporter would arrive at the dealer. Almost all the cars would go straight from “dealer prep” to delivery in a day or two- maybe one or two left over to stay on the lot for a few days before they sold too. And all these with $1500 or so of BS dealer “extras” tagged on to up the price even more.

  • avatar
    ern35

    After owning a ’79 2-door fuel-injected 5-on-the-floor- Rabbit for 11 years, followed by a ’90.5 4-door Auto Jetta (with our first A/C no less) for 12 years, we opted for our first Honda, a 4-door ’95 Auto Civic—now owned by our daughter for the past 7 years at over 250,000 km. It still remains in my eyes as the highest quality car we ever owned, and this in comparison to the ’03 Accord and the current ’07 Accord. I can still kick myself for not opting for the ’95 Accord which I test-drove back then—and if I had, then I would still have it. To me, as good as our ’03 and current ’07 are—their size, dull and uninspiring interiors, and ‘creaky’ structural integrity are no match for the previous generations i.e. the early and mid ’90′s!

  • avatar
    johnsonc

    My only experience with the Accord was a brand new redesigned ’86 DX Sedan. I was on a 3 month waiting list for it, too. Got it for $10.6K with only AC and floormats extra. If you tried to talk them down on price at the time, the sales guy would have looked up and said “Next person in line!” On a DX the right sideview mirror was an ‘option’. But it remains the finest car I have ever owned. Silky smooth shifting(at the time), quiet with excellent handling. Sold it to get into a mortgage.

  • avatar
    rnc

    Everyone comparing old Honda to current I Think this is what Toyoda meant by manufacturing (engineering) “fat” cars. The cost structure (advantages) that allowed that are gone and aren’t coming back. Honda needs to find a new way to compete (but the question which needs to be answered is can they afford too, Honda is always thought of as part of the big J3, but in reality they are much smaller than Toyota or Nissan) b/c you can only ride a reputation (well deserved) for so long.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Thanks for another memory–the 76 Accord is truly a curbside classic.

    Cars are relative–that Accord was terrific compared to the alternatives in 1976. You felt rich just sitting in one! A 76 Accord is NOT as quiet or ‘refined’ or quick as the basest Hyundai for sale in the US today. But it is simpler and more ‘honest’, and in

    The following Accords were good also, though generally with each generation (3rd and 5th bucking the trend) the gap narrowed to the point that today’s Accord is living off the name–a Camry or Malibu or Fusion is just as good, better in some respects–I think the Accord is #4. It came out in 1976 for $3,999, and by 1979 or 1980 was going for $6000 in sedan form, partly inflation, partly the dealers, and partly because Honda could raise the price–it was that good.

    And yes, a small family could fit then, before the nanny state and all the ‘stuff’. The biggest car we ever owned was a 75 Nova, family of four.

    The ad is interesting–Honda would not make a ‘big car’ because it wouldn’t be simple. But now Honda makes big cars–and BMW sells “joy” and makes big cars that drive well, but are hardly driving machines.

    The seeds of future success are sown during adversity, and the seeds of future failure are sown during victory or success. In war, life, and the car biz.

    Between 1975 and 1991, every car Honda sold in the US was great or best in class–Civic, Accord, Prelude (OK, 1982-91 for the Prelude), Integra–I would’ve bought any of them (though my first new car was an 86 GTI over a Honda Civic or Integra cause it was Made in USA). Then the slip-ups, from great to ‘good’ compared to the competition. Today, the only one that grabs my interest is the Fit.

    We’ll see where Honda is in 2020.

    • 0 avatar

      And after 1981, the Voluntary Restraint Agreement between the U.S. and Japan (which capped the total number of Japanese imports, divided on a pro rata basis among the major Japanese automakers) really sent prices soaring. When you have a popular product and you’re not allowed to sell more than you’re already selling, you start exploring what the market will bear in terms of price. In 1982, Honda brought out the first Accord SE, with Connolly leather upholstery, Wilton carpets, and a $10,000-ish price tag — the first really decisive move upscale.

  • avatar
    segar925

    Like so many successful corporations, Honda has forgotten what made them successful in the first place. I’ve owned at least a half dozen Accords and my first Honda was a 1975 Civic, but the current product lineup makes me sick and Acura is even worse. Honda should fire their entire design staff.

  • avatar

    I love my ’99 Accord. As I posted in another recent CC, it’s the natural successor to my parents’ ’70 Valiant, except that it’s more fun to drive.

