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Made in Japan: 1981 Honda Accord LX

Barn Finds writer, Jeff, found an amazing Accord back in early-February that looks so similar to the car shown here, but that one had fewer than 5,000 miles on it and was a 5-speed. This 1981 Honda Accord LX is an automatic and has 61,707 miles on it, a little over what I drive every year. Not bad for a car that’s now 36-years old. This Accord is listed on eBay where it has a bid price of $1,500 but the reserve isn’t met.

The 1982 Honda Accord was the first Japanese car to be made in the United States, so this 1981 version is the last of its kind to be made in Sayama, Saitama, Japan for the US market. The first Accord came out in 1976 and it was a “big” Honda, relatively speaking, at least compared to its Civic. Honda’s advertising of the time said that they didn’t plan on making “big” cars, but as we all know, just about every generation of every vehicle by every manufacturer, even Honda, gets bigger and bigger with each redesign. I’ll never understand, or like, that.

The seller bought this Accord LX from the neighbor who bought it new in 1981. Charlotte, North Carolina weather has been kind to it, and so was the first owner. The seller includes three photos showing “rusty” areas but, being from Minnesota, I almost fell off my chair laughing at those tiny areas being specifically called out as rust! You want rust, I’ll show you rust! The hatchback looks great and it comes with a built-in security system: a club holding up the hatch.

The interior looks great, and then there’s that automatic. Accords were nice cars in their day; pretty luxurious compared to the Honda Civic. The automatic would take a lot of the fun out of the driving experience, but at least things look nice inside, other than some fading. The seller mentions that the AC was charged last summer but it’s leaking so that’ll have to be addressed. You’d probably want to have AC in Charlotte, or at least I would. Ahhh.. beautiful North Carolina, the lack of real, mentionable rust amazes me on this car!

This is Honda’s 1.8L CVCC-II (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion II) inline-four with 75 hp. It looks like there’s a new alternator and newish battery; two things that the next owner won’t have to worry about for a while, hopefully. If you were in the market for a 1981 Honda Accord, could you live with an automatic, a few dings, and an extra 56,000 miles for a lot less money than the car from last February went for?


  1. JW454

    I had an ’83 version of this one. It was basically the same but, had rectangle shaped head lights. Nice little car. I’d take another one.

  2. nessy

    This was the last year for this body style. It seems like every Accord from this first gen is the same minty green. Anyone else notice that?

  3. Jeff K.

    If you are ever lucky/fortunate enough to visit The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, which I highly recommend EVERYONE do, (I am not associated with the museum BTW), you will find the first ever Honda Accord imported to the United States. It is a silver 4 door version. I was shocked to see it there when I last visited last year over the Memorial Day weekend. While you are in the area, take the factory tour at the Ford truck plant as well. Ford HQ is across the street and you may be lucky enough to spot a mule driving around or in the parking lot.

    • Anthony

      If its a silver 4 door it must be the first Accord Sedan imported to the US. The first 3 years for the Accord in the US ( 76, 77, 78) were all hatchbacks. No sedans until 1979

      • Jeff K.

        As I recall, I believe you are correct. I think the placard stated it was the first Japanese imported sedan to the United States.

    • Howard A Member

      Just curious, Jeff, why would they have that at the Ford museum? To show everybody what, almost single-handedly took down Detroit?

      • Jeff K.

        This is a total guess……….But I’m thinking probably for the historical transportation aspect. The Henry Ford museum isn’t just about Ford’s but it’s also a transportation/historical museum as well. They have airplanes, trains, locomotives, farm equipment, an Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, a McDonald’s neon sign that was used back in the day, an outdoor museum called Greenfield Village……..etc…etc…. You could actually spend a few days there trying to see everything.

  4. Anthony

    I agree. These are great little cars. I had a 78 with the 5 speed between 1982 and 1990. Fun car to drive. When we bought it my wife and i were driving a 70 camaro 350 and a 70 mustang 302 and we were looking for something fun that would be a little better on gas. We looked at a bunch of the GM “egg cars”, the Chevy Monza, Buick Skylark, Olds Starfire with V6 engines. All dogs, they couldn’t get out of their own way. The Honda was peppy, fun to drive and got 32 MPG. It had 60k on it when i bought it and put another 100k on it before it was not worth repairing due to water leaking into the car thru the cowl vent when it rained.

  5. Blyndgesser

    I had one of these when they were new. The automatic wasn’t as bad as you might think for acceleration, but it was a three-speed so it did suck the gas mileage down quite a bit. The only real problem I had was that the nylon carburetor float deteriorated and led to a chronically rich fuel mixture, which also sucked the gas mileage down.

