What Makes A Honda, A Honda?

“For the future realization of carbon neutrality, Honda will make a major change in the course of our challenges and concentrate our corporate resources on research and development of new power units and energy technologies.”

That’s an excerpt of Honda President Takahiro Hachigo’s speech on October 2nd, in which he announced the company would pull out of Formula 1.


I should clarify, that’s from the most recent ‘we are no longer competing in F1′ announcement, not the one in 2008, nor 1992, nor 1968. Yes, we are watching Honda withdraw from Formula 1 for the fourth time since their first race in 1964 (which has to be some sort of record, in this year of record breaking).


Each time I’m sure there was a great press release with many thoughtfully placed buzzwords, but invariably the truth boiled down to ‘we’re a bit low on yen, Mr.Honda, and our new Civic needs a new front suspension design,’ so I’m inclined to toss this latest retirement in the same basket.


But the shift to alternate power sources is no longer a pipe dream of futurists – it is here. From this point on, electric and hydrogen vehicles will make up a greater and greater proportion of vehicle lineups until the internal combustion engine (ICE) is gone forever.


This die-off will take longer than expected though. There is still plenty of efficiency and performance being found in ICE thanks to forced induction, leaner combustion, and variable transmissions – all things Honda knows plenty about.


But undoubtedly there are furrowed brows in the Honda boardroom when it comes to alternative energy – the defensible drivetrain advantage the company has enjoyed for over 50 years will mean nothing in the post-ICE era.


So how can a company known for characterful yet economical engines and smartly-packaged, reliable drivetrains maintain a competitive advantage in a world of commoditised electric mobility?


To look forward Honda must look back, and what better place to do it than the Honda Collection Hall in Motegi, Japan. I’ll be your guide, and together we can discover the hallmarks that make Honda, Honda.


The Collection Hall is a mecca for Honda enthusiasts. I’ve visited twice, but was so drunk with childish excitement on both occasions that I failed to take more than a few phone snaps. Thankfully, Mark kept his composure and provided some brilliant shots of the facility for us to enjoy.

The name of the hall is revealing in itself. This is not a ‘museum’ of static displays, but a living, breathing collection of every significant product that has borne the Honda name.

One of my favourite things about the Collection Hall is their YouTube series, where each vehicle gets a turn to be fired up and driven (with gusto!) around the winding ‘test track’ behind the facility by technicians in pristine white coats.


The Formula 1 cars aren’t the ‘first’ displays that you encounter when you stroll into the Collection Hall (looking for a place to buy a ticket? There isn’t one – it’s free) but I can’t help myself from starting there.


Honda’s first entry into Formula 1 was in 1964, at which point the company had only been producing cars for four years.


The way Honda entered the sport says a lot. They were the only non-European team and at the time only Ferrari and BRM had built their own chassis and engine, meaning Honda really did jump straight in the deep end. The team hired foreign drivers, but everything else was done in house, because the company saw this as primarily a learning opportunity rather than marketing, as it often is today.

There were successes – race wins even – and Honda had established itself as the Japanese automaker to watch, before the tragic loss of driver Jo Schlesser prompted the company to withdraw and refocus on building exportable road cars.


For many of us, Honda’s most iconic cars weren’t actually full factory efforts, but the Honda-powered Williams and McLarens that dominated the late ’80s and early ’90s.

One can’t discount the talent of Mansell, Piquet, Senna or Prost, but the Honda’s reputation for engine performance and – just as importantly – reliability, made them the tool to win with – a reputation shared with the fantastic high-revving engines to be found in the CR-X, Civic and NSX of the era. That’s Honda Hallmark #1.


Considering just how successful these turbocharged engines were it’s a bit surprising that we didn’t see boost appear on more models than the very limited City Turbo of 1982 (which was actually released the year before Honda re-entered F1).


Bowing out in 1992 due to the bursting of Japan’s economic bubble, Honda was absent from Formula 1 until 2000 when they began supplying engines to – and eventually buying – the BAR team.


