Home » Long-Parked Hondas: 1975 Honda Civic vs 1981 Honda Accord

Long-Parked Hondas: 1975 Honda Civic vs 1981 Honda Accord

Sbsd 5 13 2024
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Good morning, Autopians! I’m writing this from Delaware, on a house-hunting trip, after a red-eye flight last night (or was it the night before?). I’m exhausted, and I haven’t really slept for something like thirty-six hours at this point, but the show(down) must go on, so here we go. Today is all about Hondas that haven’t hit the road in years.

Yesterday’s Showdown featured big-ass V8 engines, and it looks like the Chevy has taken a clear win. I know those 8100-powered Silverados are popular trucks, so I’m not surprised. For my money, it’s the Ford van, though. No reason; I just think it’s cooler, and I already have a good Chevy truck that I love.

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And yes, I’m aware that these aren’t classified as “heavy duty” trucks, not officially. And I know there are much bigger trucks and engines out there. But as far as things that normal people might buy and drive to Costco, these are definitely edge cases.

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Now then: Hondas from the 1970s were cool little cars: fun to drive, reliable, and cleverly designed. Unfortunately, they were also ephemeral, succumbing to rust in short order in salt-ridden climates. In the automotive sanctuary known as California, however, a few of these endangered species live on. Today we’re going to look at two such specimens, both of which have been neglected for too long.

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1975 Honda Civic CVCC – $4,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Morro Bay, CA

Odometer reading: 72,000 miles

Operational status: Parked 9 years ago and hasn’t been started since

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“We Make It Simple” was Honda’s slogan when the Civic first hit the US market. And simple it was: a tiny two-door hatchback with front-wheel-drive and lively handling that got fantastic gas mileage. But like Apple, Honda achieved that outward simplicity by employing a lot of very sophisticated behind-the-scenes technology.

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Honda’s CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) system was one such technology. CVCC engines used three valves per cylinder, the normal intake and exhaust valves plus a smaller secondary intake valve that supplied the area around the spark plug with a richer mixture than the big intake valve did. This allowed the engine to run a leaner mixture overall, for cleaner running and better economy. It was so effective that this 1975 Honda Civic met California’s strict smog requirements with no catalytic converter. It’s a moot point now, however, because California only requires smog tests on 1976 and up vehicles.

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This little Civic has been sitting for a long time – nine years, to be exact. The seller does say the registration is current, however, so it sounds like they planned to get it running. If nothing else, you can probably swap in some newer Honda engine; if it doesn’t require smog testing anymore, the world of potential engines is your oyster.

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This one hasn’t quite entirely escaped the rust curse, but it’s California rust, with little bubbles here and there that you can probably safely ignore. It’s still cleaner than any first-generation Civic seen anywhere in the Midwest in ages.

1981 Honda Accord hatchback – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: San Ramon, CA

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Odometer reading: 159,000 miles

Operational status: Starts and runs, but not driven for 4 years

If you’d rather have an old Honda that’s a little bigger, a little more everyday useful, here we have a first-generation Accord hatchback. It has a 1.8 liter four, also CVCC-equipped, and a five-speed manual. You could get an Accord with an automatic, of course, but why would you? Everyone drove a stick back then.

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This Accord was a daily driver until four years ago when it was parked for an undisclosed reason. It does start and run, but the seller says it needs some carb work before it’s ready to go. It has a new battery already, which is a start (pun intended).

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The seats are utterly trashed beyond repair, but the rest of the interior looks all right. You could find other bucket seats to drop in there easily, with maybe a little cutting of rails or drilling of holes. No point in trying to save these.

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Like the Civic, this one isn’t perfect inside, but it’s mighty clean. Normally I’d rail against the beige paint, but it works here. This is a handsome car. Of course, I’d rather have that fantastic seafoam green that Honda offered on this generation of Accord, complete with the green velour interior, but this would do nicely too.

It would be awesome if all the cars we loved could be preserved, rust-free, for us to enjoy whenever we wished. But we all know that isn’t the reality. And I guess you could argue that it’s the high attrition rate that makes these cars interesting now, at least in part. Who looked twice at an Accord or Civic back then? They were just cars. Now they’re time capsules, windows into a past that was hyper-concerned with efficiency and not so big on safety or durability. Which one would you rather bring back?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
1 month ago

The civic is nice and all,but the accord looks to be the better car in this case.

