1980 Honda Accord sedan
1981 Honda Accord sedan. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

Honda was comparatively late getting into the car business, but when it did, it quickly moved to centre stage. Honda was already the world’s leading motorcycle manufacturer when it introduced its first car at the 1962 Tokyo Auto Show. It was a tiny roadster with strong motorcycle engineering influences such as a high-revving, overhead cam engine, roller bearing crankshaft and chain drive to the rear wheels.

Honda soon followed this with little sedans, but they were too small to find much acceptance in North America. By 1973, Honda was able to launch its economical and nimble front-wheel drive Civic. It would turn out to be a car that was just right for the times.

By a stroke of luck the fuel-stingy Civic’s arrival coincided with the first “oil crisis” of the 1970s. The Civic soon proved that it had quality as well as economy, and prepared the way for the launch of what would become Honda’s world-class car: the Accord.

The Honda Accord arrived in 1976 as a two-door hatchback, a kind of cross between a Civic and the Giugiaro-styled Volkswagen Scirocco, the benchmark sporty coupe of that era.

A larger evolution of the Civic, the Accord had a transversely mounted, four-cylinder, overhead cam engine driving the front wheels. It displaced 1,597 cc, and drove through a five-speed manual transmission, although a two-speed automatic would soon become available.

The Accord was an immediate success, making the recently introduced rear-wheel drive Chevrolet Chevette suddenly seem old. It was a watershed car that proved that small cars could be just as luxurious as large ones.

Little convenience touches like a remote hatchback release, an instrument panel pictogram warning that a door or the hatchback was ajar, a service reminder, a coin holder, and side window defoggers were all appreciated.

Another welcome feature for option-fatigued North Americans was not having to order any extras. When you are building and shipping cars half a world away, it’s easier to fit them with everything – even the AM/FM radio was standard – than try to customize a car for each buyer.

Thus, what was a manufacturing convenience proved to be a marketing coup. And it was a revelation to motorists accustomed to seeing the final price of cars balloon when all the options were totalled up.

About the only choice an Accord buyer had to make was colour, and Honda played on this in their sales brochure: “The Accord is so complete all you need is the key.”

The Accord offered everything that most buyers wanted. It was stylish, could accommodate four, or occasionally five passengers, and was quick and economical. The handling, if not quite as sharp as that of the sportier leaning Volkswagen Scirocco, was still crisp and responsive. And drivers delighted in the smooth-shifting transmission, the light clutch action, and power assisted brakes.

They also welcomed the Accord’s standard tachometer, stalk-mounted lights/turn signals and wiper switch, intermittent wipers, and full carpeting. These now-found conveniences provided a luxurious tone, and Road & Track magazine’s testers opined that the Accord “… is probably the best automotive buy in the U.S. today.”

The Accord’s performance was adequate and reasonably competitive, if not outstanding. R&T (8/76) recorded zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 15.4 seconds, and a top speed of 145 km/h (90 mph). While good, it was overshadowed by the VW Scirocco’s zero to 96 (60) of 12.7, and top speed of 102 mph (164 km/h). Fuel economy was in the 35 to 40 mpg range.

Honda widened the Accord’s appeal with a four-door sedan in 1978. The sedan was every bit as nice as the hatchback, and this “little limo” soon became the benchmark in the small sedan class.

The original Honda Civic had established Honda as a serious contender on the world automotive scene, and the Accord consolidated it. It, along with such cars as the Toyota Corolla and the Datsun 510, caused North American automakers to realize that the Japanese threat was serious.

Over a little more than two decades the Accord grew from a smallish sized entry to a full-fledged member of the mid-size car class, becoming in the process the quintessential North American family sedan. It now battles for top sales positions with such worthies as the Toyota Camry.

And it all flowed from those jewel-like little Accord two-door hatchbacks and four-door sedans that began arriving here in the late 1970s. The Accord was then, and is still today, setting a standard for quality and driving convenience against which others are judged.

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