THE GOOD OIL: Green cars are nothing new

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Photo / Supplied

Photo / Supplied

Electrification has certainly been the hot topic of the year. But as DRIVEN prepares to depart 2021, let’s take a moment to reflect that eco-cars are nothing new.

Decades before the world thought mass-market models could be powered by anything other than pure, aromatic petrol, makers were responding to customer demand for “green” vehicles.

Our time with the latest Honda Civic this week got us thinking about the original model, launched in 1972. It was Honda’s first proper export car and helped spark a trend for compact front-drive hatchbacks as family sedan alternatives. It beat the Volkswagen and Ford Fiesta to market, and rode the wave of changing customer tastes as the 1973 oil crisis hit.

For the American market, Honda even created the Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) engine, with dual combustion chambers that reduced carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions.

The first-gen Civic is a Kiwi legend too, of course: New Zealand Motor Corporation (NZMC) was the first distributor outside Japan to build it, starting with Completely Knocked Down (CKD, remember that?) kits in 1976.

This has all been an elaborate excuse for us to drive Honda NZ’s delightful Heritage Collection EB1 Civic – the very first assembled by NZMC, although the company didn’t get it back until 2000. It had a “light” restoration in 2004 and is regularly driven and displayed.

It’s still joyous to drive, with an energetic 1.2-litre engine and snappy four-speed manual. Don’t go looking for a fifth gear on the motorway, there isn’t one. We checked. Several times.

The EB1 is a design classic too, and closer consideration reveals why the new pure-electric Honda e looks the way it does. Same wide-eyed headlights, upright profile and expanse of faux-wood dashboard trim. Proof that while we should always be looking ahead, it’s okay to look back and smile sometimes.


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