To celebrates its 60th anniversary of building cars, Honda has shared some images of never-before-seen concepts. Like the unbuilt V8 NSX from the 1970s, these cars were dreamt up at Honda’s Wako, Saitama design studio. They have something else in common: they’re all sports cars, as Honda has been committed to building drivers’ cars since the 1963 S500 roadster.
In 1991, the same year the Beat was released, Honda was working on something called the Wave Project. It explored the possibility of a mid-engined roadster powered by a 1.6-liter. Given the era, it would have likely been the D16 or B16 four-cylinder found in the Civic Si or SiR. Honda says it was inspired by the tremendous success of the Honda CRX among young drivers, and would have slotted between the Beat and NSX.
Design-wise, the car definitely hails from the late 80s/early 90s. If the vaguely nautical two-tone and tri-blade white aero wheels aren’t a dead giveaway of the era, the paint-splash teal and purple interior surely is. The taillight arc that takes off as a tangent from the rear wheel arch and spans trailing edge of the rear spoiler looks fantastic, but would have been impossible to produce back then. It would be doable and look right at home in today’s LED world, though.
The car was called a few different names during the concept stages, including the Honda Acute and the Honda Blast. It even made it into the full-size scale model stage with full interior. While it didn’t make it to production, it seems that the open-top with 1.6-liter engine direction may have have inspired the Honda del Sol. Imagine if this had existed instead, arriving a decade before the Toyota MR2 Spyder at the peak of Honda fever, to do battle against the Miata.
In 2003 Honda was playing around with another mid-engine convertible. This time it was powered by a V6. Given the timeline one might suspect it was scheduled to be an NSX successor, but this unnamed concept was a four-seater. With a retractable metal hardtop, it was perhaps more appropriate to compare it to a Lexus SC430.
An early 1/4-scale clay model of the car looks like it wasn’t always a four-seater. The shorter wheelbase and faster roofline would not have been able to accommodate a second row. It almost looks like a Mitsubishi Eclipse in this form.
By the time it became a full-size prototype it had morphed into the 2+2 form. It’s a true prototype, as Honda says it was actually driveable. To our eyes it’s pretty hideous, as the massive rear required to house the folding roof and engine gives it a hump-back profile. From the front it almost looks like a 2004 Accord Coupe, but the swollen taillights and engorged rear are a bridge too far. Note the interesting placement of the fuel filler inside the side scoop.
The prototype had a full interior. Maybe this says something about my age, but the dark brown and black interior that was en vogue on luxury cars of this era make me want to wash my eyes with brake cleaner. Warm silver is also among my least favorite exterior colors. It’s a thought-provoking concept, but it’s a good thing this didn’t go into production. It would have been the Lexus SC300/400 to SC430 uproar times 10,000, with NSX fans marching on Honda HQ with pitchforks.
In 2004 Honda was considering another roadster, this time with a more conventional front-engine setup. This was dubbed the SS Open, which stood for Small Sports Open-top concept. It employed a 800cc 3-cylinder engine with a front-wheel-drive layout.
Honda says its goal with this concept was to develop an affordable compact sports car. Once again it had a motorized retractable metal hardtop, but if it had gone to production it would have likely been replaced with a cloth top. It certainly doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of luggage space left after the space for the folded top is accounted for.
This car, too, spawned a working prototype. Unfortunately, Honda didn’t release any interior images of the car. It used a 660cc kei car engine bored out to 800cc. An off-center bulge in the hood is a direct homage to the Honda S800. If it had gone into production it likely would have been offered in the Japan market only.
The Honda name isn’t really associated with convertibles. After the S800 ended production in 1970, Honda didn’t build another roadster until the Beat some 20 years later. That was followed by the Del Sol (which may not really count, depending on how you define roadster), the S2000, and the S660. However, it seems that Honda often had some kind of open-top car brewing, and it’s always fascinating to see the ideas that were floating around, even if they were ultimately dead ends.