The Honda Civic name has been around for a long time, with the badge adorning a basic sub-compact car from the early 1970s until the mid-1990s and thereafter a more luxurious compact. The first generation Civic was launched in 1972 and lasted until 1979, with a redesigned second generation model carrying the evolutionary series forward into the 1980s.
Although widely exported, the Civic’s success — and the inexorable rise of Honda as a major international carmaker — was about felicitous timing. At the very moment that enraged Middle Eastern suppliers pointed the oil weapon at the West for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War, the handy little Civic was on hand to meet the American buying public’s sudden demand for fuel-efficient small cars. Home manufacturers were stuck in the era of heavy metal, with some popular muscle cars gulping a gallon of petrol for every six or seven miles of town driving.
The little Civic was positively parsimonious by comparison, and affordable to boot. The first generation started with a neat little 1.2 litre transverse four-cylinder engine, cleverly marketed using the slogan ‘We make it simple’. Simple indeed, but brilliantly so — the well-built Civic had independent suspension all round and front disc brakes, whilst the interior had comfortable bucket seats.
Standard transmission was four-speed manual, though there was an automatic version as an optional extra. Body styles (not always available in all markets) were the two-door coupe, three-door hatchback, four-door saloon, five-door hatchback and five-door station wagon. The first generation Civic was tweaked as the decade unfolded, with some small style changes and the introduction of larger engines.
American small cars such as the Ford Pinto and Chevy Vega just couldn’t compete and Civic sales boomed, along with those of Datsun and Toyota. The Japanese invasion was finally in full swing.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Japan
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1972 (until 1979)
ENGINE: 1,169 cc, 1,237 cc or 1,488 cc Straight Four
PERFORMANCE: With 1.5 litre engine — top speed of 99 mph (160 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Smog-plagued California had America’s toughest anti-emission regulations, but the state was an important source of business — so Honda developed the 1.5 litre ‘clean’ CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) motor that became compulsory for all Civics sold in California.