In 1995, Honda displayed two distinct and distinctive roadster concepts. Did they make the right choice?
In 1995, Pininfarina, in conjunction with Honda – who enjoyed a long-term relationship with the carrozzeria, presented Argento Vivo, a purely conceptual two-seater roadster. Designed very much in the classic idiom, Argento Vivo (as the name suggested) employed aluminium for its extruded substructure and its upper body cladding – the resultant weight loss intended to allow for the use of smaller-capacity engines than might otherwise be considered.
There was little meaningful correlation between them it seems, (although there were reports of Pininfarina putting Argento Vivo into small-scale production), but the very same year, Honda themselves debuted a two-seat concept at that year’s Tokyo motor show, dubbed the Honda Sports Study Model (SSM for short). A more determinably ‘Japanese’, modernist and conclusively less romantic shape than that that of the Italians, SSM was created at the carmaker’s Wako Design Centre near Tokyo; Honda stating that it showcased “the company at its innovative best applying state of art solutions to a traditional sport car concept.”
Four year’s later, it made its production debut in subtly watered down form. The 1999 S2000 employed a naming system intended to evoke memories of Honda’s Sixties’ sportsters, arriving at a time when roadsters had become the cars to have – especially in the sunshine states of the US. Viewed as something akin to the Mazda MX5’s larger, brawnier and slightly less predictable cousin, the S2000 was nonetheless well received. At least initially.
Employing a rear-biased front engine, rear drive layout to aid weight distribution; instead of the 5-cylinder unit of both SSM and Argento Vivo, a four cylinder, double overhead camshaft unit with Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing was used. Later in the model’s lifespan, this was substituted for a longer stroke 2.2 litre version. At the same time, production was moved from Takanezawa to Suzuka, while changes were made to the suspension settings to correct a perception towards waywardness at the outer edges of the dynamic envelope.
Production lasted until 2009, by which time sales had fallen through the floor. The S2000 shone brightly for what appeared to be a nano-second, before being eclipsed by flashier looking, if technically inferior fare that managed to shout louder and cost less. Did the S2000 suffer from being too visually self-effacing? It’s certainly a relatively easy car to forget, despite its obvious charms. Perhaps they should have gone with their Italian tailor after all?
In lieu of the full profile we didn’t write on the S2000, I offer today this fine piece by our onetime resident R. Herriott, which I recommend you also continue reading.