(welcome our newest Sunday COAL series, which will be published in reverse chronological order. We were noting the lack of any exposure of the S2000 here recently; no more)
Celebrating a milestone while working through a most difficult and painful part of my life, relatives enabled the decision to acquire another car. Different from the usual string of utilitarian vehicles, it would be a convertible; and another Honda, due to thoroughly rewarding ownership and dealer service experiences with my 2004 Element EX. Research revealed that such a car existed: the Honda S2000. We’re off and running.
What is the S2000? Honoring founder Soichiro Honda’s lifelong passion for motorcycles, racing, and technological innovation, while continuing the legacy of his renown S500/600/800 roadsters from the 1960s, an all-new model would be designed, engineered and manufactured to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Honda motorcar.
Conceptually previewed in 1995 with production commencing in 1999, all S2000s are pretty much alike: a rear-wheel-driven two-seat roadster, with a 2.2 liter, longitudinally mounted naturally aspirated inline-4 cylinder, 16-valve dual-overhead cam engine, with VTEC (Variable valve Timing & lift Electronic Control), producing about 240 horsepower at 7800 rpm, enabling 0-60 mph in the mid-five seconds with 162 pound feet of torque @ 6500 rpm, for a top speed of about 150 mph, mated to a six-speed manual transmission. (Engine size and performance statistics are for the 2nd generation S2000, produced from 2004-2009.)
Locating S2000s for sale was the easy part; difficult was finding candidates that were lower mileage, 100% stock and neither beat-up nor wasted from having been raced. Discouraged and about to give up, Autotrader Classics was combed one last time. Great… the advertisement had just been posted the night before, the asking price looked fair, the car had less than 11,000 miles and was even the preferred color, Suzuka blue, one of about 500 U.S. 2006’s in that hue, named for the Japanese city in which the fully loaded cars were built alongside their cousin, the legendary first generation Acura NSX.
Gene, the seller, two states away, was contacted; the car was still for sale. Early in the conversation, unsolicited, he reduced the price by two thousand dollars, which would cover transportation and registration tax. The car’s 2nd owner, he religiously garaged it, maintained it’s original pristine condition, and was parting with it most reluctantly for personal reasons.
He sounded forthright, so, without even checking CarFax, money was wired and fingers crossed. After funds cleared, the S was loaded onto an enclosed auto carrier for the trek to it’s new home in the southwestern United States. Anxious, a few evenings later, receiving the delivery driver’s courtesy call was reassuring. When the car arrived, it was everything expected, and so much more. The S, fresh off the truck with no insurance, just had to be driven around the block… so, down into the cockpit I go. Ignition: rum-rum-rumble. Lights: HID’s explode up the night. Steering: watch out for the driveway ramp, this thing is low. What have I gotten myself into; SOB, this thing’s frickin’ hot.
The car staked out its territory in the garage next to the Element. A goal was set to keep the top down for the entire first year of ownership, which was met, save for one brief operational viewing. For months the windows remained down, only to reveal their tinting after the car’s first service as the grinning tech, delivered it for pick-up.
Barely broken in when it arrived, the S handles like a train on a track. Assertive revs in low gears get the car moving and at speed when VTEC engages the mild-mannered Honda breaks off it’s leash, and morphs into a hell-bent race-to-win demon. A favorite quality is it’s low-key persona that to the average observer appears like commonly seen two-seater drop-tops. Well… mmm, nnnot exactly. Although, yes, in that each successfully fulfilled it’s intended mission.
After having fulfilled a decade-long family caregiving obligation during which I could not normally be out of the house for more than three hours at a time, in the fall of 2017, receiving an invitation to spend Christmas in Georgia with friends led to the decision to enjoy newfound freedom and drive across country, instead of fly. Since the Element was approaching 200,000 miles, the S would go; we would cover the southwest, Midwest, Chicago, Michigan, New England, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and return home via the southern route. Friend Mike, a voracious racer of his 300,000-mile S2000 The Beast, advised using caution on slippery surfaces, as the back end likes to come around. Tony, the reliable, local Honda service rep, inspected the car and gave a hearty thumbs up. Some friends thought I was crazy and going to die, others wished they could ride along.
Early in the expedition came two destinations that required the low-slung sparsely-sprung S to go off-roading on washboard gravel. We crept and were jostled as earthen speed bumps were negotiated diagonally to avoid undercarriage contact. But we made it. Then came the snow…
Judiciously following the forecasts, the weather for proceeding northward appeared favorable, until, outside of Kalamazoo, a fast-moving, unpredicted lake-effect blizzard appeared out of nowhere. Consulting my cousin, Bill, a Michigan native, helped increase awareness of the conditions ahead: not good. Although traveling well beneath the posted speed limit in the slow lane of the highway, the back end could be felt slipping and sliding. And, although it was comforting to know that the S came standard with VSA, (Vehicle Stability Assist), the snow was rapidly accumulating.
