Ahh the humble, humble little car that is the Civic. The first true people’s car to come out of Japan that became a worldwide hit, hitting fame levels as high as the VW Beetle, the Austin Mini and the Fiat 500. I got a close relation to this one, as a European who can’t walk five steps without bumping into a Toyota Aygo, VW Up or a Fiat 500 and as the son of a wonderful woman who has had a variety of peppy little compacts like this type of mid-seventies Civic, the early eighties Toyota Starlet and the list goes on. Like, I love me some barbaric, fuel sucking and Earth destroying muscle cars but holy shit can I love a compact that damn near destroyed a nation’s culture with its success.
But before I go and explain how this in a lot of ways changed the course of the US automotive industry, this is my first finished brush with Hasegawa. I’ve been buying their kits for a long time, just never quite got around to actually wrapping one up. The Lancia Delta is one, a Mitsubishi Lancer IV is another I can think of, I just never really pushed through. Though lately with their new tools coming out the wood works that narrow down on a very fascinating time in history, like this mid seventies Civic, they’re doing varieties of the eighties Toyota Starlet, the Isuzu Gemini, hell there’s one that is really on my radar hardcore: the 1987 Nissan Bluebird SSS-R. A car so specced out for rally and dirt racing, it came pre-equipped with a damn roll bar and skid plate. It genuinely was a car that laid the perfect foundations of just… going with it. But I digress, they’ve been on a roll with their “historic cars” series of mostly new tools and updated kits and I can’t deny that they all look absolutely fantastic. The kits look crisp and detailed up the rear, the decal sheets are massive and pack wonderful creature comforts and they’re just quite swell to build too.
Anyway, the Civic. It marked so many milestones for so many parts of the industry back then… It launched in mid 1972, reaching worldwide dealers in 1973, though only the two door hatch was exported outside of Asia for the most part, and the four door was, well I’ve seen one with British tags that the lettering would indicate to be a 1975 registry but other than that I’ve personally only ever seen the two door in Europe. This was in all essence, Honda’s first massive success globally, especially in Europe and even the US where they had only began selling cars on a scale larger than a dealership since 1969. It literally shaped the entire automotive division of Honda, who at that time was predominantly a motorcycle manufacturer that just kind of happened to make cars here and there. In respects to how it changed the US for, well, the better, you have to once again go back to the 1973 oil crisis. As James May put in in his “Cars of the People” TV show, in a weird sense, the winners of World War II ended up losing the long game. The losers and those caught in the crossfire were forced to innovate, literally had no choice or to roll over and wither away, all the while the fallacy of the United States was sitting in the same exact comforts from 1946 through 1973, damn near going backwards.
While Europe and Asia were reeling from quite literally having been bombed to rubble, ash and corpses, the US was hitting it’s Golden Age. Consumerism went off its collective rocker, the mentality of ‘bigger = better’ went so far from being a stupid bedroom joke that it produced cars the size of yachts and no-one bat a damn eye, not seeking to innovate more than what other absurd stuff they could shove in there. And who could really blame the cultural shift to just-overdo-everything-its-fun, they had a surplus from the war and really, they were gonna put it to good use. Meanwhile, Japan was shell shocked from being nuked, it’s stockpiles plundered and its economy put under severe strain cause of the ‘reparations’, the effects of the war itself and war fatigue on the common folk. Post war regulations from the new government made it very simple, in order to stimulate the auto industry with a new set of rules for a new type of car, now the common man could just about afford a motorcycle: engine displacement had to match a certain number(150cc in ’49 but it was raised to 360cc in ’55 and raised many times since), it could only have a wheelbase of a certain length and a certain length and height in general. These little guys are known as kei cars, and they really, truly have changed the world.
