1. Honda was the world's largest motorcycle maker by the 1960s. But Honda also wanted to make automobiles, which led to the N600, a car considered by many to be a sort of precursor to the Civic. The N600's 599cc engine—from which its name was derived if you bother to round up—only made 45hp, and at 1,356 lbs, would cost you about a buck a pound.
2. The first Honda wasn't even a Honda at all! In 1928, before the company was formed, the automaker's founder, Soichiro Honda, plopped a Curtiss-Wright V8 aircraft engine into a Ford that he used to set a 75mph Japanese speed record.
3. Even after Soichiro Honda established his first manufacturing company in 1937, it was nothing at all like what the automaker would later become. Here, Honda manufactured and supplied piston rings to what would later be his competitor—Toyota. The company shut down after WWII and was restructured as Honda Technical Research Institute where he began experimenting with internal combustion engines.
4. Honda was hardly synonymous with racing or with going fast at first, despite its later, rich heritage that includes Formula One, CART, Indy Racing League, IndyCar Series and more. A '65 Mexican Grand Prix Formula One win at the hands of driver Richi Ginther changed all of that, though, forever altering the company's stereotype of not being able to win a race.
5. The winning didn't stop there. Former Honda district service representative Bob "Honda Bob" Boileau's championship-winning, '74 SCCA Civic held the title of the World's Fastest Civic throughout the late-1980s and early 1990s, reaching speeds as high as 146mph.
6. In 1994 Honda found itself among the ranks of CART as a works engine supplier and, ultimately, transitioned to the IRL IndyCar series in 2003. It's here that Honda's H13R engine was used to dominate the series in 2004. Two years later, Honda was its sole engine supplier at which time the 2006 Indianapolis 500 took place for the first time ever without a single engine problem. Sign up for your very own Honda racing engine now: packages are available to race teams under lease-only arrangements at about $1,000,000 a season.
7. In 1984 Honda sought to capitalize on its racing efforts and developed a Mugen-outfitted CRX to help gauge American interest in what was then a still relatively new Japanese tuning firm founded by Hirotoshi Honda, son of Soichiro Honda. The US showed little interest in the brand, though, until Mugen's Formula One involvement, at which time the company—and its line of famed and now highly sought-after parts—had already retreated to Japan. Had the program succeeded, Mugen goods would've been made available at American Honda dealerships alongside Accord floor mats and wiper blades.
8. That infamous CRX—the one that did its part in seeking to deliver now-rarified Mugen wares to American fanboys—now rests in American Honda Motor Company's private collection hall in Torrance, CA. It's a top-secret museum located in an undisclosed, nondescript warehouse that features 51 examples of Honda's racing efforts and most beloved American-sold cars (see P. 84 for our special report).
9. Honda's private museum is full of all sorts of vehicles you never knew existed, like the EV Plus, of which only 340 were ever made. Produced from 1997-1999, it was the first battery-electric vehicle of any major automaker. The chassis was later reused to help develop alternative-fuel technology, some of which led to the current FCX fuel-cell vehicle.
10. Despite its racing efforts, Honda's spent decades developing ways to improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine. In 1975, the company attempted to forge its own path to low emissions with CVCC. Here, fuel was injected into the cylinders before ignition, resulting in reduced combustion chamber temperatures, fewer chances of detonation, reduced heat loss and lower pumping losses. This stratified-charge technology was implemented only by Honda—even though other manufacturers tried—but was ultimately discontinued in favor of other solutions, like the catalytic converter.
11. It was only a few years later that American Honda bigwigs began discussing the impending launch of a luxury car brand. In late 1985, Acura was formed and was introduced along with the Legend and the Integra. The brand's name wasn't settled upon right away, though, and was referred to as Channel Two among Honda personnel. Early Legends and Integras didn't even feature Acura's iconic caliper emblem, of which two versions exist.
12. Speaking of Acura, a small run of special, Alex Zanardi-edition NSXs were produced for the '99 model year. Similar to the Japanese NSX-S, only 50 versions of the car that honored the CART champion were ever sold and were only offered in the company's signature New Formula Red.
13. Stories of limited-production Japanese supercars cannot be told without mentioning the tale of the NSX-R GT. The fabled sports car, of which only five were supposedly built and sold for roughly $500,000 a piece, was allegedly made to comply with Super GT race car homologation requirements. Trouble is, none of those five cars nor their owners have ever surfaced, nor have any Honda personnel privy to the special-edition NSX. Like any good fairly tale, though, the lore lives on in the hearts and minds of Honda loyalists everywhere.
