Nothing Is Impossible

Honda’s newspaper ad for the Sports 500 Price Guess contest (right), and a subsequent article reporting the record 5.7 million entries (left) (Photo courtesy of Kyodo Advertising)

<< 1. The Concept of a “People’s Car”
<< 2. Third Research Section: A Starting Point for Product Development
<< 3. Building an Industry through Open Competition
<< 4. Nothing Is Impossible
<< 5. Promoting Entry into the Car Business
<< 6. Production Encompassing Every Factory
<< 7. Building Honda’s First Dedicated Auto Plant

Honda’s management, thus compelled to secure sufficient car-production records before the Specified Industries Bill could be passed, hurriedly sent an order to Honda R&D in January 1962, saying that development must proceed immediately. The plan was to develop two mini sports cars and two mini trucks, and to exhibit the prototypes at the 11th National Honda Meeting General Assembly (the so-called “Honda Meeting”) scheduled for later that year.

The R&D Center’s targeted date of completion had initially been set for April 15, but it was moved to June 5 to accommodate scheduling of the new Suzuka Circuit’s preopening ceremony. On that day, the new models were displayed and test-driven at the Suzuka Circuit, even though portions of it were still under construction.

“The Third Research Section’s design team was originally made up of seven people, but by 1961, it had grown to around fifteen,” recalled Masao Kawamura, the man in charge of exterior design. “At first, I was the only one in the molding group who handled automobiles, but by then that number had also increased, making it three of us. Since the company had decided to develop two models at the same time, that number was again increased to six, as a kind of emergency measure. So, there was a six-member mini truck team, and in order to push development it was divided into two groups.”

The new prototype bodies were to be based on the previous XA190 and 3XA120 prototypes, which had already been tested and specifications were refined through numerous improvements. Although the team had the advantage of base models, they would still face the challenge of reflecting Mr. Honda’s detailed instructions in their progress.

Testing moved to the water-cooled, inline four-cylinder DOHC engine designated “XA250” following the discovery of certain limitations in the previous air-cooled engine. With this new base configuration they began developing two engine types for the two models, accommodating their respective body shapes and applications. Therefore, the mini sports car’s engine was given the development code “AS250” and the mini truck’s engine took on the code name AK250.

Kawamura, in preparation for the moment when the dummy model would be shown to Mr. Honda, had painted its body reddish orange for a highly appealing look. Upon seeing the dummy model, though, Mr. Honda announced, “The new car is definitely going to be red, but we should use a more vivid red.” It was his assurance that the official development order would be forthcoming.

Kawamura, in eager response, painted the body a rich scarlet color and showed it to Mr. Honda a few days later, who liked it very much, and was obviously excited by the appearance. At that time, though, it was prohibited by law to use red or white on any auto body sold in Japan, since doing so might confuse it with an emergency vehicle such as a fire engine or ambulance. Therefore, to obtain approval for the use of red, Mitsugi Akita, then manager of the Development Management Section at Honda R&D, paid numerous visits to the Ministry of Transportation.

“Their response was cold and harsh, to be sure,” recalled Akita. “The person in charge even said, ‘I know Honda, but I’ve never heard of Honda R&D.” All the way back to the office I felt thoroughly depressed. I was even hesitant about seeing Mr. Honda. Days went by without any results, and Mr. Honda tried to promote his idea through the various media. At one time, he wrote a column for the Asahi Shimbun in which he said, ‘Red is the basic color of design. How can they ban it by law? I’m aware of no other industrial nation in the world in which the state monopolizes the use of colors.’”

Approval was finally granted, though, and with great excitement, Akita went to Soichiro with the news. To his surprise, however, Mr. Honda was quite calm. “Oh, that’s good,” was all he said.

“It was only Honda who fought for the right to paint car bodies red,” recalled Akita, “Soon, though, the other manufacturers started using it on many of their commercial vehicles.”

Numerous people at Honda R&D had been mobilized in order to expedite last-minute adjustments to the car, continuing their work until the day before the Suzuka meeting. In fact, the final touch-ups were performed at the warehouse in Suzuka, and it was not until Midnight, June 4 that the cars were finally completed. The development team’s schedule had been extremely demanding, taking just four-and-a-half months.

“We relied on our youth and stamina to overcome impossible odds,” Kawamura said.
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