Junkyard Find: 1978 Honda Civic Hatchback

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The first-generation Honda Civic sold like crazy in California, and could be found everywhere in the Golden State from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s. These Civics are now virtually extinct, both on the street and in the junkyard, because they were used up and summarily discarded.

There isn’t much enthusiast interest in restoring these cars, so backyards and driveways aren’t full of get-to-it-someday projects. Thus you won’t see the steady trickle of 1973-80 Civics into wrecking yards the way you do Fiat 124 Sport Spiders or MGBs.

The last owner of this car squeezed every last bit of use out of it, but didn’t sell it to U-Wrench-It when something disabling and/or annoying broke. The California emissions-test history website shows its last smog check was in April 2000 (it passed), and the moss on the car shows that it sat somewhere outside and away from the sun before finding its current place in queue for the crusher. Perhaps it was left in a vacant lot and had become overgrown with wild blackberry bushes, a common fate for neglected San Francisco Bay Area cars.

The CVCC engine ran so clean that Honda was able to omit the use of the primitive early catalytic converters that strangled performance in Malaise Era cars, giving the early Civic a gigantic edge over its competition — both in performance and fuel economy. As emissions standards became stricter, the CVCC engines were burdened with both catalytic converters and comically elaborate tangles of smog-related hardware.

In 1978, nothing could compete with the Civic on its own turf. The Corolla might have been more reliable, but it was less fun to drive and its rear-wheel-drive configuration made it more cramped. The Rabbit was fun, but it broke early and often. I owned a few of these things, loved them, and have driven Civics daily ever since.

Rapacious California Honda dealers sold these cars for well over MSRP. Buyers were happy to pay the extra cash to avoid driving such horrors as the Chevrolet Chevette or — shudder — the Fiat Strada.

Civics were assembled in New Zealand early on.

Honda used the term “green engine” all the way back in 1974.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • April S April S on Mar 05, 2016

    My best male friend in High School had one of these. Brand new 78' bright red two door coupe. Light years ahead of my 1977 Chevrolet Chevette. Added a chime horn to it. Blew peoples minds. :D It was a slick little car. :) P.S. He also had a 68' VW Bug with a Baja kit. I had pretty cool friends back then.

  • Kinsha Kinsha on Mar 07, 2016

    My cousin bought one of these used in high school. Must of been around 1978, and it had the hondamatic in it. It said so proudly where this one says 5speed. It was white with huge factory brown tone racing stripes on it. So the first day he has it we go pick up our friends. Him and I in the front seats ( he was big ) Our 3 friends squeeze in the back. All of us ready to go out and parteeyyy! He starts it, and puts it in reverse - it just sits there and revs. Laughter that is still recorded in my head insues :-0 We all still bring that up for laughs every once and a while. The dealer did let him trade it for something else. Believe it or not a little more cash and he was driving a Fiat X19 :-0 Don't even get get me going on that heap!