This one's for Derek Kreindler, editor at The Truth About Cars (where many of you came from yesterday.) His love for Golden Era Hondas (loosely, the CRX to Integra Type-R) has inspired today's story of my favourite Honda.
That's right: my favourite Honda.
So let's get to it. 1995 was generally a great year for concept cars, and Honda had two: the Argento Vivo by Italian styling house Pininfarina and the SSM by the company's internal design studio. They were unveiled together at that year's Tokyo Motor Show.
It's as if Honda was trying to tell us something. Both are two-seat roadsters. Both are rear-drive. Both are running, driving prototypes. Automakers simply don't spend money designing, building, and showing two different versions of the same theme…in the same year.
In this case, Honda needed to. While other Japanese automakers competed against each other with advanced sports/touring cars, the Mazda Miata shocked the world's automakers into responding with roadsters of their own.
But would buyers want an open-top sports car like the Miata, Toyota MR-S, and Porsche Boxster or a European-style, touring-focused roadster like the BMW Z3 and Mercedes-Benz SLK?
The SSM represents the former, Argento Vivo the latter.
Pininfarina had only worked with Honda on one other project, the 1984 HP-X—a mid-engined, V6-powered sports car with a jet fighter-inspired canopy roof. Sounds familiar, right?
By 1995, however, Pininfarina had become a manufacturer in their own right, with production facilities and R&D departments that were never as well-known as their design studio. So underneath the Argento Vivo's skin was an extruded aluminum chassis, designed by Pininfarina.
The dark blue sections of the body are fiberglass—with a contrasting polished aluminum hood and rear deck lid.
It was designed to look and feel much more premium than the track-ready SSM—Argento Vivo has a retractible hardtop in polished aluminium, and underneath the skin it was powered by a less frenetic 190 horsepower 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine.
Inside, the entire dashboard was done in wood, with the controls in silver. Seats were leather, of course.
Even though Honda didn't produce the car, the Sultan of Brunei contracted Pininfarina to produce his own version of the car, on top of a Mercedes-Benz SL600 chassis. It is awful, and nowhere as pretty as the original concept.
The original Argento Vivo remains beautiful and well-engineered, and occasionally takes up a place of honour in Pininfarina's museum, where it belongs.
The 1995 Toyko Motor Show also played host to a vehicle that would help revolutionize the vehicle as we know it. But that's a story for another day.