While in my teenage years, Dad, a Navy fighter ace & Minnesota native, deftly taught a valuable lesson in winter driving using his Austin Healy… sort of the 1960’s version of an S2000. So now, there was no real fear of driving in the snow, remembering the time he gave the order to goose-it while going around a residential corner, spinning the car into the ditch. Getting out of the stranded Mk II 3000, he calmly said Now I’m going to teach you how to get out of a snow bank. Got it; jockeying a car around in snow would be never repeated, and winter driving became rather enjoyable.
Yet now in the S, a street-legal race car with performance tires, an unsure feeling had set in until, miraculously, an on-duty snow plow ahead in the slow lane came into view. It was closely followed for several miles onto an untrodden, otherwise indiscernible offramp. Alas, it pulled over to park, leaving the S alone again, now on a snowy two-lane country road, but at least it was off the highway. Locals began to back up behind the out-of-state, out-of-place little slowpoke, when a Budget Inn was spotted: safe at last. After registering and unpacking, a progress report was emailed to Bill. He responded, asking what type of car was being driven and then signed off by typing that he and his wife Debby keep their S2000 garaged in winter… what? None of us knew about another S being in our family. What was the likelihood?
By the next morning the roads were clear from plowing and salting so it seemed safe to mount up. Back at the highway, instead of proceeding north, the S was pointed south toward Indiana where it was warmer with no prediction of precipitation. Approaching the Honda dealer service garage in Ft. Wayne, the bay door magically arose… driving into the warmth and being surrounded by techs agape at the grimy salt- snow- and ice-encrusted little warrior, the S would enjoy an underbody hose down, new wiper blades, a winterized solution of windshield washer fluid and an exterior wash & wax. That next loop of the trip was instead made in an Enterprise 4×4 crew cab, which earned it’s keep, as it snowed both days up in Bay City while the S was at the Honda spa, for a well-earned soak in the hot tub, facial and full-body rubdown.
More good fortune was bestowed on the S while in Connecticut. My brother Tom’s driveway and surround were blanketed with snow and ice, so the decision was made to turn the S around while parking for an easier departure. After backing up just a few feet, a horrendous, chalk-on-blackboard sound was heard, the S shuddered and came to a grinding halt; it would move neither forward nor backward. #$%&! Getting out, it became evident that the wheels had gone off the driveway, as the S was hung-up mid-ship on an adjacent, snow-covered granite outcropping. Surprisingly, Auto Club could not provide assistance, so a jack-of-all trades was called in by Tom’s son-in-law, Rob, and by the time a nice dinner out concluded and we returned home, the S was found sitting pretty, unscathed, ready to go. And, there was no charge for the service call.
A third stroke of good fortunate on this 8,000 mile, one-month journey occurred in Washington D.C. The S was parked near a museum by the White House. Returning to sit in the car to plan the next destination, a bump was felt when a driver in a Ram 1500, backing into the space ahead, misjudged the distance between the two vehicles, causing his big rig’s protruding hitch receiver to tap the diminutive S’s front air dam, leaving a couple of dimples. Getting out and being told that impact was made, he stated that he hadn’t even felt the bump, but was very nice, providing information on his insurer that, upon returning home, handled the front end restoration and alternate transportation. Fortuitous timing, the S was as good as new.
While still in the district, another example of good car karma: a nighttime tour of the floodlit monuments and the first time paying respects at the new WWII and 911 Pentagon memorials was deeply moving. Recognition and gratitude for all Americans who sacrifice and serve for freedom; thank you one and all. Afterward, and having attended high school and college while living in nearby northern Virginia, the general direction for then driving over to Georgetown for a dinner of reflective meditation was recalled, but while on the parkway leading away from the National Mall it became evident that GPS would be needed to continue.
In order to stop for mapping, a closed-off street exit was approached, with what was just enough room for the S and one of D.C.’s finest, who seemed to be there only to monitor traffic. Parked and researching the route, an abrupt tap-tap-tap on the window was startling; the flashlight-wielding officer appeared and he did not look happy. While listening to the explanation of how it wouldn’t seem to matter to stop there momentarily, deadly serious, he interjected that it did matter and sternly but courteously provided directions. And, commanded an immediate departure. Parting amicably and while backing up, the street sign Observatory came into view; aha, Observatory Hill is the name of the vice president’s residence. Yes, the S and I were parked at Mike Pence’s back door. Pretty lucky having sidestepped being escorted out of our nation’s capital in chains and handcuffs.
Whether cornering on twisting backroads, thundering toward redline on freeway merges, transiting the great state of Texas at 80-90 mph or simply running neighborhood errands, driving the S2000 always puts a smile on my face and just feels right… engaging, exhilarating and entertaining. Helping me to begin a new volume in life, gratitude is felt for the good fortune of having found this once-in-a-lifetime car, or for it having found me, at the precise time an uplift was desperately needed. Later, when I become no longer able to drive the S, it will be passed to it’s next owner, who will, hopefully, maintain, enjoy and appreciate being the next caretaker of this milestone automobile. Thanks for riding along to share it’s journey.