14. This, in case you haven't had enough NSX anecdotes: Despite its impending release, the all-aluminum two-seater had yet to be officially named. Within the halls of Honda's R&D center it was known as NS-X—New Sports eXperimental—but alternative names for its release were pending. None of them panned out, though, and the once unofficial placeholder was all of a sudden official, except for the hyphen. The car's initial emblem wasn't so permanent, though. Following the NSX's debut, Soichiro Honda ordered every Acura caliper to be removed from the cars' front bumpers and replaced with the version you know today.
15. But you're not buying an NSX anytime soon. Instead you hold 1988-2000 Civics and 1990-2001 Integras in high regard because of how easily they may be modified and their capable, double-wishbone suspensions. The 1988 Civic wasn't the first to feature the suspension layout that's made these cars among some of the best-handling front-wheel-drive platforms around, though. Nope, the 1983-1987 Prelude beat every Civic or Integra to it, bearing the double-A-arm layout up front upon its 1982 release.
16. The Accord once featured the same configuration but was never embraced by the racing community like the company's Civics and Integras have been. A whole lot more have been sold, though, and by 1990, the Accord became the first Honda to be completely designed, engineered and made in the US. It was also the first Honda to be shipped to Japan for overseas consumers. Honda has since built more than 20 million cars in the US.
17. The Accord may not have been embraced by the racing community but it was the chassis to beat within the 1990s North American Touring Car Championship. Directly related to the European series that was based on 2.0-liter sedans, the US version was backed by IndyCar investors. It was there you'd find Randy Pobst piloting the bright-yellow, TC Kline Racing Accord with its destroked Prelude powerplant and reverse-mounted cylinder head. The flipped-around top-end allowed the engine to be positioned farther back for better weight distribution as well as shorter intake and exhaust paths.
18. It wasn't long before all of this that Comptech founder Doug Peterson teamed up with American Honda for what would become the company's first factory-backed racing effort in the US. Here, under the guise of the SCCA, Peterson campaigned the Mugen-powered GT-4 CRX throughout the mid-to-late '80s before moving on to a 1986 Integra in the IMSA International Sedan series that would help introduce the Acura brand. The CRX engine that was delivered by Mugen featured 44mm Mikuni carburetors and a hand-bent exhaust header.
19. Honda's IMSA efforts didn't end with its Integra. In 1990, along with Comptech, the company sourced a used Spice chassis, later ridding it of its Pontiac engine and fitting it with a one-of-a-kind NSX powertrain that featured an entirely different engine block. The C-series derivative was stronger, featured a dry sump oiling system, steel main caps and no VTEC. Interestingly enough, the car debuted and competed under the Acura banner, however, unbeknownst to many, retained a modified version of the same four-cylinder Pontiac engine while the NSX powerplant was being prepared. Amazingly, once the NSX engine was in place, Honda engineers developed a dual-stage fuel injection system that relied on a reprogrammed factory ECU that had no idea that it was firing twice as many injectors as it was designed to.
20. Aftermarket engine management solutions were scarce also among the ranks of Honda drag racers. Pioneers who ventured into 12-, 11- and 10-second territory did so with either an Electromotive TEC-II or Accel's DFI. A DOS-based system with just a handful of modifiable fuel and ignition timing cells, DFI was the abacus of engine management and just slightly more advanced than the boost-dependent fuel pressure regulators that had been previously used.
21. It's that sort of technology that was introduced through venues like Frank Choi's Battle of the Imports. Choi's first event in 1990 drew roughly 60 cars, only two of which were Hondas, but later culminated into a Honda-centric event. Here, records were broken and the formula for import drag racing was born. Oscar Jackson and HKS revealing among some of the first turbocharged Civics, Stephan Papadakis laying down the first nine-second pass, and brothers Ed and Ron Bergenholtz demonstrating for the first time ever the usefulness of wheelie bars on a front-wheel-drive car all happened at Battle.
22. Engine modifications were just as primitive during that era. Ductile iron cylinder liners had yet to be developed for Honda's small aluminum engine blocks so engine builders like AEM's John Concialdi retrofitted pins into the block's casting that pressed against the cylinders. Pinning later led to filling engine blocks with cement and, ultimately, to companies like JG Engine Dynamics offering some of the first replacement cylinder sleeves. JG would later offer gainful employment to nearly a dozen industry pioneers who'd go on to make drag racing history. Among those insiders, the company was often endearingly referred to as JG College.
23. ZC and B-series engine swaps were happening concurrently, the latter of which required all sorts of fabrication, including welding. Bolt-in engine mount kits have since taken care of all of that, but transplants like these were arduous ones during the early '90s. A company that's long since disappeared, HCP Engineering was among the first to develop a truly bolt-in engine mount kit for B-series into 1988-1991 Civic chassis. Developed in 1991, the kit was made and distributed in small quantities among friends and then later mass produced by the middle of the decade helping spawn an entire industry of swap-specific components.