I’ve seen my fair share of souped up Skylines with dodgy decals and fart-canned Supras with ridiculous rims. There are many wannabe drifters and boy racers prancing about the streets of the Japanese capital. It’s a popular pastime – a sub-culture, even. Just like it is in most countries, only done the Japanese way, i.e. cranked up to 11 on the attention to detail. Plus, they have an abundance of domestically-sourced material to work with. But as I rounded the corner and saw this Civic, it struck me as being rather different.
For one thing, this was a Honda hatchback – not the usual RWD (or AWD) JDM hooptie material. And the decals looked pretty convincing. Could this be an actual racing Civic Si? Well, how likely would it be to just find a genuine 35-year-old Mugen-kitted Honda in a pristine yet seemingly race-ready state, just parked curbside on a random north Tokyo street? I have no idea. Let’s just take a look and see what we think.
Googling the name on the windshield rendered nothing of interest, but then my linguistic shortcomings are pretty substantial. Photo searches have produced many cars that appear quite similar to this one, down to the specific colour schemes and most decals, so if this is a recreation, it’s a damn good one. But then you’d expect that a Japanese recreation of a mythical beast such as the Civic Si Mugen Motul would be just like the real thing.
The interior also looks very convincing. Honda’s sort-of-independent racing arm Mugen took charge of the Civic Si preparation in 1986, after the car was raced pretty convincingly in the 1985 Japanese Touring Car (JTC) Championship by privateers. The tiny FWD hatchback kicked its RWD rivals’ butt so comprehensively in 1986-87 that they had to switch platforms a bit sooner than expected.
Honda had started the ball rolling with the introduction of the Civic Si in late 1984. The Japanese version of that car, unlike the one sold in the US, featured the new 1.6 litre DOHC all-alloy 16-valve ZC engine that churned out 120hp – enough to enable the Civic to reach 200kph. But in the Mungen Motul version, the significantly lightened car’s ZC was pushed to 180hp, so this was the proverbial pocket rocket.
Quite a few oddities are to be found on this particular car, so I’m assuming it’s at least had a bit of restoration, if it really is what it purports to be. The two biggest “WTF” moments to be found on this car are, interestingly, located on the roof. I’ve not been successful in translating what is written next to this drawing (I did show this to a native speaker, but the writing was deemed illegible), but whoever penned this certainly knows how to draw manga on a rear spoiler… Quite a niche skill!
Next up, we have the old-fashioned Japanese Imperial flag on the sunroof. This does not necessarily have the same connotations in Japan it does in other countries – obviously, display this in China, Korea or the Philippines and you’ll get a decidedly unfavourable reaction. Many Japanese people are justly wary of it as well, seeing as it has a clear militaristic (and hegemonic) overtones, reflecting a philosophy that is no longer widely popular, to say the least.
But the fact remains that this infamous flag is still, to this day, the official Japanese naval ensign. There is a much smaller version of that loaded emblem on the front bumper, too.
The last oddity, which you might have glimpsed on previous photos, are the spooky Jason Voorheesesque hockey masks on the seat backs. Now that gives it a zing! It’s a pity there are so few interesting old Hondas around, but thanks to all those weird touches, this one would have warranted a post no matter the make.
I have no idea why old Hondas are rather rare in their country of birth, but it’s an empirical observation that is backed up by a glance at the posts I’ve written since I moved to Japan in mid-2019: Toyota: 48; Datsun/Nissan: 47; Mitsubishi: 11; Mitsuoka: 9; Isuzu: 6; Mazda: 5; Daihatsu: 5; Subaru: 3; Suzuki: 3. I left out the main protagonist for effect – and to prove my point. So how many Hondas did I find and decided to write up in this time? Five. Same as Daihatsu and Mazda.
Well, this is number six. And there are a couple of others in the pipeline. But still, this is not in proportion to Honda’s current size or their importance from a global (and especially North American) perspective. I should lay off the Mitsuokas, though. That breakdown by marque makes it seem as if there are truckloads of those about, but there aren’t. They just happen to cross my path, like those Mitsubishi Flying Pugs – I found five of those, but not a single first-gen Civic. Go figure.