    On the issue of car size and children, When I was 13, my brother 15, and my sister 3 and a half, we toured Europe for two months in a 2500 lb ’65 Peugeot 404 wagon–not tiny, but fairly narrow, with the way back filled to the brim with our stuff. I don’t think my sister was in a car seat. Anyway, we managed just fine, but then there was no rivalry with my sister, and my brother and I no longer fought.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    I would agree that this car changed the automotive landscape in this country in a huge (and good) way. I was 12 when our across-the-street neighbor proudly told us that he was on the 6-month waiting list for a silver version of this car (I couldn’t imagine anybody waiting that long to buy a new car, that was unheard of for most American models at the time). I and my entire family were big American car fans at the time (I thought all Japanese cars were craptastic tin cans).

    In the 1980s I started working on cars in my later teen years, and I changed the water pump on this same car. I was used to the pain in the @#$%^ knuckle-slicing gasket scraping for an hour while changing the water pump on a typical American car. Not so on the Accord: after removing a few M6 bolts, it just CAME OFF–with a (gasp) O-RING seal–what is this thing, the space shuttle? I was blown away by the precision-machined surfaces on both sides, no scraping to remove the old gasket, simply put new O-ring and pump back on, NO sealer at all (and thus no mess), bolt it together and it’s done. It really opened up my eyes to how good cars COULD be made.

    Consider at the same time, GM was still using millions of SB chevy motors that had a rough, cast lip on the ‘sealing’ surface of the head where the valve cover meets it, using a crappy 1920s-technology cork gasket to keep the oil in, which worked OK for maybe the first 20-30K miles, after which it leaked like a road oiling machine. Blech!

    • 0 avatar
      Zasdoogy

      My first car was the family car: a 1979 Ford LTD Station Wagon (no, not the Country Squire, THANK GOD!). My father had ordered it special with the 400cu V8 Police Pursuit engine in it with the 4bbl carb. Suffice to say, even with a 25gal tank, it still sucked gas like there was no tomorrow.

      The water pump failed, almost religiously, every ~25k miles. My dad had replaced it twice before I inherited the beast at 65k miles in 1986. I drove it for another 40k miles before dumping it in mid 1987 for an OLD Datsun (before they went on to be known as Nissan) 510B 5-door hatch (I think it was a 1980 model, I can’t remember exactly). I dumped the Ford because the water pump (surprise) went out (again!) and I had already replaced it once before along with installing a new radiator, hoses, clamps, etc. I just got tired of spending $40 a night on gas to transport my friends around and was grating at the fact that the water pump went out, so it was time.

      The Datsun only lasted a little over a year because I blew a gasket that I didn’t want to be bothered to fix (even with my 2 years of auto-shop in high school, I had got complacent) so I bought as a replacement car, a used 1980 2dr Buick Regal for $2000 from a friend. Someone shoot me please, because I had NO idea what I was thinking in buying that car from him because he TOLD me it had problems. Yea, so, over the next year or so, complacency aside, I ended up replacing the carb, a few sensors, fuel filter, radiator, water pump, hoses/clamps, battery, master cylinder, head-lights, wiper motor, radio (factory one died), and the list goes on! I must have dumped at least another $2k or $3k into it before a friend of mine told me to STOP spending money on it and buy a HONDA.

      So, in early 1989 I bought my first Honda. A Pearl White Civic Si (3dr hatch) 5spd with A/C as the only option (no floor mats or radio). That car was FUN to drive, and I often found myself in short street races with a good friend of mine who owned an ’89 CRX Si in that weird Honda Yellow (I called his car the mustard-2-door). That was followed in 1994 with another Si hatchback, which was nice but not enough room for when I got married and had a kid on the way, so that got replaced in 1999 with a 4dr Civic Sedan. Unfortunately, that car got taken away in a divorce settlement in late 2003, so I bought another Civic as a VERY late model ’03.

      I’ve never owned any other make since my first Honda, and as my 2003.9 Built-In-Ohio Civic turned 200k miles last week, I doubt I will ever go to another manufacturer.

  • avatar
    stevejac

    Wow- this is one that really speaks to me.

    In the late ’70′s Honda dealers had empty lots. You had to order one months in advance (at least in Indianapolis and Cleveland where I lived). I once was in the empty lot talking to a salesman when a transporter pulled up. Customers were grabbing salesmen and asking to buy the cars off the truck. They were told all of the cars were sold months earlier.

    The day before new year 1980 I was desperate to unload my ’74 Fiat 128 that was bleeding a mixture of oil and antifreeze (and money). I went down to the dealer and they had one, forlorn, Accord hatchback on the lot, in drab (but metallic) brown. I bought it for sticker price on the spot.

