By the early 1980s, US buyers came to appreciate the bland reliability of Japanese hatchbacks. The ‘ 84 Civic went one better with its strikingly edgy shape.
This particular Civic looks like another one-owner car with period blue California plates. Aside from a few nicks and dents, it is remarkably unfazed for its age and apparent life parked at city curbs.
Up until this Civic, Japanese econocars had evolved from ’70s weirdness (Datsun B-210) to ’80s boxiness (Nissan Sentra). Mazda GLC, Toyota Tercel and Starlet, the Mitsubishi-sourced Dodge Colt – all had simple and upright two-box designs.
The thwacked-off rear end was particularly attention getting.
Neat detailing: the door’s inset is all glass, and the DX nameplate is stuck directly to it…
…while the Honda script is impressed behind the glass surface.
The sharply-formed hatchback hinge looked to be straight from the future.
Curves subtly relieved the rigidity and added tension. Note how the window’s plastic vent panel apes the shape of the hatch door’s profile.
Visibility was wide-open. In the DX, the rear seatback could recline.
Honda wasn’t the first to blend the door frames into the A-pillar and roof, but its version is appealingly precise and tight-limned.
The headlight vents were fresh and unexpected.
Honda’s innovations continued inside. The front suspension eschewed the typical McPherson struts for race-inspired double wishbones. These allowed for a shockingly low hoodline, which took the front view and dialed it up to panoramic.
The instrument panel was shaped to lower the visuals further, with a usable tray up top. This speaks to the core of this Civic’s brilliance; each of its design elements build on those around it.
At a time when its Asian competitors were low on distinction, the 1984 Civic brought a shocking level of chic. Waiting lists and dealer markups were common, and the few families in my childhood suburb who could get one raved about them, especially in comparison to the Escorts and Horizons that were happily offloaded for the Hondas.