How Honda celebrated 50 years of the Civic

Yesterday Honda launched the new Civic Type R, but the occasion was more than just the debut of Honda’s latest FF rocket. Honda also took the opportunity to celebrate the Civic’s 50th birthday with a lineup of multiple body styles and generations. People would have been there just to see the new Type R, but the celebration was a nice little nod to the history of Honda’s most important model.

The party took place in Hawthorne, California, the site of a small municipal airport and the home of companies such as SpaceX and video game maker Konami’s US headquarters. Honda rented out a giant hangar to host the Civics, and brought out several examples of the model. Older ones hailed from their US museum collection, while newer models were plucked from their press fleet.

The Civic was born on July 11, 1972, just one year before the OPEC oil crisis of ’73. Instead of one of the initial models with the 1.2-liter inline-four, Honda displayed a  1975 CVCC model. That was fitting, as the 1.5-liter famously passed strict new federal emissions standards without the use of a catalytic converter and showed the world what Honda technology was capable of.

The second generation was represented by a 1981 Civic Wagon. We love wagons and it’s always good to include one, especially a stick shift. Back then, many companies were so thrilled about their gearboxes that they proudly affixed “5 speed’ badges on their cars. It looks a bit silly today, but if there was any company that should be proud of their manuals, it’s Honda.

The silver color is a bit plain, unfortunately, but the all-maroon interior is period correct perfection. If we were curating the museum, we would have gone with a more snazzy color of the era, like Richmond Green or Sydney Brown Metallic. Of course we’d add a sedan to the collection as well. The ultimate second-gen would have to be the Civic S, however, the 3-door hot hatch predecessor to the Si.

A 1984 Civic Wagon stood for the third generation, finished in a rare one-year-only Suede Beige. We love the funky “wagovans” and have no quarrel with the stick shift. We only wish that it was a 4WD version. Not only would it have had better wheels, but it would have come with a large “Real Time 4WD” decal on the rear doors.

So far, so good, but we have to wag our fingers at the fourth generation. Sorry, Honda, but an automatic base model DX sedan is a far cry from the ideal candidate to represent the pivotal EF. This was the generation that set the Civic apart from the competition with its F1-derived double-wishbone suspension. There needs to be an Si hatchback in this lineup instead, preferably in Tahitian Green Pearl.

This fifth-generation Civic EX 2-door is a fine contender for the EG, and a new addition since we last visited the museum. While we would have gone with a color like Aztec Green, the first Civic coupe is an important step in the evolution of the model. Its sleek lines are what endeared so many to the Civic, elevating it beyond just a sensible compact and into the realm of desirability. Just as important, though, is this generation’s Civic Si, but we’re pretty sure even Honda can’t find a clean example any more.

An Electron Blue Pearl EM1 Civic Si for the sixth gen? Chef’s kiss, No notes.

Keen observers will note that generations seven through nine were skipped over. Honda doesn’t have cars to stand in for those years, so before any more base trim acquisitions fill those holes, may we suggest a 2004-05 Civic Si hatchback and a 2003 Civic Hybrid, a 1-of-1,000 2008 Civic Mugen Si sedan, and a 2014 Civic Si coupe in Orange Fire Pearl.

There could be no doubt that the tenth-generation would be represented by the incredible Civic Type R. The first CTR — and the first Honda-branded Type R — to be offered in the US after decades of wistful longing from enthusiasts is a noteworthy milestone. And if it has to be the FK8, it might as well be the Phoenix Yellow Limited Edition.

There were at least three examples of the eleventh and current-generation Civic on display, a blue Sport, an orange Si, and a silver sedan that didn’t look half bad.

Behind the display was a timeline of every generation and the concept sketches that it took to get to the final product. We showed some of them in a previous article, but see below for high-res versions of each poster.

Finally, it was time to see the 2023 Civic Type R, which had been sitting under a sheet the whole time. It wouldn’t have been a proper use of a hangar without the presence of a HondaJet, this one an Elite model. It was quite cool to see one up close, and it’s a lot smaller than we expected. It’s mind-blowing how wide the range of Honda products truly is.

And there it is, the culmination of five decades of Civic development. We’ve written in depth about how much we like the new Civic Type R, but we can’t stress how good it looks in person. It’s technically wider and longer than the previous CTR, but it looks so much more lithe without the chunky styling. Even the wheels are one size smaller than before, 19 inches versus 20, but wider with 265/30-R19s Michelin Pilot Sports versus P245/30-R20 Continentals.

When the whole of Civic history is viewed in one place, it can be quite awe-inspiring to see how the car has evolved from a cute little pollution-conscious hatchback eking out 53 toy ponies to a record-destroying circuit weapon churning out over 300 stampeding stallions, all the while providing practical and reliable transportation for millions. Congrats on 50 years of this iconic car, Honda.

Additional Images:

Design images courtesy of Honda.

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4 Responses to How Honda celebrated 50 years of the Civic

  1. dankan says:

    I think the 4th and 8th generation Civics are the styling high points for me. The 4th is angular 80s perfection. It’s sleek, minimal, and so much more advanced looking that its contemporaries from other companies.

    The 8th for me is special because it looks so very space-age. Other companies at the time had very dull economy car designs which looked like evolutions of the 90s. The 8th generation Civic on the other hand had this swoopy, clean shape that looked like nothing else. I really regret the hatch never made it to North America.

  2. Ian N says:

    I’d take the mustard 1st Generation Civic over all the rest.
    Fond memories of my father’s multiple examples – two door hatch, four door sedan and finally four door wagon. We didn’t have the troubles downunder that they had in USA with the 1st Generation, all were pretty reliable, zippy and well-built. Paint (clear coat) suffered under the relentless Aussie sun, but that was common to many brands at that period.

  3. BRIAN TREVAN says:


  4. Vasco says:

    I have mixed feelings about the car. These cars are so big they should just be called another name, not Civic. In my opinion a Civic should be a nimble an agile car AND should look like one. This new FL looks like a big taxi. Despite that, it should be a blast, like the FK8 is. It is also great to see a manual gearbox in there.

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