    I was immediately a celebrity among my friends and fellow workers because I was the only person anyone had ever meant that didn’t pay over sticker price.

    It was a great car and was fine on the freeway, especially in those days of 55mph limits. Plenty of power, a great manual shifter. The aftermarket ac we bought when we decided to move to California was another story. It was made by VW of all companies and it was terrible.

    We only traded it in because with 2 kids a hatchback was really hard to get them into.

  • avatar

    My brother bought one of the first Accords sold in the Detroit area, but then we were aware of all them little furren cars (the Accord replaced his Lotus Cortina as his daily driver). My dad liked it so much that he ended up trading his huge Mercury on an ’84. As nice as the first gen Accords were, the 2nd gen car was even nicer. The first gen cars rusted pretty badly and were a bit tinny. The 2nd gen cars still had most of the qualities of the earlier cars but were kitted out a bit nicer, with more soundproofing and were a more substantial car.

    Paul’s right, Toyota didn’t make anything that appealed to enthusiasts, and while Nissan had made the 510, it stopped selling them in 1974, and many of Nissan’s cars in the 70s were just plain weird looking. Most of the Japanese cars were 3/5ths scale versions of American cars – with really poor automatic transmissions. The original American versions were better. The Accord had FWD, pretty sharp handling, a free revving Honda engine, and it came loaded by the standard of the day. Honda bought a lot of customers with free a/c and a stereo (Honda figured out that the unit cost for the radios dropped to $5 a car if they made it std equipment).

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      I agree that the second gen Accords were just as, if not more, influential. They were larger, more powerful, and (this is huge) were made in the USA. The first transplant.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      Radios…I had a teacher in high school who’s dad was the president of Pontiac in the mid 70′s. He said that when tape players came in and were an expensive option, that all of the cars that GM made actually had the tape player (they only wanted to order one type of stereo), but if you didn’t pay the extra for it that it was just covered (done at the dealer).

      Don’t know if true, but highly possible at GM during that time frame.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Well, I get to be the guy that posts the “they all rusted out” post. In my case it was true. A woman I used to date in the 80′s got one of these (a 1978 model) as a graduation present from her parents. It was one present she should have returned.

    Her parents had purchased the car new, and within two years, the front fenders had rusted off. While replacements were covered by a secret warranty, I was less than impressed with the longevity of the sheetmetal. Within the next two years, the replacement front fenders rusted off. No worse than a Volare, I guess.

    In the hilly environment of Northeast Ohio and Northwestern Pennsylvania, the 4 banger and Hondamatic (all TWO speeds) was a recipe for slow. When you turned on the dealer added on A/C (another item I was less than impressed with), the overtaxed engine about died. It seems to me that it had head gasket issues, but we’re relying on my memory of events from almost 30 years ago, not a good thing.

    I will agree that the car was assembled rather well, and compared to the behemoth muscle cars I was driving at the time, it felt like a little flea. I was already familiar with plenty of VW Rabbits and Sciroccos by then and Accord struck me a neat package, as an alternative to those cars.

    • 0 avatar
      sfdennis1

      Ah, you beat me to it…I’m a big Honda fan, my family’s had Civics, CRX’s, a Prelude, many friends w/ Accords, etc, but…

      But Honda was not invincible, nor was the first gen Accord flawless..in Chicago, they did rust horribly on the front fenders…many rusted clear thru the fender in just a few years, as bad or worse than anything Detroit was peddling regarding rust problems (Aspens/Volares were particularly bad by my childhood memories).

      Honda did, I beleive, do some kind of limited recall though, and installed new fenders on thousands of 76-80 Accords, must have cost them plenty back then, but it was smart money spent…if they hadn’t, all those people who paid “list plus” only to see their cars turn into rust buckets after a few years would have made a mockery of Honda’s vaunted reputation…

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    “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.”

    Hahaha! Though that may be a little painful to VW, it is kind of true. This is around the point that VW started becoming a slightly “freak” car … something for rare enthusiasts, strange basketcases and a swath of niche customers. Honda then became the more noticeable, more socially adjusted one… not quite mainstream Toyota, but much less of a freak than VW.

  • avatar
    rodehardputupwet

    On the caption of the first picture, “Calling David Holzman: grammer alert!” I see your grammar alert and raise you a spelling alert!

  • avatar
    kadena

    Viewing an old car through a rose colored retrospectoscope is so very unlike TTAC.