Curbside Classic: 1984 Honda Civic DX (and 1987 Si) Hatchback – Peak Civic, by PN
eBay Find/QOTD: 1986 Honda Civic Si – How Do You Determine Value?, by Perry Shoar
Cohort Outtake: 1986 Honda Civic Si – Civics, Little And Not-So Little, by PN
I remember reading about Mugen performance kits for Honda CR motocross bikes back in the early ’80s. And I had wet dreams about having a Mugen CR125.
I’d love to put the factory seats back in and use it as a family car. I’d be great to pick the kids up from school in it.
‘This’ is what thinned the herd of old Hondas here they got boyracered into the scrap pile, over ambitious lowering and turbo charging beyond sane levels and suddenly they go like hell but wont steer at all, and thats the end of that project. Next.
Wild. I spent much time in the late ’80s deciding which model kits to build, this one was pulled off the shelf at the hobby shop numerous times but I always decided on something else…Great to see it in the pixeled flesh. I’m guessing Pete may actually have built it.
Actually, no. That kit would’ve come out soon after I got married, and I had other things in mind back them. Nowadays, if Tamiya were to reissue it……
Surely old Hondas are rare in Japan because of the demand for them overseas, in more exciting flavours than official exports !
Interesting side mounted tie-downs for the rear hatch.
Sunroof is enough to rule it out as real. Bad for center of gravity, so unsuitable for racing.
Perhaps people in a position to own a car in Japan viewed these as too mass-market and not unique enough. When these were new in America, Honda’s understated elegance was the unprecedented level of quality engineering at an affordable price. Owners discovered years later that while the body may have rusted to appear like swiss cheese, the powertrain and drivetrain were indestructible. In 1990 I was 17 and got my first ride in a friends 85 Civic wagon. Compared to my family’s 83 domestic car who’s maker shall remain anonymous it was positively transformative.
Honda is a far smaller company, at least on the automobile side, than Toyota and Nissan, and especially so back in the 1980s and earlier. Here in the US (and perhaps Europe as well?) I think they seem larger than they actually are, much having to do with Honda having decided to focus on the US market and being an early investor in building here and then later in Europe as well, primarily the UK, in addition to a lot of publicity from the auto racing / engine supplier side. In other words they sell a higher percentage of their smaller total output away from the home market.
In Japan it seems that there are (and have been) far more smaller Hondas running around rather than their larger models while Toyota (and Nissan) sell a far larger range with many more versions of those overall. Perhaps the Japanese consumer sees Honda as more of an offshoot of the motorcycle heritage (as with Suzuki) and thus views them as more of a smaller car specialist?
In sum, perhaps you see/notice less of them because there ARE less of them, and the model range historically was always smaller than that of their larger competitors, Toyota and Nissan. I could be totally off base, of course, but it seems to make sense and is what I recall. Conversely if you covered motorcycles and scooters (and generators and lawnmowers and robots etc), the Honda percentage of “finds” would likely increase significantly.
As far as Mitsuoka, well, I don’t know. Perhaps they are the moths to your particular flame? I am surprised at how many you do seem to see, I think I saw a grand total of one (and it was a fleeting sight) when I was last there, I know I saw more Alfa Romeos.
Sorry I’m only replying now to your very perceptive message, Jim.
By and large you’re right of course. Honda are a smaller company than the twin giants Nissan and Toyota, for sure. Thw distortion is chiefly due to Honda’s American and Asian success, as they are not a key European player. But Mitsubishi should not be third on my list there, their cars usually leave me cold.
There is also the fact that Hondas were always extremely modern, for a Japanese car company. 30-year-old Hondas barely look out of style, whereas Nissan and Toyota had some designs that were very conservative and were built for eons. Honda never really did that. So in today’s traffic, older Accords just blend into the background to me. I really have trouble even seeing old Hondas, it’s weird.
Present-day JDM Hondas are plentiful, but in very different segments than they occupy abroad: their current N Kei cars are extremely popular, but their family & executive cars are not.
So it seems Honda are selling small cars in Japan, big cars in the US and medium-sized ones across the Asia-Pacific. The sum total, if you also add the motorcycles, generators, etc., makes a huge company, but it’s not quite a clear-cut giant like the other two.
Mitsuoka being “a moth to my flame” – I’m going to have to borrow that. Especially since I found another new one this weekend 😜…