The mid 1970s was a time of transition for the American automobile market. For years the cars built by our domestic brands were large and imposing, giving us vehicles that offered massive size and weight but did very little to adhere to the new emissions and fuel regulations. In fact, one exercise in the failure of the domestic brands to change and adapt was found in the fact that Honda was able to transform a Chevrolet Impala and make it pass the new emissions standards that GM claimed were impossible to meet.
Even though that was one isolated instance of how the door was swinging wide open during this time for the automakers in Japan to bring their imports to our country and make them part of the national landscape we would begin to enjoy. Until the middle of the decade these small Japanese cars from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Honda were all considered to be beach community specials that were fun to look at and drive but weren’t made to withstand the rigors of the American family and the road driving we had enjoyed for a few decades to that point.
Previously, in 1972 the Honda Civic had shown up on the market in the US and was being sold at the Honda motorcycle dealerships in the country. These little cars were an instant success and were the perfect entry into the market but it seemed there was a need for something more. The challenge was to feel the barometer of the market and understand what vehicle was right to bring in and offer. While VW stripped down its Golf/Rabbit to be a car that’s a cheap as you could get, Honda went the other direction with the Accord.
The Accord had comfort and equipment at a standard level that moved the needle for small car quality at the time. This car came with comfortable cloth seats, a tachometer, intermittent wipers and an AM/FM radio to give you a car that was small but easy to love. This car was also easy to drive and a lot of fun on the road. While it was a complete opposite of the VW, this car proved that we were ready for a small car that came well equipped and that we would pay for it if it happened to be right for us to enjoy.
How did the Malibu leave room for the Accord? The Malibu of the time was large, lumbering, slow and a fuel guzzler at a time when fuel prices were on the rise in a big way. The Accord was the perfect balance for the family as a car with some comfort and space inside while offering us the zip and the fun of a small car. In addition to being a great small car the Accord offered excellent fuel mileage as well, making it one of the cars we wanted to drive during this time.
Ironically, the Malibu and Accord of today are in the same class of vehicle and give us two of the cars we love to drive as family sedans that are great for the commute or for the long road trips. The Accord of today is also designed and built in the US rather than being shipped in from Japan. It’s amazing the changes that can take place on a few decades in the automotive industry, but if it hadn’t been for the timing of Honda and the lackluster build of the Malibu we may have never gotten to experience the Accord.