There’s a tendency to sort of lose the ability to see, I mean really see, things we’re very familiar with. I suspect there’s a psychological or neurological name for this phenomenon that I could Google if I wasn’t feeling so damn lazy.
This, of course, happens with cars, too. Cars we know well and have known for years are sometimes hard to appreciate visually because they’re so familiar. But you know, there’s a good way to shake yourself out of that. Look at the earliest original drawings for that car. They’ll make you appreciate the car all over again, which is what just happened to me and the first Honda Civic, which was introduced as a ’73 model in Japan.
Our pals over at Car Design Archives posted some early sketches of the Civic, and I was struck by how clever and stylish they looked, which jolted me into a new appreciation of the gen-one Civic.
These very early concept sketches of the Civic from 1972 revealed something that’s always been there in the Civic’s design, but I think is rarely noticed or acknowledged: There’s a bit of late ’60s hot rod design in there!
There’s clearly some kind of influence — especially in that one without the A-pillars on the top right — that feels a bit like the fun Kammback designs that a lot of show, concept car and hot rod makers were experimenting with in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I think you can still get a hint of that in the production Civic’s window lines.
Does this one have an asymmetric grille, too? That’s bold.
It doesn’t seem to have taken too long to get to the familiar Civic shape and details like the lighting units. I think I prefer those vertical door handles to the ones that ended up on the car, though.
Car Design Archives also has some interesting details of the Civic’s original design brief:
Thus at this stage the model’s key values are defined: “functional and minimalist, offering an optimal relationship between format, performance and low consumption.” It is also with this model that will be thrown away the basics of the famous M / M concept: “Maximum Man / Minimum Machine,” so as not to sacrifice the user to the constraints of engineering.
The result ended up being something quite stylish and still quite different from the harder-edged little hatchbacks coming out of Europe with similar goals. Honda managed to accomplish the same things without just copying the aesthetics of everyone else. The Civic felt uniquely Honda.
This sketch feels like the final design, though the door handles and lights seem strangely small — that, or they were planning a version that was scaled up by 25 per cent or so.
The Civic’s interior never looked as futuristic as this, with the large, gently curving dash area and those two round instrument binnacles, but this would have been very cool.
I’d never heard the official story of how the Civic got its name, but it came from what I — and I expect everyone — suspected, the CVCC engine design:
Finally, one last word on the name CiViC, of course derived from its engine. Towards the end of its development, this model did not yet have a name. That’s when Iwakura got a phone call from Kiyohiko Okumoto, then sales manager, and throws him: “We found a name for the new car, but I wanted to validate it with you, you who know the car better than anyone. His name is Civic.”
“By hearing that name, Iwakura was thrilled. The sales department had finally understood what at Studies, we had tried to achieve: a humble car, intended for all (citizens) and created for cities.”
So, there you go! Just like you probably guessed.
I know that seeing original Civics is pretty uncommon now, but hopefully the next time you do, you’ll think of these sketches and maybe appreciate this humble little citizen’s car a bit more.