Again there were successes, but in 2008 another announcement: this time Honda’s exit was due to the global financial crisis. Painfully for Honda fans, the 2009 car – developed by Honda – took out the World Championship but without the Honda name anywhere to be seen – the glory went to Brawn GP.


Although the F1 cars demand my immediate attention, it’s probably the touring cars that I spend most time with overall.

Of course it helps that this is where most of the NSX’s reside – including the Dome Mugen GT500 from 1997.


But my favourite – and probably the one car I’d take the keys to if given the chance – is the NSX that Honda sent to Le Mans in 1995. GT2 regulations mean that this is surprisingly similar to the road car – not some tube-framed, engine-swapped silhouette – and in many ways an inspiration for my own development of Project NSX.

Honda went back in 1996 but couldn’t best the Porsche GT2s, having to be content with the third step of the podium.


Leaving the trio of NSXs behind, your eyes are immediately captured by the iconic JACCS livery-clad Accord as driven by Naoki Hattori.


Inspecting the details that differentiate these battle machines from their road-car siblings is endlessly entertaining, and always gets me thinking about how I could cook up a rim-tucking replica at home.


The Motul Mugen Civic was perhaps the starting point of the modern Honda ‘sports compact’ spirit, which is surely the first thing that comes to mind for most enthusiasts when they think of Honda performance. The ZC engine in this car featured DOHC and hollow camshaft technology straight from the F1 engines, but preceded the introduction of VTEC.


Both cars are of course front-wheel drive, which brings us to Honda Hallmark #2 – making the most of the two front wheels.


Now is a great time to transition from race track to road in the Collection Hall.

Front-wheel drive is primarily appealing to manufacturers due to the cost and simplicity of the drivetrain, meaning cheaper cars and servicing for the end consumer.


Most brands would put the minimum effort into tuning the driving characteristics of their economy FWD models, and as a result the configuration earned a reputation for being lame and unsporting compared to a rear-wheel drive equivalent.


I think the original Mini has to be acknowledged for being the first to show FWD and fun could coexist, but Honda definitely took the baton and ran with it.


The DC2 Integra Type R is probably the ultimate expression of this. It’s still referenced today as a benchmark of front-wheel drive handling, able to offer a level of balance and engagement equal to or greater than more typical FR (front engine, rear drive) or RR (rear engine, rear drive) layouts.


The double-wishbone suspension at each corner had much to do with the ITR’s stellar on-limit performance, but most impressive to me is that the same suspension underpinnings could be found in even a base Civic. Honda was not prepared to accept any less than the best.


Honda’s Type R range – stripped out and finessed to cater to owners looking for the ultimate track toy – needs no introduction. Although these cars are rightly well recognised, I still don’t think the sheer number of tiny differences which seperate them from the ‘regular’ versions are appreciated – something I’ve started to realise as I tweak my own NSX for track performance.


Yes, they may be the darlings of collectors now, but these cars were built to be thrashed, and I’m glad that most owners have done exactly that. The horsepower-per-litre figures for these small-capacity sports cars are still untouched 20-plus years on by most ‘mainstream’ manufacturers – only Ferrari, Porsche and the like need apply to join this club.


Curiously, an S2000 was nowhere to be found by Mark. Perhaps the museum has a minimum age requirement which the lithe roadster has yet to meet?


As grateful as I am for Honda’s fantastic four and six cylinder engines, I can’t help but feel a little sad we never got to see what the brand could do with an eight or 10 cylinder power unit. Imagine – two F20C heads and a 4.0L V8 good for 500 naturally aspirated ponies… Rear-wheel drive would be a mandatory, however.


While our focus is still admittedly focused on hunting four-wheeled machines of speed, we’d be remiss not to mention Honda’s powerhouse two-wheeled division.


Almost half of the Collection Hall is dedicated to the scooters and motorcycles, which it can be argued are actually the cornerstone of Honda’s worldwide success.


