There’s too much nostalgia for terrible cars of the 1980s and 1990s. And not enough recognition of the era’s truly superior vehicles. In that spirit, here is a 1987 Honda Accord LXi sedan spotted near the legendary Tee-Off bar and grill in Santa Barbara, California.
The third generation of the Accord went on sale as a 1986 model and was distinctive in several ways. It was the only generation of Accord to use hidden headlights, the first to feature a four-cylinder engine displacing 2.0-liters (actually 1955 cc) and the first to feature electronic fuel injection on some models. But the most well-remembered engineering innovation was the adoption of a true double-wishbone front suspension in place of the MacPherson struts used on previous Accords (and virtually all the Accord’s direct competitors).
Honda first used the double-wishbone design on the 1983 Prelude coupe and the suspension design allowed for a lower cowl height and lower fender height than before. It gave the Prelude a distinctive look that carried over into the Accord three years later. For many, the Honda low cowl became the defining feature of what many believe were Honda’s best design years.
Even the injected ’86 and ‘87 LXi only had 110-horsepower on tap, but they were eager horses. And the handling of the Accord was clearly superior to not just direct rivals like the Toyota Camry, but far more expensive cars like the Mercedes 190E. The five-speed manual transmission shifted sweetly, the steering was a revelation and the interior was modestly decorated and logically useful.
Honda began building Accords at its plant in Marysville, Ohio in 1982 and by the introduction of the third-generation Accord the company was subtly revising the car to better meet American expectations. That became most apparent when a two-door notchback coupe was added to the Accord line for 1988. Produced only at the Marysville plant and exported back to Japan, it was also largely engineered in the United States.
The third-generation Accord stayed in production through the 1989 model year, going out with a new “SEi” luxury version. When the 1990 fourth-generation Accord appeared, it was even larger and more tuned for American tastes – and truly different than the Accords sold in most of the rest of the world.
As I was shooting this example under the “Magic Nails & Spa” sign, the owner approached me and asked why I was photographing it. “It’s kind of rare to see one these days,” I said. “Really?” he replied. “Yeah, and I work for Road & Track. So this is work.”
“Good for you,” he said turning back into the Tee-Off.