So we’ve all done it. Bought something because it was there rather than because we needed it. Sometimes the purchase is flung into a drawer or cupboard, never to be used. Sometimes it’s used once or twice and then discarded once the pointlessness of its existence is realised. Sometimes though, sometimes we end up not only using the object, but actually falling in love with it! But this story isn’t about one of those times. It is, though, about how I unintentionally fell in like with my Unintentional Car Of A Lifetime I, a 1993 Honda Ascot I bought earlier this year.
“Hey Scott, what’s a Honda Ascot?” y’all who don’t live in JDM-used-import-land New Zealand are asking. Long story short(er), it’s basically a Honda Accord in drag. Not drag-racing-type drag, but party frock and sensible shoes type drag. The JDM gen1 Ascot was the CB-series from 1989-93, based on the CB Accord. So far, so simple. But the Japanese are adept at filling (creating?) niches in their domestic market, so just to confuse matters, Honda Japan built and sold another, different, CB Ascot from 1992-98! To distinguish it from the original ’89 Ascot, the ’92-8 model was named the Ascot Innova. It was badged Accord in Europe – where it had been co-developed with Rover (or whatever they called themselves that week) who also sold it as the slightly different Rover 600.
So there were
four FIVE distinct variants built on the CB platform: Accord, Ascot, Ascot Innova, European Accord, Rover 600 – are you confused yet?! Even more confusingly (or awesomely if you’re an OCD car-spotter such as myself), four models (excluding the Euro Accord) are available in NZ… EDIT: Thanks to CCer Bernard Taylor for noting in the comments that the European Accord-badged Ascot Innova had different door windows to the JDM Innova. Bizarrely the Accord version had framed glass versus the Innova’s frameless. Yet the surrounding body was unchanged which indicates more money wasting from Honda! Euro Accord pic added to the original shot above.
In 1993 the JDM gen1 was replaced by the CE-series which rocked up at the same time as the CD Accord. The CD Accord had grown a tiny tad too tubby for Japanese tastes (and regulations), so the CE Ascot sat on an updated and revised CB platform. Continuing Honda’s rudderless approach with the CB platform, the CE Ascot swapped the engine position from being transversely-mounted to longitudinal… A bizarre thing to do, but at least it gained quite pleasing RWDesque proportions. Of course it was still FWD so Honda was lying to us through styling!!
Before we continue down the road of my unintentional COAL, let’s take a side street into JDM-model-namingville. Honda, that shameless hussy, casually stole the Ascot name from the famed British racecourse, to give the car “an alleged air of class and elegance”. Or so says Wikipedia anyway. But the CE Ascot was also sold as the Rafaga, and Wikipedia has no idea where that originated. Plugging Rafaga into Google Translate reveals it to mean ‘burst’ in Spanish. Whilst not as hilariously bad as Pajero in Spanish (“Que se masturba con frecuencia!”), I’m not sure a “Honda Burst” would have sold well in Spanish-speaking lands. Although it does allow us to have fun in English – “I just ran over a piece of jagged metal and my f-ing tyre rafagaed!”, or for the younger audience, “Hold on dude, I just gotta rafaga this zit before we hit the skate park…”
Anyway, where was I? Better corral my thoughts, they’re rafagaing all over the place. Oh yeah, let’s go back to 1993 in Japan. Someone – let’s call him Takeshi – trotted into his local Honda Primo dealer and said “私は堂々と響きの名前で、何かを新しい車をお願いして購入したいのですが!”. What? You don’t read Japanese? Me neither, so to translate, Takeshi asked for a nice new car, with a regal name. “I’m sorry sir,” came the reply, ” We don’t sell the Buick Regal”. Once that wee confusion was sorted out, Takeshi’s eyes alighted (alit?) upon a charcoal grey car sitting alone in the corner of the showroom. Further enquiries revealed it to be an about-to-be-replaced Honda Ascot. And not just any Ascot, but an Ascot FBX…Limited! Definitely regal-sounding! Keen to reel Takeshi in and seal the deal with zeal before he turned heel, the dealer showed Takeshi this Honda promo video of the Ascot, and all its features. “Yo dawg, woo-hoo, this ride be pimpin’ and I be rollin’ y’all!”, said Takeshi, in a typically restrained Japanese way, and the Ascot FBX (Limited!) became his.
