Civic and History

Kirti Patil
Saturday, 23 March 2019

Honda Civic was a game changer back in the early ’70s and as the 10th generation of Civic hits the Indian market, it is worth noting that the world’s sixth best-selling car of all time has a piece of history

The story of the transformation of Honda N600 into Honda Civic is an interesting one. It began in the ’60s when Honda N600 started rolling from the stables of a motorcycle manufacturer. But the tiny N600 failed in the US. In Japan too, Honda faced a strong battle from the automakers from the home market when it brought along the real car — Civic.

The first Honda Civic was a development over what N600 offered — so much for so less that Honda was able to resurrect itself from the morass it went in by venturing into the car sector, rather than working on money spinner motorcycles.

1972: It was a three-door or five-door hatch or as a station wagon costing around $2,000 Civic had power front-disc brakes and reclining front seats with available air-conditioning, AM radio, and a fold-down rear seat. In the present context, it may not sound much, but back then, it was a lot for a little hatchback.

1974: Just when oil crisis hit the US and strict safety and emission regulations were brought into effect and American car majors struggled to comply with the new laws, the Civic hit the roads. It became an overnight sensation. It was too good to be true. Not only could it run on regular or unleaded gas, its Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion engine returned over 15kmpl and didn’t need any expensive emissions equipment.

1979: As Honda shook General Motors with its easy-on-the-pocket cars, the Detroit major began complaining about emissions standards and labelled Honda as ‘toy motorcycle’ design. But other US major car makers — Ford and Chrysler — licensed some of Honda’s combustion technology to meet regulations. Honda founder Soichiro Honda retaliated against General Motors in his own style — he bought a V8-powered Chevy Impala, shipped it to the company headquarters, modified the Chevy engine with a carburettor and cylinder heads based on the Civic’s design. He not only got it to run cleaner without emissions equipment, but it got better gas mileage too.

1984: The third-generation Civic made its debut and with it came the Si, a 91-horsepower, three-door hatch. Thanks to its lightweight and free-revving engine, the Civic Si quickly became an affordable performance car icon, one that continues to this day. It soon became one of the best driver’s cars of the 1980s giving up to 18kmpl. It was a Civic first and became a sports car icon without being a sports car.

1989: Honda then introduced the magic word VTEC — the Variable Timing and Lift Electronic Control system. Like the Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion system of the ’70s, VTEC made Honda’s small displacement engines incredibly efficient. What’s more, at higher revolutions, the engines delivered impressive performance. Throughout the ’90s, Honda introduced a number of simple, reliable, efficient, and powerful VTEC engines across its lineup, powering everything from the Civic to the Acura NSX supercar. The technology is still in use today.

1997: For most of its existence, the Civic has been a lightweight, free-revving, mechanically simple car. Since the 1980s, it had been a staple of the tuning community. By the 1990s, Honda joined the game itself and released the red-hot Civic Type-R.

2006: With its insatiable appetite for small cars, the Civic has always been a success in Europe. And when the eighth-generation Civic debuted in 2006, Europe got a Civic all its own. Honda offered three distinct body styles from 2006 to 2011: one for North America, one for Europe, and one for Asia and Russia.

2011: The ninth-generation Civic was supposed to be released as a 2010 model but was delayed because of the global financial crisis. When it arrived in 2011, critics were shocked to find that the new Civic offered considerably fewer features than the outgoing model. What’s more, customers hated its shockingly un-Honda fit and finish and driving dynamics. As a result, Honda launched an emergency redesign. And for 2013, the Civic was upgraded helping the iconic compact car back on track.

2019: Virtually every automaker tests new cars at Germany’s infamous Nürburgring where Honda’s latest hot Civic, the Type-R was adjudged the fastest front-wheel drive car enjoying the reputation of being Honda’s longest-running automotive nameplate and its largest-selling model globally.

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