Take a peek inside Honda’s ‘secret’ Torrance museum – LA Daily News
1999 Honda Sprocket Concept Car. Tour of the private American Honda Museum in Torrance. David Heath is the Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing and Brand Licensing for American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer
In a building with blacked-out windows in an anonymous, unmarked light industrial park on Van Ness Avenue in Torrance sits American Honda’s “secret” museum.
The collection traces the company’s U.S. history from its first primitive product, a 50cc motorcycle, to today’s HondaJet, the world’s most advanced light jet.
The American Honda Collection Hall, as it is formally known, is something of a doppelganger to the better known Toyota USA Automobile Museum that often hosts high-profile community events.
The 30,000-square-foot Honda museum sits at the south end of the same industrial building as the Toyota museum to the north. But it is open to the public far less and has a much lower profile, earning it the “secret” designation from those who have been inside.
That’s a bit of an overstatement, but the 15-year-old museum is largely open only to Honda employees and the occasional community function.
“This museum and collection is really to chronicle the milestone cars for American Honda,” said curator David Heath. “This is really a look at what we’ve done in the U.S. market. How we have grown from motorcycles to automobiles and to look at the vehicles that have led to that success. There’s about 40 cars, 15 race cars and about 10 concept cars and 20 or so motorcycles.”
There’s also a replica of Honda’s original modest storefront that opened in 1959 on Pico Boulevard.
Mopeds, engines and pop culture
A time line on one wall follows the company’s evolution, including its effect on pop culture (the 1960s-era hit song “Little Honda”) to an example of the ubiquitous red-and-white mopeds that whizz around every Jan. 1 on the route of the Rose Parade, which Honda sponsors.
And there’s a line of car, boat and other engines at one end of the room.
“We are the world’s largest engine manufacturer, and we love our engines,” Heath said. “So these are some examples of milestone engines. You can’t throw away race cars and you can’t throw away cutaway engines, so we kept them all.”
Interestingly, most pieces in the collection were purchased second- or third-hand from their owners. Because the museum was something of an after-thought for the young company, it hadn’t squirreled away pristine examples of brand-new vehicles as they rolled off the production line.
So that means, for example, there’s a 1970s-era black Honda Civic rally car that a former employee raced on weekends, its paint and body showing the rigors of the sport.
“It’s a funky car,” Heath said. “It’s all dented up, it’s all banged up, it’s all glued together, but we just love it. It’s really the first Honda race car.”
There are much more exotic and technologically advanced race cars, too, including a selection of championship winning Indy cars and a dirt-spattered prototype 2009 Acura 2003 that Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran drove to victory in his final race at Laguna Seca.
“It came from the race straight here and its got dirt from the race still on it,” Heath said. “They won’t let me clean it.”
To the first-time viewer, it’s a little disconcerting to see a line of ordinary-looking Hondas — Accords, Civics, Acuras — lined up in a museum.
But each has special significance for Honda, including:
• The modest 50cc motorcycle Honda first attempted to sell to hunters and outdoors enthusiasts on consignment at sporting goods stores.
When that didn’t work, the company tried a different approach: hiring an ad agency to create a lifestyle ad showing students and other ordinary folk tooling around on the motorcycle with the tag line “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” Sales took off.
• The original 1976 Accord — list price: $3,995 — that last week marked its 40th anniversary as the best-selling car ever in the U.S.
• A 1983 Accord LX, the first Japanese car built in the U.S.
• A 1984 Civic Wagon, which with its high-profile body slathered with windows on all sides was a precursor to today’s SUVs. “When people saw this car, they said, ‘Boy, that’s an ugly car,’ ” Heath said. “It was too much of a shock for the consumer. They weren’t ready for it in 1984.”
•A 1986 Acura Legend, the first luxury car division created by a Japanese manufacturer. “We were before Infiniti, before Lexus,” Heath said. “We had a place for Honda owners to go besides BMW and Mercedes.”
• And a 1991 bright red Acura NSX two-seater sports car that was the first mass-produced car to feature an all-aluminum body.
“It shocked the super-car world,” Heath said with a chuckle. “It was reliable. It was something you could drive every day. It didn’t cost an arm and a leg for maintenance, but was still exotic and high-performance.”
And it was a Honda.