Learning never exhausts the mind
Home >  Blog > Cars & Bikes > Honda Civic History 1973-2006

Published 12th September 2007 by

The Honda Civic is one of, if not the, most popular platform for modifications among young tuners.

The Honda Civic is one of, if not the, most popular platform for modifications among young tuners because the Civic already has a naturally high power-to-weight ratio and a higher hp-to-litre output compared to many of their direct competitors, which allows for better acceleration, braking and handling given similar parts.

1973-1979 - First Generation

Prior to 1973, Honda was a company known for its motorcycles than cars, which were tiny two-cylinder 600cc runabouts. This changed when the Civic debuted in 1973.

Honda's little supermini was powered by a transversely-mounted, all aluminium, SOHC 8-valve 1.2-litre engine that developed 54bhp at 5500pm. Power was sent to the front wheels via a four-speed manual transmission or a clever two cog automatic gearbox, dubbed HondaMatic, that did without a torque converter, enabling Honda to offer it at a lower price to traditional automatics.

The Hondamatic (also called the H2) was Honda's first automatic transmission. It featured sliding gears on parallel axes rather than planetary gears like most other automatic transmissions. It also featured a unique shifting action controlled by stator torque rather than traditional hydraulics.

Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) and US-bound (USDM) versions were fitted with the Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) engine, a two-stage combustion engine designed to comply with the impending American emission legislation - the Muskie Law and Clean Air Act of 1975. But Europe, whose emission laws were less stringent at this point, did without the CVCC technology. This 1.5-litre engine developed a healthy 62bhp, its CVCC lean-burn stratified charge technology so effective that the engine passed the strict laws without a catalytic converter until 1983. The CVCC technology was subsequently bought by Ford and eventually they rebranded it as CVH for the Fiesta and Escort, though these were never as smooth as Honda's units.

The Civic may have been an urban car, but that didn't stop Honda offering a high-performance version, the strangely named Road Sailing, or RS, using a tweaked 1.2-litre that was good for 75bhp at 6000rpm, which back then, was quite a lot. Performance models would always feature in the Civic line-up.

In Europe, only rust would tarnish the car's reputation, flaking paint - which used to come off both Civics and Accords in depressingly large swathes - sending many cars to the crusher prematurely. Amazingly, this rather fundamental fault did not undermine Honda's reputation in the way that Alfa's and Lancia's suffered from similar problems. And indeed, within four years, production at Honda's Suzuka plant had already reached the magical one million mark, outstripping motorbike production, and the car sold unchanged for seven years.

1980-1983 - Second Generation

High on the success of its new car, Honda introduced the second family of 'Super Civics' in 1979. It bombed. It was undoubtedly better, with superior aerodynamics, more integrated styling, a more economical engine and roomier cabin, but it lacked the dinky style and jaunty air of its predecessor.

Shinya Iwakura, one of Honda's top research executives admits that the company placed too much emphasis on the results of marketing surveys, neutering the verve of the first Civic with a better-performing but less engaging car. "Customer response was lukewarm at best and car buyers were just not impressed with the way it looked. We were crushed but our own vanity was to blame because we played it safe second time round," he candidly admits.

Despite this waning interest, the second generation broadened the Civic range. It saw the introduction of the first Civic 5-door hatchback, and an estate version followed, while the lean-burn engine grew to 1.5 litres in capacity and produced 70bhp at 5,500 rpm. Like the first model, the second Civic could be had with either a four-speed manual or two-speed automatic gearbox, these later upgraded to five- and three-speed transmissions. It was more versatile too, featuring a split rear bench, gas struts for the hatch tailgate and more interior storage space. Ride and handling were also improved, Honda's engineers making use of the newly completed Tochigi proving ground to good effect.

In 1981 a four-door version was launched. Also known as the Ballade, this car was also built under licence by the Austin Rover Group and sold as a Triumph Acclaim, beginning a long - and not always happy - relationship with the British manufacturer that would eventually see the Civic being manufactured in the UK.

1984-1987 - Third Generation

In 1984, just four years after the second edition had appeared, the third was introduced, setting a replacement pattern that holds to this day. A four-year life is short for a small car, but it allowed the Civic to remain contemporary and certainly gave Honda's European and American rivals a headache, for they were used to much longer model cycles. Generation three introduced four different body styles built on one versatile platform - the Civic hatchback and saloon, the people-carrying Shuttle and the sporty CRX coupe, all based on the same running gear.

The so-called 'Wonder Civic' sported fresher, cleaner lines, lending it a more European feel - it represented a major change in direction of the Civic's development. Honda had sought an opinion from the Italian coachbuilders, which might just have led to the city of Turin and the Piedmont region awarding the three-door Civic its Car-Design Award of 1984. Its sharper, origami-style look gave the Civic a much-needed dose of visual dynamism and individuality that marked it out as something a little different.

The new styling came with more advanced engine technology. All models were fitted with a new all-alloy engine with a unique 12-valve, DOHC head, which improved combustion characteristics, reduced fuel consumption and served excellent torque. There was a wider choice of engines too, starting with a 55bhp 1.2-litre, followed by a 71bhp 1.3-litre and topped by a 1.5-litre engine producing either 85 or a robust 100bhp. In 1985, the engine range switched from carburettors to electronic fuel injection in conjunction with catalytic converters. The first cat-engine, the 1.5-litre unit, produced 90bhp at 5800 rpm.

