Honda has a rich motorsports history stretching back to the 1960s, but you wouldn’t necessarily have known it by looking at the company’s automotive offerings. Unlike most other manufacturers Honda rarely marketed performance-oriented versions of its cars in its early decades—or even seemed to acknowledge the existence of its racing heritage within its production car line, relying instead on its motorcycles to carry the performance torch. But they certainly did not lack for confidence in their automotive engineering skills; barely one year after the introduction of Honda’s first four-wheel vehicle—the tiny T360 truck in 1963—the company decided to go racing … in Formula One! As absurdly ambitious as that notion would seem, it didn’t take long for Honda to become competitive, scoring their first win in the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix.
By that time Honda was also building a road-going sports car—a 2-seat micro roadster called the S500 (“S” for Sport and “500” for its 531cc engine)—which can fairly be called Honda’s first production performance car. Bumps in displacement over the next few years led to the S600 and S800 evolutions before the model was retired in 1970—and with it Honda performance went on hiatus for nearly 15 years as the company built its reputation on supremely reliable, fuelefficient—but slow—economy cars. The “S” badge would return in 1983, tacked onto a version of the model the company had become known for: the Civic. That 85-horsepower Civic S is not exactly what we think of today as a hot hatch, but the benchmark VW GTI only had 90hp that year and it weighed 200 pounds more. Still, it would take another two years—and the addition of a lowercase “i”–before Honda’s performance mojo would truly return.
Contrary to popular belief, the genesis of Honda’s Si trim was not a Civic. Well, not quite. The Si (the “i” denoted the presence of fuel injection) debuted on two models for 1985: the Prelude Si 2-door coupe and the stubby little 2-seat CRX Si (which, to be fair, is basically a Civic hatchback with the back seat cut out of it). The CR-X Si weighed less than 1800 pounds so it was reasonably quick for the day, and because it was nearly as wide as it was long it was about as nimble as a frontdriver gets. A Civic Si followed in ’86 for those missing the back seat, but the CR-X Si was the model that put Honda back on the performance map. But it was the arrival of Honda’s signature variable valve timing system—known the world over as “VTEC”—in 1989 that took things to a new level.
VTEC KICKS IN
Do you remember where you were when the VTEC kicked in for the first time? The first production cars to receive Honda’s innovative “variable valve timing & lift electronic control” were introduced to the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) in 1989: the Honda Integra XSi (which we got in the USA—without VTEC—as the second-generation Acura Integra GS), followed by the Civic SiR. Both were powered by the same B16A inline-4 which, thanks to VTEC, made an impressive 170 horsepower from just 1.6L. Honda had pioneered its variable timing technology on its sport motorcycles some years earlier but these two models brought it to the mainstream.
VTEC arrived stateside in the revolutionary practical exotic car—the Acura NSX—in 1991, followed by a GS-R version of the Integra in 1992. Variable valve timing was not exclusive to Honda even back in 1989, but by varying the cam lift as well as the timing Honda’s version was both more efficient and, perhaps more importantly, more noticeable from behind the wheel. Enthusiasts could hear and feel the VTEC “kicking in,” lending a visceral element to their car’s performance. Plus, Honda’s system had the coolest name. Those two factors propelled “VTEC” from a just another technical acronym to a buzz word in the cultural lexicon of import performance enthusiasts. Honda would ultimately decide that having two different naming conventions for essentially the same trim level was too confusing, so it dropped the XSi and the SiR would prevail as the top performance trim level, eventually appearing on Civics, Integras, Accords, and Preludes. That “X” was reassigned to another Honda project—one that would shake up the automotive world in 1990: the NSX.
HONDA’S X FACTOR: THE NSX AND THE BIRTH OF THE TYPE R
America met the first ever practical mid-engine supercar as an Acura (Honda’s prestige nameplate for the US market) but like the Integra it was badged as a Honda in the rest of the world. The car was powered by a 3.0L version of Honda’s C-series V-6 that powered many of the company’s mid-size sedans, but thanks to double overhead cams equipped with VTEC it made 270hp and could soar to 8000rpm.
