Ultimate Man-Cave – Night at the Museum

Ultimate Man-Cave – Night at the Museum

2015.honda.museum-tour.atc-big-red.JPGThere are a few places in this world that are so secret they’re off limits to all but a lucky few.  The Vatican archives and art collection, NASA’s science and engineering laboratories and Hondas product planning and design center all come to mind.  Without divine intervention and a blessing from the Pope or the President, you’re unlikely to ever make it inside the first two.  In one of those miraculous moments few will ever experience though, all at once the skies opened up; we found ourselves basking in a warm glow, and angelic voices could be heard calling down to us from on high, inviting us to come know the unknowable.  That angelic voice turned out to be Honda’s Susie Hahn inviting us for an inside look at Honda’s Torrance, California headquarters and a reception at their very private museum.  Until that moment we didn’t even know they had one!  Just as mom had once hoped, we had finally received thine special calling.   

Eye of the Needle

Biblical parables warn that is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the greedy to enter eternal paradise at the Almighty’s side.  That’s just about how hard it is to be granted access to Honda facilities.  Most employees only view their particular area or discipline, and very few have even been inside the vehicle museum.  In fact, it isn’t even on the same property.2015.honda.museum-tour.headquarters.JPG

Honda’s California headquarters is really a sprawling campus.  Lacking only a football stadium, the Quad student activity center, and dorms, and it could easily pass for a pleasant college setting.  Neatly trimmed lawns frame white and blue, professional, yet somewhat reserved looking buildings.  The theme is carried inside Honda’s sprawling main lobby as well, which is understated, yet professional, featuring awards, photos and time tables of notable Honda achievements.  Some of the displays weren’t meant for the wall, so on display are ATVs, motorcycles, boat motors, mowers, small engines, and of course, automobiles.      

Surrounding the main administration building are buildings that house product development labs, design centers, styling studios, and R&D, etc.  One unique feature though is Honda’s attention to employee well-being.  In the center of the campus are a couple walking / running on tracks, tennis courts, and even baseball fields.  Honda wants their employees healthy, happy, and productive and the large, open areas would provide the perfect place to relax on breaks or to enjoy an outdoor lunch.  If you’re going to visit the museum collection though, it won’t be here.  2015.honda.museum-tour.indy-engine.JPG 

The Last Crusade

Hidden in one of countless greater Los Angeles office parks in a plain building that could contain any type of business is the high temple of Honda manufacturing.  At first appearing every bit as ordinary as any other office, there are two curious displays that hint towards what is contained within, and visitors will first notice an Indy car engine, and then a clay car model from the bodywork styling department.  Passing through the door on the left brings one into the cavernous cathedral of cam shafts.

The Honda museum is really a giant warehouse dedicated to their mechanical achievements. Naturally, cars dominate the museum landscape; there are famous or ground-breaking models, prototype vehicles, engines, and even a mockup of the first Honda store in the U.S. on display.  (Now rumored to be a Korean Acupuncture place).  Like any other museum, descriptive plaques offer info about each model and tell the story.  One end of the facility is dedicated to auto racing; the racks of Indy cars is truly impressive.  ATVs are scattered throughout, and the Foreman and Rancher lines are well represented.  We were happy to see a 250 Big Red ATC on display since this was one of Hondas groundbreaking models in the off-road lineup and responsible for not only a huge amount of sales but also bringing many new riders into the sport.  Honda has a long history in motocross and several race winning bikes are on display, along with a Baja 1000 winner, and many other important or significant motorcycles that have either found success in the showroom, or on the racetrack.  We were very excited to finally see a truly innovative motocross bike Honda experimented with featuring a unique front suspension.  Rather than traditional forks, this machine had custom machined vertical members and levers that transmitted force to a single shock.  The advantage was less weight and better suspension.  Honda bought the concept from Italian manufacturer Maico a couple decades back, patented the idea, tested it, and then shelved it before any other OEM could get it into production.  I had seen the bike once in pictures, but it was exciting to view it in person.  2015.honda.museum-tour.indy-cars.JPG

The ATV that started it all, the fun loving 1971 ATC 90 that even James Bond rode was on display, as well as another first for Honda.  Long before there was an Odyssey or Pilot mini-van there was an Odyssey and Pilot in the off-road lineup.  In 1977 Honda released a 250cc 2 stroke, air cooled, pull start engine mated to a CVT transmission in a very simple chassis and called it the Odyssey 250.  Suspension was strictly through flex in the balloon tires, but it did have some innovative features in their hand controls, and it was a fun way to tool around the sand.  The Odyssey 250 was followed by several other versions, then the Honda Pilot 400, discontinued, and 38 years after the original by the single seat Polaris ACE.  Interestingly enough, almost every model at the museum is used. 

Whether as a daily driver, or as a promotional vehicle for ads, most of the machines in the collection have seen considerable use.  Rather than grab a new machine off the line, most of the collection was acquired by tracking down owners then buying them back.  While some models are in pristine form, a few scratches and wear marks from use lends to a feeling of authenticity.  As Indiana Jones once said, “It’s not the years honey, it’s the miles!”  A couple huge trophy cases containing important awards, race winning memorabilia, and industry recognition are also there to tell the Honda story.  What you don’t see however is a second, hidden vehicle archive.2015.honda.museum-tour.foreman-rubicon.JPG

Behind the walls of the main display room is a second, even more expansive collection of all things Honda.  This collection was acquired not for display or viewing, but for the legal departments use.  Whenever they need to check a vehicle for any purpose, this collection is their archive of the machines they’ve built.  Essentially a large garage, vehicles in this collection receive no special care with fine detailing, no new parts or descriptive plaques, and for all intents and purposes, it’s Honda’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys, only Rudolph and Santa are never coming to give them a loving home.  It truly breaks ones heart.   

The Quest for the Grail

Our time in the Honda private museum and vehicle archives was a bit like discovering a mechanical Holy Grail, or many of them.  While we’ll probably never get to page through Sir Isaac Newton’s notebook in the Vatican archive, or open the captured alien vaults at NASA, this was every bit as good.  It’s a place of legends.  

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January 29, 2015

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