By on August 27, 2021

The Rare Rides series has been a bit skimpy in its Honda coverage: We’ve featured only four in past editions. Today’s fifth Honda Rare Ride is the first-ever Accord, a car some readers won’t have seen in real life.

The Accord entered production in 1976 and was the company’s first foray into the family sedan in North America. Initially a compact, it was launched for the 1977 model year. At debut, Accord was available only as a three-door hatch, a body style which sadly would not make it out of the Eighties alive.

Launch Accords all used the same 1.6-liter inline-four, which pushed the 2,000-pound hatch forward via 80 horses. The Accord’s range was quickly expanded, and late in 1977, a more usable four-door sedan joined the hatchback. Said sedan didn’t reach North American shores until the 1979 model year. The sedan was a more upscale model than the hatch, and as such in many markets was fitted with a larger 1.8-liter inline-four. That mill produced a more respectable 72 horsepower, though CARB-ready California had their own engine version. The earliest Accords were fitted with a five-speed manual or two-speed automated manual, the Hondamatic.

Around the introduction of the sedan, Honda started to take the Accord upscale. An LX trim was added to the hatchback and offered power steering, a digital timepiece, and air conditioning. In the Japanese market, the Accord sedan appealed to the middle-class family with fancy covers made of lace for the seats, and of metal for the wheels. Just as well it was fancy, that larger 1.8-liter put it into a higher tax bracket than the 1.6 hatchback.

In North America, the Accord sedan was offered in three initial colors: beige, dark red, and silver. In 1980 the two-speed semi-auto was swapped for a three-speed transmission that was actually automatic. Other North American updates included some changes to bumper trim in 1980, and the arrival of new fabric and paint colors in 1981. Most notable in ’81 was a new SE trim that offered the highest levels of luxury: Power windows and calfskin leather seating surfaces. Instrument clusters were also reworked, and warning icons replaced the less preferable textual indicators.

The first-gen Accord remained in production through the 1982 model year in select markets but was largely replaced that year by a second generation. The second Accord was larger, more powerful, more modern, and Honda was on its way to sedan success.

Today’s Rare Ride is stunning in seafoam and available in Long Island with functioning air conditioning. Over the last 40 years, its accumulated just 87,000 miles. Even with the low mileage, the seller indicates the Accord’s shockingly poor rust protection necessitated four different wheel arch repairs over the years. Yours for $14,500, and given the scarcity of original Accords that’s probably not out of line.

[Images: Honda]

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63 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1981 Honda Accord, a First-ever Family Car...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The Accord was red hot back then. In 1976 I was in high school, and I knew kids whose dads paid cash under the table to get on the waiting list for one, and some folks were paying $1,500 over sticker to get one (original base MSRP for the 3-door was $3,495).

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      You bet, I ordered an Accord when they first came out, but couldn’t wait for the three month delivery. The price was just under $4000 out the door. I wish I could have waited, but I needed a car

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Things didn’t get much better in the mid-’80s, when I bought my Civic. I waited two months for that one and paid over sticker. Never again.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    This is cool and all but I can’t wrap my head around the idea of such an ordinary car suddenly becoming a collectors item. I suppose it’s old and rare because all the rest were crushed because – it was a boring utilitarian car and when they were used up, they were discarded. Interesting certainly but it would also have to be a bargain and earn its keep.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      The ’57 Chevy is a collectors item, so in a way (especially for people who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s), it’s like that.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Well, I see what you mean, but I don’t see much comparison between a ’57 Chevy and an Accord.

        I grew up in that time frame, and my family had one of these. Good, reliable car, but it’s no classic. Preludes, CRXs, or maybe even Civic Sis of this basic vintage may be desirable, but this car? Not really.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          I grew up in that era as well, and in New England the Accord was akin to the Second Coming.

          My boss at the time in one of college summer jobs was the most buttoned-down dark business suit type of person you ever knew – rarely smiled but wasn’t necessarily the “tough love” type…we all respected him a great deal because of his work ethic and strict adhesion to doing the right thing. In any other time or place he would have been a Buick or Olds guy…but in 1980 he blew everyone’s mind when he rolled up a new Accord LX sedan. And his beaming smile made everyone share in his joy….

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        This may sounds like a dumb question, but I’m legitimately curious. Was there a time when car manufacturers didn’t really have distinct models?

        Your example of the 57 Chevy has me thinking of all the times I hear my parents talking about a 38 Ford or a 43 Cadillac, but a model name is never attached.

