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Classic Commuter: 1978 Honda CVCC Wagon

One of the most overlooked genres of classics is old Japanese commuter cars. Granted, parts aren’t plentiful, nor are decent examples often readily available for sale. Well, this 1978 Honda CVCC station wagon is a decent example, for sure. It’s listed here on craigslist for $5,000 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.

“Don’t you mean Civic”? Well, yes, that’s what the CVCC was, but “CVCC” stood for “Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion” and was a technology for gasoline engines which allowed Honda’s cars to meet Japanese and American emission standards in the 1970s without a catalytic converter. The car line itself is indeed “Civic” and dates back to 1972. This 1978 represents the next-to-last year of the first-generation subcompact, which gained much favor in America in the wake of the Oil Crisis of 1974. 1978 alone saw sales of 154,000 units in the United States.

This particular one reportedly has the 4-cylinder (presumably the 1,169 cc (71.3 cu in)) engine mated to a 4-speed manual transmission, and is in very nice overall shape. The seller is the 3rd owner and tell us that a far amount of work has already been done to make it a driver.

One of the first articles that I ever wrote for Barn Finds was about a maroon 1981 Civic sedan, and I have to say that I kind of dig the little old econoboxes. Not for their performance or styling per se, but for their significance in automotive history and how few of them are on the road today. What say you, would you have one like this?


  1. Oingo

    that a far amount of

    Like 2
  2. Howard A Member

    Wow, decent isn’t the right word, perhaps unbelievable. It’s no PA. car, that’s for sure. These were so popular, they couldn’t make them fast enough. Word got out, Honda made a respectable car for a young family, it was simply the best bargain around,,,until they ran them in the salt bath a few times. Fenders with gaping holes, doors, you could see the window mechanism, they didn’t last long. The front shock towers rusted, and it was goodbye Civic. This car was created during the 55mph law, and the 4 speed was adequate for that, but with today’s bonzai speeds, that motor gonna holler. For non-bonzai use, be the best little car you could buy. Amazing find.

    Like 7
  3. ccrvtt

    There’s a reason that old Japanese commuter cars are an “overlooked genre” – they were disposable appliances that became rust buckets almost instantly. Underpowered and relatively uninspiring to drive they came and went quickly once their primary purpose was served.

    Fortunately the evolution of these cars brought more capable vehicles that led to the “rice rocket” phenomenon, one of the later phases of true hot rodding. Those Civics and Sentras provided a cheap platform for young people to modify with sometimes spectacular results.

    But in my not-so-humble opinion there has NEVER been an enthusiast car with front-wheel drive. The only Corolla I ever leased was very well built it had all the excitement of driving a refrigerator.

    I know they sold 154,000 of them. A lot of people actually liked them, but then a lot of people liked The Beverly Hillbillies. It’s just not really a car to me.

    Sort of like a Prius…

    Like 5
  4. CJinSD

    Even towards the end of production, these were still incredibly advanced compared to competitors like the Pinto and the Chevette. I lived where road salt was used liberally, but snow was infrequent. Cars like this rusted away, but not until they were at least a decade old and had achieved a reputation for lasting twice as many miles as the Detroit standard 100K. At a time when 105 hp V8s were a thing in intermediate cars, a stick-shift Civic could actually be lively and fun to drive. The reason survivors aren’t common is because they were sought out by people who needed a dependable way to get to work.

    Like 5
  5. William Denny

    The GTI might argue your point about an enthusiast fwd car. Anyrate, I had an ’80 Civic back in the day and it was as fun as any sportier car I had that followed. You could run the crap out of them and dart in and out of corners and they felt faster than you were going but you don’t need 400 to have fun.

    Like 7
  6. Michael

    In ‘78, I would not have given this car a second glance. Now, I wouldn’t mind owning it.

    Like 4
  7. Tony Townsend

    The CVCC models were all 1488 ccs.

    Like 1
  8. Gaspumpchas

    Rust under the hood, check the underbelly, had an 83 like this and it made me switch over to Hondas forever for my drivers. Lots of room for my tools and stuff in the back and sipped gas. Kee-rect about the rust especially here in the rust belt. I’ve seen guys up in the Adirondacks of NY driving these with no fenders. Drivetrain was bulletproof. Look this one over good.

