On June 11, 1959, a tiny motorcycle company set up shop on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. It had only sprung to life in Japan eleven years earlier, but its founder, Soichiro Honda, was not known for taking the easy road.
But somehow, the SuperCub caught the public’s imagination. Until then, Americans had equated motorcycle riders with leather-clad Hell’s Angels types, but Honda’s “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda” ad campaign turned that idea upside down. It opened the doors for everyone to enjoy motorcycling and by 1968 Honda had sold its one millionth bike. In fact, the SuperCub has sold 60 million units (and counting) despite staying largely unchanged since its initial design, making it the best selling motorized vehicle in history.
Honda didn’t start selling cars in the US until 1969, and even then the only model offered was the kei-sized N600. The MSRP was just $1275, but it never made the impact that future Hondas would. The sportier (a relative term to be sure) Z600 followed in 1971 (JDM Z360 shown below). Sadly, the great S-series roadsters of the Sixties were never officially sold stateside, but plenty found their way here anyway thanks to their popularity.
The real watershed moment came in 1973, when Honda introduced the Civic, serendipitously timed with the OPEC Oil Embargo. At a time when Americans were rationing gasoline, it became a mega-hit and secured Honda’s reputation with car buyers.
Hot on the heels of the oil crisis came the Muskie Act, which sought to clean up America’s skies. The Honda CVCC released the following year became the first car to pass its stringent rules without the aid of a catalytic converter.
This technology found its way into Honda’s next model as well, the larger Accord. Introduced in 1976 as a larger family car alternative to the Civic, it became another smash hit and its nameplate would eventually wear the title of America’s top selling car.
In 1979, Honda built a motorcycle manufacturing plant in the US, becoming the first Japanese company to do so. It was followed three years later by an auto plant, where a gray 1982 Accord became the first Japanese car to be built by American hands. This plant would even go on to export Accord coupes to Japan.
Still there seemed to be a psychological barrier to the idea of a Japanese luxury car. In 1986, three years before Lexus and Infiniti, Honda debuted the Acura brand to cries of “$20,000 for a Japanese car!?” Nevertheless, it was named Import Car of the Year by Motor Trend and became another sales home run. As it turns out, people would be willing to pay much more than 20 large for J-tin.
Blow your mind on this: just 20 years after the N600 waddled onto our shores, Honda unleashed the Acura NSX. In the process, they changed the US auto industry and launched an entire subculture of car modification. Quite the accomplishment for a company about one-third the size of Toyota, wouldn’t you say?
Happy 50th, Honda!