Despite the top-spec name, the FBX Limited actually came with the bottom-spec engine – no doubt satisfying Takeshi’s desire to avoid a display of ostentatiousness. I think that’s a real word. The engine was Honda’s familiar F-series
pick-up that powered various Hondas, Acuras and Rovers from 1988 to 2009. The Ford Honda F-series was available in a variety of capacities and levels of tune, from 1848cc to 2254cc and 88kW (118bhp) to 150kW (200bhp). 88kW didn’t seem much for a car that was 4.68 metres long (184 inches), but then again, it only weighed 1,360kg (3,000 pounds), so Takeshi found the performance to be quite adequate for his modest needs. And even though the transmission was Honda’s 4-speed automatic, he found the fuel economy to be excellent! The Buick regal Ascot had plenty of luxury features too – power windows and locking, digital air-conditioning, cup holders, nice velour upholstery, thick woollen floor mats and so many soft-touch surfaces!
After 5 years blissfully blissful blissfulness, Takeshi decided it was time for someone else to enjoy the Magnificent Honda, as he termed it. So he released the Ascot into the wild, figuring if you love something you should set it free. Plus the ashtrays were all full and he didn’t want to clean them. So with just 54,548km on the odometer, the Ascot went to one of Japan’s huge used-car auctions, and was snapped up by one of New Zealand’s used car importers. On my Grandfather’s 81st birthday, 17 November 1998, the Ascot arrived at a place named Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It was then sold to someone probably not named Takeshi. Eventually, in July 2002, it arrived on the lot of a dealer in the nearby-to-me North Island city of Hamilton.
My accountant (and my now-employer) Craig and his wife Jenny, who were also friends from Church, had started their family, and wanted something a bit bigger and newer than their 1988 Ford Telstar (a Mazda 626 in lippy and heels), so the Magnificent Honda became theirs. I remember them buying it and thinking it looked nice – Jenny almost rafagaed with pride when she told me recently that she “was so proud of that car!”, and they enjoyed it until January 2006, when their increasing family size required something bigger again (a Toyota Granvia if you feel like googling obscure JDM vehicles).
At the same time as they were selling the Magnificent Honda, my best friend Dale was looking at upgrading from his 1986 Toyota Corolla, and as he’s not into cars, he got me to test-drive the Ascot with him. Feels like only yesterday instead of almost 9 years ago! After about a kilometre, I pronounced the Honda easily – easily! – the s l o w e s t petrol car I’d ever driven. 118 horsepower? Yeah, nah, some of those horses were canned and being ingested by a nearby dog. Although, TBH, it was quick compared to Ol’ Smoky, my Glorious 1992 Nissan Laurel diesel that used 5 litres of oil per 1,000km, but I digress. Anyhoo, after negotiation, the Magnificent Honda commenced its life with Dale. I’d taught Dale to drive, and I knew he looked after his cars really well, so I figured the Honda would last him reliably for years.