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RALLY CAR REVOLUTION
30 YEARS THAT REINVENTED THE SPORT OF RALLYING
THE COMPLETE BOOK OF CORVETTE: EVERY MODEL SINCE 1953
The Corvette is known the world over as “America’s Sports Car.” With eight generations spanning seven decades, the Vette has a lot of history behind it and there is much to learn— and much to celebrate—about this iconic machine. As the title of the book by Mike Mueller makes plain, The Complete Book of Corvette: Every Model Since 1953 is here to help readers do both. Newly revised and updated to include the 2020 C8 Corvette, this volume provides excellent context on how the Vette has evolved into the world-class supercar that it is today.
Maisto - 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
A mid-engine makeover makes the C8 great
JOHNNY LIGHTNING DOES REAL MUSCLE IN MINIATURE
I had plans well underway for the big “Bargain Muscle Cars” feature story in this issue (p18) when I saw this lineup for the new Muscle Cars USA 2020 Release 3 from JL. I already knew I would be talking about the Dodge Dart GTS and AMC Rebel Machine, so I figured I’d just plunder those two cars from this set for that story and be all set. But then my conscience kicked in. Both because the other four cars in the set deserve their moment in the sun, and because they are all based on actual cars from the 2019 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals show it just makes sense to talk about them together.
HOT WHEELS LIFE SIZE
Hot Wheels has been having full-size versions of its iconic 1:64 diecast cars made since 1998, and lots of fans have gotten to see them at various car shows and events like the Hot Wheels Legends Tours. But most of those appearances were static displays. About a year ago Hot Wheels decided to give fans a chance to see what it was like to drive the cars in its Garage of Legends by teaming up with MotorTrend’s streaming network to produce a series of episodes highlighting six of the most popular—and outrageous—creations.
BARGAIN MUSCLE CARS
The evolution of affordable performance
GT Spirit - LB Works vs Roush Stage 3 Mustangs
Form vs function for Ford’s muscle car icon
AUTOART - 2018 TOYOTA CENTURY
1:18 | $230 | no. 78762
THE Z-CAR A TO Z
50 Years of Nissan’s Quintessential Sports Car
The '55 Chevy Gasser is not slowing down
It seems the old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same” still rings true, especially for the Hot Wheels `55 Chevy Gasser! The Gasser has been in the spotlight continuously from the moment it was released, and it shows no sign of slowing down. First released in 2013, this high-riding 1955 Chevy Bel Air was designed by Brendon Vetuskey.
WITH FAST 9 SLATED FOR A JUNE 25 RELEASE, WE EXAMINE THE FRENCHIE'S INFLUENCE
NOTHIN' BUT A GOOD TIME
TWO TYPE R’S, AND THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE AROUND HERE
2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport HPD
Perception Matters: Looking more like a truck is no bad thing
National Cycle VStream Sport Windscreen for Honda Africa Twin
There are many ways to improve motorcycle rider comfort, covering everything from bar risers to footpegs. Having done almost all of them, I decided to switch out my stock windscreen to see if it made a difference, especially on long trips.
THE SUZUKI HAYABUSA
Suzuki said the first Hayabusa invented a new category called Ultimate Sport. We said, “Yeah, right,”…until we rode it.
ASSAULT ON PIKES PEAK EXPEDITION II
Forty-three years ago, we did it with a Honda 50 and a Stella 10-speed bicycle...
2020 KTM 390 ADVENTURE
BIG BIKE IMPACT IN A SMALL(ER) BIKE’S FRAME
THE JUNKYARD CIRCLE OF LIFE
Though the notion is strange to my non–car-enthusiast friends, HOT ROD readers will appreciate this—I like to go to junkyards, whether or not I’m actually looking for a specific part.
So. Much. Cake.
HONDA FINALLY HAS A HYBRID SUV TO CHALLENGE TOYOTA'S DOMINANCE
JUST IN CASE
THE MOST FUEL-EFFICIENT AND MOST POWERFUL CR-V IS FINALLY HERE