By Steve & Tamami Laser, CarNichiWa®
It seems like only yesterday, yet it’s 30 years since Honda launched Acura in the U.S. To celebrate this major milestone, Acura invited the Motor Press Guild to the American Honda Museum to celebrate the past, present and future of the luxury brand.
We were greeted by two of Acura’s latest brand ambassadors. The first is this stunning 2017 NSX mid-engine hybrid sports car. Acura says the new NSX challenges conventional beliefs about supercars, with its cutting-edge design and world-first technologies.
Much as the first generation NSX did a quarter century ago, the 2017 NSX breaks the mold with its Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive power unit, a multi-material body structure, advanced aerodynamics and a cockpit that supports performance driving without sacrificing comfort.
We were also surprised to see the new 2017 Acura MDX. The refreshed crossover made its debut last month at the New York Auto Show. Displaying the new face of Acura, the MDX wears a bold diamond pentagon style grille. This design was first seen on the Acura Precision Concept that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in January.
The 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid is the third model to feature Acura’s three-motor Sport Hybrid SH-AWD powertrain, joining the NSX and RLX. The MDX Sport Hybrid is powered by a 3.0-liter SOHC V6 with Variable Cylinder Management™ (VCM™) mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission (7DCT) with an integrated electric motor driving the front wheels, and a Twin Motor Unit with two electric motors providing power to the rear wheels.
Now, let’s go inside the museum for a presentation by Acura, followed by our video tour of the collection.
We recorded this video during the Motor Press Guild luncheon. Jon Ikeda, Vice President and General Manager of Acura, spoke about the early days of the brand and traced its journey on the road to becoming a significant player in the U.S. luxury car market.
“Acura was the first import luxury marque to design, develop and manufacture products in America,” said Ikeda. “More than 4 million Acura vehicles have been purchased by U.S. customers over 30 years. More than half, 2.3 million, of those were made in North America. And 98 percent of Acura sales in 2015 were of products made in America.”
“There is no more clear promise for the Acura brand than Precision Crafted Performance,” said Ikeda. “We’re committed to infusing this core Acura promise into every facet of our products and the customer experience, including our marketing voice. The new Acura NSX is a pinnacle expression of our DNA and demonstrates how we will deliver on those core values.”
We’ve witnessed the present and gazed into the future. Now it’s time to take a closer look at the past. When the presentation concluded, we were granted a rare opportunity to take self-guided tours of the museum.
American Honda Museum Tour
The American Honda Musuem occupies one huge warehouse-style space including a small second-floor loft motorcycle exhibit. We waited until all the guests had departed to record this walk-through video.
A recent addition to the museum is this gorgeous Honda S600 roadster. This represents Honda’s first car line beginning with the Sports 360 prototype in 1962. Later models included the S500, S600, and S800. While not originally sold in the U.S., they’re prized by collectors today for their agile handling, high-revving engines and remarkably small dimensions. A spiritual successor went on sale in Japan last year called the S660.
Following its success with motorcycles, Honda expanded with the brand’s first mass-market automobile targeting U.S. customers: the N-600. The small car featured a 2-cylinder 600cc air-cooled engine rated at 45 hp good for a quoted 80 mph and reported 40 mpg. With a curb weight of 1,356 pounds and a base price of $1,395, Honda says it cost about “$1.00 per pound.” About 40,500 units were sold in the U.S. from 1970 to 1972.
As a prelude (pardon the pun) of things to come, Honda offered this sporty version called the Z-600 Coupe. A restyled version of the N-600, the rear hatch on this 1971 model looks a bit like a scuba mask. Honda sold just 15,000 examples during a brief two-year run. Long absent from the U.S. market, Honda continues to make mini-cars (Kei-class) vehicles in Japan, with retro-inspired models like the N-ONE.
While our mission was to record videos of Honda and Acura production models and prototypes, it’s easy to get sidetracked and marvel at this display (above). Honda and Acura racing cars include open-wheel and sports car types along with racing engines. They’re so well-kept that some of them have actually returned to the track (see below).
With Parker Johnstone as its primary driver, this Acura Spice GTP-Light captured 23 wins and 34 poles from 38 starts. It’s powered by a race-modified 3.0-liter VTEC V6 engine from the first-generation NSX rated at 450 hp @ 8,500 rpm. Starting in 1991, Johnstone, co-drivers and the Comptech team captured three consecutive IMSA GTP Lights championships. This car came out of retirement last year for the 2015 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion with Johnstone reprising his role in the driver’s seat.
