Is Honda’s Project 2 & 4 a New Side-by-Side?

1997 Honda Side By Side

When I saw the plan view of what appears to be half an open-wheel formula car elsewhere on this website, under the headline “Honda Brings Motorcycle-Powered 2 & 4 to Frankfurt,” I immediately thought of the company’s old Side-by-Side. No, I’m not referring to the off-road four-wheelers that Honda’s motorcycle division sells under the same model name, but rather a small open-wheel formula car that Japan’s third-largest automaker built for its 50th birthday. (It was incorporated in 1948 and marketed its first motorcycle in 1949.) You might remember another product of that celebration: the Honda S2000. Honda unveiled the single-seater in September 1997, a few years after its huge success as engine supplier to McLaren Formula 1. Honda was much less successful with British American Racing (BAR) from 2000-’05 and then, briefly, its own team. It’s far too premature to celebrate the automaker’s return this year to F1 as McLaren’s engine supplier (though this race car is probably less costly than the Lexus LFA that Toyota built to “celebrate” its F1 victories).

Honda Project 2 And 4 Teaser From Above

This is a good time, however, for Honda to remind the automotive world of its fading reputation as a sportier-than-mainstream commodity auto brand as we wait for the delayed Acura NSX and possibly a “baby NSX” mid-engine Honda sports car. I’m fortunate enough to count myself among the lucky few who got to drive an original Side-by-Side on a short road-racing course set up on the company’s Motegi proving grounds. Honda built 50 of the formula cars in time for its anniversary. I drove one in late 2000, at an early first-drive of the new Acura RSX. The Side-by-Side had perfect mid-engine balance, with a 742-cc narrow-angle, SOHC, V-twin engine placed to the right of the driver’s cockpit. A five-speed sequential gearbox fed the engine’s power through a chain to the differential. Weighing just 860 pounds, the Honda Side-by-Side wasn’t fast, but it was fun — as much as or more fun than I’ve had in any six-figure supercar. You could make the most of its polar moment of inertia and power your way out of tight corners with the throttle. You could keep up with more experienced drivers by adhering to the old saw, “Slow in; fast out.” Though I spun it once by lifting too abruptly, I managed to squeak in as the last-ranked driver in a runoff race. Of all the track drives I’ve participated in the last two decades, this is the one I’d do again if I had another chance. I don’t have any insight into what the Honda Project 2 & 4 to be unveiled next month in Frankfurt really is beyond what’s in the press release and the picture — that it also has four open wheels and a motorcycle engine. Here’s hoping the “Project 2” part of the name refers to more than the type of engine; that this is a second-generation Side-by-Side. If Honda builds enough of them, affordably, over time and offers a relatively low-cost racing series, they could prove the enthusiast’s antidote in the coming years to self-driving Honda Accords and Acura MDXes.

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