By the late 1970’s it had become apparent that flashy, outlandishly large, and above all, powerful, cars were quickly following the path tread by the dinosaurs and Neanderthals. Namely, they were going extinct. While a few survivors such as the Trans Am and Camaro fought valiant, decal-studded rearguard actions against the advance of the econobox, it was clear that they would lose. No more would driving be fun or interesting; no more would there be driving just for driving’s sake. No, driving would become a necessity only. High gas prices and rising new car costs had transformed the passion of the designer and delight of the gearhead into an army of cheap, boxy commuter cars. Horsepower was replaced by MPG ratings, and track times with cubic-feet-of-trunk room, in road tests.
It truly seemed like the end of days for the great and glorious car as an expression of personal taste and status. Every good apocalypse has its horsemen, and the onset of the Automotive Dark Ages, heralded by front wheel drive hatchbacks and a full-force invasion from Japan, was no different. Cars like Vega and Citation may have lead the way, but to me there is no automobile to me that is more indicative or more symbolic of the destruction of motoring fun than the 1985 Honda Civic.
Mechanically, the Civic was an excellent car. It was perky and peppy, reliable and relatively tough compared to earlier Japanese cars. It was roomy for its size and had acceptable cargo space. It was efficient, easy to drive and easier to park. So why, then, do I seem to have such a dire view of this (honestly very important) little car? Simple. It is the exact antithesis of everything I expect a car to be. It is a square, nearly style-less box. It’s only job is to go from Point A to Point B, and there were MILLIONS OF THEM that were ALL THE SAME (or so close to it as to look like ants boiling from some nightmarish colony half a world away).
My opinion aside, the Honda Civic is a very important car, and it’s no surprise that Tamiya would make a kit of it. The 1984 Civic (I don’t believe we got the restyle until 1985) is what really cemented Honda’s hold on the North American market, being an excellent and high-value alternative to the sad attempts by American makers to create small cars. So, let’s take a look at the reissue of Tamiya’s ’84 Civic and see if the kit is more exciting than the real car.
Tamiya’s Civic is, like so many of its brothers, a curbsider. There’s no opening hood and no separate engine. However, there is a nice “half engine” moulded into the chassis, and the exhaust and suspension are separate pieces. With some careful painting and a bit of Nuln Oil wash from Citadel, the Gunship Grey and Aluminum engine can actually be made to look pretty good. The exhaust even joins well to the engine, someting I wish North American makers would have learned how to do. there are even little drum and disk brakes that are separate peices! That’s a nice touch, but you’re not looking at cross-drilled Brembos here, and you’re unlikely to see them in most cases. I just painted the chassis in Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Aircraft Interior Black, which I then satin coated with Delta Ceramcoat Matte Urethane Varnish cut with Future to give a nice semigloss appearance.
The interior is simple, as with all Tamiyas, and this is a constant gripe of mine. If Tamiya could have taken lessons from MPC in detailing an interior, this kit would feel much less cheap than it does. The moulding that is there is excellent, and the fit looks like it will be fine. As always, the windows are nicely bagged separate from the rest of the kit. Wheels and tires are provided in separate bags too. The wheels are high-end wheels found on expensive Civics in Japan, and the tires are nice rubber units. The kit comes moulded in white, with clear windows and an entirely clear back panel. This forms the rear window and high-shine plastic of the back panel.
The best part is that this kit gives you some options! It can be built in either “domestic” (right hand drive) or “export” (left hand drive) configuration. Separate dashboards and windshield wiper locations are given. In addition, you get a choice of headlights; flush glass units for the domestic, and the stupid and ugly recessed square units for the export version. It seems the US and Canada were behind the world in realizing that you could do more with headlights than just the old square or round sealed-beam units.
You might ask “what’s so important about being able to make an export version?” Fair question. For me, the Japanese Civic holds zero interest. However, as you now know, I consider the North American Civic to be the epitome of the collapse of driving fun and, as such, is of MASSIVE interest to me for my “loser car” collection! Thus, being able to build this car as one of the legion of bland Civics that I remember immediately endeared it to me, even though it was a bit pricey for what you get in the box.
Building the Civic:
With no engine to build and only a simple interior, the building part of a Tamiya car isn’t that complicated. All the pieces of the interior fit together well but, as always, there is no back to the front seats!! I DO NOT GET THIS! It drives me nuts, so I had to fix it with some sheet styrene. This was simple, but is endlessly annoying; like a long road trip in said Civic!