    I surely remember the busted head gasket and rusting fenders at not so high mileage. Was not the only one locally to suffer like this. And that power sapping 2 speed transmission. Would never stand for such failures in a newer car. And that high demand for Hondas had the very intended effect of added dealer markup of thousands of $$$ and the very intended effect of some dealers and some company executives leading to a bribery scandal.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1993/06/29/business/company-news-honda-settles-on-dealer-s-charge-of-bribes.html?pagewanted=1

    http://www.britannica.com/bps/additionalcontent/18/42960620/Hondas-dirty-secret-of-bribes-finally-came-to-light

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    Maybe on the west coast the Accord was big in the 70s, but in the Midwest the car that brought transverse engine front wheel drive and big interior combined with small exterior was Chrysler’s Omni/Horizon twins, which were based on the French front-drive Simca 1100 and 1204. Over three million of those were built. Chrysler made the fastest and most complete switch to front drive of the Detroit 3. It really disturbed me when Daimler turned back the clock.

    I bought a used 1969 Simca 1204 GLS back in 1976, and after that car, I never wanted to go back to rear wheel drive again. What a revelation that car was. On North Dakota’s gravel roads it would track straight as an arrow and plow through snow drifts without a wiggle. I lived in that car for four months while working on the Dakota Photo Documentary Project. Fold the back seat down and it made a comfortable bed.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I hope you saw my CC on your Simca:
      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/curbside-classics-1971-small-cars-comparison-number-2-%E2%80%94-simca-1204/

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @fred: You know Fred, I totally forgot about how fast ChryCo switched over to FWD back in the day. My brother had a ’71 Charger that had finally rusted completely out and in ’78 was considering one of several cars: Ford Fiesta, Mercury Zephyr, Omni 024, Renault LeCar, AMC Spirit and VW Rabbit.

      He has a buddy who had a Rabbit and really came to admire that car. As many have posted, there were waiting lists for any Japanese cars back then, and this purchase was more urgent. Additionally, we’re both pretty big guys, and I remember he wedged himself into a Civic once and hurt his back, those were pretty much off the list.

      When he asked my opinion, I really liked the specs for the Omni 024, and lobbied hard for that one, with the Rabbit right behind.

      For reasons I no longer remember, he chose the Mercury Zephyr (Fairmont clone) with the ES package. It had the emissions strangled 2.3 Pinto motor, with a wide ratio 4 speed tranny and not much else. It was cheap, though less than $3400 (IIRC). The Pinto motor was a regular pain in the *ss (mostly because of the emissions crap that was on it), but the rest of the car served him well for eight years.

      Who knew?

  • avatar
    Opus

    Not mentioned here is the fact that Honda kept pricing down by limiting the options. There were only 3 colors available each year, and no choice of interior color. (The ’76 came in blue, silver, or orange as I recall.) You had the option of the base car, or the LX (which included A/C, not otherwise available). And you had the option of stick or auto. That was it. VERY much unlike the American dealer experience, where the list of options was long and there were millions of possible permutations. Honda only had 12 different builds, so they didn’t have to deal with any custom orders – they loaded up the ships with those 12 different types and any further optioning was with the dealer add-ons (which were plentiful!)

  • avatar
    geeber

    Honda did recall the first-generation Accords to replace the rusting front fenders. There were also problems with the head gaskets on these cars.

    Still, I remember the impact of these cars. They seemed so much more upscale than the comparable American and European small cars. The styling was handsome, but simple, without the Japanese quirks (think Datsun F-10, or even some of the busier Toyotas) or American gimmicks (opera windows, formal grilles, heavy vinyl-filled side moldings) so common at that time.

    Interestingly, while we naturally focus on the impact that the Accord had on the domestic car companies, what people too often forget is that the first victims of the Japanese were the Europeans.

    As the article notes, VW tried to stay in the game with the Rabbit (and Dasher and Scirocco). But, in the early 1970s, Renault, Fiat and even Austin (remember the Marina?) were peddling small cars in America. For many years, “imported car” was synonomous with “European car.” And most of them were as dreadful, in their own special way, as their American competitors.

    The Civic appeared on the scene in the U.S. for 1974, followed by the Accord in 1976…and Renault and Fiat were gone from the U.S. by the mid-1980s.

  • avatar
    Revver

    Fond memories of this car.

    I couldn’t afford the car when it came out, but I remember two things:

    1. The “pay over sticker” craze that sent Honda dealers into a cash lust that eventually backfired into a scandal

    2. The fact that, except for the Datsun Z car, this was the first real “prestige” car from Japan. Not prestige in the sense you were on the level of BMW or Mercedes, but it just said “smart”. Around here it became mandatory for executives below the Mercedes pay grade. Its profound how Honda grabbed this market before VW did, good for TTAC for making this point.