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Back in the day, like WAY back in the day, there was one Buick car, one Oldsmobile car, etc. When they started to get away from this and introduce multiple models, the one ‘standard’ car was called the “Regular” (internally to the company) [and then you would have the ‘Special’ or whatever].

          [Source: When I worked at GM Central Office in the early 90’s I ventured down to the archives in the basement of the 1922 building and looked at sales/financial records going back to 1909 – because I’m a geek.]

          Back when there was one model per division, they would do annual model changes (every year) which included generally all-new sheet metal, and all the models were introduced at the same time of the year – which means the tool and die guys must’ve had a very interesting work schedule across the whole year.

          (Any of this is subject to revision/amplification by someone who actually knows what they are talking about.)

        • 0 avatar
          namesakeone

          The 1957 (full sized) Chevrolet came in three models, as did the 1955 and 1956 before it; the bare-bones 150, the 210 and the top-of-the-line Bel Air. Chevrolet also offered the Corvette and a line of pickups and other trucks.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            To add to that, until maybe the early 1970s, it was common for the full-size cars to be simply referred to as a “Chevy” or “Ford.” Particularly if you were talking about a strippo trim.

  • avatar
    jmo

    79hp 0-60 in 13.1 seconds and 13″ shorter than a modern Civic. We sure have come a long way. And we won’t even get into the advances in rust proofing.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      If you live outside the Rust Belt, they’re pretty bulletproof.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        Compared to other cars in 1981? Sure. Compared with anything on the road today? Laughably not.

        Remove the xx and feast on the vacuum hose diagram.

        xxhttps://hips.hearstapps.com/autoweek/assets/s3fs-public/CVCC%252520Vacuum%252520Hell%252520-%2525201600×900.jpg

        • 0 avatar
          nrd515

          I did smog testing in Las Vegas in the late 70’s. There were cars, a lot of them actually back then with nightmare vacuum hose layouts, but the Honda ones took the top prize. One of my nightmare scenarios back then was when a Honda came in and it had any sign of a vacuum leak, and if it was a couple of years old, it almost always had one. Standing over a still hot engine with a roll of vac hose changing one at a time until you found the right one was just a horrible job. There were so many possible vacuum leak areas that all our tricks to find the source were pretty useless. Like shooting carb cleaner near a vac port, or even using a tank of propane from a Berzomatic torch with a hose on it, it seemed like no matter where you tried it, the engine would speed up. Usually, we sent them to the dealer to get their smog ticket. And boy, did they bend the customer over a chair! I did do one complete hose replacement on a Civic, and I felt at the time, we didn’t charge enough for it.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I am 99.99% sure this is a flip. I could swear I saw this for sale (how many 81 Accords in seafoam green are left) 12 or 18 months ago for maybe half this price, maybe even a touch cheaper.

    These were super popular when I was a young teen but could barely survive five years in the New England salt.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      There’s a ’77 Honda Civic with Hondamatic and what looks like dealer-installed a/c, with 72,000 miles in the Hemmings for $14,950. It’s not perfect either – rear bumper needs straightening, front roll pan is bent, a couple of cracks in the front passenger seat, and a few rust bubbles on the hood inner panel near the plenum opening.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Any Civic up until 1992 always had dealer-installed A/C. The first Civics with factory air came out with the debut of the 5th-generation Civic in 1992. (Or was it during the mid-cycle change in 1994? I don’t recall, and I’m too lazy to look it up! I know my 1994 EX Sedan had it (as did the coupe, maybe), plus the Si.)

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    No first-gen Accords in the Hemmings right now, and none older than 1994 on eBay Motors. I think it’s been a couple of years since I saw a first-gen (a 3-door).

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My wife bought one of the first Honda Accord CVCC in San Rafael CA in 1977. She had to get on a waiting list. We had the Accord for over 17 years and it would get 40 mpg consistently. Besides the rust the head gasket was an issue but overall it was years ahead of anything coming from Detroit and it handled well on curvy hilly roads and had more than enough pickup with the 5 speed manual. It had a surprising amount of room in the hatch even with the rear seat up. You could put a washing machine or dryer easily in the hatch. We now have a 2013 CRV and it is a great vehicle as well.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I had an 82, and I felt pretty good about buying it w/o any dealer ADM.

    The only problem was a very annoying whine in top (fifth) gear (where I did 90% of my driving) and Honda had no interest in fixing. Otherwise the quality of build, paint, etc was superb.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Good article on a much overlooked vehicle. Just some minor discussion points.

    1)How was the sedan more ‘usable’? In southern Ontario there were far more 1st generation Accord hatches than sedans.