  6. Allan

    I had one of these back when I had a 90 mile round trip commute each day. It was a 5 speed and someone had installed an aftermarket weber carb on it. Great fuel economy and a fun little commuter car.

  7. dirtyharry

    My wife bought one. I was against it. I thought we were buying a crappy “jap box.” I was so wrong, she drove the wheels off it and when it had 160k, she gave it to her sister who ran it up to 210K. Being in So Cal, it didn’t rust and looked virtually new (also that awful shade of green). It ran like a Swiss watch and made the small American cars at the time appear to be of low quality and durability.

  8. Howard A Member

    After these cars, I began to lose what little interest I had in Honda cars. While I thought this was the best example of a Honda car, right size, nice looks, bullet-proof mechanicals, I saw 1st hand how they literally melted away within a few years, and wanted nothing to do with them. One of the few cars I saw, where the tops of the front fenders rusted away. And the shock towers were next, deeming them undriveable. Very unusual to see one like this. Be a great car to drive until it falls apart.

  9. Billy

    Had a 90 Civic that I put 200K on. Best darn car I have ever, or will probably, own. Had to ditch it when the rust was so bad it became unsafe, but it still ran great. Some people blame the UAW for Detroit’s downfall, and that might be partially true, but compare these to the American cars of the era. Then you realize that it was lack of foresight and lackluster engineering that did it. Detroit has caught up, but it will never be the same again. I, like DirtyHarry said above, wasn’t all that hip on buying a new Japanese car in 1990. I had a lemon 1988 Shelby Turbo Daytona that no dealer wanted to take in trade. Only the Honda dealer would consider it, and the Civic was the cheapest new car on the lot. It was $6890.00 delivered. Oh, if only I could buy another just like it new at that price!

  10. Rodney

    Still driving my 1978 Honda Accord LX. Still great gas mileage, still great fun and now everyone stops me to tell me they had one and wish they never got rid of it. Every car is someone’s childhood memory…..

    • Mike

      i still have my first car 30 years later
      a red 1980 accord LX hatch.

  11. Rustytech Member

    I had the twin to this car for several years right down to the color combo, only difference was mine was a 5 speed. It was my computer, and one of the best I ever owned. It was always dependable, it drove well, and never had trouble going threw snow. I would still be driving it if it hadn’t rusted into the ground. It seemed to happen overnight. this looks new compared to what that one looked like when I had the salvage yard come get it. Unfortunately that was a big problem with these early Honda’s, especially in the snow belt states. Not complaining though, that was 1997 and it had over 250k on it

  12. Brian Joseph

    I’m still driving a 74 civic..only mod was to put in a 5 spd Trans to cut down rpms on the freeway. Still fun to drive

  13. duke

    there is NOT a japanese car/truck out there that isn’t a rust magnet-(patina my ass)

  14. Jubjub

    That Accord at Henry Ford is an ’82, the first of them built in the US.

    Seems these were all this color, copper, burgundy or silver with the occasional light blue one.

    @Brian Joseph: Great looking Civic. Had a few 1200s back in the day. A five speed would’ve been a nice swap.

  15. Jeff

    I had a 1980 Accord, 4-door sedan, stick shift, the same green color. Loved it! I thought it was a classy looking car and still do.

  16. David J David J

    I’d buy this for my 15 year old daughter if it was a manual tranny. Awesome find, though!

    Brian Joseph’s Civic is awesome! Way to go, Brian! Why someone flagged it as a bummer is beyond me.

  17. Angel Ortiz

    I owed a 1980 Accord and had it for 5 years . The biggest upset with it was the disc brakes. Had to replace them 3 times bucause they couldn’t handle water or in rainy days tending to bend caused by temperature change and when I hit the brakes I felt how bumpy the were. Rectified but they went bad to fast.

  18. Mike Reese

    Oh, I’m just dying … an ex-girlfriend sold one to me (my wife approved .. they were roommates when my wife was in college, the relationship was over LONG ago) and I wished I could have experienced one of these in the shape this car is in. The one I got was a beater to the tenth power (well, I needed a car). Rust? Please. That car was maybe 10% paint … I was just about to get a better car when the shock mounts broke THROUGH THE HOOD, because they’d rusted so badly, when I hit a hard pothole…

  19. Bill Walters

    Had a 78, gold color, did a commute of 120 miles daily. One day it started losing power and responsiveness so I changed plugs and wires but no difference. It wouldn’t start one day so I went at it and ended tearing down the engine ( I know, not worth it) and found the crank had broken cleanly in half between cylinder 1 and 2 and had been pushing the other cylinders along.

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