The biggest part of a Tamiya car is the painting. For that, you need to choose a colour, right? Well, when I think mid-80’s Civics, one colour jumps immediately to mind; that gross, almost always faded and dirty metallic brown-gold. I call it Civic Brown, because I don’t know the real name for it. A close second was that similarly often faded and rusty light blue; I’m sure everyone remembers that one as well. However, the brown is just the perfect colour for a Civic like this. I created the colour by taking Testors Model Master Acrylic Dark Tan and mixing it with a lot of Future and some Jacquard gold pigments. The end result was a goldy brownish tan kind of thing. It was vehemently non-descript, exactly like the real things!
Finding pictures of mid-80’s Civics that are stock is not that easy. Not being a fan of Japanese cars of this era, neither I nor my brother have any literature on it. Also, stock Hondas are tough to find on the internet; the vast majority of those that survive have found their way to the tuner market. However, by doing some Googling I was able to get some good pictures of both North American and European versions of this car in the brown colour. I used my standard trick of searching “For Sale” sites, but surprisingly this wasn’t as lucrative as it has been for other cars. I would have thought that there would still have been lots of those out there, but I guess they’ve almost faded from memory. (So sad! Sniff….)
What I found in my searches, however, was that the interior was two-tone. Now, I must admit that I don’t know if that is an upper trim level thing or what, but the Civics I saw had seats that were a light tan and dark tan, with a dark tan interior. To achieve this, I simply used un-metalliced MMA Dark Tan and MMA Desert Sand. I used ground up pastels to add shadow to the seats, like usual. However, since the carpet lacked texture, I wasn’t able to give it any character. It’s no biggie though; with the windows rolled up on the doors, the carpet is hardly even visible.
The body was sanded down to 12,000 using fine sanding cloths, and then re-Futured. After baking for a week or so under a 60W bulb for 4 hours a day, it was ready for final sanding. I sanded it to 4,000 and then used the Tamiya Fine and Finish compound. I was generally pleased with the results, but the hood was a problem. There must be some version of this kit with a hood scoop. There are places on the underside of the hood to cut out for something, and unfortunately the very thin plastic over this opening sunk a bit. I did reinforce it with CA on the back side, and filled the front with Tamiya grey putty and CA twice, but alas, it still shows up as a sink mark when all is said and done. Despite that, I still think the overall effect is pretty nice.
The Honda Civic, especially those from the mid 1980’s, are not, by any stretch of the imagination, exciting cars. I don’t care what kind of Tuner tricks you pull, the fact of the matter is they are personal transportation at their Econoboxishly, Coal-Oil-Black best (or worst, depending who you ask). With all the style and panache of a slab of cold meatloaf on a stale piece of Wonder bread, I don’t know how many people really get enthused about these cars.
However, technically, they were excellent. These Civics helped to cement the foothold that the Japanese had on the North American market at the time; a foothold that with time and some styling experience, became almost a stranglehold. Even if styling was not a priority, features and reliability certainly were, and there were many disenfranchised drivers from the Big 3 camp that defected to Honda’s side for these reasons alone. For that reason, the Civic is an extraordinarily important car, and it’s nice to see a kit of this particular generation of Civic, a generation that seems to have been largely forgotten.
Because it’s a Tamiya car, the Civic is a very good model. However, it’s also basic, and this has both good and bad points. The good part is that nearly anyone can build it, even if you’ve never built a car before! There’s no need for Bare Metal Foil anywhere, and there isn’t much interior detail to worry about. The bad news is it’s very expensive, generally, for what you get. There’s not much in the way of piece count, and no action features like opening doors, hood or trunk. I do like that you can build it to Japanese or North American standard, though; both dash boards and headlight types are represented.
This is a great model for those who want a quick project and something different to build. It’s certainly acceptable for beginners and younger modellers. It’s a bit of a disappointment if you’re really into detailing your cars, but then again, that’s typical of Tamiya’s cars. I found it to be a good build of a very interesting and important subject.
I would recommend this kit to everyone who likes performance cars and automotive history. Why, because it’s a significant part of history, and with its boxy, uninspiring styling and awful, cheap-looking black bumpers, is a good reminder of how far driving enjoyment was allowed to fall. Let us hope that we take this lesson to heart and never let it happen again.