Fifty-three years ago, American Honda Motor Company opened up shop in a small, unassuming building on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. Starting life as a motorcycle dealer, Honda grew and remains relevant today because of its commitment to producing cars that, decades later, still matter. The following are perhaps the most poignant, most important cars that Honda's ever released on North American shores. While none will likely ever share space at Pebble Beach's Concours d'Elegance or roll along the auction block at Barrett-Jackson, each played its part in defining the Honda brand as we know it today.
'91-'05 NSX: Designed by the firm that's responsible for the world's most notable Ferraris, Pininfarina, and developed with guidance from late Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, the NSX couldn't help but be a success. Honda's first supercar proved that the company could deliver. Its aluminum structure; 8,000-rpm, mid-mounted V-6 with its titanium connecting rods; and Formula-derived suspension has yet to trickle down to mass-production assembly lines more than 20 years later.
'97-'01 Integra Type R: Acura's '97 and '01 Type Rs were perhaps the brand's greatest and worst achievements, respectively. Finally offering its upper-echelon Integra to North Americans was a keen acknowledgement of the U.S.'s growing tuner culture. Taking it away while much of Europe and Asia were rewarded with future models was a slap in the face.
'00-'09 S2000: Honda's 2.0L-powered, RWD roadster rivaled the heavily acclaimed Subaru BRZ and Toyota FR-S duo 12 years before either existed. A spiritual successor to Honda's original roadster, the S600, the S2000 features one of the most impressive four-cylinder engines the company's ever been responsible for and still boasts one of the highest normally aspirated specific outputs in the world.
'88-'91 CRX Si: Chances are, you're reading this because of Honda's CRX. The two-seater hatchback, with its remarkable double-wishbone suspension, put Honda on the tuner map more than 25 years ago. The Si, with its more powerful, multi-point injection engine, closer gear ratios, and sportier trim, ensured the company would stay there.
'00-'06 Insight: Before Earth-lovers called to order and deemed the Prius its vehicle of choice, there was the Insight. A pretentious statement of pseudo underconsumption the Insight was not, though. The car proved to the world that gasoline-electric hybrid technology was not only plausible but affordable. Like the NSX, the Insight was also constructed mostly of lightweight aluminum.
'99-'00 Civic Si: Regarded as Honda's most successful Si (not in sales figures but in best representing what the "Si" emblem stood for) and after 13 years of producing the trim, the '99'00 featured an honest-to-goodness twin-cam engine and one of the most desirable, close-ratio gearboxes Honda's ever made.
'92-'95 Civic: Aside from the CRX, no other Honda better embodies the brand's commitment to producing timeless designs. Proof lies in the model's exceptional resale value more than 20 years after its debut.
'94-'97 del Sol VTEC: A successor to the CRX, Honda's del Sol represents an era when Honda was willing to take risks developing enthusiast-minded vehicles. The del Sol was also the first U.S.-bound Honda to feature the company's renowned B16A engine.
'90-'93 Accord: Sales figures don't lie. Time and again the Accord has secured spots as the country's best-selling car, and for good reason. No list would be complete without it.
'93-'96 Prelude VTEC: Perhaps it was its cost of entry because its 190hp, 2.2L certainly wasn't the deterrent to the Prelude overtaking Civic and Integra sales. The Prelude showed the world that Honda was capable of more than tiny, high-rpm small-blocks. It also showed them that translucent gauge clusters and unique dashboards might be cool.
'64-'66 S600: Some say it was the original S2000. Some say it was Honda's original sports car. Weighing in at less than 1,600 pounds, there's no denying that the S600, with its DOHC, quad-carbureted powertrain and independent suspension, was a serious sports car contender. Borrowing design cues from Austin Healey but built by Honda, then the top-selling motorcycle maker in the U.S., the S600 had founder Soichiro Honda's name written all over it.
'70-'72 N600: The kei car that put kei cars on the map, the N600 borrowed its two-cylinder engine from Honda's motorcycle division and was the first Honda automobile to officially be imported into the U.S. To be sure, the N600 set the stage for decades' worth of Civic sales.
'10-'12 FCX Clarity: If the N600 best represents Honda's U.S. origins, then the FCX Clarity perhaps best represents its future. Honda's fuel-cell-powered FCX makes gross polluters out of modern hybrids. Its hydrogen fuel cell stack supplies electricity on demand (no charging required), and regenerates itself through braking and deceleration. Welcome to the future.
'75-'79 Civic CVCC: In the midst of an oil crisis, Honda's technologically advanced Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) engine met strict federal emissions guidelines without a catalytic converter. The CVCC was by no means fast nor powerful, but it pitted the brand as the automotive industry's new technological leader.
'86-'90 Legend: Acura's Legend launched an entirely new luxury car company, one that was based on Honda's tenets of reliability and longevity. Later, Acura would serve as a springboard for many new technologies through cars like the NSX and RL, which allowed for more cost-effective parts-bin engineering and concepts that trickled down to entry-level models.