1976 Honda Lady Review: Driving the One-of-One Civic Wearing Haute Italian Fashion

The most special car is the one you drive, but having completely hand-shaped Italian metal doesn't hurt either.

Honda Lady test drive
Victoria Scott

Think up the most desirable and rare Hondas of all time and a bevy of storied nameplates probably crosses your mind. 

The Senna-approved, Zanardi-signed, Ferrari-slaying NSX is certainly a contender. Perhaps the vintage S600 meant to attack the agile British sportsters of the '60s is more your style. It’d be hard to fault anyone for considering the race-prepped S2000 CR, a car so serious it came with a radio- and A/C-delete option. And of course, the Integra Type R is a vehicle so well-balanced that it basically achieved a cult following immediately upon release. 

Victoria Scott

Choose any of these cars as your iconic Honda and the market has widely agreed with your choice. The vintage Japanese automobilia bubble has hit stratospheric new highs in price across all marques and eras. Cars like these sit in garages, silently appreciating in value, waiting to be either flogged by someone bold enough to drive them or flipped to the next owner who will take their share of the profit a few years down the line after staring at their investment. 

I, however, think there is one specific car—and I mean one—that stands above all of these for me. And it’s not just because of its rarity.

1976 Honda Lady: By the Numbers

  • Powertrain: 1.5-liter carburated inline-four | 4-speed manual 
  • Horsepower: 64 @ 5,500 rpm
  • Torque: 76 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 4
  • Quick take: The Civic-based Lady is an impressive milestone in Honda design, made better by being a daily-drivable one-off. 

An Unusual Concept

Before I justify myself, allow me to introduce her. This is a 1976 Honda Lady. Or rather, this is the Honda Lady, because she is the only one in existence. Designed and built by Coggiola Carrozziere, an Italian coachbuilding firm led by Sergio Coggiola (most famous for designing the Saab Sonett III and a bunch of absolutely insane concept cars), it debuted at the 1976 Geneva Auto Show and made a tour of the European salon circuit, appearing at different shows throughout the year. 

This was unusual for most Japanese companies of the era. While they routinely built absolutely wild concept vehicles for the Tokyo Auto Salon, most rarely ventured overseas and instead focused on building their reputations as reliable and down-to-Earth commuter-car creators. Or, in the case of Honda, as a motorcycle manufacturer.

Victoria Scott

But in the mid-'70s, Honda was attempting to break into the European and American automobile markets heavily with the release of the first-generation Civic. It commissioned the coachbuilt Lady as a way to announce its presence—and seriousness—to the international circuit. Mechanically, the Lady is a 1976 Civic underneath, with a four-speed manual transmission mated to an E-series carbureted four-cylinder motor.

A Stunner of a Civic

The driving experience is very reminiscent of other mid-'70s Hondas due to its relatively mundane underpinnings. It’s a quality ride overall, with the shifter still feeling smooth and the power coming on as well as a single-carb, single-cam, efficiency-oriented 1.5-liter inline-four can provide. It’s comfortable and has aged overall quite well, but it’s also nothing that standout. After all, first-generation Civics still can be found running around anywhere road salt wasn’t used, and driving one of those gives you a very good idea of what the Lady feels like to take for a spin.

The exterior, conversely, is stunning for a mid-'70s car from any country, but especially for a hatchback hailing from Japan. In a time where most Japanese cars either aimed for bottom-dollar pricing—and ergo appearance—or simply copied stylistic cues from American cars, the Lady is truly forward-looking and unique. The svelte wedge shape, with its integrated corner lights and aggressively raked windshield, essentially looks like a leaked design document for the entire decade to come for the automotive industry as a whole. Interior space or visibility isn't completely sacrificed in the way less-reasonable concept cars from the same era did. 

As a result of this pragmatic-yet-bold design, the Lady still completely drivable as a normal car, which is fairly unique among concepts from the '70s, and this truly makes it feel like a vision for future road cars rather than just a head-turning flight of fancy with wheels. The third-generation Civic hatchback that debuted in 1983 and the third-generation Accord that arrived in 1985—especially the Aerodeck variant of the Accord—make it clear that Honda drew inspiration from this concept in one form or another. 

Victoria Scott

Stepping into the Lady, it has aged in the way a split-level home with a conversation pit has: You can date it pretty accurately at a glance, but you’d also still love to live with it. Personally, I wish both would come back already. Essentially, the Lady's interior is a slightly upscale version of the standard Civic interior. Think of it a bit like a ‘76 Acura RSX—but decades before the idea of a luxurious Japanese car was anything but a punchline to European and American consumers—and you have a pretty good idea of what the general look and feel from inside is like. 

