Spirit OF SOICHIRO

THE WORLD’S GREATEST HONDA COLLECTION IS A SHOWCASE OF ARTISTRY TO RIVAL ANYTHING IN THE LOUVRE. WE HEAD TO RURAL JAPAN TO CHECK IT OUT

BY BEN MILLER + PICS MARK RICCIONI

IN 1952, just three years after creating the first true Honda, the Dream D-Type two-wheeler, founder Soichiro went to America on a fact-finding mission. There he saw the world’s best precision machine tools, and headed back to Japan convinced this hardware would be essential for him to succeed in his ambition of creating the world’s finest cars and motorcycles. He then invested 450 million yen in machinery at a time when his fledgling firm’s operating capital stood at just six million yen. Ballsy stuff, but it helps explain a lot.

It helps explain how the Japanese start-up went from powered bicycles little faster than walking to domination of GP motorcycle racing’s 250cc and 350cc classes in a little over a decade. It also helps explain how Honda became synonymous with sublime internal-combustion engines. Look no further than the Super Cub motorcycle’s overhead-valve 49cc single, an engine unremarkable, but for the fact that it was so perfectly fit for purpose that the total number of units produced recently passed one million. Clean, reliable and quiet where two-strokes were loud, messy and fragile, the Super Cub made Honda as much as Honda made it: the company’s been obsessed with the joy and functional beauty of a fine four-stroke ever since.

Comprising hundreds of cars, bikes, robots, mowers, light trucks and trikes, Honda’s Collection Hall has everything you’d expect of a firm that’s both wildly successful and lovably maverick, well able to pigheadedly go its own way no matter how stacked against it the odds of success. The stuff you expect is present and correct: the innovative first-generation Civic; the still-stunning original NSX, in ultra-rare Type R guise; and the CB750, Honda’s revolutionary four-cylinder 750 superbike, which turned up like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey while the ’60s British motorcycle industry was still scratching around in the Dark Ages, and whose fat profits paid for Honda’s Ohio manufacturing and R&D base.

And then there’s the nuts stuff: the Motocompo, a tiny plastic-bodied two-wheeler that looks like a cassette tape and was designed to be ferried around in the boot of your already tiny kei car; the early F1 cars, with their serpentine exhausts, conceived in a country then without any motorsport experience or infrastructure and with just an old CooperClimax for inspiration; and the improbably sexy lawnmowers.

Said Soichiro of his mission in the early days: “I want to make people happy.” A visit to the Collection Hall, as you'll see over the next six pages, will do the job.

Honda

IS OBSESSED WITH THE JOY AND FUNCTIONAL BEAUTY OF A FINE FOURSTROKE ENGINE

Honda

BECAME SYNONYMOUS WITH SUBLIME INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES

'MY VISION FOR HONDA'

CEO TAKAHIRO HACHIGO ON WHAT’S NEXT

WE WILL launch the Urban EV [city sister car of the Sports EV, above] in Europe in 2019. We are going to create a dedicated EV platform and the Urban EV will use this. With the Sports EV Concept we try to maximise the joy of driving. We don’t have plans to make the Sports EV yet – it depends on feedback from Europe and Japan.

WE WILL position these EVs as iconic cars for the Honda brand because they present our intention to accelerate electrification. The Urban EV will be your close friend as a city commuter. It will be connected, with artificial intelligence, and it will be fun to drive. This model will change the image of Honda. We will also launch a commercial vehicle based on the Urban EV platform.

WE SEE ourselves as the world’s number one mobility company, selling products to 28 million customers per year.

GLOBALLY SPEAKING, twothirds of all four-wheeled Honda vehicles will be electrified by 2030 (2025 for Europe). As far as hybrids are concerned, Honda has already sold two million units worldwide. Therefore the next European models focused on electrification are further hybrid models and plug-in hybrid models – these will accelerate the electrification of our vehicles in Europe. Then we will focus on genuine EVs.

I BELIEVE we are ahead of our competitors in terms of control technology for EV powertrains and batteries and motors, so we can leverage that technological know-how to lead.

WE BELIEVE that the fuel cell is the ultimate zero-emission vehicle technology, because a fuel cell vehicle produces power within the car and can be used in the same manner as a conventional petrol car. Cost and infrastructure are the big challenges, but we are not the only one in control of everything around these areas, so we will continue to run parallel EV and fuel cell zero-emission programs. To mitigate costs we have already formed a fuel cell joint venture with GM, and to have better infrastructure in Europe we are exploring possibilities around collaborations with counterparts and governments.

WE MUST conduct further studies before we can decide whether the S2000 should be reinvented or not. I hear many voices expressing an interest, and Honda’s engineers are always quick to respond to requests for sporty cars, but the sales people must be enthusiastic.

IT IS UNFORTUNATE that we had to part ways with McLaren before fulfilling our ambitions [in F1], however this is the best course of action for each other’s future.

ENGINEERS ARE ALWAYS QUICK TO RESPOND TO REQUESTS FOR SPORTY CARS

Honda's