Fast-forward eight years to June this year (2014), and Dale and his wife Jo decided to buy a newer car with those newfangled safety things called airbags and ABS. They also wanted a car that was cool – literally so, as the Ascot’s a/c had long since died. At the same time, my parents were wanting to sell their 2007 Subaru Legacy wagon, so a deal was struck that saw Dale and Jo buy the Subaru. Which meant they had the Magnificent Honda to dispose of. The Magnificent Honda didn’t especially want to be disposed of, as, after eight years of reliability, it broke down and refused to start on the day before the Subbie arrived. Complicating this even further was it broke down in Dale’s garage…which was under his house…at the bottom of a steep driveway…that had a 75º bend in it…
Having committed to buying the Subbie, they refused to spend any money on the Honda and offered it to me as-is-where-is for its scrap value (NZ$300), if I could get it out of their garage. My Dad’s a retired Honda mechanic, and I’m reasonably mechanically minded, so I figured the gods were on my side and for the second time in my life, I bought a Magnificent Honda! Although my first one, a 1985 CA flip-lights Accord, was an Anti-Magnificent Honda; an ill-handling lumpen leaky thing that cost me a fortune in engine repairs and made me swear off (and at!) Hondas. My behated (as opposed to beloved) CA taught me that “Honda” was an actually an acronym for Hated One, Never Drive Another! But, I knew Dale’s Ascot had been very well serviced and looked after, so I took a gamble that it could be fixed quickly and cheaply and on-sold quickly and expensively, thus leaving me rolling in riches. Oh, how we sit around and laugh now at what a jolly golly folly that turned out to be!
Once retrieved from the garage, the break-down and refusal to start was tracked down to a faulty distributor, one of three main known faults with the F-series engine. Once a replacement distributor was fitted, the car ran fine, so I sold it a week later and waved it goodbye. And then waved it hello again a couple of days later when it broke down for the new owner… After I got another of the three main known faults, the igniter module, replaced, I waved the car off again. And waved it hello again very shortly thereafter when it broke down again! The Magnificent Honda was rapidly descending into another H.O.N.D.A.!! Because I value my integrity, I gave the now-former not-new buyer his money (+an additional 10%) back, so a couple weeks after selling it, I became the owner of a less-than-Magnificent Honda for the third time in my life…
With two of the three main known faults fixed, it seemed logical that the remaining unfixed fault was at, er, fault. So the ignition wiring harness from the steering column to the fusebox was replaced, and the car was once again mobile. I’d given up on any idea of making a profit on it by now, but wasn’t happy to on-sell it until I was certain it was back to its normal level of reliability and sheer Magnificence. So for the next three months, I decided to begrudgingly drive the Ascot (FBX Limited!) everywhere, around town and on long trips, daring, willing it to break down…!
And over those three months, something unexpected, something strange began to occur…It didn’t break down and I began to fall in like with the Magnificent Honda. I know, I know, I was as surprised as you! It wasn’t rear-wheel-drive, it wasn’t achingly beautiful, it wasn’t anything like what I normally liked. But what it was, was nice. It didn’t do anything brilliantly, but neither did it do anything poorly. It was quick enough, quiet enough, rode and handled well enough, more-than comfy enough, way-more than economical enough, big-windowed-with-superb-visibility enough, and almost every interior surface was soft-touch-enough in a way that modern Hondas aren’t. But above all, it exuded a feeling of quiet solidity and reliability. It was easy to drive and easy to live with; it made life…easy.
By October this year, I had fleeting thoughts of keeping the Magnificent Honda instead of my Glorious Nissan (not Ol’ Smoky, who long since coughed his last breath), but the Glorious Nissan had airbags and ABS and working a/c. And then I unexpectedly bought My Unintentional COAL II (story coming next week!), so the Honda had to go. Within a week of advertising it, a young man by the name of Adam, with stunningly-brightly-coloured shoes, had driven it, liked it, and bought it. It had cost me over NZ$1,000 for the repairs, so true to my prediction I made no money out of it, but I almost broke even, and think I achieved something even better: I kept an old but tidy, reliable and perfectly usable car from clogging up yet another scrap yard. The Magnificent Honda gets to live another day, and will hopefully provide Adam with years of reliable service! Being something of a photographer, he very kindly took the four stylish photos of the car featured above for me. I’m pleased to see the Magnificent Honda still looking Magnificent, and who knows, maybe Adam too will fall in like with the Magnificent Honda!