A Car Nerd's Guide To JapanAn insider look at car culture in Japan.  

Honda’s always been one to do things differently. Take VTEC as a prime example of Honda’s ingenuity. Whereas other manufacturers went with turbocharging, supercharging, and rotary engines, Honda’s engineers went with a system that changed the cam timing optimized for fuel economy at low RPMs and performance at higher revs.

It was this sort of clever technology that put Honda in a class of their own, justifying their premium over other Japanese manufacturers. They also were responsible for the NSX, perhaps the first true useable mid-engine supercar. Let’s not forget about the Beat too, the first mid-engine kei-car.

So it should come as no surprise Honda’s museum isn’t called a museum. No, that would be too mainstream for a quirky company such as Honda. Instead it’s called a “Collection Hall”, and rather than being in an industrial zone or at their headquarters, it’s located right in the middle of the Motegi Twin Ring circuit.

Located two hours outside of Tokyo, it’s a bit of a journey but well worth if for any gearhead, whether you’re a Honda fanatic or not. You can get there from Tokyo on public transportation but it’s quite costly, takes a while, and will get confusing so probably not worth doing that. Instead, rent a car and enjoy the countryside scenery near Motegi.

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Unlike Fuji Speedway or Suzuka Circuit, Motegi is mainly used for bike races and events. There’s one round of Super GT held at Motegi but that’s about it for motor racing events. Honda also does its Thanks Day event here, similar to Nissan’s NISMO Festival and Toyota’s Gazoo Racing Day at Fuji.

For the ¥1000 entry fee (about $8.75 U.S.) you can enter the Motegi Twin Ring complex, but admission into the Honda Collection Hall is free. The staff at the entrance gate will show you a map on how to get to the Collection Hall from the gate, but basically you drive two-thirds of the Twin Ring to get there. As far as museum visits go, it was one of the most special and unique.

Due to its distance from basically everything, the Honda Collection Hall is never too busy. From the outside it’s an unassuming grey building, but once you get inside it’s Honda heaven. You’re greeted by a glass sculpture with Soichiro Honda’s famous “Dream” motto written on it.

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Behind it are some of Honda’s greats including the S500 sports car, Super Cub motorcycle, and RA272 Formula One car. Tucked away to the side is the S360 prototype—remember this car for later.

The first floor consists mainly of the entrance lobby, the gift shop and restaurant to the left, and the history of Honda’s robotics experiments in the right. You may not know this, but Honda’s been trying to make machines walk like humans since 1987. The goal was to make an “Astro Boy for real.”

Through their trial and error, their work eventually became ASIMO. The cute and likable humanoid robot that has become a sort of unofficial mascot for Honda and their whole “Power of Dreams” slogan.

On the second floor Honda’s many bikes and motor cars are displayed. Honda recently celebrated their 100,000,000th Super Cub motorbike and there was a huge supply of Cubs to look at the museum. Everything from their first motorized bikes, the first Honda motorbike (the Dream D), and scooters were accounted for.

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Across the hall, past the Super Formula and Super GT cars, are Honda’s road cars. It starts off with the T360, Honda’s first motor vehicle. To most people the S500 is Honda’s first car but the T360 was the genesis of Honda Motors. It featured a 360cc engine to abide kei-car regulations at the time. Behind it were a series of its successors and Honda’s other small commercial vehicles.

To the right were a trio of Honda’s S-series sports cars: the S500 Roadster, S600 Coupe, and S800 Roadster. Not only was this car important to Honda’s history but it was important to the history of Japanese sports cars.

The introduction of the S500 spurred other Japanese manufacturers to make a sports of car of their own, giving birth to icons such as the Toyota Sports 800, Mazda Cosmo, and Datsun Fairlady.

Honda T360
Honda Life
Honda S500, S600, S800

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Moving on, we have the Honda Life, which was a kei-car foreshadowing the Civic. The Honda 1300 Coupe was an air-cooled sports car with 110hp and a 7300rpm redline, showing Honda’s potential for sporty coupes.

