This week’s Transmission recalls the Japanese invasion into Western territories, and how Honda’s specialist luxury car division, Acura, took the American market by storm.


Soichiro Honda founded one of the worlds most successful car companies Soichiro Honda founded one of the worlds most successful car companies

Soichiro Honda was a man fascinated by cars. His early years were spent as a mechanic, where he would also indulge in his passion of entering cars he had worked on into motor races. His first company, Tokai Seiki, can best be described as hit and miss. It secured a contract to supply Toyota with piston springs, only to lose it because of the sub-standard quality of their products. After spending time regrouping, learning from their mistakes and getting their products up to code, Honda and his financial backer, Kato Shichiro, regained the contract in 1941.

Mr. Honda and Toyota built up a fantastic rapport during the war effort, with the former building up some key relationships with a lot of the latter's key employees. After both his Yamashita plant and Itawa plant were destroyed by a bomb attack and earthquake respectively, Honda sold the remains to Toyota for ¥450,000 and began the Honda Technical Research Institute in October 1946. He became president of the Honda Motor Company in 1948, where the company manufactured complete motorcycles, beginning the story of one of the largest car manufacturers in the world today.


Honda did an enormous amount of market research before launching their Acura range Honda did an enormous amount of market research before launching their Acura range

The Benefits of Market Acura-cy

Fast forward to the ‘80s. While the West was preoccupying itself with Scott dumping Charlene at the altar, Michael Jackson setting his head alight and Middlesbrough getting relegated from the Third Division, Honda was putting together its final plans to dominate the global automotive market with a batch of new cars. Honda had spent over a decade researching the North American market, introducing its luxury-car division, Acura, across the country in 1986.

60 dealerships were opened across 18 states with the aim of providing people with luxury, performance and near-performance cars. The first ever Japanese luxury car manufacturer of its kind, Acura burst onto the scene, with two of its models greatly received by the American public – the Acura Legend and the Integra. Though the Integra was a popular hatchback, available in three or five-door models, it was the Acura Legend that really caught the public’s imagination, and sent a wave of fear through Honda's global competitors.


The Acura Legend was available as a sedan or coupe The Acura Legend was available as a sedan or coupe

A Legend is Born

The Acura Legend was a luxury sedan, and became available in coupe form from ‘87 onward. The Legend began life in ‘81 under the rather saucy codename ‘Project XX’, and was a joint collaboration with Great Britain’s Austin Rover Group (who had phenomenal success in the sixties with the Austin Seven). The Legend sedan had a 151 horsepower 2.5 litre C25A V6 engine, which was upgraded from the ’88 model onward to emulate the coupe’s engine (161 horsepower 2.7 litre C27A).

‘Precision Crafted Performance’ was Acura’s slogan, and nowhere was this more apparent than with the Legend. Its impact on the market was immediate – the Acura Legend was voted top of American automotive bible Car and Driver's Ten Best for three consecutive years. Influential car magazine Motor Trend also declared it Import Car of the Year for 1987, helping to catapult it into the consciousness of a luxury-hungry American public, ready to spoil themselves rotten.


The Legend was a phenomenal success for Honda The Legend was a phenomenal success for Honda

The Legend’s Legacy

Everyone wanted to buy a new Honda. Such was the success of Honda’s foreign invasion that it spawned a host of competition from Japanes rivals Toyota, Nissan and others for the rest of the decade, all eager to get a slice of the luxury car pie. In its first full year Acura sold 109,000 cars, 55,000 of which were the Acura Legend. By 1990, Acura was continuing the trend, selling a total of 138,000 vehicles. Again, the Legend was key to Honda’s success, as 54,000 of these sales were Legends. Mercedes-Benz and BMW were struggling to keep up, selling only 78,000 and 64,000 cars respectively.

Buying a new car was an adventure for Americans with a new foreign power on the market. The Acura Legend was the start of a Japanese luxury car odyssey in North America. Its legacy can’t be underestimated, and the decade Honda spent on foreign market research paid off handsomely as it helped thrust the company into the stratosphere.


Honda was a massive fan of motorcycle racing Honda was a massive fan of motorcycle racing

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