    I eventually owned a mint used 4 door, in a lull in my German car zeal. It was everything it was supposed to be: reliable as can be. Eventually sold it to my sister, and she eventually sold it to my American car-loving Dad. First foreign car he owned. That was 20+ years ago, and he and my sister are still Honda owners.

    That car was THE tipping point for American perception of Japanese cars.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I came very close to buying this exact car (used) in ’78, even the same color. I was in the market for a small 2 door front driver to replace my ’64 Riviera (which then was returned to my dad).

    However, I just didn’t feel the Accord was sporty enough. I went the VW route, but not with a Rabbit – I got the Scirocco. If you look at the Accord and the Scirocco in profile, you will see that they were indeed very similar, though the Scirocco had a much crisper design.

    My mother even offered to buy the Accord for me if I chose that, as it had an automatic transmission which she could drive, but I wanted the manual, and I purchased the Scirocco with my own money. It was a fun car, and never let me down. I am still in the VW/Audi camp to this day.

  • avatar
    eastcoastcar

    When this accord came out, I remember how excited people were about it. A work associate wanted one ‘now’ and over lunch, we drove to the dodge dealer in town that was also selling Hondas. He paid a $1000.00 ‘dealer fee’ to get on the waiting list for one, and eventually took delivery of a two door just like the one in the pictures–same color. The dealer said that colors were not possible to order, so it was first come first served, whatever color. I do agree that this car sent shockwaves through Detroit. The GM X-bodies were horrible—-we had one, and traded to a Subaru, another excellent car, but small compared to the Accord. I had a VW Rabbit Diesel which I loved. Other than the Accord, I’d say the BMW 2002 was another trend setter, although it took years for Detroit to get it. Great series!

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    After the 1974 Oil Crisis, Americans were ready for a different kind of car. In 1975, AMC brought out the Pacer and it sold very well for one year. Because the next year, 1976, Honda revealed the Accord. Detroit wasn’t ready, and Kenosha had the right timing with the wrong car, but Honda had the right timing with the right car.

    If you look at the demographics, an Accord would have been out of the reach of most of it’s target audience if it arrived earlier in the decade. The Boomers didn’t want an American car after their affairs with Muscle cars and Beetles. This also explains why the Accord showed up as a two-door. Boomers were just arriving in the market, but weren’t parents, yet. When they had the kids, Honda had the four doors ready. The Boomers bought cheap cars before that time, and Detroit made them. By 1976, the Boomers were ready, and so was Honda.

    Additionally, the kind of two door sedans in the market had lost their freshness styling-wise. The long hood, stand up grille, padded opera roof, Baroque look had been around six years. Ford had already styled their Fairmont to look like a Volvo, and GM’s styling department was already tired of the Hearse look. To a 30 year old with a college degree and an old Beetle, this look was ancient and not worth the money. Boomers wanted NEW.

    Detroit wasn’t caught napping. It’s new products were in the pipeline, but not yet ready for production. Back then, Detroit had a much longer product development cycle. Only Chrysler had completely missed the Big Picture and was headed for bankrupsy after a decade of misses. Only their ancient Valiants, Darts and Dusters kept their lights on during this time. The Honda hit right in the middle of Detroit’s product cycle. Had they waited, the Accord would have had to face competition from very popular cars in the same league and wouldn’t have had a two year opportunity to catch this demographic and stylistic wave all to themselves. Once the two-door was a hit, the US Market was ready for the four-door Accord.

    The Accord was a revolution in an era of change. This is the kind of work that has to be done when a new business wishes to succeed in an Oligarchy. It could have failed. The CVCC engine was crap. The Accord rusted faster than most cars on the road. Thanks to the good reputation the Civic generated, the Boomers believed their car had arrived.

    After reading through the postings, it is obvious that they still feel the same way today.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    Traded a ’78 Buick Turbo Regal (now there was a real POS) in on a new ’81 Accord (last generation of the same car pictured) and it was a pretty good car. Only fault was poor wiring (short of wiring contained in the steering column enclosure that caused rear tail lights to go out) that I can remember. First front-wheel drive car I ever owned.

    Traded that one in on a new ’84 Toyota Camry. The Accord had more comfortable front seats, but the Camry had better rear seat accommodations for our three small chilluns.

