Honor takes precedence in Japan and there is no better place for Honda to show off its proud heritage than at Twin Ring Motegi race track a few hours outside of Tokyo.
On the grounds of the park-like race track's hilly and forested terrain, the rather industrial-looking Honda Collection Hall serves as the automaker's museum. Divided into three floors, the museum contains an extensive collection of both street and racing versions of Honda's motorcycles and passenger cars, plus hints of its less glamorous but still important products like generators, lawn mowing equipment and marine power. At the time of our visit, Honda also dedicated a large portion of its display to the history of ASIMO, its remarkably humanoid robot.
Topped perhaps only by the Dutch in terms of their love for the bicycle, the Japanese have a rich heritage of motorizing the two wheel machines. About half of the museum's floor space is dedicated to motorcycles, which seems a little unfair given how much less space they take up compared to cars and trucks.
As a result, Honda only has about one third as many cars on display, but the breadth of the collection is more notable than its depth.
In the entryway of the museum, for example, sits a 1924 Curtiss Special race car, an elegant and sleek – by period standards – performance machine that was built by then-18-year-old mechanic Soichiro Honda. The automaker's founder's humble beginnings stand in stark contrast to arch rival Toyota, which was a well-established loom maker before a family heir pushed the company to produce vehicles.
Since Honda didn't actually begin building four-wheeled vehicles en masse until the early 1960s, it would be easy, if not fair, to state that the company doesn't have much of a history. However, the powder blue T360 mini pickup – the brand's first model – offers several glimpses into what eventually became a gigantic global automaker.
The big H logo that adorns the T360 showed that Honda was already a known entity for its motorcycles. Taking a page from trucks designed for Europe, the T360's engine is mid-mounted for optimal space and weight balance.
The truck might have been Honda's volume model, but the S500 sports car (a red one is on display at the museum) hints that the T360 was merely a means for justifying something vastly more entertaining. With a 9,500 rpm redline (and a gauge that, literally, goes to 11 – 11,000 rpm, that is), the S500 is an intriguing fusion between motorcycle and roadster.
That injection of passion is found in almost every model Honda had on display during our visit, although not all are as obvious as the S-badged roadsters or the Honda NSX (sold here as the Acura NSX) mid-engine high performance car.
But what good is a sporty car without some competition credentials? Honda reserved one of the museum's three floors to its storied racing heritage. Though the Honda-dominated Indycar series reigns supreme in North America, the automaker has competed in numerous series across the globe. A few Formula 1 vehicles serve as a reminder that Honda was long a major player in that series – and many anticipate that the big H will be back in F1 before long.
Enjoy the photo gallery. We've attempted to precede every vehicle photo with a shot of a placard or sticker that serves as an identifying marker. We also included a handful of motorcycle shots for the two-wheel enthusiasts out there.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.
Note that Google has mapped out a lap around Twin Ring Motegi with Street View... you're bound to find a quintessentially Japanese surprise at the finish line. The Honda Collection Hall is just south of the track on the other side of the road marked 291. If you've found what looks like a dirt oval track, the Collection Hall is across the large parking lot.