Brau Beaton
Brau Beaton
1 month ago

I once bought an identical yellow Civic and over a short time grew to loathe almost everything about it, so I sold it again after only two months. Therefore all I could do is go for the Accord and hope for better.

Greensoul
Greensoul
1 month ago

Shocked to see any of these survived. Tin worm killed them off and they were utterly disposable cars back in the day. I went through 6 of this gen of Civics in the early 80s when in college. You could pick them up for $300-500 and drive them until they weren’t structurally safe anymore. I had a yellow 77 5 speed similar to this one. Rust killed it in a spectacular fashion.
I was coming to the crest of an unfamiliar hill in that particular Civic, and damm, railroad tracks and no time to react. Boom, boom, boom, snap, crackle, pop, then screeeeeech and sparks flying in the rearview. I pulled over, could see the top of the rear struts at seatback level in the mirror. Got out and laughed and cried at once. That poor little car looked like a worm ridden dog dragging its ass across the ground. Was a sad end to a fun little runabout. Bought another cheapo rusty Civic the following week. That one had a 2 speed Hondamatic. That’s another story for another day.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
1 month ago

This was legitimately a hard choice. I went with the Accord because I used to have a manual ’82 hatchback that was really great. I broke the drivers seat rail on that car and had a guy weld it back together for $20. I don’t think it would be too hard to find some bucket seats that would work to replace the trashed interior.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago

My parents went through the following vehicles resulting in a similar year Honda, but the wagon version; ’67 MB 250, ’69 MB 350 (I think), ’75 VW Rabbit, then the Honda. An odd succession to say the least. We beat the crap out of that yellow Honda. Due to having a very friendly Honda dealer (upgraded from a Honda motorcycle dealer), a huge number of expensive repairs were “covered” though recall work. Including some serious work when sibling drove through a puddle too fast, sucked water into a piston and bent a rod. Brakes, transmission, engine, all covered at least once each.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
1 month ago

The beige Accord for me

Mike F.
Mike F.
1 month ago

If I’m going to go this far back in Honda history, I’m going all the way and taking the Civic. It’s priced rather high and would be “interesting” (meaning a real pain in the ass) to get working, but either one is going to take a fair bit of work to make nice and the end result would be much more fun with the Civic.

Last edited 1 month ago by Mike F.
Tyler Pinkney
Tyler Pinkney
1 month ago

I had a 1967 Civic CVCC Station Wagon in the same piss yellow color. Loved that little thing!

What is extraordinary about this Civic, is that i has the dealer-installed A/C! I’ve never seen one installed. Looks like it take place of the glovebox and a tube under the driver, and has an a/c compressor almost as large as the engine. Where did the condenser go? Not the blank half of the grille opening??

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago

Just like my first Honda car. Mine was white and when I got it, it needed rust repair and some other mechanical bits. Did the bodywork, fixed mechanicals, tossed on fiberglass front fenders, respray and drove it for several years. Sold it to my youngest brother who drove it across Canada 4 or 5 times. We both managed to fit, 6’5 and 6’3, in this 4 wheel go cart. It was a hoot to drive and dead reliable. One of the few cars I’ve owned that I would like to have again.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 month ago

Accord for me since it’s cheaper at at least starts and runs.

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
1 month ago

My wife and I had both these generations of Honda: I had a ’76 Civic 5-speed and she had a ’78 Accord 5-speed.

The Civic would be more collectible since it’s scarce – the 5-speed version even more so – but it will be a challenge to source parts. The aftermarket A/C installation could also mean underhood weirdness.

The Accord is a more refined car, and finding parts might be easier. The fact that it runs and isn’t a complete rust bucket is in its favor, as is the lower price. Reupholstering seats is trivial compared to a mechanical rebuild. But it was the Civic that firmly established Honda’s automotive presence in the US.

