Originally published September 29, 2015 on autoTRADER.ca
The museums of the world are filled with a hundred thousand everyday objects. Whether it’s a carefully chipped obsidian axehead or the worn wood handle of a medieval ploughshare, man-made objects can become art merely by surviving, by acquiring the stories of those who use them. A Monet, an ancient tapestry – these you expect to be preserved. The tools we use in ordinary life tend to get used up. When one lasts, it becomes something very special.
This little bronzed baby shoe is one such artifact, a 1977 Honda Civic with a two-speed Hondamatic transmission. It’s an economy car, a device intended to get people from A to B without costing them much in the way of $. It doesn’t have much in the way of horsepower. It is modest in both curb weight and carrying capacity. Its needs are few. It’s a jewel.
Truth be told, the dreams of Soichiro Honda himself were far greater than this humble little runabout. For Dr. Honda, a proper car would be crammed with unique innovations and genuine sporting prowess. His dedication to that ideal nearly broke the company.
However, the young engineers he attracted to his fledgling brand came up with something perhaps not revolutionary, but extremely successful. Taking the same recipe used to create the tiny N600 microcar, they expanded the footprint, increased the engine power, but kept things relatively simple. Horsepower was around 50 hp from a 1.1L transversely mounted four-cylinder engine, a four-speed manual was standard, and the car came equipped with independent suspension at all four corners.
Very roughly speaking, the Honda Civic could be considered a Japanese interpretation of the original Austin Mini. It was reliable, it scooted quicker than you’d expect, and the fuel economy was excellent. Introduced right at the same time that the first of the fuel crises of the 1970s hit, the Civic would be an instant hit.
And yet, despite their popularity, the original Civic is a very rare object today. Part of the issue is their tendency to rust: outside of the temperate coastal regions, many of these little cars have disintegrated and blown away in the wind.
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The other issue is with value. At some point, like any other people-mover, an old Honda Civic was just an old cheap car. Keeping one maintained is one thing, but attempting a restoration would be madness. As soon as a major issue reared its head, it was the scrapyard for many of these early little Japanese immigrants.
But not this one. A slightly later model – and not a CVCC, notably – this ’77 machine has a lofty 52 hp thanks to its larger 1.2L displacement. It is old, and it is well-loved, and in places it is worn. However, just like those museum artifacts, it is a treasure.