From Job 1, Accord was a winner
It was built for U.S. buyers, and U.S. buyers loved it
Henry Ford did it with the Model T — right car, right price, right time. Americans embraced it for a generation.
The Accord did the same for Honda.
In a car culture that believed bigger cars were better, the small 1976 Accord proved that good things did indeed come in small packages. In subsequent redesigns, Honda transformed the Accord from a small, imported Japanese hatchback into a U.S. industry benchmark.
From 1989 to 1991, the Accord was the top-selling car here, surpassing the Ford Taurus.
As Honda grew in the United States, it invested steadily in U.S. vehicle and engine manufacturing, r&d and product planning. U.S. production began in 1982.
Each redesigned Accord was longer, wider and more spacious, catering to U.S. customers. Such innovations as double wishbone suspension and hybrid technology were offered. Sales peaked at 414,718 in 2001.
Today's car offers a 271-hp V-6 with cylinder deactivation — a huge leap forward from the 68-hp four-cylinder base engine that first caught America's attention in 1976.
Just for U.S.
Unlike its predecessors — the N600, a small car created for the Japan market, and the Civic, which had global aspirations — the Accord was created for U.S. buyers.
In Japan, Honda re-created several miles of the Santa Monica freeway, down to the expansion joints and exit signs, to make sure the Accord was right for the U.S. market.
"The Accord was developed to meet the needs of users more affluent and older than those buying the Civic," wrote journalist Tetsuo Sakiya in Honda Motor: The Men, the Management, the Machines.
Teamwork was a key to the car's success, say company executives.
"The secret of our developing a new model is that people from all divisions talk to each other. It sounds so simple, and it is, but this is not common in the automotive industry," Cliff Schmillen, former Honda executive vice president, was quoted as saying in Sakiya's book.
The Accord debuted here in 1976 as a front-drive, three-door hatchback. Most Japanese cars of the day were rear-drive econoboxes. But the Accord had standard air conditioning, AM/FM radio and radial tires. The four-cylinder engine was rated at 33 mpg on the highway.
Front drive was a rarity, and the layout improved traction and interior comfort. Magazines praised the Accord's ride, fit and finish and more. The Accord felt more European than Japanese, buff books reported. Handling in particular got high marks.
Honda underestimated demand. Some customers waited three months for delivery. Amazed by the response, the Accord's project engineer traveled to the United States to question buyers.
"We asked questions about everything. Here was this new Accord and it was exceeding the expectations of everybody," says Ben Knight, now vice president of Honda R&D of the Americas Inc. Knight joined Honda in 1976 in the marketing department.
"A lot of the buyers were sometimes described as 'pipe smokers.' Not because they smoked a pipe, but maybe an academic," says Knight. "We visited some of the campuses and saw people unload a bicycle out of the rear of the new three-door Accord and bike around."
Baby boomer favorite
A generational shift helped Honda. Baby boomers, who snapped up Accords, had "an interest in cars from all over the world, and technology," says Knight.
That said, the first-generation Accord hatchback wasn't perfect, but it took years of ownership to reveal issues. Rust was a major problem, especially on the frame rails.
Some engines started puffing blue smoke after 100,000 miles because of a valve-guide issue. Rick Case, a Ohio Honda dealer, said that problem was limited to the first-generation Accord hatchbacks.
The first four-door Accord debuted in 1979, setting off another wave of buyer interest.
"The four-door looks and feels like a mini-Mercedes," Car and Driver reported in its March 1979 issue. "It carries four American adults in remarkable comfort [and] cruises at 75 or 80 effortlessly and quietly."
Detroit offered nothing close to the Accord.
"Any drive of more than 10 minutes duration in the Honda should suffice to make a small-car believer out of all but the most hidebound big-car loyalist," Car and Driver said in the March 1979 review.
The four-door was a hot seller, and is still a hot seller today.