    2) When was A/C offered as a factory option? Both my new 86 Accord sedan and our new 87 Civic ‘wagovan’ had to have dealer installed A/C as factory A/C was not available, in Canada. Can anyone locate the requisite A/C button on the instrument panel pictured in the article?

    3) The 2nd generation Civic was offered as a 4 door sedan and as a 4 (5) door hatch starting in 1979. Believe that the Accord sedan first came to N.A. (the USA) in 1978.

    4) Had a family member who had a 2nd generation Accord sedan. It was a ‘nice’ vehicle. Good value but not something that most North American consumers would trade their full/mid sized Chevs, Ford, Dodge sedans for. The 3rd generation was an entirely different category, larger, more substantial and a direct competitor with domestic sedans.

    5) Rust was a major issue with early Hondas. Many had the bolts to their heat shields rust right away.

    • 0 avatar

      1. More usable for families.

      2. It says AC on the slider if you zoom in.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Corey, it is probably my old eyes but I cannot see it. Hondas traditionally had a ‘button’ you had to press for A/C.

        The sliders (slide controls) appear just to have the requisite colouring for ease of use at night.

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      I owned a 5-speed DX 88 Accord sedan with dealer installed A/C, which was the only option on the car. $12,669.50 out the door, including TT&L.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I don’t think the Accord was overlooked at all – it was a big seller that people put themselves on waiting lists to own, and was a perennial favorite in the automotive press.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @FreedMike ‘overlooked’ in that it is rarely mentioned as a collectible or even in old car reminiscing. Possibly because there are less stories to be told of it breaking down prematurely or stranding its occupants than there are with other vehicles of its era.

        And most great stories seem to revolve around ‘bad experiences/performers’, rather than solid reliable performers.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          @Arthur-

          Ah, I see what you mean. Yep, it was an appliance par excellence. But it wasn’t a classic by any means, and the ask for this one is downright silly if you ask me.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I think the styling on all the Accord hatches has held up well, they’re really well proportioned. I’ve seen a blue hatchback exactly like the one pictured a number of times at a local grocery store, always catches my eye.

    My second car was an 84 hatch I bought used, drove it from LA to Salt Lake doing 80 the whole way, while getting 30+ mpg. It was a great little ride for its time.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      There’s a house a couple blocks from mine that has several rare examples of what were once ubiquitous cars lining the driveway, including a mint-looking 1980 Accord LX hatch in that green!

  • avatar
    Urlik

    Owned one for few years that had 80,000 miles when I bought it. So many things broke but I learned a lot replacing things like wheel bearings and brake master cylinders.

  • avatar
    redapple

    I was a young engineer at General Motors Powertrain when these came out. I compared the first gen Accord with the offerings from my employer. The Accord had:

    1 AC that could be engaged in any mode.
    2 1 key for the ignition and door. It could be inserted up or 180 degrees rotated. (GM used 1 for the door and another for the ignition. Teeth only only 1 side so specific orientation was needed. Good luck in the dark)
    3 A maintenance minder on the dash that signaled oil change needed or tire rotation needed.
    4 Coin tray with door. It thunked open and closed with a nice little detent.
    5 Tight panel gaps that were uniform.
    6 Standard trunk release on the floor left of the driver’s seat.
    7 Locked gas door with release next to the trunk release.

    All nice, useful, thought out features that added real value.
    GM would add almost none of these for years and years.

    I knew immediately that were we building crap. Real crap. And losing market share didnt change their minds. I left after 10 years and never looked back.

    Honda and Toyota make fantastic products and have since they landed here.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The fact that this car is lauded for how good it was shows exactly why the whole era is described by the word “Malaise”

      It was reliable. It was also miserable…just less so than most other stuff. And they are rare on the ground today because they forgot that one feature that would have added even more “real value”…rustporoofing.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        It was slow, but everything back then was. But you’re right – it was a malaise vehicle all the way – just far better made than the American stuff at the time.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        It was slow, but everything back then was. But you’re right – it was a malaise vehicle all the way – just far better made than the American stuff at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Forgot a couple.

      8. Low dash top with compartments for storing your stuff.
      9 HVAC Selector switch for outside air or recirc. in any mode.
      10. Door /trunk ajar warning light with outline of car showing which door/trunk is open.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @redapple: Oh yes the oval and the rectangular keys. If I remember correctly oval for the doors and rectangular for the ignition. The reason that I was given for this was that you could leave the car ‘running’ with the doors locked.

