From a shed in the middle of a burned out lot in 1946 to a small US subsidiary selling motorcycles in 1959 to their first US-sold car in 1970, the company Soichiro Honda founded has come a long way. In Part 01 of our visit to the American Honda Collection, we looked these humble beginnings. But Honda wasn’t done yet, and was about to go farther. A lot farther.
The cars of the American Honda Collection come from many different sources. In the early years, they sold every car they could build. A few years ago, however, they began quietly amassing cars for the collection you see here. Some were bought back by the company, others were donated by devoted fans, and some are cars that have been retired from the press fleets. There are gaps, but the museum is always looking for clean, stock examples of landmark models.
The compacts in Part 01 comprised just a small part of the collection. Facing the Civic row is, naturally, the Accord row, starting with a 5-speed 1978 Accord hatchback. Debuting three years after the Civic, it was another genre-defining car for Honda. It was one of the first compacts in the US to be sold standard with cloth seats instead of vinyl, intermittent wipers, an AM/FM stereo, and luxury of luxuries, a tachometer. All this could have been yours in 1976 for the low, low price of $3,995.
On November 1, 1982, the first US-built Honda rolled off the assembly line in Marysville, Ohio wearing the license plate USA 001. This model year 1983 Accord is not that car, but one very similar to it (the original resides at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan). Honda acquired this 8,000-mile example from the private collection of a Muncie, Indiana dealership.
Representing the third-gen CA5 is a 1986 Accord. Matched with the fourth-gen Civic, the duo took Honda from a maker of humble, competent economy cars to the best family haulers money could buy. Double-wishbone suspensions, multivalve engines, and sharp styling that didn’t make you feel like you were “settling” for something that could haul the kids.
The goodness continued with the fourth-gen Accord, made even better because the hatchback body style evolved into a full-on wagon. The longroof is the body style Honda has chosen for its collection, rather than a sedan or coupe. This was this Accord that won Honda the best-selling car in America from 1990-92, and Hampshire Green is a particularly handsome color on this 1991 EX wagon. Oh, how we wish it was a 5-speed.
The Accords displayed go up the fifth-gen coupe. This iteration’s customer base was probably one of the greatest demographic spreads in automotive history. By the time these debuted the Honda-dominated 90s tuner movement was in full swing. Souped up versions of this exact car flooded college campuses and weekend strip mall parking lot meets all across America.
Following the Accords are three Preludes. The blank space is where the 1979 we drove goes, but beside that is a 1983 Prelude much like the one that received the JNC Award at JCCS this year. Unfortunately, neither was a 2.0Si, but given their scarcity it’s understandable. Hopefully one will be added to the collection someday.
The Prelude collection then skips a generation to a red fourth-gen, a Milano Red 1993 with electronic four-wheel-steering. When looking at the evolutionary chart of the Prelude, the otherworldly styling of the fourth-gen is a big left turn, but now that its all but nonexistent, we miss seeing its bizarre men’s loafer silhouette prowling the highways.
We’ve said much about Lexus and Infiniti in recent years as those marques reached the 25-year mark, but Honda was in fact the first to launch a dedicated luxury subdivision. On March 27, 1986, sixty Acura showrooms opened their doors. The first models offered were the Legend and Integra. Though much was shared with smaller cars in the Honda family, designers and engineers were able to give the cars with their own identities.
Acura doesn’t make a coupe any more, but these early two-doors set the standard for sporty models that had an upscale feel. The RLX is the equivalent of the Legend now, and it’s hard to imagine any luxury brand coming out with a flagship coupe nowadays. With these, Acura planted the seeds for what would become an automotive revolution.
That revolution would come with the second generations of these cars. The DA Integra quickly became a tuner favorite, and the Legend Coupe was the deluxe whip for pimping, back when the word had a very different connotation. Unfortunately, the Integra in Honda’s collection is a GS rather than a top-spec twin-cam GS-R, and the Legend is an automatic. In a strange turn, Japan never received the 6-speed manual. That was a lot of gears at the time, and what really set the USDM Legend apart. It would have been great to see that option represented in the American Honda collection.
We are, however, extremely happy to see a DC2 Integra Type R in the museum. The king of 90s tuners is perhaps the finest front-wheel-drive sports car ever built. It’s not just an Integra with an insane 9,000 rpm engine; Honda’s engineers made thousands of improvements to the body and suspension to create an apex slicing ginsu knife. Many did not escape the tuner craze unscathed, which makes it all the more astounding that the example in Honda’s collection has less than 4,000 miles on it.
