27 May 2022

More than an old car #192: Honda Civic (SB)

I can't believe that it's been almost 3 years since I followed along for a drive: so many things have changed since then and I hope that we have rounded a corner currently. What caught my attention was this lovely 1979 Honda Civic SB: this unit is currently the only 1st-generation Civic that exists here, though who knows there could be more brought in soon...

Designed by Shinya Iwakura, the Civic was largely developed as a new platform: it was the result of taking the previous Honda N600 by making it larger, along with the doubling of the engine capacity. Its smaller size allowed it to outperform American competitors, especially when the 1973 oil crisis hit. The good fuel mileage and compact design attracted many peopled away from large cars such as the Toyota Crown. Originally available in fastback sedan and hatchback form, a wagon version was introduced in 1974. Fastback sedans (like this unit) can be distinguished from the hatchback based on whether the rear portion could be opened fully. 

In 1975, a revised engine with CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) was released. It had a head design that promoted cleaner, more efficient combustion: this eliminated the need for catalytic converters or unleaded fuel to meet changing emissions standards. Civics had a sales advantage because the buyer could choose any type of fuel or gasoline products available, making it even more popular in the aftermath of the oil crisis. Despite it, Civics were prone to rust especially during winter: nearly a million cars were recalled by the NHTSA and owners had the right to receive replacements or cash reimbursements.

Civics were also assembled in New Zealand and Indonesia with only certain ranges available. A sportier model known as the Civic RS was released for the Japanese market only with a more powerful engine and increased performance parts. It received a facelift in 1978, featuring a black grille, 1/2 amber signals (from 1/3 amber signals) and reverse lights mounted on the bumper.

This unit was powered by a 1238 cc EB2 inline-4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 147 km/h with an acceleration of 13.7 seconds [0-100 km/h]. With dimensions of 3560 x 1505 x 1330 mm and weighing in at just 670 kg, it was deft enough to navigate the relatively small streets of Japan. The fuel consumption of 8.6 litres / 100 km was the answer to concerns of thirstiness in view of the oil crisis.

Production of the first-generation Civic ended in 1979, where it was succeeded by the second-generation model. Civics were sold here in 1973 where the 2-door hatchback retailed for S$9,400. Local reviews praised its comfort level despite its small size, along with precise steering and excellent al-round visibility. None of the original Civics in Singapore still exist: this 2-door sedan was imported from Malaysia in 2018. As of the time of writing, it is up for sale at $29,888 which I feel is a reasonable price given that demand for old Japanese cars will continue to rise across the board. 

The Civic name is quintessentially Honda, and the juxtaposition between the grandfather of economy cars and its modern-day descendants is eye-boggling to say the least. It kept Honda in business and paved the way for the company to go from strength to strength: subsequent Civics remain much loved, or at the least acknowledged for its reliability and affordability. Here's to the 'car of the people' and I hope you will see this old beauty one day! 

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