Behind the stellar cars and bikes, Honda’s product line runs deep.
No one loved Honda more than the late, great Dave Mungenast, an International Six Days Trials gold-medal motorcyclist, Hollywood stunt rider, Green Beret, and car dealer from Saint Louis, Missouri. One of the first fifty Acura dealers, Mungenast got a job as a Honda motorcycle mechanic shortly after Honda entered the U.S. market fifty years ago. By 1965, he had his own Honda motorcycle dealership. When he caught wind that a car was in the works, Mungenast began angling to sell Honda cars. He opened Dave Mungenast Saint Louis Honda in 1974. “If Honda built a plane,” he told me during a 1985 motorcycle ride in China [“The China 1000,” May 1986], “I’d sell that, too.”
His point was that this little company, which came here on a shoestring and piqued our fancy with its clever and indestructible “thrifty, nifty Honda 50,” makes the kind of products he could back with his own good name. Almost a decade ago, I walked into American Honda’s headquarters and was greeted by an array of ATVs, lawn mowers, motorcycles, weed whackers, and generators. It was part of a marketing push by Koichi Amemiya, American Honda’s CEO, to get the word out.
Ruminating on my own accumulation of Honda power toys and tools,; it occurs to me just how fond I am of all of them. As part of our office-wide recognition of Honda’s golden jubilee (see “Still Nifty and Thrifty at 50,”), I took a survey of all things Honda owned by staff members and contributors, starting in the Jennings family garage. Our first Honda acquisition, a Foreman Rubicon ATV, is the workhorse of our 142-acre farm, fitted with a gun case (for rabid raccoons) and front and rear racks to which we bungee chain saws and the like. The Foreman has never broken and gets minimal care. We keep it on a trickle charger in the garage and run it year-round. Our personal Honda catalog has swelled to include:
My beloved Aunt Red’s Honda Express. I never saw her ride the spidery yellow moped, but she was shaped like a fifty-gallon drum on pipe cleaners, and I can only imagine the figure she cut brapping through New Orleans East. I also remember her brandishing a shaky pistol at a neighbor, not on her moped, but it’s a vision that won’t quit.
Tim’s 1967 Honda 90. It was recently returned by his beloved Aunt Mary, who had it for ten years. We loaned her Aunt Red’s moped when she turned eighty, and she rode that until she fell off a ladder painting her garage. She’s not taking this lightly.
A 5-hp outboard motor and a power washer with a Honda engine.
You’ll see from the following list that most of us feel this affinity for things powered by Honda.
Cars: Robert Cumberford claims to have been the first journalist to drive the Honda Beat in 1991. He bought a yellow one that still lives in France with him and his wife, Françoise. “If you paid me more,” he noted childishly, “I would have an NSX.”
Jen Misaros used to have a Civic and an Accord. Rusty Blackwell wishes his wife still owned her first new car, an ’02 Civic. David Zenlea’s girlfriend had a CR-V maintained by an Orthodox Jewish mechanic. Sam Smith’s 1988 CRX Si “is the only front-wheel-drive car that could be a poster child for death metal.” An ’01 Civic coupe and an ’07 Civic sedan live at Don Sherman’s.
Bikes: Sherman also owns a 1964 Honda 50, disassembled. Phil Floraday sold his CBR600F3 for a down payment on his house. Smith’s ’82 C70 Passport gets “90 mpg and will survive a nuclear winter,” and his ’75 CB400F “doesn’t leak a drop of oil.” Jackie Guenther grew up on dirt bikes and owns a 150 and a 250. Nate Schroeder still has his dad’s old fold-up Mini-Trail, the first bike he ever rode. “Flawless.”
Play toys: Sherman owns an Aquatrax personal watercraft, and Ezra Dyer used to have a 250X ATV.
Power tools: Cumberford replaced a Honda riding mower with a self- starting 5-hp mower. Honda engines power Joe DeMatio’s riding mower and 10,000-watt generator, power washers owned by Evan McCausland and Zenlea’s dad, and McCausland’s lawn mower. DeMatio wins with a Honda-powered posthole digger.
Miscellany: “I have nothing Honda makes,” notes Jason Cammisa, “except a tube of silicone sealant called HondaBond that my Porsche mechanic swears is the only thing that will stop oil leaks in a 911.”
If our personal recommendations aren’t enough, the 2009 Indianapolis 500 marked the fourth year in a row that Honda powered the entire thirty-three-car starting field, and the fourth consecutive year – the only four times in Indy 500 history – that there was not a single engine failure.
Now that’s a recommendation.