Honda is chronicling the restoration of the first automobile the brand introduced in the United States, a lime green N600, with a new web series from Santa Monica, Calif.-based RPA in the vein of "Overhaulin’ " and other classic car restoration reality shows.
The first video premiered this week — an introduction to the mechanic in charge of the restoration, Tim Mings, a gruff character with a loyal following and a nickname, Merciless MIngs, that references Flash Gordon’s nemesis. He’s a passionate fan of this particular vehicle model who has built a career working exclusively on the N600 and its sport coupe version, the Z600.
"This is the first time we are documenting a full restoration," said J. Barbush, vice president and creative director for social media at RPA. "While Tim has restored more than a thousand of these vehicles, this one is different, symbolically and mechanically, so when Tim finds something unexpected, that joy is rewarding to document."
Mings is still in the process of restoring that first Honda, dubbed "Serial One." An RPA production team (scaled down to fit into Mings’ workspace) travels to his Duarte, Calif., garage whenever he is about to try something new, complicated or interesting about the car.
Honda is planning to release content weekly — either video or GIFs -- through the end of the restoration, currently planned to wrap up in time for a reveal at the 12th Annual Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, Calif., on Sept. 24. At the conclusion of the project, RPA plans to put together compilation reels and possibly a long-form video of the entire process.
"We will use the first few weeks of the campaign to tell the story of the history of the N600 and how the vehicle and Tim connected," said Alicia Jones, social media manager at Honda. "From there, we will move on to showing the audience the progress of the car being worked on."
So far, Mings has disassembled the car and the engine. "The frame of the car is at the body shop, fixing any dents and beginning the sand-blocking phase to get ready for the painting process," Jones said. "The undercarriage has been fully restored, and Tim is working on putting the engine back together." Serial One is an old model, so Mings is also commissioning some custom components that he can’t source anymore.
It’s not an entirely new subject. Honda has been aware of Mings and Serial One for three years, and even featured him in previous video about the N600 (sans goatee), in which he says the restoration process could take two years. Not so much.
"It takes a while to plan, to put the project in place, and set the budget for something that takes 12 to 18 months," Jones said. "Normally, we deal in much shorter launch windows, so figuring out how to capture this content and keep viewers interested over that time period took some strategic planning."
In 1969, Honda imported 50 N600s, the company’s first foray into the American market. The early models had bad heaters and took too long to brake, so Honda ordered them scrapped. Only three were sold before then. But an updated version sold well in the U.S. Consumers liked that it was inexpensive and smaller in total length than the wheelbase of many American-made cars at the time. It weighed only half a ton, so its 600cc engine could move it with more pep than similar cars. Three years later, Honda introduced the Civic, and the N600 faded into relative obscurity.
But now, thanks to its provenance, Serial One and the N600 are back in the spotlight, at least for another six months.