The first vehicles that Honda exported to the US in 1960 were indeed motorcycles, promoted with the now iconic tagline: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”. It wasn’t until 10 years later that Honda first showed the N600 sedan to the American public.


To most of the developing world, Honda is the name in personal mobility. It dominates much of Asia’s scooter market with sales figures large enough to truly boggle the mind.


Honda has always had a strong belief in the role of motorsports in developing engineering talent and technologies, and this applies equally to both their automotive and motorcycle divisions.


The direct connection to product has always been visible; Honda dealers are happy to sell customers a very close replica to Sunday’s race-winning machines come Monday morning. Even today, all it takes to swing a leg over an almost-identical machine ridden by Marc Márquez is a significantly fat chequebook.


Less direct is the contribution to the success of Honda’s road cars.


Motorcycles are by their nature very compact, meaning space is at a premium. This is particularly true for a bike’s engine – making more power is not simply a factor of adding more cylinders or displacement.


There are exceptions, but a conventionally packaged sports bike cannot fit much more than four cylinders and about 1,000cc.


Furthermore, there are numerous motorcycle racing categories that are competitive and popular, but apply strict engine capacity limits.


These constraints force engineers to extract more from less, to repeatedly make 1+1=3. Honda Hallmark #3, big innovation on a small scale.


The result is crazy technological solutions. Some go on to become proliferate in road bikes and eventually even passenger vehicles, while others – like the NR750’s infamous oval pistons – remain a one-off, the end of a branch of engineering exploration.


Honda has consistently brought cutting edge technology to consumers at a reasonable price point. Examples that haven’t already been mentioned include: variable valve timing and lift, hydrogen propulsion, hybrid technology, four-wheel steering, aluminium monocoques, electric power steering, satellite navigation, motorcycle ABS, and most importantly – the folding scooter (Motocompo).


It’s something Honda drivers have been grateful for for decades, but we should all tip our hat to the big H for pushing the industry to bring us cheaper, safer, more economical and fun cars.


I don’t know what the Honda of 2030 or 2050 looks like. But looking back at the hallmarks that have made them such a beacon for enthusiasts thus far, I think they might still hold the key to continued success.


Although Honda is waving goodbye to the F1 paddock, it has reaffirmed its commitment to IndyCar in the US, which is encouraging.

There also seems to be no end in sight for Honda’s efforts in various forms of motorcycle racing around the world.


Ross Brawn was even quoted saying that he thinks he can see Honda reentering F1 in the not-too-distant future, depending on drivetrain regulations. A dystopian electric future for F1, perhaps?

To this writer, it’s those innovative, powerful and reliable front-drivers which characterise Honda – and the brand’s continued commitment to proving their products in motorsport competition which makes them deserving of every enthusiast’s respect. I’m curious to hear from you in the comments – what does Honda mean to you?

Blake Jones
Instagram: blaketjones



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Lovely article, Blake. Excellent read. Just makes me wish I could teleport to Japan for the day to see these incredible vehicles first hand!


Thanks Tom - yes, teleportation to Motegi highly recommended, especially if you go on a Super GT race day!


There's no "natural" reason to stop using the ICE yet. The technology's still viable and there's no alternative that provides the same or better combination of power, convenience and practicality.

If in the foreseeable future the ICE dies out in favor of battery-electric vehicles, it'll be because legislation killed it, not because it was naturally replaced by a superior technology.

I have no doubt that one day, the ICE WILL become obsolete. But I suspect that warp engines will be a common technology long before mankind decides that the time of the ICE has passed.

Wouldn't that be an interesting thing?

Mankind still driving V8s and turbo-4s on colony worlds a hundred lightyears away?


Found it guys! Make sure to wear your tin foils, bring your own popcorn, tho... The movie theaters are dying.


