Historic Car Brands
Honda is a relative newcomer to the ranks of historic vehicle makers, but already has produced some models that have become classics.
When young, Soichiro Honda worked as a mechanic, tuning cars and entering them in races. In 1937, with financing from an acquaintance, Kato Shichirō, Honda started making piston rings for Toyota, but lost the contract due to poor quality.
He then attended engineering school, but didn’t graduate and visited factories around Japan to better understand quality control processes. By 1941, Honda was able to mass-produce piston rings acceptable to Toyota, using an automated process that could employ even unskilled wartime labourers.
After Wartime destruction of his plants, Honda sold the remaining assets to Toyota and started the Honda Technical Research Institute in October 1946. This tiny shed-based factory started making motorcycles and became the Honda Motor Company in 1949, when the first Honda-branded motorcycle was made.
By 1961, Honda had won several motorcycle world championships and had become the world’s leading producer of motorcycles. By this time, Honda had also produced its first automobile – the T360 mini-truck and the S500 sports car.
1963 Honda S500 – Mytho88
Like the S360, the S500 used a high-tech engine developed from Honda’s motorcycle expertise. It was a dual overhead cam, in-line four-cylinder, with four Keihin carburettors and a 9500rpm redline. Originally intended to displace 492cc, the production version was 531cc and produced 44hp at 8000rpm. Weighing just 680kg, the tiny S500 had a claimed top speed of 129km/h.
The S500 had a four-speed manual transmission with independently-coil-sprung, sealed chain drive units at the rear wheels. The S500 was succeeded by the 57hp, 606cc S600 in 1964.
Honda S600 Coupe – Rikita
The S800 replaced the S600 in 1965 and its 791cc engine produced 70hp at 8000rpm, making this Honda’s first 160km/h automobile, but still providing up to 6.7L/100km economy.
Early S800s continued to use chain drive and rear independent suspension, but later models had a conventional drive-shaft and live-axle rear end, controlled by four radius rods and a Panhard rod.. Disc brakes replaced the front drums.
The S800 was discontinued in 1970 and the next Honda sports car arrived almost 30 years later. The S2000 was powered by a two-litre, in-line, five-cylinder engine that put out 240hp – the highest output per litre of any production engine in the world – at a heady 8300rpm.
Honda S2000 – Rich Niewiroski
The output went though a six-speed manual box to a Torsen LSD rear diff and independently-sprung rear wheels. Weight was only 1250kg and distribution was almost 50:50 front:rear.
The S2000 came with a powered soft-top and an aluminium hardtop became available form 2001.
The S2000 received several upgrades during its 10-year life, including a 2.2-litre engine for the US and Japanese markets.
The Honda NSX is a two-seat sports car, whose origins trace back to the 1984 HP-X (Honda Pininfarina eXperimental) concept, which was a mid-engine 3.0-litre, V6, rear wheel drive sports car.
1991 Honda NSX – Charles01
Honda committed to the project, with the intention of meeting or exceeding the performance of the then V8-powered Ferrari range, while offering reliability and a lower price point.
The NSX was presented at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show and was the world’s first mass-produced car to feature an all-aluminium body. It was powered by an all-aluminium 3.0 L V6 engine, which featured Honda’s VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) system; a five-speed manual transmission – from 1994 a SportShift four-speed automatic transmission.
Gordon Murray, the designer of the McLaren F1 supercar, stated that he used the NSX as the inspiration for the F1 after test driving many high performance cars and finding the NSX chassis performed the best. He found that the car could easily have handled more power and attempted to convince Honda to develop a more powerful engine, but they declined.
The NSX underwent a performance upgrade in 1997, which saw the arrival of a larger 3.2 -litre V6 engine and a facelift in 2002 before being discontinued in 2005.
There may be other significant Honda models that emerge as collectibles and we’ll report on them appropriately.