Even with countless companies spending big bucks, it’s hard to find anything truly stunning at SEMA anymore. The race to outdo each other and grab eyeballs, has resulted in some high-dollar builds, but when everything is extreme, nothing is. It’s been years since we were shocked, in a good way, and this year it was all due to Daniel Wu’s 1968 Honda Sports 800.
There are many reasons why it was such a pleasant surprise at SEMA. First of all, while Honda in Japan recognizes that the S-series is one of its brand-defining models, Honda of America has done very little to even recognize that the S500, S600 and S800 exist. This is somewhat understandable, as it was never officially sold in the US, but even when the S2000 was offered there was barely a mention of its all-important predecessor.
Another reason why this was so exciting was that the Honda S-chassis is one of those Japanese classics like the Toyota 2000GT or Mazda Cosmo Sport that is almost never customized. Sure, with its roller-bearing crank, quad-carb, twin-cam engine capable of 10,000 rpm it is often race-modified, but street customs aren’t the norm.
The car’s been dropped two inches on a custom suspension and sits on gold, re-barreled, OEM Honda S-series wheels wrapped in Toyo R888R tires (195/60R-13 front, 205/60R-13 rear). A mean-looking one-off, stainless-steel, shotgun exhaust built by GReddy exits at the center.
Wu names all his cars, like his Tantō Datsun 510. The Honda has one too, but it’s not the more family friendly “Outlaw” listed at the Honda booth. “The car is actually called the Chinpira,” Wu told us. In Japanese, a chinpira is something of a young, low-level yakuza-in-training. “So all the design decisions came from that,” Wu explained. “Make it gangster. Everything from exterior color, interior color, wheel color all stem from that concept.”
It’s a fitting theme, as the S-chassis is barely bigger than a kei car and easily dwarfed by even a Tuner Era Civic. It’s not the most powerful car, but within the modest package lies one hell of an advanced, high-revving engine.
Here, its de-bumpered body features a custom front air dam, ducktail spoiler, and fender flares created by Kei Miura of Rocket Bunny fame and is finished in a deep, rich black. The interior, including the stock Honda steering wheel, is upholstered in blood-red leather. Suddenly, the typically classic but formal-looking S800 is transformed into a menacing, scrappy street fighter.
Unlike, say, a Daruma Celica or Mazda RX-3, the default state of the Honda S-chassis is essentially a bone-stock restoration. There isn’t an army of tuners turning an already dwindling supply of original examples into an even scarcer commodity. There will always be stock S800s to appreciate, so purists need not fret. Besides, the car was far from pristine when Wu started the project.
The actor and star of projects such as Into the Badlands, Tomb Raider, and countless Chinese films, recalled his inspiration for the Chinpira. The humble beginnings are something we can all relate to: “About 10 years ago, when I was living in Hong Kong, I was in a YouTube hole and I found a video called “Honda S800 Sound. All it showed was the tach and the glorious exhaust note,” Wu said.
“I looked up the car and found it to be beautiful, especially the coupe. I showed it to a friend who imported cars from England and within six months he had one in Hong Kong.”
Wu never did get to own the car until after he unveiled his Datsun 510 at SEMA in 2017. After that experience, he was determined to build another Japanese nostalgic car. Alas, in another turn of events that we can all relate to, the Honda wasn’t exactly what he expected.
“My friend had owned the car for several years but wasn’t driving it at all so I bought it from him and shipped it over to the US. When it arrived it was very badly rusted. It looked fine on the surface but I later learned the body panels had been replaced with fiberglass during a hastily done restore. The frame was so rusted, it looked like it was parked in the ocean. Holes everywhere.”
As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Wu felt the need to push himself further. “I was very proud of the Tantō, but something in the back of my head kept saying, ‘But you didn’t build it yourself,'” Wu admitted. “That little voice made me decide that this build was the perfect opportunity for me to learn and get my hands dirty.”
“Picking this car for my first hands-on build was not very smart. This was not an easy build,” he told us. Fortunately, Wu’s best friend from high school, Ian Urban, helped him along. “He’s never done an S800 before but he’s definitely tore a few cars apart before and is a meticulous person so if I couldn’t figure something out he would find a way.”
For the body parts too far gone to resurrect, Wu found an unrestored shell to take apart and combine with his original chassis. “Over 300 hours of rust repair was done on the car,” he revealed.
Parts presented another challenge. “This car is so rare in the US that finding parts was difficult. I ended up sourcing parts from Germany, Australia and Japan,” he said. “Turns out parts for this car are probably more expensive than those of a Ferrari!”
Ultimately, the car turned out spectacularly, especially for a self-proclaimed beginner. Wu spent about six months on the build, and says there are many times where it seemed like he wouldn’t make it in time for the show, but his perseverance paid off.
Getting a first-time build into SEMA is no small feat, and getting it into the manufacturer’s booth is an even bigger one. However, when asked what the most rewarding part of the build was, the ever-humble Wu told us, “The most rewarding part of this this working everyday with a good friend that I’ve known for more than 30 years.”