  • avatar
    TAP

    Bought mine in ’76 with dealer installed vinyl roof, but I had the fever and looked right past it! Besides the smooth and eager drivetrain and classy interior, the forward visibility was a revelation.
    I once had to bash down the rear floor with a mallet after crash- landing over a hilly stretch of backroad. It would also cruise for hours at 80mph with no drama.
    After 3yrs I sold it to my sister for $100 less than list price, and she had to deal with the fender replace, electrical gremlins, and losing 5th gear. However, the CVCC engine in our car was not crap- never any problems!

  • avatar
    carnick

    Paul, thank you for another fantastic curbside classic memory. I am just amazed at the cars you keep finding on the streets of Eugene Oregon – it’s like walking down memory lane for me. I am definitely going to have to take a vacation out there with a few thousand in cash and pick up some of these rust-free memories.

    My girlfriend at the time (who became and is now my wife) had one of these, a 1982 Coupe. Her parents bought it for her to get her through grad school. For two years we drove that car everywhere together (and I borrowed it almost daily because the POS cars I could afford at the time were always in need of repairs). I completely understand and agree with your characterization of the car – it was an eye-opening quiet revolution at the time.

    Like most Honda’s (except for specialty treats like the S2000 or NSX), the Accord wasn’t the very best at any one particular thing (except reliability), but it did everything very well and as a result, the entire package was just so appealing to a broad swath of buyers.

    I’ve seen so many surveys which suggest that the number one priority for American buyers is reliability. That Accord certainly set the standard, especially compared with the garbage Detroit was putting out at the time. Like, the cars I was driving – Pinto, Omni, Vega, Pacer… The Accord came from a different planet compared to those. For most people (and even for gearheads like us), reliability is paramount – who wants a ride that lets them down at the most inconvenient time?

    It was truly an epiphany for me at the time that the Accord appealed to both my girlfriend/wife and me. She could care less about cars (still doesn’t) from a “performance” perspective, but she loved the comfort, fit and finish, reliability, economy, and flexibility of the Accord – an economical, reliable “near luxury” car (at least at the time) that also had a hatchback that could swallow a grad student’s entire worldly possessions. I’m a gearhead since before I could drive, and even though there was nothing “performance” oriented about the Accord, I appreciated it’s easy handling, rock-solid reliability, comfort, utility, and such (at least first time for me) exotic features like intermittent wipers (one of those duh, what a great idea things that the Japanese manufacturers seemed to embrace in wide scale first).

    Even her parents caught the bug. They were lifelong “American” car buyers (and her father, a Korean war vet, would never before consider one of them “Jap” cars) – until they drove the Accord. After driving it, they didn’t even flinch at paying the dealer $1,000 over sticker for it. And it resulted in most of their cars since then being Japanese or Korean. Early defectors from Detriot who never looked back, after decades of Oldsmobiles. GM should have paid attention….

    The car was just so appealing and satisfying. It engendered feelings of comfort, familiarity, trust, and “friendliness”. My girlfriend/wife absolutely LOVED it. Even to this day, almost 30 years after she had it, she still remembers it fondly and still compares every car she has had since to it (it unfortunately died a premature death – after grad school she moved to Manhattan where having a car on an entry-level salary was impossible, so the car lived at her parent’s house on Long Island – where her sister wrecked it in a weed-induced haze).

    Despite all the cars made since and now, the package the Accord offered has become rare, essentially unavailable today in America: a “premium”, economical, practical, near-luxury 2-door hatchback. It’s always struck me as very ironic that this kind of car is the bread & butter of Europe, in all its flavors (family car, “hot hatch”, etc.). I keep reading about how Americans don’t buy hatchbacks, so I guess that makes us anomalies because that’s exactly what turns us on. In the 30 years since that Accord, the only car(s) we’ve owned that capture that premium/economical/near-luxury/2-door/hatchback package were Saabs (which we’ve owned 5 of). The Saab coupes were the same premium “near luxury” (again, in their time), practical hatchbacks that appealed to a broad audience – in basic form for my wife, and turbo variation for me (they just missed that reliability part Honda’s had).

    Given the current (and future) price of gas, and the general economic decline of this country, I can’t help but wonder if maybe there just might be a market (even a small but hopefully sustainable one) for such a car. Every time it’s time for my wife to buy a car, she talks about how she would like something like her old Accord, and is frustrated that she can’t find one – and I would love to get another Saab Viggen (though a reliable one), but, can’t get that here either.

    Renault, Peugeot, Citroen, Opel (GM?), Alfa and Fiat, even Ford with the Focus models you won’t let us have – are you listening?

