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Honda S2000 – A Roadster For Purists And More

You step into this small sportscar, and as you sit in the driver’s seat, it starts working its magic. As you grab the sporty steering wheel with its excellent grip and start the engine by pressing the start button, you hear the fantastic F20C engine roar and, as you look at the instrument cluster, you feel that you are sitting in a formula car. This is because Honda’s designers were inspired by Ayrton Senna’s 1989 McLaren MP4/6 F1 car to design the S2000 interior. As the NSX, this car has plenty of F1 heritage. Maybe that’s one of the reasons added to its bold design that explain why, more than 20 years later, it’s still fun to drive, even by today’s standards, and despite not looking particularly futuristic in the 2000s, it still looks like a 2020 car.

A Cool Birthday Present

The S2000 made its first public appearance in 1995 at the Tokyo Motor Show as a concept car called the SSM (Sports Study Model). On April 15th, 1999, it was released to celebrate Honda’s 50th anniversary. The name S2000 is related to its two liters engine displacement as a resemblance of the brand’s tradition of naming their roadsters “S” followed by the engine displacement.

By the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s, there was a global tendency among automakers to build retro cars like BMW’s Mini, which continued years later with the Fiat 500, and even the Citroen DS3, a retro car that wasn’t inspired by any classic; it was designed from scratch to look like a retro version of a car that never existed. The S2000 clearly has the spirit of the 1960 S500, S600, and S800. Besides, when the S2000 was conceived, roadsters were blooming, and cars like the German Mercedes Benz C250 Kompressor, BMW Z3, and the Audi TT appeared everywhere: in TV commercials, movies, and even video games. The S2000 didn’t take long to earn a name of its own. It appeared everywhere and became a sportscar admired and wanted by car enthusiasts all over the world. Honda’s engineers and executives succeeded once again.

The 2-seater introduced dozens of technological innovations, and as a curious fact, it was one of the first production cars to bring an ignition button. It could be said that this car was more than a homage to the brand; it’s more like a gift from the brand to its loyal customers and fanatics.

The Recipe For Success

A powerful engine, rear-wheel traction, lightweight, a killing sound, and a stunning bodywork design are some of the key elements that make a vehicle attractive for any sportscar fanatic. The S2000 has that and much more; besides, despite being conceived for a different target, it has some amazing coincidences with the NSX. The prototype was designed by Pininfarina, and the Chief Engineer for the production car was Shigeru Uehara. The first units were built at Honda’s Tochigi Takanezawa manufacturing plant, the same place where the NSXs were made.

In Uehara’s own words, the design team wanted to have as little communication with the marketing team as possible; they thought it was the only way to come up with something different. Besides, knowing that the SSM prototype had been so well received by the specialized press and fans, they tried to keep its spirit as much as possible.
After almost three years of hard work and testing, Uehara’s team came up with the first commercial version of the S2000, the AP1. They developed an extraordinary car with an ideal 50-50 percent weight distribution thanks to its mid-engine (mounted in the front) and rear-wheel drive. The innovative X-bone chassis gives the car outstanding torsional strength and saves a great deal of weight, which is key for making the vehicle so light, considering it’s a convertible; it only weighs 1295 kilograms (a little more than 2800 lbs).

The naturally aspirated, 2-liter, longitudinal 4-cylinder F20C engine was specially developed for the S2000. It produced 250HP and 240HP for the Japanese and American market versions respectively, making it the naturally aspirated production engine with more power per liter in the world. This record was held for ten years until 2010, when Ferrari launched its 458 Italia (even when it’s arguable whether a Ferrari could be called a “production car”).
Besides, the engine won the “International Engine of the Year award” five times in a row, from 2000 to 2004. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering Honda’s vast experience as a racing engine manufacturer and its successful F1 campaign. The block and cylinder head are made of aluminum, and the connecting rods are forged to withstand the amazingly high RPMs the engine achieves. The VTEC starts working above 6,000 RPMs and the engine, unlike conventional engines, continues to build power as it revs up; that’s why the JDM and the American versions reach their peak power at 9,200 and 8,300 RPM, respectively.

The engine is married to a 6-speed manual gearbox that handles the engine power to perfection. The shift lever is short, and to make the driving experience even more exciting, the shifter’s knob is made of titanium.

Last but not least, the transmission is coupled to a Torsen limited-slip differential, which helps to put all the power on the road, even in the most extreme situations.

Before releasing the car, Honda’s development team tested it on multiple race tracks and roads in Japan and Europe. They tested it for about 450 miles or 720 km a day. After testing the car on several roads, they went back to the race track to do the final touches. The car was tested under all weather conditions and challenging and winding roads resulting in a fun-to-drive but safe sportscar that handles like a dream.

The team achieved the main goal of making a car that was very similar to the concept car, compact, light, and as a bonus, with one of the best engines made by Honda to date and even more. The success of the S2000 was guaranteed.

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