It’s a frigid March morning, and I’m standing outside of Honda’s corporate office in Aoyama, nestled deep in the heart of Tokyo, Japan. Less than 48 hours prior I was at the Honda Performance Manufacturing Center, where the new NSX is built, and it felt strange being back in the thick of it, albeit on the opposite side of the planet. But I was determined to get answers from the people behind the “H badge.” Thanks to a friendly guy who goes by the name of “Sushi,” I had one hell of a good contact in place.
Sushi-san had set me up with none other than Ben Nakamura, a seasoned veteran hailing from Honda’s PR department. Nakamura has near seen it all, both in America, and back in Japan. This is a guy who has done everything from oversee PR for Honda’s Formula 1 team to rebuilding of consumer trust in the fallout after the Takata airbag debacle, and now he’s facing his greatest challenge yet: Dealing with my inquisitive ass.
Over tiny cups of coffee, Nakamura starts delivering insights that even a fan like me didn’t know. For instance, did you know that Honda designed the infamous Suzuka Circuit back in 1962, when Japan didn’t even have freeways connecting major cities? Or that the first car it sold to the public wasn’t even a car, but a truck called the “T360?”
Over the next few hours, he covered everything from America’s “demand for more power and more attractive designs” in the cars they buy, to the the evolution of alternative fuel options. And at the end of it all, I felt both a bit overwhelmed and humbled. And as I stood outside the “Championship White” headquarters in the freezing rain, I tried to let it all sink in. Straight from Aoyama, Japan, here are seven things you probably never knew about Honda.
In October of 1946, Soichiro Honda established the Honda Technical Research Institute in Hamamatsu, Japan in order to develop and produce small 2-cycle motorcycle engines. Two years later, Honda Motor Company, Ltd. was born, and in 1959 Honda opened a tiny shop in Los Angeles with six employees, a trio of extremely well-made motorbikes, and a dream. Over the next 50 years Honda has released a massive amount of motorcycles, from the insanely fast CBR, to the puttering little 50cc Super Cub.
But what most people don’t know is that most of Honda’s early cars had 2-cylinder motorcycle engines powering them! Utilizing what was readily available, these motors were already deemed reliable, and since the cars weighed little more than a sushi roll, slapping air-cooled motorcycle motors in them was a no-brainer. Most of these motors barely crested 36 horsepower, but the cars they powered were typically smaller than the original MINI.