Perhaps even more astounding is the final car in the Acura row, a 2004 NSX and its odometer reading of just 78 original miles. 78. Even the trip meter reads 77. The reset button has been pushed perhaps one time in its entire life. According to Honda, 2004 was the last year of NSX production and though we prefer the design of the slimmer, pop-up headlight-equipped version, you will probably never find a cleaner Honda flagship anywhere.
Soichiro Honda loved racing, and most of Honda’s international race winners live in the Honda Collection Hall in Japan. However, the company has a rich history of motorsports on US soil, and the back wall of the massive room is lined with American Honda’s competition cars, ranging in everything from a Dario Franchitti’s open-wheeled CART Reynard powered by a 900hp, 16,000 rpm turbo V8 to a Acura ALMS prototype still sullied from battle at Laguna Seca.
Included in the mix is the impossible-to-miss neon orange of Peter Cunningham‘s RealTime Racing cars. Though you might remember him best for campaigning a similarly liveried Integra, the team’s NSX raced in the World Challenge series from 1996 to 2002. Its peak performance came when it won the overall championship in 1997 with a 400hp 3.2L, but it was supercharged to over 500hp in its last two seasons where it notched six wins. Overall, RTR competed in 50 races and tallied 14 wins.
Several concept cars lined another wall, unbuilt ideations like the FC Sport, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered sports car, or the P-NUT, a Personal Neo Urban Transport module, or the 1995 Acura CL-X, which led to the CL production car.
The 1997 GRX Concept had a motorcycle engine and looked like a futuristic CRX. It was eventually refined to the J-VX that augured the original Honda Insight, but you can still see how its rear haunches appeared on the production CR-Z nearly 13 years later.
One of our favorite Honda Concepts ever is the Spocket, a sort of CRX ute with a sliding hardtop convertible roof. What’s more, you could drive your Honda motorcycle right into the bed for easy hauling.
With all the gorgeous cars in the collection, it’s easy to forget that Honda’s was a motorcycle builder first. On a raised deck, a small gallery served as a reminder of some of the company’s non-automotive creations, landmark bikes like the 1971 CB500 K0 and 1983 V45 Interceptor. In fact, Honda has an ever larger warehouse of bikes, which we were shown but not allowed to take photos in.
Though it looks old, the Honda Dream 50R is actually a replica of an early race bike built in 2004. The original, the 1962 RC110, had only a 50cc engine and 7 horsepower, but it revved to 13,500 rpm and symbolized Soichiro Honda’s dream of international motorsports competition.
The 1970 Honda US90 was the first ATV sold in America. The name was changed to ATC 90 in 1971, for All-Terrain Cycle, but the balloon-tired three-wheeler created a whole new class of off-road vehicle. Notably, the 20-inch low-pressure tires were said to exert less pressure on the terrain than a human foot, allowing for no-trace excursions in nature.
Before it was a minivan, the Honda Odyssey was was a lightweight off-road vehicle powered by a single 248cc cylinder and variable ratio automatic transmission. It was an interesting time in Honda history, where they were imagining not just cars and bikes, but creating mobility of all kinds.
It has been said that Honda’s passion lay with being an engine builder first, and that the cars were simply a way to sell more engines. Some of the oddball conveyances we saw seemed to support the theory, but nothing proves it more than a small corner of the museum dedicated to the motors themselves, including the EG Civic Si’s D16Z6, a DC Integra GS-R’s B18C1 and the Acura Legend’s C25A V6.
Last but not least is a replica of the first American Honda storefront, which opened for business at 4077 Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles back in 1959. Before it sat a white Super Cub 50, the first Honda sold in the US and, at over 60 million and counting, the best-selling motor vehicle of all time.
Starting from that tiny office, an automotive empire was built. It’s almost unfathomable to think that only 20 years separate Honda’s first US-sold car, the N600 we saw in Part 01, and the tour de force that was the NSX, but that was the never-say-die spirit of Soichiro Honda at work.
The American Honda collection doesn’t have all the cars we’d choose, or even one of every model. But the beauty of it is that even Honda’s more familiar achievements are given a place of respect. That respect is deserved too, because although commonplace, Civics and Accords were still imbued with a certain Honda soul that made them anything but ordinary. Honda-san is gone, but touring the collection and seeing the 55 years’ worth of evolution in one place provided a moving reminder of the old man’s contributions to motoring.