Since I wouldn’t drive either car as a daily, I’d go for the Civic (offer $2000) and budget 3-4 times that for restoration. You’d end up with a fun urban runabout and a nice piece of ’70s history.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 month ago

Civic: It looks, well, mechanical. And I’m sure it feels mechanical (once it’s running). I’m tired of rolling isolation chambers I suppose. I need some gear whine in my travels.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore
1 month ago

Old Civic but it’s a bit too rich asking for a car that doesn’t run and they don’t know why. Offer half. At the very least it should be good for parts to sell on to some JDM collector who needs parts for one they already have. You still lose but at least you gave that classic a chance.

Matt Woods
Matt Woods
1 month ago

If you mean which one for $500, I’ll take the Accord. I wanted the civic to be a 1200 like the one I had in college, but this isn’t, and it looks like it was parked in the ocean.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
1 month ago

No. Neither of these things, not for any more than scrap value. Unless you have extremely fond memories of these cars growing up, there’s no reason to salvage a non-running economy car from this period.

Giulia Louis-Dreyfus
Giulia Louis-Dreyfus
1 month ago

I went Accord. My dad, who passed away recently, had an Accord hatchback in that exact color when I was born.

Russ Evenhuis
Russ Evenhuis
1 month ago

My first car was a 79 Civic. Loved that car and the 81 speaks to me but I just feel an attraction to the little yellow guy

Tondeleo Jones
Tondeleo Jones
1 month ago

The Civic pictured here was its own unique model: Civic CVCC 5 Speed. Think of it as the Civic Si’s great-great-grandfather. It was a hoot to drive and it came with faux woodgrain steering wheel and shift knob along with some out there houndstooth check upholstery.
I sold these when they were new and our dealership got a very limited allocation of them.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago

I’m going to sit this one out as both of these vehicles are grossly overpriced basket cases. (´◕o◕`)

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
1 month ago

This was an easy choice. Though my uncle had a silver ’81 Accord, I spent a good bit of my early childhood in my dad’s ’75 Civic – aka the Green Pickle (it was green, natch). Ours wasn’t a fancy pants 5-speed like this one, so just four forward gears, fully vinyl seats, and basic silver steel wheels instead of these sporty black ones with the chrome trim ring. But it was a great little car. A blown head gasket took it to the crusher some time in the late-80s, but my dad still wishes he’d spent the money getting it fixed.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
1 month ago

My first car (well the 3rd extra family car for the kids to drive) was a metallic blue 79 Civic with the non-CVCC engine which was slightly smaller. My brother had the CVCC in his green 78. Fun cars and so easy to work on but had issues with brakes and running a little hot in town. Also burning out clutches but that’s probably on us.

A girlfriend had one of those Accords in purple/wine. A nice enough car that seemed a lot more solid than my Civic and could cruise on the highway a lot easier.

Both of these are a little overpriced. 4 grand for a non-op Civic that’s been sitting in Morro Bay in that salt air or the Accord that has some Trashed seats. I guess I’d lean toward the Accord and throw some new seats in there and replace some belts, hoses, etc. For the same price, probably the Civic though.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
1 month ago

My first car was a 1977 Accord and my first serious girlfriend had a 1978 Civic, so I got to drive (and work on) both of these concurrently. The Accord was a much more “real” car but the Civic was a hoot to drive (at least in the city). Any time we went on the highway, we took the Accord.

Neither car was all that reliable – my Accord blew its head gasket and her Civic got a new engine (both around 80k km/50k miles) and both rusted away. My Accord got free replacement fenders from Honda because the rust was so bad.

Canadian Hondas didn’t have CVCC heads, just regular two valve heads. When I decided to replace the head gasket myself, the Haines manual talked about all these CVCC parts that my car didn’t have, which was confusing for a teenage first time mechanic. Luckily, these were pretty simple cars.

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
1 month ago

I can’t see these Accords without thinking “Park it yourself, Metallica breath!”

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
1 month ago

The yellow CVCC is a little happier. I wanted to like the Accord more than I did – it looks like rats used the interior as a nest, and the rust isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Cyko9
Cyko9
1 month ago

The Civic is more, but I think it’s worth putting effort (and money) into. The Accord is pretty beat, not a terrible car, but not at that price.

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