Visit the new Honda Heritage Center in Marysville and you’ll discover the Japanese corporation’s contributions to the manufacturing of automobiles, motorcycles, generators, lawn mowers, outboard motors, airplanes and even robots.
The museum, which opened to the public on January 5, is housed in a sleek complex across the street from Honda’s Marysville assembly plant, where every new Honda Accord sold in America is built.
Ohio Governor James Rhodes played an important role in Honda’s decision to make Marysville the home of its first manufacturing facility in the United States. In 1979, the company began producing motorcycles there, quickly followed by automobiles. When the plant opened, Marysville-based associates numbered 53; today, about 14,000 wear Honda’s signature white uniform. Emphasizing associate teamwork and plant cleanliness, the uniform was designed with hidden buttons to prevent products from being scratched during production.
The first thing Honda Heritage Center visitors spot is a lineup of key vehicles from Honda’s history, including the first models of motorcycles and cars made in Ohio. For example, the Elsinore was the first Honda product to roll off the Marysville Motorcycle Plant’s assembly line in September 1979. A 1980 Elsinore CR250R is a shining example of Honda’s revolutionary two-stroke motocross bike. The luxurious 1982 GL1100 Gold Wing, produced exclusively in Ohio, is outfitted with saddlebags, a trunk and other eye-catching features like two-tone paint.
In the main display area, the handprints of Honda founder Soichiro Honda (1906-1991), made during his last visit to Ohio in 1989…
Sports cars and race cars are parked just beyond it. A 2005 Honda Racing Odyssey that was the first minivan sanctioned for racing by the Sports Car Club of America has a custom suspension and brakes, 19-inch sport tires, and a side-exit exhaust system with a high-flow intake enabling a 285-horsepower engine output. Race car fans can step inside two oversized racing helmets and play the Honda Racing Experience, a 3D immersive game.
Visitors can also see a version of Honda’s humanoid manufacturing robot, known as ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility). This 4’3”, 110-pound robot can walk, run, run backward and hop on one or two legs. ASIMO’s multi-fingered hand allows it to perform precise tasks, such as picking up a bottle and twisting off the cap and communicating in both American and Japanese sign language.
Along the perimeter of the room, peer inside a Honda jet…
…then pay homage to the Honda Civic. Introduced in 1973, the ever-popular Civic was a marked contrast to the hefty V8-powered, rear-wheel drive vehicles popular at the time. With front-wheel drive, a short rear deck, a hatchback and a short hood — made possible by mounting the four-cylinder engine sideways — the Civic earned points for its roominess, utility and convenience. This 1975 Honda Civic featured the low-emission, high-fuel efficiency CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) engine.
Parked nearby is a 1987 “Civic Renaissance Experimental” CRX Si, an original Honda car for America that could achieve a fuel economy of 50 miles per gallon. This sporty, performance-oriented car enjoyed a following among young drivers of my generation, including a few of my friends.
Other products from Honda’s past include the 1971 N600, the first Honda automobile sold in America in 1970. This peppy, technologically advanced little automobile boasted a top speed of 80 miles per hour and fuel economy of almost 32 miles per gallon. At 122 inches long, it could actually fit between the wheels of some full-size American vehicles that were typical of the time.
While Hondas might be the star attractions of the museum, the vintage Honda ads on display are equally worth admiring.
“You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda,” a circa-1959 marketing campaign, helped establish Honda as the motorcycle of choice for young people looking for practical transportation. In the 1970s, Honda’s “We Make It Simple” advertising campaign introduced simple Honda concepts that became industry standards. For example, when most automobiles required at least two keys – one for the door and trunk and another for the ignition – Honda introduced a car key that not only worked in the door, ignition, hatch and gas cap, but also could be put in the ignition with either side up.
The Honda Heritage Center is located at 24025 Honda Parkway in Marysville, Ohio. Free, self-guided tours are available by reservation only on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:00; Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:00, 10:00 and 12:00; and Saturdays at 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00. The center is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Call 937-644-6888 for more information.