Then we come to the Civic. Ahead of its time, the Civic provided simple, affordable motoring in a clever front-wheel drive package arriving at a time of an oil crisis. It also arrived to the market two years before the Volkswagen Golf and would become one Honda’s most popular and lasting models.

Honda Civic (N600)

Subsequent generations of the Civic and Accord were also on display, including the Accord Aerodeck shooting break. There was also a little display signifying the Honda Electro Gyrocator from the IEEE for having the world’s first map-based automotive navigation system in the 1981 Accord.

Honda’s city car, appropriately named the City, was also shown in both hatchback and cabriolet versions. The Motocompo fold-up bike that was sold as an optional extra to fit in the boot was shown next to it. (By the way, you can see that on this season of Jason Drives.) This was a concept used by several other manufactures at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show for easy future mobility beyond the car.

Of course Honda’s sports car history hasn’t been forgotten, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so. The Beat, CR-Z, Del Sol, and Type R cars were there to remind us all of a time when Honda was at the forefront of clever and affordable sports cars. Honda chose to display the EK2 Civic Type R, Integra DC2 Type R, and NSX NA1 Type R as they are perhaps the most iconic of the Type R cars.

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Honda Type R
Honda Civic EK2 Type R
Honda NSX Type R

Seeing this section of the museum was both an indulgence and a sad reminder of what Honda used to be and where they are now. The old cars were simple, lightweight, and most importantly didn’t look like anime characters. Today’s Type R is very fast, but also a far cry from its origins. Also, Honda really needs to make a modern day coupe like the Integra.

The third floor consisted of Honda’s racing bikes and racing cars. For some reason Toyota and Mazda’s Prototype race cars were also displayed here. Considering Honda’s recent F1 engine issues, seeing their colorful history in the sport and being the first Japanese manufacturer to enter made it all the more disappointing.

Honda RA273

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Honda entered F1 early on in its history in 1964, just one year after they started making cars. The RA271 was their first entrant and something not seen before in F1, Honda made both the engine and chassis. Over the years Honda was involved in F1 as both a works team and an engine supplier. Of course the MP4/7 driven by Ayrton Senna, Honda’s final car in their second F1 era, was on display.

F1 isn’t the only motorsports Honda have been involved in. Cars from the Super GT and All Japan Touring Car Championship were proudly on show. The S800 RSC, Honda’s oldest production-based racer, was tucked away in a corner.

This particular car won the GT-1 class in the 12 Hours of Suzuka in 1968 and finished third overall.

Honda S800 RSC

Its successors also gained victories in their races. The 1987 Civic Si was the winner of all six races in the 1600cc class as well as taking the Constructor’s and Driver’s Championship of the JTCC. The Accord Si was also successful in winning a championship in 1996.

The three NSX racers were something to behold. The race car was the car that entered Le Mans in 1995, winning the GT-2 class and finishing 8th overall. The Number 18 blue NSX was entered in the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship with Mugen as the engine supplier and Dome Co. Ltd as the racing construction with Honda providing technological support. The blue No. 100 car was entered in the International GT endurance series held at Suzuka.

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Honda NSX GT-2 Le Mans

Visiting the Honda Collection Hall was a great trip down Honda’s memory lane. It was a reminder of the innovation of Honda and what made them respected and admired in the industry. Perhaps they were too ahead of their time, causing them to rest on their laurels in the last decade than continue their innovative streak. Things are picking up at least with the reborn NSX and other models.

If you’re going to visit a car museum, this should be at the top of your list. Toyota’s Automobile Museum in Nagoya was more diverse and inclusive of road cars, and full of things with importance to both the Japanese and global auto industry.

Honda’s is very much steeping their own history in bikes and cars, both for the road and for racing. Plus it’s also inside the Motegi Twin Ring circuit, and for anyone that’s played Gran Turismo, why would you not want to tick that off your bucket list?

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