    Like 2
  9. Brian Ach

    “But in my not-so-humble opinion there has NEVER been an enthusiast car with front-wheel drive. ”

    and the example you give is that the “Corolla” you leased was boring? Haha

    Lancia Fulvia? Yeah terrible enthusiast car. Won the International Rally Championship in 1972. Whatever.

    Mini Cooper. Hardly a phenomenon. Nicknamed “Giant Killer” but whatever.

    Sentra SE-R. The modern day 2002. Oh, and front wheel drive.

    Integra Type R. Terrible handling, boring.

    Peugeot 205 GTI French, must be boring.

    VW GTI? Only lasted from the ’80’s till…well…now, so must be terrible.

    Fiesta ST? Best cheap fun car ever (next to the Abarth)

    these are just off the top of my head. Terrible cars all.

    Like 12
    • ccrvtt

      But you didn’t include the 1978 CVCC wagon on your list?

      Like 1
      • Brian Ach

        No one claimed this was an enthusiast vehicle…it’s a commuter wagon….

        Like 1
  10. Wolfgang Gullich

    Funny no one’s mentioned the backstory to the CVCC engine technology. Soichiro Honda actually tried to sell the tech to the Big 3 on the premise they could continue to make largish engines whose power wasn’t compromised by the primitive emissions systems and still be able to meet EPA standards. He was laughed out of Michigan. I’d say it’s safe to say Soichiro- San was the one having the last laugh before he passed away in the late 80s.

    Like 8
  11. Robert McKinney Member

    I bought the same color Hatchback in 1978 from Pasadena Honda,(which was a converted gas station at that time). Price was $500 off of sticker. Sticker was $3999.00. I picked the one I wanted and had to come back the next day to get it. They were packed in so tight, they had to move 20 cars. After 2 years, there was a recall, which included new rings. That original motor ran for over 250,000 miles, then I replaced it with another, and it ran another 250,000 miles until it was attacked by another car and retired. I still have the steering wheel in the garage. I called the dealership in 1979 for a friend, and the price went to $500 over sticker. (gas crisis price went from 50cents to over $100 per gallon) he told me I should have bought 2 in 78.

    Like 3
  12. Rodney - GSM

    Given the very low survivor rate and given that these are now cars tied to high personal feelings and emotions, as in “first car”, “first kiss” and “first child” I would expect the values for the remaining few to increase as demand will exceed supply. Just a guess. Who doesn’t love their first car?

    Like 3
  13. Paul

    I have always loved the first generation Honda Civic. The design is charming and iconic to me like the Beetle. Simple, cute, quirky fun. My dad ordered a yellow 5 speed 2 door hatchback in 1979. In those days you waited months for it to be built in Japan and shipped over. By the time they filled his order, the 1980 second generation Civic had been introduced, so he got the silver GL hatchback with a red interior. I wanted the yellow ’79, but he absolutely loved the ’80 silver one. If I had room in the stable for this cute wagon, I’d snap it up as I always felt jipped that we didn’t get to have that flashy yellow one in ’79!

    Like 2
  14. Bob S

    I had a few mid 70’s civics, if it wasn’t a cvcc, it was a 4 speed, I’m pretty sure all cvcc manuals were 5 speeds

    Like 2
  15. TBAU Member

    When I was in my last year of school (1988) a good friend of mine’s mother had the 3 door version. She used to lend it to us from time to time for small errands or to get cash work out of town. Small, reliable and underestimated both the car and the woman. She went back to school at 45(?), got a law degree and became a Federal Government Minister in the Australian Parliament.

    Like 0
  16. Miguel

    I have always been leary of the carburators on these.

    If they aren’t running right the car didn’t pass smog, and a lot of them had problems.

    Like 0
    • Rodney - GSM

      Yes, it is good to be afraid. The best advice I ever received on my (still running) 1978 Accord was never touch the carburator. I never have and forty-one years later it is still running perfectly. Classic, not broke, don’t fix it….

      Like 0

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