You Must Visit Honda’s Magnificent Car and Bike Collection Before You Die
It’s a hike from Tokyo, but if you can catch a train or bus out to Motegi, you’ll be rewarded with Honda’s best.
Car collections are awesome. Regardless if they're owned by a corporation or an individual, they usually feature the best of a particular brand, lineup, or time period. Sometimes they include a little bit of everything, sometimes they're painfully specific, and other times they're downright bizarre. And while anyone with deep pockets can assemble exquisite vehicular portfolios, automaker-owned collections typically feature original, pristine, crème de la crème-level stuff. And that's exactly the kind of machinery I saw during a recent visit to the Honda Collection Hall in Motegi, Japan.
Opened in 1998, the Collection Hall houses over 300 cars, motorcycles, and other Honda products that have played a role in the company's 75 years of existence. As it's to be expected from an automaker—and the Japanese in general—all the samples are spotless and beautifully displayed. The museum itself isn't as big or fancy as, say, the Mercedes-Benz or Porsche museums, or even The Henry Ford, but its size and layout make it feel rather peaceful and intimate. And its location nestled in the mountains surrounding the famous Twin Ring Motegi adds to its allure. If you've ever played Gran Turismo, you straight-up feel like you're in the game as soon as you drive through the gates.
One of the first cars you'll encounter on the main floor is a race car that founder Soichiro Honda raced along with his brother back in 1924. The Curtis racer is displayed in a gorgeous silver finish with brown-leather hood straps and red wheels. Later down the line, once you get through the company's first vehicles (all motorized bikes), you'll get to the cars. There are amazing examples of Honda's early-day prototypes, its first-ever truck the 1963 T360, and its first-ever car, the 1962 Honda Sports 360.
There are endless examples of adorable kei cars and kei trucks, two-seater sports cars, and an entire room full of Civics ranging from the very first model in 1972 to the latest Type R. And then there are the race cars. I'm talking McLaren-Honda Formula 1 cars once raced by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, Williams-Hondas from the Nigel Mansell era, and more recent Honda-powered F1s from the Jordan and BAR years. Also on display are Takuma Sato's two Indy 500-winning race cars from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Honda first mass-produced scooters and motorcycles before diving into automobile production. At the Collection Hall, you'll see prototypes of its first internal combustion engine dating back to 1947 in addition to the two-wheel machines it powered. Everything from the 1949 Honda Dream D to the bike that kicked off Honda's global strategy (and made it a success in North America), the 1962 Honda CA 100 "Super Cub." The one with the famous slogan, "You meet the nicest people on a Honda."
Honda actually went motorcycle racing before venturing into any other type of motorsport—and not just any motorcycle race/championship. In 1954, Soichiro Honda made his company a promise that within five years a Honda motorcycle would win the most prestigious two-wheel race: the Isle of Man TT. Fast forward to 1959, and the Honda RC142 won its 125cc class at the famed race. The entire lineage of this motorcycle is on display at the Hall, leading up to the newest MotoGP racing bikes.
Speaking of MotoGP, there is a special area of the museum dedicated to the late Kentucky Kid; the one and only Nicky Hayden. Having covered Hayden's career for many years and gotten to know him as well as his family, this was a touching thing to witness. It certainly made me emotional. He was a fantastic rider and person gone too soon but forever remembered now in two places that are the polar opposites of each other: Owensboro, Kentucky, and Motegi, Japan.
There are also a few bikes and mementos belonging to recent retiree Valentino Rossi, who despite having enjoyed his winningest years with Yamaha, also earned a few of his stripes on Hondas.
Last but not least, there's the Honda RA272, Honda's first-ever winning F1 car. It won the Mexico Grand Prix back in 1965 and become the only Japanese race car to ever win in F1. It was Richie Ginther behind the wheel who led every lap of the final race of the season to ink his name in the history books. This car would also become a trendsetter, as it was the first Honda to wear Championship White, a paint color that's still famous to this day and reserved for only Type R models. A pristine example is located in the lobby for guests to see immediately upon arrival. It's strategically positioned behind a large piece of decorative glass etched with the word "DREAM" and Soichiro Honda's signature.
If you're ever in Japan, I can't recommend enough swinging by the Honda Collection Hall and checking out the goods. No, it's not exactly located in a major city and it's a bit of a trek from Tokyo, but I can assure you that it's certainly worth the long bus or train ride out there. Bonus points if you're driving your own car, as the roads leading up to the Motegi Mobility Resort are pretty darn good.
Got a tip? Email us at email@example.com