Victoria Scott

The only upgrades inside the cockpit versus the production Civic are wood accent work, a modified upper-dash panel, a purse hook, and a matching passenger-side makeup mirror (which I totally admit I used to fix my lipstick; we’ll get to that shortly). Apparently leaning into the “Lady” moniker meant these amenities were added like a bespoke, less-pandering Japanese version of the failed Dodge La Femme from 20 years earlier. Because the car is still drivable, stunning to behold, and not painted Barbie-Corvette-Pink, I found it rather charming instead of condescending. 

Artistic Integrity

Preserving brand history and heritage is a relatively modern idea, and certainly not something Honda was focused on in its relative infancy in the global automotive industry. Therefore, the angular hatchback ended up at a Honda dealership in the Netherlands at some point after it completed its show tour and found its way into the hands of a private collector after that. This is usually where the story of a car like this would essentially end.

Victoria Scott

The Lady is a machine that can absolutely stake a claim as a piece of history. It represents a seminal moment in Honda’s development as a global automotive superpower, both in its vision for future style and in the ambition it represented. Or, alternatively, it could very easily be declared as a piece of art. The cars-as-art debate has been around for as long as there have been cars, but the Lady surely qualifies as a sculpture on wheels. Only one exists; it was constructed by hand by an influential designer, and it was built entirely without the realistic constraints of budgetary concerns, mass-production tooling, or DOT approval. It stands as pure a vision as possible of what a car should be. 

Whether it’s art, history, or both, this is an obscure but irreplaceable classic that is best left untouched and appreciated with your hands clasped behind your back and you dutifully bending over in a dim warehouse to peer at details forever frozen in amber. Maybe, if we’re lucky, it will reappear at a Concours down the road, and we’ll all be treated to a fresh photograph of it behind a velvet rope, sitting on a manicured lawn at a country club. 

Or not.

The private collector who owns the Honda Lady is not like most collectors, especially the ones hawking low-mile Type Rs and virtually undriven Zanardi NSXs on certain automotive auction sites. You see, the Lady is owned by Myron Vernis, the self-described Junkman, and someone I have been fortunate to call a friend of mine. Vernis’ collection spans nearly a century of time, an entire globe's worth of countries of origin, and every possible form of automotive propulsion ever envisioned. This incredibly diverse cast of cars is united by two common themes: They’re cool, and he drives them all.

Here he is picking up parts from AutoZone in the only Honda Lady that exists on the planet, to drive home that second point. 

When I told him I wanted to come through his garage to shoot some cars for stories—and I requested access to the Lady—he joyfully agreed. I told him I’d like to get the chance to get some photos of myself with the car. Me, a self-described Honda lady posing with the Honda Lady, was something I’d been dreaming of ever since I started coordinating outfits to cars. 

Victoria Scott

Of course, he said yes, and went a step further. Vernis tossed me the keys. I put on my matching dress, adjusted my makeup in the vanity mirror inside the car, and drove off to find a good photo spot. I spent the better part of a few hours having the most joyfully surreal time of my life as I drove and posed with my favorite Honda.

And now I can finally justify why the Lady is my favorite. Recently, as prices jump to unaffordable heights for many of the cars I was still hoping I’d maybe snag someday—and inexplicably undriven, low-mileage examples show up left and right all across the internet—the Lady destroys the line of thinking that leads to the existence of these cars. There is no vehicle Honda has ever produced that could justify being mothballed more than the Lady. 

But doing that is antithetical to what Vernis and I enjoy about the hobby. If he garaged the Lady and never drove it, he wouldn’t meet people that shared his passion for cars. He and I wouldn’t get to experience the moments of excited conversation we had together over the hood of his Honda after I got back from driving it. 

Laura Snyder

Vernis and your author with our strange Japanese machines we love to drive

Doing something as radical as driving a concept car for a parts run—or handing the keys to an eccentric Honda enthusiast with strange fashion taste—makes it a living organism whose future and past are intertwined with the people who drive it and enjoy it. The story didn’t end when the curtain dropped on Turin in 1976, and it won’t stop after this story is written, either. Vernis will keep taking the Lady to meets and grocery stores, sparking joy in others long after this article goes live. 

But for me, for a brief moment, I got to become part of the history of this unique car, and that means more to me than it ever could as a museum piece. And that’s why it’s my favorite Honda.

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