Updated: Oct 11, 2020
The CRX-R is an Oxymoron of sorts. Such a car was never produced, even as a concept by Honda. In brotherhood with the EF chassis Civic, which shared many common parts, the CR-X Coupe was combined as the first to encapsulate the venerable B16A V-Tec engine.
To start with, we ought to pay homage to the temple of V-Tec & put the original engine into perspective: Back in 1989 when Honda unleashed the 16A DOHC V-Tec engine, Japan was at the peak of its domestic bubble economy and Japan’s manufacturers were fighting for attention. They each wanted to showcase their abilities to produce excellence, primarily focused on supplying exciting cars for the domestic market’s youngsters, who for the first time in Japan's history were about to be spoilt rotten for choice.
Back then, the hottest of hot-hatches the Europeans were mass-producing to cater for strongly demanding customers, were Volkswagen’s 112 bhp Golf and Peugeot’s venerable 205 1.9 GTi.
Now - as Honda unleashed these new, powerful, high-revving lightweight cars, complete with double-wishbone suspension and resultant handling prowess, the goalposts were moved as a rude awakening for the European manufacturers.
The new kid on the block had duly arrived from Japan and promptly ran rings around the competition, before running off into the distance, leaving red faces & neck hairs stood on end from the sound of its high-revving engine; most except the most agile unable to see which way the little Honda had disappeared through twisty country lanes.
The chassis was already something special, which arguably gave the little Honda better chassis control than designs of the day from European manufacturers who'd favoured the cheaper to produce McPherson strut front & rearward trailing arm designs. Brakes included discs at each corner on V-Tec models and Honda had paid attention to every detail, even keeping the best for the domestic market with such offerings as a Torsen limited-slip differential, Close ratio Y1 Transmission and 3.0 turns lock-to-lock power-assisted steering.
The Japan market, as was usual back in the day, got all these toys and more including such options spanning from a glass roof, to an A-pilar-mounted map reading light, as well as air conditioning as standard for the JDM market. The Europeans had to make-do with inferior gear ratios, no LSD, slower steering, no glass roof and a lot less options. Some might wonder if the youngsters of Japan were spoilt in the 80's heyday, when it is said that cigars were sometimes lit during social evenings using ¥1,000 bills. Yes, I visited Japan for the first time in 1993. I saw, I gawped and I envied kids the same age as I, getting about usual all sorts of cool cars & bikes. My then Japanese girlfriend's mother also drove a near new 1.6i CRX, just to rub it in.
Soichiro established Honda in 1948, taking advantage of the opportunity to provide cheap transport to the masses of Japan as the country rebuilt itself after the war. He’d always had engines first and foremost in his heart.
Gasoline flowed through his arteries and motorsport was an integral part of his DNA. Under his stewardship, Honda went from strength to strength, first focusing on winning championships on 2-wheels as far back as 1959 at the Isle of Mann Tourist Trophy and continuing to climb from thereon. In the mid-’60s, entering F1, Honda learnt from its experiences, victories and tragedies before reigning supreme from 1986 to 1991 with the best drivers including Ayrton Senna, whom many diehard F1 fans consider to have been the best racing driver, ever. Period.
Soichiro Honda had lived through the excesses of Japan’s bubble economy & finally passed away in the summer of 1992, shortly after the production of the EF chassis cars ended and was replaced with the EG chassis.
With his love of Motorsport in mind and Hamamatsu’s factory not far away from Fuji’s circuit, Soichiro was put to rest at Gotemba Cemetry with Fuji looming in the background where his spirit would be able to regularly hear the sound of engines racing at full cry on the neighbouring F1 grade circuit, Fuji Raceway. The Honda Heritage museum is also an amazing collection of motorsport vehicles and engineering. Located in Motegi, Japan's circuit for Moto GP and one of the venues hosting GT racing, it's another legacy of Soichiro Honda. Visiting the museum at least once each year I never fail to find it incredible to think that well before the modern CNC machinery of today existed, Honda were manufacturing Oval-pistoned 8-valve engines for experimental GP bikes & later the NR750 road bike. Soichiro's legacy is an incredible story that this mere blog post can never hope to do justice for. Honda's engineering history is to me, heroic in so many ways.
Ayrton Senna was, as most CRX enthusiasts know, a celebrity owner of his own EF coupe, a car which he is said to have enjoyed. He was, of course also famously involved in the development of the original & ground breaking NA1 NSX.
Senna will forever be remembered for winning the hard-fought F1 titles for Honda in 1990 & 1991, doing Soichiro proud, before coming in runner up in ’92, shortly after Soichiro had passed away. He also came in as runner up in ’93 and finally moved away from Honda onto the then more dominant Renault-Williams team before his untimely & final tragic race at San Marino in 1994.
Whilst living very close to Fuji circuit for 3 years, my family & I sometimes visited the beautiful Gotemba cemetery where Soichiro was laid to rest in 1992, saddened that this man’s passing was, at least to me, the pinnacle of Honda’s N/A engineering, combined with two glorious years in F1 at the hands of Ayrton. Glorious years, after which Honda became more corporate and less passionate, except for a few less notable exceptions. The NSX-R and Mugen Civic RR spring to mind as two such instances, but I digress.
I like to believe Soichiro died a happy man. His spirit may overlook what is probably the most beautiful cemetery in Japan with an amazing view of Mount Fuji. When driving on the circuit myself, I sometimes wondered if Honda’s spirit might be enjoying the atmosphere of motor racing and scenic beauty.
It is because of the unforgettable history these two individuals truly lived through, with a passion for what they did, the total excellence in their work, that that I was ultimately inspired to create this CRX-R glass-top in tribute.
I hope its representative of something that both Mr Honda & Senna would have approved of had they each lived to have seen it.
Alas, the CRX-R was never produced by Honda in reality, but from many hours of searching for parts, diligent workmanship & a passion for automotive perfection, perhaps but one dream has been manifested, in retrospect. If you've enjoyed this blog post, subscribe below to be informed of future updates. Author: Miguel Varella-Cid
Founder & Director of JOMON CAR RENTAL