Lady in Waiting

Honda meets 1970s modernism.

Image: autonxt.net

Founded in 1966, Carrozzeria Coggiola is located in the Turinese suburb of Orbassano, then also home to Giovanni Michelotti’s styling bureau. Coggiola is not nearly as well known to the general public as storied names such as Bertone, Pininfarina or Ital Design because, apart from cars like the SAAB Sonett III, not many Coggiola designs ever became available in showrooms. This small carrozzeria instead specialised in manufacturing bespoke cars for private clients. It was also employed by mainstream manufacturers to build prototypes and one-off concept cars, for example, the pyramidal 1980 Citroën Karin and 1988 Renault Mégane concept.

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Today’s subject is is also a concept, one initiated by Claude Sage, the Honda importer for Switzerland. Sage was and is a car lover in general, and a Honda aficionado in particular. He enjoys a long-standing and very warm relationship with the Japanese manufacturer. Sage owns a private car museum containing only Hondas, to which he added the first example of every new model shipped to him over the years. He even offers to his customers Japanese domestic market models such as the City and Today that were not normally exported to Europe.

Not long after the successful European introduction of the 1972 first-generation Civic, Sage persuaded Honda to commission a concept car based on its platform and mechanical package, one that could serve as an eye-catching centrepiece for Honda Suisse’s stand at the 1975 Geneva motor show. He agreed with Honda that the concept would be designed and  built by an Italian styling house. Sage suggested Coggiola, a deal was struck and, soon afterwards, a brand new Civic with chassis number SEA-1007952 was delivered to Orbassano.

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The car that emerged from Coggiola’s workshops looked nothing like the rotund and slightly chintzy first-generation Civic. Instead, it was resolutely angular, with a front end similar to Giugiaro’s 1974 Volkswagen Scirocco Mk1 and, even moreso, his 1973 Audi Asso di Picche (Ace of Spades) concept. The rear end previewed how Volvo estates would look a decade later. Without the Honda badging, it would be anybody’s guess as to the make of the car.

Christened Lady, the two-door station-wagon styling closely anticipated the profile of the 1983 third-generation Civic. The existence of the Lady casts more than a little doubt on the received wisdom that the 1983 Civic was inspired by Volkswagen’s 1981 Steilheck Polo. Conversely, it’s not impossible that the Honda Lady may instead have inspired the Volkswagen.

Inside, Italy met Japan with an amalgam of standard Civic elements set into a dashboard with burr walnut decoration. Cream and brown velours were liberally applied, including for the headliner. Mechanically, the car remained unaltered. The original colour of the Lady is unclear as there are, unfortunately, no photographs to be found of it on display at the Geneva motor show. The photos of the car when first registered for the road show it in white, while currently the vehicle wears a light green metallic paint finish.

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Even though it was just a concept car, the Honda Lady was nevertheless a fully functional vehicle that could be driven normally, although it was about 500 pounds heavier than the production Civic.

After its display duties at the 1975 Geneva motor show, the Honda Lady was not, as one might have expected, added to Claude Sage’s museum collection. Instead, it was sold in December of that year and, bearing the Swiss registration GE-157 347, became the property of a certain Mr. Gabrielson. The car was later bought by a Dutch Honda enthusiast, who subsequently sold it on to an American collector, with whom it currently resides.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

11 thoughts on “Lady in Waiting”

  1. Good morning, Bruno. Another schoolday at DTW. I never heard of the Honda Lady. Apart from a change in color it also seems to have gotten different wheels.

    I like the idea of a two door station wagon. I wouldn’t call the lady beautiful, but if this led to the third generation Civic I’m not complaining. I’ve always liked the third generation Civic (and fourth and fifth, which kept the same format) and kind of regret never having owned one.

    I did some further investigation and found one detail that intrigued me. It has a functioning radio, but apparently no antenna. Turns out the antenna is mounted under the car not to disturb the square lines.

    1. I don’t think I’ve seen this before, either, so very good to learn about it. The front indicators remind me of those from Volkswagen’s ESVW1. Coggiola did some interesting stuff.

  2. Good morning Bruno. What an interesting concept you have unearthed for us this morning, made more so by the fact that it was a running and road-legal car. Imagine coming across it in a car park!

    You mention Giugiaro’s Audi Asso do Picche concept, and the shared styling theme is very obvious, to the extent that the two could easily have been stablemates in either manufacturer’s range, had they made production:

    The Ace of Spades was a wonderfully ‘pure’ concept, one I remember very well. Although it never made production. One can see its influences very clearly in the first generation of VW FWD models.

  3. I should have added that the name chosen for the car, and even the script used for the badge, seem weirdly incongruous for such a resolutely modernist design. It must have been a product of Japanese cultural sensibilities that are very different to those in the West.

  4. Thank you, Bruno. Again a lovely piece of automotive obscurity brought into the light. I seem to remember the Lady being mentioned here before, but I have no clue where or when, so maybe it’s deja vu all over again. Lovely as the car is, the Polo and particularly the third gen Civic (which is also an absolute favourite of mine) show how rough it is around the edges. It’s also – as you mention – remarkably brand-agnostic in its appearance. The big ‘carrozzerie’ used to balance their own design language with that of their client, apparently Coggiola was no different. As Daniel mentions, it could well be a stable mate of the Asso do Picche.

    Aren’t there rumours that Honda designed its stylistically remarkably resolved ranges from the mid-eighties to somewhere in the nineties with input from Pininfarina? Regardless, the Lady might have set something in motion, either within Honda’s design department, or via external partnerships. I do wonder what Nissan would have made of the name were the Lady ever shipped to Japan, given their Fairlady range.

    The dash is a seventies nightmare (though mostly because of the materials), but it does remind me of the one from the Honda e:

    1. Ah, right, so it was their style. The Lady’s dash looks bespoke, though.

  5. Does Coggiola Carrozziere still exist in any shape or form?

    It seems as if it outlived Sergio Coggiola (1928-1989), but eventually went into decline.

    The impression I have of the company was that it was at its best producing prototypes, either designed in-house, or for major manufacturers, who appreciated the founder’s discretion and modest good nature, as well as his studio’s ability to produce good work quickly and at reasonable prices. Very much in the Michelotti mould.

    Roy Axe spoke very highly of him in his autobiography, he did lots of prototyping, and some design work for Rover.

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