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Mercedes and AMG Really Did Build Honda Civics. Here’s Why It Happened

Before AMG was bought by Mercedes-Benz, it tuned more than just German cars. Here's one you might not have heard of.
Honda Ballade AMG in South Africa via The Midnight Garage

AMG may now be synonymous with Mercedes-Benz, but before it was brought in-house, it had its hand in more than just Mercs. For a period in the 1980s and 1990s, AMG also tweaked a handful of Japanese cars, among which was an obscure Honda Civic performance model never sold in the United States, Europe, or Japan. I’m talking of course about the Honda Ballade AMG; a South Africa exclusive whose parents probably regret their offspring.

Information on the AMG Ballade (pronunciation) is very scarce, scattered around the internet, and often misreported. However, there’s just enough info out there that it’s possible to tell the car’s story.

It begins in the 1980s, when Mercedes-Benz of South Africa (MBSA) wanted a model more affordable than the 190 in its showrooms according to South African YouTuber Chris VS Cars. At the same time, reports Driven to Write, Honda was trying to enter South Africa but had no dealer or manufacturer network. For reasons that aren’t obviously documented on the English internet, the two struck a deal where Mercedes would license-build the Ballade.

Honda Ballade AMG rear badge. via The Midnight Garage

Also licensed by British Leyland, the Honda Ballade was basically an upscale Civic, with an emphasis on generous standard equipment, like air conditioning and leather inside. It fit in perfectly below the Mercedes 190, and to blend in further was offered in a pair of AMG trims. There was a 180i with the 1.8-liter B18B4 four cylinder, and a 160i with a lesser 1.6. Exactly which 1.6-liter was used isn’t clear; a Wayback Machine archive of a Dutch Honda blog indicates it was the D16A, while innumerable sources report it was a B-series—possibly the B16A6, as suggested by an Instagram post from a Ballade AMG owner. (That car appears to be modified, however, so we can’t be sure that’s the original engine.)

Being AMGs, they were subject to performance enhancements, which in the humble Ballade’s case were mostly off-the-shelf. They had Eibach springs that lowered them 1.6 inches, bigger spoilers, and aluminum wheels from Remotec (a German make, now defunct or renamed). There are also rumors that AMG tuned it to 173 horsepower, though this may be apocryphal.

Honda Ballade AMG on Remotec alloy wheels. via The Midnight Garage

Honda Ballade AMGs were reportedly sold across both the fourth and fifth generations of Civic, of which only photos of the latter are known to survive today. Again, info’s hard to come by, but we know Ballade AMG production ceased by the end of 2001 when the nameplate was discontinued globally. Much about the AMG version, including how many were made, remains a mystery, and probably will forever: none of our inquiries to Honda of South Africa or Mercedes-AMG were returned. One imagines neither wanting to honor this piece of their shared history—Honda for outsourcing a performance model, Mercedes for letting an AMG badge adorn another make.

But no matter how the Honda Ballade AMG’s parents feel about it, they brought it into this world, and we aren’t forgetting. We have no reason to: it’s a historical oddity that—bar some really weird shit happening in the next decade—we’ll never see the likes of again. For that reason alone, it’s worth singing the ballad of the Ballade.

Honda Ballade AMG in a period magazine or flyer
Honda Ballade AMG in a period South African flyer or magazine. via Hanief Kader

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