Agreed. The extra mining required to manufacture batteries, to add on top of the existing industry needed to make the rest of the car, is hardly a sensible response to climate change. Imagine how amped up environmental concerns would become when every car on the road needs rechargeable batteries. I'd love for efforts to instead go into hydrogen fuel cell propulsion like with the Clarity.


Also consider this: A battery-electric car requires a hell of lot more PRECISION in its manufacture than a similar ICE-powered vehicle.

You need specific materials with specific physical properties in specific quantities at specific locations in order to simply function.

While that's true for the ICE-powered car as well, the ICE-powered car - if 1970's GM is any indication - can work at a much lower standard of quality and precision than a Tesla.

ICE-powered cars are easier to design and build, can be made of much more readily-available materials and can be repaired more easily & safely than battery-electric cars.


"Renewables" is a scam, and its what you might call "politi-speak."

At the end of the day, it comes down to this: its so much cheaper, and the profit margins are so much higher, to buy-in an electric drivetrain from CHINA than to develop an ICE engine in-house. All you build is the chassis, and drop the thing in. e-Bikes are built the same way. Mounting pattern for the power unit is available to all, you design the vehicle around that. All you have left to work with, is where you put the energy system i.e. controller, batteries, passengers.

Its all about PROFIT, and it only benefits CHINA and those people whose pocketbooks hinge on Chinese success in the global marketplace. CHINA. Whose clout in the upper echelons of global politics, and thus global lawmaking, is only growing.

Controlling global transportation is how the Saudis got rich, since they controlled the fuel. The same thing is happening now: its how China will try and conquer the world: by controlling the supply of motors and batteries. And they'll do it by ripping very last ounce of cobalt out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, before moving onto solid state(which should already exist in strategic applications i.e. underwater drones)


Oh, and forget about driving cars on other planets. Those planets might not be made out of the same stuff as the Earth, so there might not even be materials for batteries, let alone engines. Their atmospheres might not be made out of the same stuff, so combustion might be impossible.

For all we know, sending an electrical charge to a rover motor in some atmospheres might cause violent thermal runaway.

But if we can move 100LY in a lifetime or less?

We'll have gone way beyond cars, or the need for them. A civilisation like that may think of 300km/h, maybe even the new record of 500+km/h as unbearably slow, and they may think of designing vehicles around how they interact with the atmosphere to be primitive. They may even consider having wheels rolling on the ground to be primitive.

If we get that far, we won't be racing cars anymore. We'll be racing between stars, and asteroid belts will be our skidpans. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be a warp theorist tuning an anti-matter field, on a starship going multiple times lightspeed than in a F1 car.


Considering just how specific the environmental conditions that human beings need to live are (ranges of temperature, gravity, air pressure, atmospheric gas composition, etc.), any world we could live on - as in land a starship on, drop the cargo ramps and start unloading supplies to build farms and towns - would be close enough to Earth that we could definitely operate ICE-powered cars.

My point was that the ICE has way more life left in it than the advocates of Progress would have us believe.


ICE has got much more life in it, its not funny. In fact, going to E100-specific engines across the board would make much more sense since it will keep cars out of landfills, and re-ignite manufacturing. Restoring older cars would become an even more viable business.

The move towards electric can be considered another description for the mass movement of money away from regular people to large corporations. Think about the money that would come into the that economy if everybody had to buy a new car.

Its an easy direction to sell to the manufacturers because of that.

This is not "progress," this is greed.


Also, if a stardrive system can break the light barrier in a vacuum? Damn sight it's going to crush hydrogen, combustion, AND electric even if its 1/100 of the size of the one in the mothership.

There's no straps known OR knowable to man that will keep it on the dyno, PERIOD. :p


You guys lost me a while back... but I'm happy to put my hand up to shoot the first feature car on Mars.



Do you know the best part about civilian electric vehicles? They make your society nice and vulnerable to things like strategic EMP weapons. A vehicle that runs on fuel can still be re-started. A strategic EMP weapon is going to send an "all-electric" society back to the iron age.