Getting back to production cars, we visited this 1979 Prelude called the “first true sports coupe” from Honda. The first generation ran from 1978 to 1983 with this example powered by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 80 hp. Second- and third-generation models are also on display.
The popular Honda CRX was small, light, and easy to modify. This 1984 CRX Mugen served as a prototype tester for Mugen performance parts. Set up similar to a CRX race car driven by Parker Johnstone, it features a 1488cc 4-cylinder engine with an aluminum block and head, and Mugen camshaft, valves and springs. It also rides on Mugen-designed suspension.
Acura holds many places of honor at the Honda Museum including this spot reserved for the first generation NSX. The display says that this 1991 model “firmly established Acura’s engineering prowess around the world.” The NSX is noted for the first all-aluminum production body, chassis and suspension plus the first use of titanium connecting rods. The NSX mid-engine 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 290 hp.
The American Honda Museum is the home of several hand-built, one-of-a-kind concept cars. This 1995 Acura CL-X concept was the first show vehicle designed by Honda R&D Americas. It was the image concept for the Acura CL which was built at Honda’s Marysville Auto Plant in Ohio. Production CL models were sold from 1996 to 1999, and 2001 to 2003.
This 1997 Honda GRX concept was designed as a futuristic sport vehicle by Honda R&D Americas in the Torrance Design Studio. It was followed by the Honda JVX which debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1997 (we saw it there). These two concepts were the inspirations for the Honda Insight Hybrid vehicle.
In the true spirit of concept cars that allow designer’s imaginations to run wild, Honda introduced the Spocket. Created by Honda R&D at the Torrance Design Studio, Spocket is a sporty car that offers utility with a pickup-style bed. It debuted in January 2000 at the Detroit Auto Show.
This 2000 Civic Si is the winner of the “Civic Si Challenge” competition in 1999. Honda says that modifications, designed and completed by “Super Street Magazine,” included a modified engine, transmission, suspension, tires and wheels, interior and body panels. This modified car design was duplicated and sold as a “Hot Wheels” die-cast model by Mattel.
We were impressed by this beautifully preserved 2001 Integra Type-R. Acura calls it “the most famous of the Integra models.” Prized by collectors today, it features a specially prepared 195 hp 4-cylinder engine with “the fastest piston speed in the industry at the time.” It’s mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox.
This 2004 Acura NSX was the last model year for the bold sports car. At the time, we thought that the nameplate would be permanently retired. Yet here we are more than a decade later with a new NSX ready to go on sale. This immaculate ’04 model has a 3.2-liter DOHC VTEC V6 with 290 hp and a 6-speed manual transmission.
Here’s a look at what designers were thinking about a hydrogen fuel cell car for the future – in 2009. The Honda FC Sport concept is a design study that was unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Created by Honda R&D Americas at its Pasadena Advanced Design Studio, the three-seater emphasized the design flexibility and Honda’s V Flow fuel-cell technology in a lightweight sports car design.
Honda’s P-Nut concept takes second-place for the most wacky concept car name after the Spocket. The Personal-Neo Urban Transport (P-Nut) was designed at Honda’s Advanced Design Studio in Pasadena. It utilizes Honda’s M/M (man maximum/machine minimum) concept. This three-seater is designed for gasoline, hybrid, or pure electric propulsion.
We hiked up the stairs to record the Honda motorcycle display in this video. Among the bikes on display is this 2001 CBR600F41 Supersport racer. Behind it is a 1983 V45 Interceptor, followed by an RC51, 1971 CB500K0, and the super-cool Honda Fury. We also spotted Honda ATV’s including a 3-wheel ATC90, and 4-wheel Odyssey.
A tour of the museum is not complete without paying homage to this 1962 Super Cub 50. It represents the first product sold in the U.S. by the newly formed American Honda Motor Co., Inc. Powered by a 50cc 4-stroke engine, this small, fuel-efficient motorcycle started Honda’s journey in the U.S. It features innovations for its time including the gas-tank location, use of polypropylene, and centrifugal clutch.
(The American Honda Museum is a private collection)
CarNichiWa.com thanks American Honda, the Acura Division, and the Motor Press Guild
Story, photos (except as noted) and videos © 2016 CarNichiWa.com