      Your observations of the differences in manufacturing and standard features were generally ‘spot on’.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        And as I discovered one evening in the parking lot of the McDonald’s I worked at in college, if the tumblers in the ignition switch wore enough, the key could be removed in the ON position!

        And at some point between 1971 and 1978, GM changed from the oval key being the trunk only to the oval key being able to lock/unlock doors, trunk, AND glovebox, with the square key only the ignition! This was confirmed when my Mom was driving my Dad’s 1980 Cutlass (a company car, so Mom didn’t drive it much; she had a 1971 Cutlass with the other key arrangement) home from a service visit to the local garage, and the oval key was left on the transmission hump in front of the center front seat! She (with me in tow) stopped at a local drugstore to pick up a prescription, and I knew as soon as the last door was closed that we were f—-ed! We started walking the mile or so home when our neighbor across the street saw us and picked us up! My Dad had a good laugh about it, and my Mom never made that mistake again!

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      My family had a surprisingly reliable X car, but the difference between it and the accord was stunning. The GM doors closed with a sound that suggested they were slowly falling apart, the engine generated lots of noise but little forward momentum, GM was still into red velour and tacky chrome bits everywhere, etc. etc. It was clear to any unbiased person which company was on the decline, and which was ascendant.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Wow, that’s a dead ringer for my kid brother’s car, which was abused without mercy and ended up as a storage facility for empty McDs wrappers, 7-11 cups and chewing tobacco containers.

    My dad eventually donated it to an agency that gave cars to recent Russian Jewish emigrees. One night, we got a call from a guy who complained in stilted Russ-glish about the car’s condition. “Car is junk,” he said. “You take back.” Dad hung up.

    On a side note, $14,500 is WAY too ambitious a price on this. I can see ten or so on a Prelude of similar vintage and condition, not an Accord.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The Big 3 were gifted a trade embargo, this and other imports to reverse engineer, and we got what?
    Besides more expensive/loaded Japanese imports, transplants and Acura/Lexus?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I think they figured out it costs money to make a better car that they may not actually make any more on. Thus, the move to CUVs and trucks.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Iacocca said “If you can find a better car, buy it!” and millions took his advice. That’s way more “action” than Ford or GM did. At least Ford had the #1 F-series and could just coast it, along with the Panther, Fox, Escort, Econoline, and others through most of the ’90s with just refresh updates.

  • avatar
    readallover

    My first new car was a 1983 Accord Hatchback with the 5 speed. Plenty of pep and hauled a surprising amount with the back seat folded down. I loved the car and only got rid of it when the first kid showed up. Heads and shoulders above the stuff Detroit was pushing out the door. One friend had a 82 and another had a 84. All our mufflers rusted out at about 16 months.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I was in the market for my first car when I turned 21 in 1978. My dad offered me $1000 toward whatever I wanted. My mom offered to buy me a ’78 Accord hatchback, provided that I got one with an automatic transmission (so she could drive it occasionally).

    I wanted a manual transmission, so I took my dad’s offer, and put it toward a ’75 Scirocco with a manual (about $4000 overall). I had no regrets, and I have still never purchased a car with an automatic.

  • avatar
    6250Claimer

    My first new car was a 1980 Accord LX Hatchback 5MT. I had to pay 10% ADM, completely non-negotiable as they were selling them faster than they could make them. 4-month wait. Leave a deposit now if you want to get in line, or walk if you don’t like the price or don’t want to wait. Dealer literally didn’t care because someone else would walk in 10 minutes later and take my spot if I balked. And it was so worth it, such a great car and superior to everything domestic at the time.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    Those quartz clocks are rad! I’d way rather see a new car interior with one of those vs. nothing but screens. Could look cool in an elegant retrofuturistic luxury interior

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That Craiglist example is a beauty. But It’s not worth $14k.

    I have a lot of respect for Hondas of this vintage, as they really launched Honda’s fortunes in the US. But as Art Vandelay said above, the poor rustproofing was their Achilles heel.

    This car looks like a spaceship compared to the stuff the Big Three was producing at the time.

