Honda had introduced the Civic in 1972. The Civic CVCC model equipped with a low pollution CVCC engine followed in 1973, further answering the market demand for a clean-burning car. However, since it was the newest entrant in a huge and hotly contested US market, Honda was quickly saddled with the reputation as a small auto maker with only a handful of models, like the Civic and mini cars. Therefore, Honda R&D rolled into 1972 with a project designed to develop a car one class above the Civic; a model that would be the logical step for Civic owners wanting to upgrade. Hence, a project to develop an upscale version of the Civic began, with Hiroshi Kizawa acting as development manager.
Given the development code “671,” the car was to answer two requirements. First goal was to ensure comfortable cruising at 130 kilometers per hour. Japanese cars still had high noise levels of around 70 dB at 100 kilometers per hour. To make the 671 a world-class car, Honda wanted to reduce the noise level to 70 dB at 130 kilometers per hour. The second requirement was to make full use of the Civic’s parts. Honda had already invested heavily in the Civic and CVCC engine, and was not in a position to invest additional funds toward the development of another model. Hence, the company had to carry out its development with minimal investment. Specifically, it had to promote the use of existing facilities, including the engine plant and as many of the Civic’s parts as possible.
The team’s first requirement to achieve a comfortable cruising required a thorough review of the suspension, transmission, and other drive components employed in the Civic. With regard to the car’s suspension, an exhaustive review of the Civic led to various enhancements and the adoption of a four-wheel independent system with Macpherson struts. As for the wheels, the team decided to adopt radial tires, which were characterized by a high degree of dynamic performance. However, at the time it was commonly assumed that ordinary cars were fitted with bias tires. Despite their superior performance radial tires were found only on a handful of sports cars. Moreover, they were relatively expensive and associated with reduced ride comfort. To eliminate these drawbacks, the team improved the radial design and created a new suspension mechanism featuring technical advancements obtained through Honda’s previous model developments.
For the transmission, the team went against the mainstream four-speed, opting for a five-speed with four forward gears and overdrive. The overdrive system, which lowered the engine’s r.p.m., helped reduce noise and increase fuel economy. They knew this type of transmission was essential in order for the car to succeed in the U.S., where consumers were at the time placing greater emphasis on fuel economy than speed or power. The engine displacement was set at 1600cc, which was the usual specification for upscale compact Japanese cars. However, the team faced enormous difficulties in the process of modifying the Civic CVCC’s 1500cc EM engine. Originally, the EM engine was developed as a 1000cc unit but was subsequently brought up to the 1500cc level.
To further enhance it to a 1600cc engine, while ensuring the company’s ability to manufacture it using the Civic’s production facilities, the piston stroke had to be increased to 93 mm. With its super-long stroke the engine could not maintain quiet operation at high rev ranges, because the engine itself caused significantly more vibration than had been anticipated. Accordingly, Kizawa asked the management to allow the team to develop a new engine, but this was not approved because of the investment costs. Left with no alternative, the team did its utmost to enhance the engine and finally, the team was able to say it would be possible for Honda to mass-produce the new car.
The completed 671, designed as a high-class cousin of the Civic, was eventually named Accord. The first Accord model with a novel 3-door hatchback design hit the Japanese market in May 1976. The monthly sales target for Japan, which was initially set at 4,000 units, was doubled to 8,000 units within just three months of the Accord’s release. Accordingly, the production volume at Saitama Factory’s Sayama Plant was substantially re-outfitted so that eventually its 8,000-unit monthly goal was adjusted to 11,500. Yet, despite the increase in production, public demand continued to exceed the planned production and sales volumes by a considerable margin. Consequently, domestic sales during the first year, over a nominal six-month period, reached 53,752 units.
The Accord’s stunning popularity was boosted even further with the introduction of the four-door sedan introduced in October 1977. That year, the Accord line of three- and four-door models sold 83,941 units. Honda premiered its new 1800cc model in September 1978, featuring a few minor improvements, and with that, the Accord’s domestic sales volume grew again, reaching a one-year total of 94,986 units. Thanks to the Accord, an industry newcomer was able to consolidate its foothold in Japan’s compact-car segment. In a move designed to cultivate a market in the U.S., Honda began exporting the three-door hatchback in May 1976, right after the car’s introduction in Japan. That year, the Accord sold 18,643 units in the U.S. Sales volume experienced dramatic growth the following year, with sales totaling 75,995 units. Honda began exporting the upgraded sedan in September 1978, winning considerable praise from U.S. customers. As a result, combined sales of three- and four-door Accords grew rapidly, reaching 120,841 units in 1978. Thanks to the Accord’s success, Honda’s market grew steadily in the U.S., and the company cemented its position overseas as a premier auto manufacturer.