Responsible for over 14 million internal combustion engines annually, Honda is the world’s largest engine builder. It’s also been the biggest motorcycle manufacturer since 1959, and with Acura in 1986, Honda was the first Japanese auto manufacturer to produce a dedicated luxury line. It’s a company of tradition and trendsetting alike.
Still one of the largest automakers on Earth, Honda has been producing affordable and reliable cars with increasing pace. It all started at Art Shokai garage where Soichiro Honda tuned actual race cars before building his empire of tuner-ready econoboxes. Honda’s personal story, as interesting and Toyota-heavy as it is, is not what I was interested in last weekend at the annual Japanese Classic Car Show, though.
What I was after in Long Beach was the incredible nostalgia that ’90s Hondas have, both for myself and for so many others.
Growing up, Hondas were the car to modify. Used models were cheap and even your friends who weren’t car enthusiasts probably owned at least one at some point, too. This area of the show seemed to relate to everyone on some level.
Many of the circa-1990s Hondas at JCCS were purchased new or are second-owner cars that have been slowly modified over the past two (or nearly three) decades. Others have been purchased and built more recently — now that the owners can easily afford to buy and modify them with quality parts — as an homage to their teen years when these cars were so desirable.
You’ll notice a few cars are definitely past the 1995 cut-off, but as I mentioned in my walk-through story at JCCS, you can get away with a later model at the show so long as the same body style was offered in ’95. Of course, being a classic show, loads of older Hondas were littered around the Marina Green in Long Beach as well. But these aren’t what I was after on Saturday.
What I was after were the EGs, EJs, EKs, and so on; the models that first attracted me to the world of cars.
Decades after their release, it’s awesome to still see so much appreciation for these chassis. It was also great to be surrounded by really genuinely well-built Hondas, an occurrence that, for my entire life, has been all too rare in California.
There was plenty of love for factory styling too. Having owned a number of Hondas from this era, I was impressed at how immaculate the examples were at JCCS. I had all but forgotten about the straight-five powerplant; if only the first-gen TL was rear-wheel drive, then we’d really be talking…
The Hondas here varied from survivor status to lightly modified…
And continued right on up to ‘at least a little bit insane.’Nothing Like The ’90s
Until recently, these cars from the late ’80s and ’90s were too young to really be considered classics, but I’m happy to see shows like Radwood and JCCS giving them some of the spotlight.
It was an awkward time in many ways; everyone was making poor fashion decisions, and with a changing view of what ‘cool’ really was. Designers did their best to keep up as the boxy designs of the ’80s morphed more and more into curvy little spaceships of what was then the modern age.
As cool and inventive as some of the cars and tech was during this time, there are certain things we’re all more than happy to leave behind. I’m sure we all have a couple stories where an automatic seat belt is the hero or, more likely, the villain. I had one break off a visor on my Accord, and years before I had my license one such belt knocked my grandfather’s glasses off his face and into a gutter. Like much from the ’90s era, these things just sucked and the world is a better place without them.
But for every disappointment, the ’80s and ’90s era is still very much alive in enthusiast circles. Take this first-gen CR-X for example, now living a better life than anyone could have ever imagined for it.
The owner’s taken to auto-crossing it rather than full road course duty as he says he’d just “get in everyone’s way” on a big track. For a car that gets beat on, it’s in great shape and immediately obvious that the owner loves it. It definitely looks like loads of fun, too.
One Honda chassis I felt was a bit under-represented at JCCS 2018 was the NSX. Outrageously priced in the ’90s and just about equally so today, these cars didn’t have the same feel as the Civics that everyone and their mother was modifying in the 2000s. Positioned towards the exotic end of things, the NSX just doesn’t carry the same nostalgia as its affordable cousins in the lineup do today. Still, I couldn’t help but checking out a couple at the show.
As the aftermarket continues to evolve for this chassis, the NSX has avoided the aging we’ve seen from other ’90s Hondas. Even in stock form, it’s hard to imagine that the NA1 was designed in the ’80s.
To finish things off, I’d like to wrap up with a Honda that’s very special to me. My first car was a bone-stock ’90 Civic hatchback with a 4-speed an no A/C. I didn’t know much about cars (and, honestly, nothing about car culture) at this point in my life, and, like many others, purchased a Civic primarily as a practical option. It got good mileage even without a fifth gear, it was reliable, and it was cheap to maintain. But deep down I always sort of secretly wanted to engine swap it, or at least buy some parts to get into the whole tuner thing a bit. Sadly, after a few years of smooth sailing, a man swerved out of his lane with an SUV and totalled the car before my ambitions could be realized.
Luckily, someone else has been able to to live out my modification dreams in their own way on this particular ED6. I hung out for a while but wasn’t able to find the owner, although it’s clear he’s left no stone unturned with this build.
I haven’t seen too many early Civics running RAYS Volk Racing TE37s, but I suppose this is just one more chassis to add to the always-growing list of cars these wheels look great on. More importantly, it’s simply refreshing to see people investing in what many consider a ‘low-level’ car.
I was just recently having a conversation with my friend Ricko about how often people grow out of the very cars that introduced them to car culture in the first place. While many have jumped ship as their income has increased, it’s awesome to see so many people dedicated to their roots at JCCS. These Hondas are only so-called ‘starter cars’ if you treat them as such.
Still, I fall into this stereotype too and usually stay away from the local Honda meets. But if this is what they’re like, sign me up.Cutting Room Floor