Bringing Back Happy Droptop Memories
Steve Schaefer, Fri, 29 Jun 2007 08:00:00 PDT
Honda's S2000 roadster has been around for a few years, but you don't see a lot of them on the road. Not everybody wants to squeeze into its bolstered bucket seats in the narrow cockpit. Most folks want room for more than one passenger and they demand greater luggage capacity than the Honda's five cubic feet (half of it stolen by the top's protective boot). Well I'm not everybody.
I grew up in cars like the S2000. My father owned several British roadsters during the 1950s and 1960s. American GIs came home from World War II with awareness and interest in old-fashioned but fun little runabouts like the MG TC. My dad started with one of those, and he bought his first Austin-Healey the day after my third birthday. This car was one of the first modern designs offered to the American market in the 1950's, and its curvaceous body and smiling face are still stunning today.
The 21st century is a different time and place from the 1950's. Now, we are concerned about emissions, mileage, and safety. That's where the S2000 comes in. Built by Honda, which has a sterling reputation in America for quality, reliability, safety, and fuel economy, it embodies all the things that were fun in the Healey but suffers from none of the dubious electronics or rudimentary amenities of the older car. And the S2000 can go 105,000 between scheduled tune-ups, something unimaginable two generations ago.
The S2000 is about a foot longer than the early Healey, on a 4.5-inch longer wheelbase, and it weighs about 700 pounds more. Of course, that weight is more than offset by an enormous increase in horsepower. The Healey's 2.6-liter engine put out 90 horsepower while the Honda's 2.2-liter produces 240 (at an amazing 7,800 rpm). A myriad of technological advances over the last half century enable that miracle, including Honda's Variable Valve-Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC).
My Rio Yellow Pearl test car had a typically sweet six-speed close-ratio manual transmission. Surely this is an easier lever to row than the four-speed ever was in the Healey. The S2000 also comes with electric variable-assist power steering and sits on a four-wheel double-wishbone suspension to soak up bumps and hold the car strong in the corners. Other items that were unavailable in the middle of the 20th century include the standard AM/FM stereo with CD player, power windows, power locks, cruise control, and keyless entry, not to mention airbags, anti-lock brakes, and side-impact door beams.
The S2000's power top zips up or down in just seven seconds. The Healey's top was a time-consuming project. The S2000's 17-inch alloy rims wear high-performance, low-profile rubber; the Healey sported spoked wire wheels.
Regardless of the differences, when I went anywhere, even to work via the freeway, I dropped that S2000's top and took off. I carried my hat and sunscreen with me, hoping for a chance to use them. Driving with the side windows up, the freeway was surprisingly bearable at 70 mph, and the wind was minimal in the carefully designed cabin. Of course, on the back roads the car was a hoot, and cruising around town gave the most familiar feeling of childhood. A half century ago, I had to sit in the little scooped out back seats of our second Healey. There is nothing like that available on the S2000.
Despite being a credible sports car, the S2000 features a digital instrument panel. I got used to seeing the tachometer sweep across over the large digital miles per hour number, but it evoked none of the happy memories of the unreliable but handsome Lucas gauges in the Healey. Both cars share the presence of a Start button-in the S2000 it's emergency red.
In 2005, if you want to enjoy open top, personal-sized performance, the S2000 is a great way to go. Priced at $33,150 plus $515 destination charge, there is little more to add, unless you want XM Radio or an aluminum hardtop for the rainy months. My father certainly got plenty of use out of his hardtops--we lived in the East at the time.
When I sat in that S2000, with the sun streaming down onto my neck and arms, listening to the whir of that hardworking little engine, gripping the leather wheel, I could almost taste the ice cream we used to drive to get on summer afternoons in the late 1950s. You just don't get that feeling in a four-door sedan, no matter who makes it. For a week, I reconnected with my father, who would have been fascinated and happy to ride in this Healey for the 21st century.