It was the CRX that began to earn Honda a serious reputation as a maker of sporting cars, a development that would eventually lead to today's wild Type R. Its stubby coupe styling and range of high-revving engines made it a hit with younger, performance-oriented buyers, particularly in the US where its low price brought it within reach of well-off (or spoiled) students. Fitted with a 100bhp 1.5-litre engine, it accelerated to 60mph in less than 10 seconds and onto a top speed of 125mph, which felt rapid in a car this small. For 1985 Honda installed a hot new 1.6-litre DOHC 16-valve engine. With 130bhp on tap at a shrieking 6500rpm, the CRX hooked itself up to the fast-riding hot hatch train, adding extra impetus with the scalding 150bhp version. This CRX could bolt to 60mph in 7.5sec and hit 130mph and remains a prized used buy even today.

1988-1991 - Fourth Generation

Dubbed the 'Grand Civic', the fourth Civic version was unveiled in 1987 and continued through to 1991 in the 3-door hatch, 4-door saloon, Shuttle and CRX variants. The styling continued the trend towards sharp creases and a dart-like profile. With its steeply raked windscreen, chiselled nose and longer wheelbase, the Civic backed up its good looks with some serious firepower, courtesy of its VTEC (standing for Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control) engines.

The simplicity of its four-letter acronym doesn't begin to encapsulate the cleverness of Honda's VTEC system. An elegant solution that met the conflicting requirements of exceptional fuel economy, sprightly power output and low exhaust emissions, VTEC disengaged one of the inlet valves when the car was driven slowly, creating fast-swirl, lean-burn conditions for the optimal mixture combustion. At higher revs or under full throttle openings, the fourth valve was brought into play, actuated by hydraulic link-pins in the valve gear, while the cam profiles were switched to enable the engine to breathe deeper. As anyone who has driven a Honda with a high output VTEC engine can confirm, the point when the engine gains that second set of lungs is one to be savoured. Just as legendary is the VTEC system's reliability. Honda has never had a recall on the variable valve timing setup.

This generation also saw the introduction of four-valve-per-cylinder engines in all model ranges, and use of a sophisticated double-wishbone suspension system, though Honda still had a lot to learn about wheel travel and ride comfort at this point. It was the flagship 140mph CRX VTi that benefited most from the suspension and engine changes. With its VTEC 1.6-litre engine wringing out 150bhp at a frantic 7600rpm, it spearheaded the influx of hot Japanese contenders for the title of hot hatch king.

1992-1995 - Fifth Generation

This marked a significant change in design direction for Honda. Out went the edgy wedge-like look and in came more mature, curved styling. It divided opinion, but whether you thought it more modern and contemporary with its softer lines and smaller greenhouse, or less interesting without its taut, creased look, it still packaged a vast amount of innovation into a small package. In came a more powerful and wider range of engines, airbags and anti-lock brakes.

Honda also chose to point the CRX down the same design route. The manic CRX was reincarnated as a convertible with a complicated detachable roof.

1996-2000 - Sixth Generation

Honda modestly called it the Miracle Civic when it was introduced in 1995. A revamped Civic line-up debuted for 1996. The new body featured larger light clusters front and back, a grille (chrome on sedans) and a crisp character line that ran the length of the car. Bigger, safer and with an ever-broadening range of sophisticated lean-burn VTEC engines, the sixth Civic may have been a sales success but it failed to capture the excitement of its mid-80s predecessors. All that engineering excellence was wrapped up in too-conventional a package.

In 1998 the Civic series was augmented by the introduction of the family-friendly Aerodeck estate. A Japan-only Type-R was launched, its hyper 1.6-litre VTEC engine producing a phenomenal 185bhp at 8200rpm.

2001-2005 - Seventh Generation

Perhaps Honda was stung by the criticism levelled by motoring publications at the last few Civic generations, or perhaps the new tide of sharply styled European rivals inspired its designers - whatever the reason, the seventh Civic is unique and instantly recognisable. A global car with three and five-door versions as well as the spin-off Stream people carrier, the Civic has a silhouette like no other car in its class. It's a full 50mm higher than the car it replaces and its steeply raked windscreen - reminiscent of the fourth generation - is complemented by an equally steep bonnet line leaving virtually no nose to speak off.

Inside, the traditional floor-mounted gear lever is replaced by a stubby lever on the dashboard, freeing up internal space. Another first - for the Civic - has been the introduction of diesel engines. Developed in conjunction with Isuzu but breathing through Honda's own induction and exhaust system, this engine is a reluctant concession to Europe's insatiable demand for oil-burners. Reluctant, because Honda's engineers are philosophically opposed to diesel.

But without a doubt, it was the arrival of the ballistic Type-R that has reignited a lot of interest in the Civic. This squat, three-door bullet-shaped machine is powered by a 200bhp 2.0-litre engine, capable of catapulting it to 60mph in 6.8sec and onto an impressive 145mph.

2006-Present - Eighth Generation

To rapturous applause from car critics and the waiting press, the Japanese car giant unveiled their new-look Civic model at the Geneva Motor Show on 2 March 2005.

Designed to be 'sexy', and a departure from previous models, the new Civic is aimed to appeal to a younger market and will be in direct competition with the VW Golf, Audi A3, Ford Focus and BMW 1-series.

In a massive vote of confidence for Honda's plant at South Marston, Executives confirmed the sporty new model will be built in Swindon, England, thereby securing jobs for the 4,000 manufacturing staff. "Our workforce is doing an exceptional job," said Ken Keir, vice-president of Honda Europe and managing director of Honda UK. "British built is bloody good!"

The 2.2-litre i-CTDi unit has already been acclaimed as the future of diesel automotive power and far more environmentally friendly than other engines currently available.

Leave a Reply

Fields marked with * are mandatory.

We respect your privacy, and will not make your email public. Hashed email address may be checked against Gravatar service to retrieve avatars. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.