It spearheaded the Japanese motoring invasion of the UK, proving that low cost need not mean low quality. Yet it slipped into anonymity – a travesty, says Andrew Roberts
Forty years ago the average British motorist would have been forgiven for overlooking the launch of a Japanese hatchback. 1976 saw the debut of the Ford Fiesta, the Rover SD1, the Aston Martin Lagonda, the Lotus Esprit and the Porsche 924, so Honda’s announcement of its new Accord was somewhat overshadowed. But by the end of the decade, they were familiar sights in the UK, and by 1989 the third generation model was the best-selling car in the USA.
The Civic of 1972 was the first Honda to become a major export success in North America and the Accord was both an ambitious attempt to apply the Civic’s formula to the light-medium Japanese car market and banish memories of the 1300 of 1968.
This was Honda’s first real attempt at a rival to the 510-series Datsun Bluebird and the Toyota Corona T40 in both domestic and foreign markets but it proved to be over-sophisticated for its intended buyers. The company sold few 1300s in Europe and none officially reached the USA. For the sake of the company’s image – and its finances – the Accord could not repeat automotive history. finally achieve this aim. Honda decided to name 671 as the Accord, to ‘reflect the harmony between the car and society’. Nice.
Six months after its launch in May 1976, 53,752 units had been sold. In the USA, sales increased from 18,643 to 75,995 by 1977. This pleased Honda, which had extensively tested prototypes across the States, from Alaska to Arizona.
Such extensive preparations for the US market were one reason for the Accord’s success. Another significant element was the timing of its debut: in the aftermath of the oil crisis, American motorists who previously would never have considered buying a foreign car were now starting to look at the Volkswagen Rabbit or Toyota Corolla Liftback.