  • avatar
    ABC-2000

    One thing is for sure, nobody is standing in line for any Accord today, I had a 2014 Sport, 2016 EX and 2018 EXL_L 2.0T.
    Last April I decided that no more Honda for me, their customer service is crap, they actually made me hate anything to do with Honda and I don’t think Honda is making the Accord the same way they did back in the 80’s or 90’s, if you ever get to drive a 2018, let me know how much free play the side mirrors have once they are not folded, also, the hood flutter in highway speeds, the 10 speed A/T is kicking in 2nd or 3rd gear as if the car hit something and go replicate this at the dealer, the sunroof glass was not fully flush with the roof in front but perfect in the rear and so on.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I owned a 1980 Honda Accord (Red/red) which I bought new. I got my name on the order list after the second gas crisis in 1979. By the time I got one, it was a 1980. I didn’t mind, since I had an automatic and that was the first year of fully auto shifting (before then it was something like clutchless shifting if you went over 35mph). Also I think the 1.7 liter was a bit larger in output than earlier. Air conditioning was great, even without tinted windows. Expectations for cars repairs were lower in those days. The fact that the water pump became noisy and I had it changed out about every 20K miles was OK with me (as I recall it was about $80, including parts). Also after 6 years the car wouldn’t start. I had it towed to the dealer who found the carburetor floats had cracked and sunk. They fixed it, UNDER WARRANTY——FREE!!!!, and paid for the tow!!!!! My extended family has owned about 8 Hondas since then; guess why!

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    A truly beautiful car, handsome and elegant, that grille is one of the best ever. Too bad they all rusted away within ten years.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I hate to say it, but I wonder what the front seats look like in this car. I noticed that the pictures included in the ad don’t show them.

  • avatar

    To me it looks like generic Japanese car that tries hard to look like American car. But it is too small and looks like a caricature. The only valuable thing I guess would be the engine. Classic it is not. Curiosity? May be.

  • avatar
    BillSellwood

    The first hatch model with the 1.6L engine had 68hp, although it seemed like more, due to the great torque curve and sound. I think it was R&T that said the ’76 hatch, at $3995 MSRP was the greatest bargain in automotive history. It took the wind out of the sails (sales?) of the VW Scirocco of the time, just as the mid-eighties Prelude did to the 3-series BMW.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    For its time the 77 Accord CVCC with a 5 speed had plenty of get up and go. Having an 85 Mercury Lynx (Escort) with a 4 speed that couldn’t get out of its own way and that you had to downshift to 3rd gear when going up an incline on the interstate going 70 the Accord was light years ahead of the 8 year newer Mercury. The Accord would easily go up the same incline in 5th gear without missing a beat as it would go up most hills in 5th gear. The 77 Accord would not burn rubber but it would safely get on an interstate or pass on a 2 lane road with more than enough power. The hatchback Accord of this era is still one of my favorite cars.

  • avatar
    myllis

    One car you should review in “Rare Rides”. Itis Citroen Xantia Activa V6. It still has a speed record in Swedish car -magazine Moose test, beaten eq. Porsche 997 GT3 RS and McLaren 675. Xantia Activa still keeps the biggest G-force value in circular speed test. Question is not the power (0-100km/h 9.9s). Citroen develop to Xantia hydraulic active anti roll bars (in french “Systeme Citroën de Contrôle Actif du Roulis”) and with Citroen’s hydropneumatic suspension. Car was absolute a far away others and it still is. Even today no one is the same level as Citroen was 1990. I have had possibility to drive Activa and it’s suspension.. it’s from “Outer World”. Activa’s nickname was “magic carpet”. Citroen use Activa system only in Xantia. I have Citroen C6 as everyday car.. Citroen C6 hydraulic suspension fullfills the term magic carpet, but it does’t beat Activa system.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      @myllis – good call! In my overseas, living in Africa days, Citroen Xantias were thick on the ground – these and the Peugeot 406s were the go-to sedans for a lot of the former French colonies who had favorable trade agreements with France.
      I know French cars don’t have the best reputation in the US due to their quirks and iffy quality, but they, especially the Peugeots, were solid driving cars that should have had a chance in the US. A friend of mine over there had a 405Mi16 and that was as much fun as any GTI/GLI with a stick.
      And I really like the interior of your Citroen C6. The front…mmmmmm…but it really can be called unique and a style on its own!

      • 0 avatar
        myllis

        My father use Peugeot 404 over 25 years. Then he change it to Peugeot 505 -model. Both were solid as a rock. When Peugeot dominate WRC(FIA World Rally Car Championship -series) with Finnish drivers, Peugeot’s special street legal models of 205 and 405 were really quick. Not forgotten Citroen BX GTi. Maybe, today’s Yaris GR gives the same feeling? But Yaris GR designer was Tommi Mäkinen Motorsport. Tommi was four time WRC Champion (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO). GR has been done for rally not track.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    mom got a 11 year old one in 1987, and it was already sunbaked inside and out. $1000 car that convinced her to keep buying japanese cars.

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