Only military vehicles, with tactical shielding, are going to be operable. And even then not for long, since the EMP will also destroy charging points that aren't hardened against that sort of attack.

Time to think about a lot more than cars, isn't it?


Even modern ICE cars are at risk, at that point. The only cars surviving an EMP are pre-fuel injection. And yes, if profits didn't matter, there'd be no point in bringing out a new model every year. There are enough cars already in existence to mobilize everyone, but people are shallow and just have to keep up with the Joneses.

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

May I add point #4: always challenging the limits.

As Honda's famed "The Power of Dreams" says, it is only through dreams that one will step up, see things in a new perspective and then challenge the limits.


Outstanding article. I'm a long time Honda fan and owner, and am excited about the future of the brand. While the focus has admittedly been on the mass consumer, there's still signs of light in the lineup. I think the Honda e, especially an enthusiast version, could be the BEV version of the original Mini or CRX.


The e looks great, doesn't it! Let's hope it's a success for Honda.


i own an EK4 for the summer and an EJ9 for the winter. Both cars are unbelievably reliable and the EK4 is still so much fun with its b16a2. But i have to do a B18 swap soon, since the b16 is a bit too underpowered for the heavier EK chassis.


City wasn't the only turbocharged Honda In the '80s, there was also the CX500 turbo also from '82, and the Legend Wing Turbo from '88. Good article tho...


I'd completely overlooked that Legend, don't think they sold many? Would have been interesting to see them push turbo technology more, but perhaps they didn't feel the tech at the time was good enough.


best free museum/art gallery ever?!


Just to add to the good article above, Honda have also ventured in aviation field, besides car manufacturing. Their jet, famously named HondaJet, (then) broke ground on fuel efficiency versus distance, comfort, flying performance, application of new material, etc.

Not many car manufacturer would dream and expand their business to the sky. Pardon the pun.


Yeah, seem to be really nice jets too! Hope I can get a ride in one some day.


When i think Honda, the first thing that comes in mind, is: fwd, 4 cylinders, reliability, and the community all around their vehicles


Great point re: community, an absolute defining point of Honda albeit not one reflected in the Collection Hall. It would be great if they could add one or two famous tuner cars to the collection.


Like the Papadakis/AEM civic... history maker in the H community!


I find Honda's quitting F1 a bit perplexing. It makes little sense to jump out of something just as it starts going well. And F1 IS a hybrid engine, you'd think that would be of benefit to them. And yet they stay in Indycar, where there's no attempt at hybrid power. My feeling is that its down to politics. Maybe too many Euro prima donna race drivers bitching about their engines and they figure its not worth the hassle? They do well in a lot of other categories, its sad to see them go. I thought they would stick around longer. But Honda's an awesome company. I love the fact that they sell learners bikes at half the cost of any other manufacturer, encouraging people to use their bikes.


I've worked in F1: Although politics have a lot to do with all the hassle around manufacturers (internal and external I might add), It's all down to economics:

F1 has 2 teams running a Honda Engine: AlphaTauri and Red Bull Thats 4 out of 20 cars. Cost to build and develop these engines are extremely high. Smaller displacement, worse fuel, more power and more competition: therefore higher cost, since development cost needs to be spread over 2 teams for any chance to break even, which I highly doubt is happening?

Honda Indycar engines on the other hand are use by a shit tonne of teams.. Bigger displacement, better fuel, less power and less competition: Therefore lower cost. And they can split the development cost between a lot of teams, which makes getting to a break even point not much of problem. I'm even thinking they make money of of the engine development plan.

Thats the real problem in F1: Being the fastest and most advanced series out there has its drawbacks. Thats being said: Indycar can't even shine a candle on F1....

Drivers a definitely out of the question as a decision to stay or go. Way better drivers then most of the Americans. Thats the reason there are hardly any Americans in F1, but a lot of foreign drivers in Indy. At least get your facts right....

One thing we can agree upon though: It is a shame they are leaving F1....


