It's 1:30 p.m. on a 95-degree Friday about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, and I'm eating hamburgers with all-motor drag race champion and Drag Cartel owner Jeremy Lookofsky. Never mind the first-ever eight-second pass he made late last year or the complexities of his tube-framed Civic, Jeremy's a simple guy and orders his burger exactly how the burger maker says he should. Not me. I strike the cheese from my order and substitute whatever it is they call their special sauce for mustard and ketchup. Just as I polish off what's left of the onion rings, I realize something very special about Jeremy--he's quite possibly the last man standing in the lexicon of Honda's early drag racing pioneers.
That Jeremy is among the few remaining racers to have consistently and professionally paid homage to the dragstrip since the mid-1990s isn't necessarily impressive by itself. That he's continued to do so behind the wheel of some sort of Honda is. Staying true to the Honda bloodline isn't easy for everyone. Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Scion have each made it difficult for Honda loyalists to remain, well, loyal. Factory turbocharged engines as well as AWD and RWD layouts have a funny way of doing that. And when you compare, for example, the K20Z3 against Mitsubishi's 280hp 4G63, things begin to look a little grim in Honda land.
One need only to look beyond the obvious headline horsepower comparisons to discover how special Honda's brood is, though. The Civic Type R's B16B engine, developed for the 1997 model year for Japanese consumers, boasts one of the most impressive horsepower-per-liter coefficients of any production vehicle. Few automakers have the ability to produce more than 115 hp from a single liter of displacement with piston speeds high enough to make a street bike blush, all under the confines of a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty. For perspective, the 2002 Pontiac Sunfire weighs in at just a touch over 52 hp per liter with piston speeds somewhere in the neighborhood of a German tank. Even Honda's humdrum B16As are nearly as impressive with their 1.74:1 rod-to-stroke ratios--a figure generally reserved for machines where brake jobs cost more than rent. It's engine geometry like this that makes it easy for people like us to stay true.
It isn't easy to talk about Honda feats without mentioning the NSX. Even if it weren't for its titanium connecting rods--a material seldom used in production vehicles, even today--its aluminum chassis and suspension continues to blow minds. And Honda's V-6 engine technology has only gotten better since the release of that first supercar. More compact, more powerful renditions of the company's six-cylinder VTEC mills can be had in almost any flavor, producing as much as 305 hp on TL SH-AWD models--that's 15 more than what the world's leading Japanese supercar offered just a decade ago but with back seats and a life-size trunk to go with it. And if you've been eyeballing Scion and Subaru's FR-S and BRZ love children, perhaps you should revisit the S2000-a properly balanced roadster if there ever was one, and with roughly 40 more horsepower when compared to the other guys, all courtesy of Honda...14 years ago.
They say there comes a point in every Honda fan's life when he's to give up his Civic or Integra for something more grown-up, which is all-too-often and all-too-predictably something turbocharged, the antithesis of FWD, or European. But with special cars--like anything from Honda's Type R fleet, the NSX, the GS-R, even the TL--it doesn't need to be that way. And it needn't take a basket full of burgers with the first all-motor Honda driver in the eights to figure that out.