  • avatar
    jnik

    God, that was a remarkable car. I bought one used – well, from a wrecker’s lot. I was bankrupt and my Opel Rallye died. The Accord was intact from the front seats forward ( the floor and rear wheels were there, but the back half of the body was missing. I found a rear end in a junkyard and had them welded together.

    This Frankenaccord was STILL way better than any Pinto, Gremlin, Vega, or Beetle that was available then! I once had a Beetle that was bulletproof, but the Accord matched it in reliability and was so much more comfortable.
    I had it for two years before it was totaled by a truck. I never bought another Honda after that, but I have fond memories of my wonderful Frankenaccord.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Good and accurate appraisal. I bought an ’81 hatch new. 5 speed and a/c. One of the first small cars with std. power steering. It was everything it was advertized to be. Sold it to a friend 2 years later who still drives it! I still remember the funny noise the mechanical digital clock on the dashtop made when the digits changed!

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    I must be the only one that doesn’t look back at the Accord with wonder. I owned a 1978 Accord LX that I purchased new – it was my first new car. The fit and finish were very good, however I had the engine top end replaced at 25,000 miles and the whole engine at 35,000 miles. This was on a car that was just over a year old. There was some sort of issue with oil contamination, the whole of which I’ve forgotten (it was a while ago!)

    Honda did replace the parts both times, I had to pick up a small deductible which was a good thing. Having no car for weeks at a time and having to rely on my motorcycle in winter (in New England) was a bad thing.

    5.000 miles after the engine replacement, it was starting to smoke again, and I sold it. I’ve never owned another Honda car since.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    I have very fond memories of this car. My aunt had one exactly like the blue hatch in the pictures. It started life in the midwest so it did suffer from rust, as did most cars of the era. I believe she got nearly 200K out of it… I will have to ask her.

    What a GREAT article. Thanks!

  • avatar
    davey49

    The experience of owning an Accord hatchback in the very same color as the hatchback above caused our family to grow a love of Volvos.
    When you’re able to do car repairs yourself a lack of rust is paramount. Volvos, Audis and Mercedes were the only cars in the 80s that didn’t have creeping crud in under 5 years and we couldn’t afford an Audi or a Mercedes

  • avatar
    ChevyIIfan

    This was the car that made my parents avoid Japanese cars forever. Anytime we discuss old cars I hear the stories from this true piece ‘o crap.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Wonderful memories. During the ’79 gas crisis I had ordered a 4 door Accord automatic. It finally arrived as an ’80. I paid “only” $500 over sticker for it. The automatic was the first fully automatic unit Honda had used in the Accord; no more shifting from 1 to 2 around 40 mph. Air worked great here in L.A. After about 6 years the Accord failed to start. I had it towed to the dealer who said that the floats in the carb had cracked and sunk. This was replaced FOR FREE and Honda even paid for the tow!!! Our family (Dad, sister and our kids) have owned at least a dozen Accords since then….not a lemon among them. Good luck on ever getting me back into Detroit iron.

  • avatar
    ex gm guy

    A friend had a four door Accord of this vintage. At the time, I drove a 1978 Malibu, which was better than the 76 Malibu on another CC, but didn’t hold a candle to my friend’s Accord. Another poster used the words “jewel-like”, and that’s what it seemed like to me. It was surprisingly roomy. The owner was 6’2″, and he had no problem getting in and out. My next car was a 1984 Prelude. Loved it.

  • avatar
    Cosmo Spacely

    While it was a bit better than a Ford Pinto or Mustang II, or GM Vega-based cars. Thes ’70s were not a good time for cars. Period.

    From personal experience (79 Civic) Hondas of this vintage had problems like the rest of them.

    * They were rust buckets any where road salt was used. The car was structurally unsound in 6 years from rust.
    * Paint quality was poor, A scratch caused the paint to bubble off to bare metal. An inch diameter rusty scab would form.
    * 3 CV joints in under 80k miles.
    * Engine electrical probelms. Locating the ignition coil and condenser in the cowl drain was not a good idea. When it rained, it didn’t start.

    Of course, my friend’s Chevy Vega….

    • 0 avatar
      kwahaus

      As good as the Accord was, it was plagued by the problems you cite — especially rust. Maybe that’s why the caught on faster in the west?

      Yeah, the 70′s were a bad time, automotive-ly speaking. It was also the beginning of the end for GM. How come a young, uninformed laymen like myself could see that, but the high-priced auto execs and experts couldn’t?

