The Car That Continues to Evolve by Maintaining Harmony with the Times, People, and Society
A popular theme among the world's automakers in the 1960s was "larger, more luxurious-looking and more powerful," and this was the most readily apparent concept in their designs. In fact, most of the luxury models produced during that decade were developed along those lines. Such cars appeared to glorify the excessive use of resources, as if doing so could be easily justified.
Regulations concerning auto emissions, though, became much stricter in 1970 with the U.S. government's passage of the U.S. Clean Air Act. Japan immediately followed suit, moving to tighten its own regulations. Then, in October 1973, war in the Middle East broke out, sending the world's crude-oil prices to a level four times higher. The result was an oil crisis that caused significant confusion to the global economy.
The oil crisis and new emissions regulations also brought about a shift in the passenger-car market, reflecting an emerging consumer trend. That trend was one in which car buyers were no longer satisfied to own cars that eschewed any degree of functionality in favor of outright size and luxury. Instead, they wanted cleaner, more economical family cars that offered greater fuel-efficiency.
The tide of social sentiment was turning toward Japan, and consequently, Honda responded by introducing the Civic in 1972 as a full-scale, economy vehicle. The Civic CVCC model equipped with a low pollution CVCC engine followed in 1973, further answering the market demand for a clean-burning car. However, since it was the newest entrant in a huge and hotly contested market, Honda was quickly saddled with the reputation as a small auto maker with only a handful of models, like the Civic and mini cars.
Therefore, Honda R&D rolled into 1972 with a project designed to develop a full-scale, compact car for mass production. "Quiet ride" was a key phrase at the start of the project, and in that regard all phases of design were to reflect a high degree of integrity and attention to detail.
The development staff believed the use of an inline six-cylinder powerplant would offer the best assurance of a quiet ride, so it was decided that the new model would carry a 2000 cc, vertical inline 6-cylinder engine. Their design, to go forward under the "653" development code, would be a luxury four-door sedan incorporating the front-engine/front-wheel-drive (FF) format that Honda had been using since the N360. Thus, with the basic concept in place, development of the 653 was officially under way.
Project development, however, soon encountered difficulties due to changes in the market, prompting several design changes. For all their effort, though, the team had failed to bring the maturity, total balance, and other elements to the required levels. Ultimately, in 1974, the project was canceled.
It was an era of dramatic world change, and the times demanded reforms in the methods that manufacturers used to design their cars. The impact of popular sentiment and governmental regulation was so strong, in fact, that the world's auto makers had to subject their manufacturing philosophies to the most fundamental scrutiny. However, for Honda it was a great opportunity, since the company was at that time lagging behind the more established companies. All automakers were forced to begin again at the same level of development. In the race to develop new compact cars offering greater economy and comfort, yet which could meet the tougher pollution laws.