This was the bottom line, go figure. By the turn of the 1970s, the kei car and the ordinary car had this peaceful co-existence as they marketed to specific crowds but no-one can argue the effect the kei car design had on just about any other compact in Asia. The Civic and its predecessors the N600 and Z600 are still absolutely the best examples of Japan at that time making the most out of the least available, and this mentality was going to take over a sizable chunk of the US market by 1974. Keep in mind, by this time Nissan(Datsun) and Toyota were already going into the market at full steam, and Honda only just barely started in the summer of ’69 by opening a little dealership in California. Now in 1973 with the oil crisis in full motion, Honda came with its first humble method of appealing new Honda customers: the average MPG of the United States in 1973 was… and I shit you not, and I know there’s some bad offenders that dragged that number down and some good boys(looking at you, AMC) that would drag it up again: 11.9. That’s 5,03km/l for us metric folks(Europe sat at an ’73 average of 22.4MP/G)… Which is just ungodly, stupendously low. The Civic? Well, it did 32.4MP/G on average.
The second thing that the humble Civic did that the US cars couldn’t? And I should say, I am the number one fan of the seventies sleds and I will preach atop a rusted out ’76 LeSabre to have some fucking model kit love for this crestfallen era, but it’s only fair to show exactly why this era is forgotten in the eyes of the United States and gets only glanced at with a wince. The second thing is, it weighed 1554lbs(705kg) and it yanked 54hp from its 1200cc engine. Now, once again the comparison of that years most popular vehicle: the ’73 Chevy Monte Carlo. The 145HP, 17 and a half foot long, 3700 pound car with the 350 turbofire V8 would take a second longer to hit 60MPH than the little Civic.
The third thing the humble Civic did? Well it brought the CVCC engine in 1974, standing for “compound vortex combustion chamber” and this particular CVCC equipped Civic had two things going for it that broke new ground in the US. One, it was the first engine to fully conform to the EPA’s new emission rules without alteration or a catalytic converter. Two, it could run on leaded and unleaded gas without ripping the gaskets, cylinders and the entire engine to shreds. The fourth thing it did ever so humbly? Disintegrate like the best of ’em.
Holy shit yes, it was a hell of thing to happen. The baseball bat was barely done swinging for the home run and the hitter already cracked his skull from tripping over home plate. In 1976, the term ‘typical Civic rust’ was coined and by 1979 the then-largest recall in US history was offered on Civics from 1972 through 1979. Well, why? Oh lord did they rust, did they rust something fuckin’ fierce. Stories of people stomping a hole clean through the bottom, fenders looking like Swiss cheese within 2 years, door panels ripping off the hinges from rusting, to stories that are infinitely more scary like the whole suspension arms snapping off at speeds. How the hell did this happen? It turns out, Honda didn’t anticipate the terrible conditions these cars would have to survive. From heat blasted southern states, to salt-water-rain suffering west coast, to we-salt-roads-from-October-to-June northern states and the combo of the previous east coast. But, you know what, they wintered it… Despite the anti-Asian car culture hanging in Michigan and the Civic continuing to have rust woes well into the eighties, even when they replaced most the body parts with plastic, they survived to become one of the biggest manufacturers across the globe. Even with that silly ‘chicken tax’ in the States, they made it through, mostly on the back of the little orange egg.
And there you have it, a mere six paragraph word soup history lesson on the Civic quite literally coming out of nowhere from a company that pretty much made a handful of cars and a ton of motorcycles, coming in to dominate the world’s automotive industry. And to segue in with a terrible bridge, the Hasegawa Civic kit is the closest thing we’ll ever have to seeing one as pristine as they were once in 1973-1974. Hasegawa’s made two of these kits, not counting the racing versions – the 1200 RS and the CVCC-GL from ’74 and ’75 respectively. Though from what I can tell, a neat little thing Hasegawa’s done for future planning is to include most of the bits to make either the RS or the GL from the get-go. The chrome sprue has all the badges for the CVCC as well, the clear sprue has the indicator lenses for the ’75 GL and the indicator housings are there too. Plus the bumperettes require drilling to place, so both versions are a possibility from the start. The only thing you’d be missing is the decals, as the RS version lacks the GL decals and vice versa.