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I was living in Las Vegas when the Accord hit, and they were everywhere, but nobody I really knew at the time had one. Datsun/Nissan 240/260Z’s were popular across the board. Carollas were too, but for some reason, with the many immigrants that were coming in from Asia. I still didn’t know anyone personally who owned a Honda or Toyota car until about 1986 or so. I knew a few with Toyota and Nissan pickups, and they liked them for the short time they had them (I moved back to the Midwest in 1982) before they rusted into dust. I had a friend who went through a 10 year VW fetish. He had a Rabbit that he wrecked, and then he had a Golf that he drove until it literally came apart when it hit a giant pothole. It had rusted very badly by that point, and luckily, he was only going 35 when he hit it. He drove those VW’s like he was in GTA, the game, and was always in danger of losing his liscense. When the Golf died, he bought his cousin’s Ford Granada, a nightmare with the variable venturi carb and hydroboost brakes. He had that POS for 4 years, and then had a Corolla, I think. It was that weird pink metallic (his wife picked it out).

    Myself, I’ve never been a fan of FWD. I’ve had one FWD vehicle, period, an 1985 Caravan with the mighty 2.6 Mitsubishi 4 cyl in it. It was slow, to the point of being dangerously so when loaded, or going up steep grade with the AC on. Loaded up in the summer, and going uphill meant no AC, as there was no vacuum to open the doors on the dash! It also had some nasty driving qualities that totally turned me off from buying another one. I’ve never even seriously considered a Honda, Toyota, or Nissan vehicle, except for a SUVs and pickups. Their cars, nice as they are now, never have interested me in the slightest. The ones I can afford are too small for my big feet (Size 14) in a lot of cases, but this applies to many other vehicles too. The pedals aren’t right for someone with big feet who wears sneakers or work boots. But to be honest, they just bore me, especially the Toys and Hondas made over the last 10 years or so. Their styling is really blah, vs some of the European cars like the Audi R8 that are, well, hideous, but not boring.. The Accord this article is about looks better to me than almost anything Toy/Honda/Nissan makes now. That’s sad. I guess I’m too old. I like a V8 (Or a V6 like the Camaro has (I hate the looks of the car though) and RWD, with enough room that I can take my dogs, my girlfriend, and myself for a couple hour drive without feeling like I want to get out just to be comfortable. My friend’s 2009 Camry is a worthless POS in my opinion, the one he had before it, a 1992 one, was much better in almost every way. It’s ugly, slow, and I don’t like the seats at all. Not that I would want to ever buy one, but the old one wasn’t all that bad. I could live with it, but I don’t think I would keep the new one around until it was paid off. It would go like my 99 Grand Cherokee did. I hated that thing in so many ways. It drove great, and I had zero problems with it, but the seats killed me, the steering wheel was off center, and the front windshield was too short so I had to do a ton of head ducking to see traffic lights unless I stopped way before the intersection. My present car, a 2008 Charger RT is the first car I’ve had in about 24 years. So far, it’s been great, and the power is a lot of fun, and it’s very comfortable too, with a great stereo.

  • avatar
    MarkT

    My ’86 LXi hatch was stupefying. Drove like a sports car, hauled like a truck, 30mpg rain or shine, went through any weather. The retractable headlights never failed, never needed a clutch, nothing. Just oil and gas. Best dashboard layout ever in a car.

    250,000 later I sold it and bought a ’97 EX wagon, which my oldest son still drives.

  • avatar
    kwahaus

    Great article. I’ve had this same discussion with many of my friends. I remember working at a gas station in Anderson, IN in the fall of ’78 when a guy pulls in with his new Accord. I had read all the press about the car so I was anxious to check it out. The guy was a doctor and was happy to tell me all about it. I was impressed. I remember telling myself that the automotive world would never be the same. (Or at least that Detroit was in deep doo doo). Seriously, it was that impressive. It could also be that I was driving a Vega at the time. I even called my dad and told him to buy some Honda stock, cause I had seen the future. Now 30 years later, I wish I had been smart enough to take my own advice.

  • avatar
    ChevyIIfan

    Great article… but if these POS’s are the most influential car in America, wow are we really messed up. God these were awful cars.

  • avatar

    This is the correct car but it is the wrong year! The 1980 Accord Hatchback was the definitive version of this vehicle. The reason? A bigger more powerful engine that gave it the needed power missing in the earlier versions. This while maintaining the style of the 1976-1979 versions. Great add-ons were air conditioning and a sun roof. Now THAT was a car!!

  • avatar
    dshnva

    >> Florence Apt’s [sic]

    “Apt’s” is a contraction of “apartments” — the apostrophe stands in for the missing letters. So, sic [sic].


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