Limited de­sign bud­get

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Forgotten Hero -

Honda’s first idea for a larger model was ‘Project 653’, a po­ten­tial Mus­tang ri­val to be pow­ered by a 2.0-litre in­line six-cylin­der en­gine. In the af­ter­math of the OPEC fuel cri­sis of 1973, with crude oil prices in­flated by 400%, 653 was can­celled. In­stead, the re­search en­gi­neer Hiroshi Kizawa was as­signed the task of de­vis­ing a Honda that would oc­cupy the class im­me­di­ately above the Civic.

Honda had pre­vi­ously in­vested so much in ear­lier cars and en­gine de­vel­op­ment that Kizawa would have only a limited bud­get, so ‘Project 671’ would have to be cen­tred on the Civic’s power plant, floor­pan and sev­eral body parts.

Kizawa’s brief fur­ther dic­tated that 671 would be ‘a com­pact car that is easy to use and has a stylish, sporty look’, which he de­cided would mean a hatch­back body. In the mid-1970s the Ja­panese light/medium car mar­ket was dom­i­nated by saloons, mean­ing that a Honda en­try in this field would strug­gle to com­pete, but in the USA ex­port ter­ri­tory most suc­cess­ful ‘com­pact cars’ had ei­ther two or three doors. At that time, Honda’s four-wheel prod­ucts were de­vel­oped with over­seas mar­kets in mind and as the Civic had proved so pop­u­lar in North Amer­ica, it made sense to em­ploy this win­ning for­mula writ large.

Two sep­a­rate teams worked on 671’s styling and the de­sign that was even­tu­ally se­lected by Honda was one heav­ily in­flu­enced by the Lo­tus Elite. To en­sure that the latest Honda would be able to achieve ‘com­fort­able cruis­ing at 130 kilo­me­tres per hour’ there was all-round in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion with MacPher­son struts and a five-speed gear­box help­ing to in­crease the level of re­fine­ment. Ja­panese cars were of­ten re­garded as noisy but the over­drive fifth low­ered the revs and also contributed to re­duc­ing run­ning costs. How­ever a ma­jor chal­lenge re­mained: the en­gine. In 1975, Honda fit­ted the Civic with its new CVCC (Com­pound Vor­tex Con­trolled Com­bus­tion) unit. It was de­signed to meet lo­cal strict Cal­i­for­nian emis­sions reg­u­la­tions with­out the need for a cat­alytic con­verter or fuel in­jec­tion. How­ever, the 1.5- litre could not be ex­panded to 1.6 litres and re­main re­fined. Kizawa later ob­served that ‘Ja­panese cars still had high noise lev­els of around 70dB at 100km/h. To make the 671 a world-class car, we de­cided to re­duce the sound level to 70dB at 130km/h’. It took much work on the power plant to In such a mar­ket, the Honda was in­deed, as the brochure copy put it, ‘small enough for crowded ur­ban traf­fic, yet com­pletely com­fort­able for four adults’. In May 1977, Car & Driver mag­a­zine thought that ‘at first the Ac­cord may seem like an­other transportation mod­ule in the fa­mil­iar mould of front-wheel drive and hatch­back, a Honda Civic with a thy­roid con­di­tion’, but con­sid­ered that it ‘mar­shals ev­ery de­sir­able trend in small-car de­sign’.

As a com­pact fam­ily car, the Honda of­fered more space than some of its ri­vals. The clean-cut, ap­peal­ing, and al­most ‘Prep­pie’ styling meant that it looked more at home in a sub­ur­ban drive­way than the likes of the AMC Pacer.

There was also an ex­ten­sive list of fit­tings, in­clud­ing a (now-com­mon) ca­ble re­mote boot re­lease, de­vised af­ter a Honda en­gi­neer over­heard a cad­die com­plain that ‘with a small car, you can’t re­move a golf bag with­out ask­ing the cus­tomer to open the trunk with his key.’

The ‘Hon­damatic’ two-speed semi-au­to­matic box was ideal for the many US mo­torists who had lit­tle or no ex­pe­ri­ence of ‘a stick shift’. The LX ver­sion came with air con­di­tion­ing and PAS as stan­dard – the lat­ter was a first for a Ja­panese car in this class, and was fit­ted af­ter com­pany boss Soichiro Honda him­self found 671’s steer­ing to be ‘heavy’.

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