When Mike Tolleson started selling cars in Wisconsin 20 years ago, he says customers who wanted to test drive Hondas "lined up like they were waiting for a ride at the fair."
"We told them we could not be sure of the color or the model year" of the cars they would get, says Tolleson, who now is sales manager of Zimbrick Honda of Madison, Wis.
The reasons for the frenzy: Demand was high and supply was low.
Gasoline shortages and price increases rattled Americans in the 1970s. Broader economic turmoil continued into the early 1980s.
Many consumers demanded reasonably priced cars that were more fuel-efficient and reliable than those they had come to expect from the Big 3.
But supplies were tight. Honda Motor Co.'s Ohio assembly plant was in its infancy. The Japanese government, pressured by Washington, was limiting annual car exports to the United States to 1.68 million vehicles. Honda's share of that total was 400,000 cars a year.
The limits were called Voluntary Restraint Agreements, or VRAs. They later would be called Voluntary Export Restraints, or VERs. They were in effect from 1981 to 1994.
The restraints did not cause Honda to start making cars in the United States. The automaker said in 1979, two years before the formal restraints took effect, that it would build the plant. Production began in 1982.
But the restraints contributed to Honda's rapid expansion of its U.S. manufacturing base, analysts say.