I agree RB, almost every decision in modern F1 is political at the core. Probably worried about 2022 regulations, unfortunately the Japanese never seem to have the sway of the Europeans to get what they want out of negotiations around regulations. A shame that they seem to be leaving on the cusp of success once again.


This is not true at all in regards to the regs, Blake. Honda joined the hybrid era for this very reason, they wanted these complex and expensive PU´s that are here to stay unchanged till 2026, Honda is leaving because there is little to no return of investment. Honda is the ONLY manufacturer on the grid running no team of their own (therefore not eligible for constructor championship money). Instead, Honda is paying Red Bull and its sister team Scuderia Alpha Tauri a hefty sum to use their engines which have cost somewhat over a billion dollars to develop, so when the Red Bull cars do win every now and then, average Joe will soley talk about the about the "greatness" that the mighty Red Bulls are, while Honda gets nothing but a tiny red sticker of their name on the side of the car. I am pretty sure that all of this could have been avoided if they would have just bought a smaller team from the get go represented by a mighty fine media presence, just like Mercedes did back then, their cars are desirable as ever now.


All good points Paul. It's a dangerous game trying to find an ROI in motorsports!


Honda means reliability and value.


Good, well-timed article with great photos.

I think Honda has long contained two strands, the enthusiast strand that pulls towards power, speed and racing, and the strand of social awareness that pushes for minimalism, efficiency and low impact - the CVCC Civic, 'Man Maximum, Machine Minimum', the first Insight. And it is perhaps this latter side that is most appropriate for Honda to emphasise today.

Honda loves to innovate in drivetrains, in some ways there's more opportunities to do that today than at any time since the birth of the automobile. Synthetic fuels, fuel cells, new ways to charge electric cars conveniently, all of these would be good. They like a packaging challenge, how about building the batteries into a car's frame, under the seats, etc to avoid needing to lift the floor? And ways to use new self-driving capabilities responsibly to reduce accidents, perhaps look for ways to use them in limited contexts or by enhancing the driver's awareness rather than seeking to cut them out of the loop?

Overall I think there are many great opportunities for Honda to innovate, my concern is whether they still remember how to do so - I hope they've not completely lost the spirit of the company they used to be under the old man.


All motor single jingle baby!


Thank you for writing this. I worked for Honda R&D in what may have been it's darkest time (2007-2011). I watched racing end, the most sporting car offerings cancelled, exciting developments get aborted, and the birth of the ZDX. Many great people, who I am proud to call friends, are still there working hard to push the good ideas through.
I am looking forward to see what the next great vehicle will be to earn it's spot in that collection.


Easy: revs, reliability plus a well designed chassis. All achievable in an electric car, so I only look forward to an electric Civic. Though for now I'll stick to my pettol powered ones: a VIII 1.8 Euro which I have since new (12 years) and a V rally car :)


A Honda is known to be built well, reliable, and fun to drive
That's what makes a Honda, a Honda


I'd change the title to 'what made a Honda a Honda' as most of their modern stuff doesn't feel like what I came to expect from Honda at all. Then again, the E is the first electric car that seems to be made by people who like cars for people who like cars, so you never know.

As for electric cars as a whole, I think the technology is still far from ideal. ICEs might only be phased out due to our socialist benefactors doing what's 'best for us'. If these technologies were to battle it out in the free market we would end up with a repeat of the pre war era when steam, petrol and electric cars fought to see which would be the way forward, with the winning technology being the one that would win again.


Awesome Write up guys!

From Honda New Zealand this is what we want to read on a Sunday.

Awesome write up Blake - Makes me want to get to japan ASAP. Maybe work expenses might cover this?

More please <3


As mentioned, because it wasn't sold here, nobody really knows what it is. There's only a handful of them imported here, and I've never seen another in the wild which suits me perfectly.jobztip.com


As a person who drove one. I would say it is definitely a superb cheap fun car to drive :D