Speaking of decals, ho man am I happy with them. Printed in high as balls quality, they include every emblem, every little shred of chrome that might be a fuss to get drawn right with the hand, every piece of trim including the window trims, the whole lot. Heck they even go as far as to include all the chrome emblem decals with and without silver backing, just so you can pick a preference. That’s how you do decals, rather than making up forty bullshit company names, a Michigan license plate and calling it a day(once again, looking at you Round 2). The bumper trim, indicator surrounds, little chrome pieces for the windows, the whole damn lot. I design decals on a daily business and I try my damnest to have the most complete set for the money but holy crap is Hasegawa putting me to shame. This, this is how you do it. And this isn’t an anomaly either, most of their HC series models have these types of decals.
It’s a lovely, nicely complex kit from the start. It has clear pieces for every single light on the body, which is a nice thing instead of just scribing side markers onto the body. The plastic is a good and solid type, not prone to bending and snapping immediately, plus the pieces are all molded well enough that they require no cleaning at all, they’ll all click in or fit in like a puzzle piece. Another thing I’m very fond of is the two piece wheels with the chrome ring being separate, another one of those creature comforts I’ve come to adore from the Asian kit producers. The interior is nicely detailed too. Well, that’s actually a big fat lie… The dashboard is nicely detailed, as are the seats. Since this is essentially a tiny economy hatchback, yeah the doors are bare metal with a plate of plastic where the door and window mechanisms are hidden behind but on the model there’s no detail whatsoever on them. The doors are flat pieces with two scribed lines running over them and a vague locator for the door handle and window crank decals.
Mentioning that the body is very well crafted and that I absolutely love these chrome plated emblems and hope to hell and heaven that Round 2 or Revell someday steals this idea for every new kit rather than just the Chrysler “R/T” and GM “Z/28” models, mentioning those things is a little redundant. Aside from Fujimi, every company out there is cranking out high quality kits like clockwork, Aoshima, Platz Nunu, Tamiya and Hasegawa do nothing but exactly that. But that’s also where the drawback of this kit comes into play. Yes, you can say that the undercarriage is lovely and the suspension that in real life would rust away and cause you to have a horrible accident is detailed in amazing detail and has a really nice complex multi-piece build, but it’s a curbside. Now, I don’t mind this at all. But it does bum me out.
I’m not above buying the engine kits from Hobby Design or some resin company similar to them, and a lot of the Asian manufacturers make their kits in such a way that the hood is a piece you attach to the body, to hide the vast nothingness underneath, but on the little Civic it’s hard molded on there. Which is a bummer, cause the exact unique thing about this kit’s sister; the CVCC-GL, is the friggin’ engine. But that’s just how they roll over there, if that’s the compromise of keeping this kits around the 25$ even with the supremely high quality mold… then so be it, really. It’s a worthwhile trade-off. And the nice thing of the lower entry price is, as a European where we literally live with the requirement of having to chalk up a 25 to 30$ shipping fee on top of the 25$ purchase, it’s nice to have a cheap direct line to excellent quality kits with low shipping costs. Yeah suck on that, those who lament the shipping fees of Asian retailers in the States, welcome to our shitty party.
Seriously, this was one of the best ways I could’ve gotten kicked off my love for Hasegawa and their high quality as all hell HC series kits. I can’t wait to get my hands on that Nissan Bluebird SSS-R kit when it arrives in summer, and I might even pull the trigger on the ’88 Starlet after this one. This little guy went together so smoothly and provided a nice challenge without frustrating the ever living hell out of me, and that’s a hell of an achievement these days it seems!
’74 Honda Civic 1200 RS SB-1 specifications:
Kit: HC Series #25
Skill Level: N/A
Molded in: White, Gray and Black