Honda's historic car restoration racks up half a million views

The six-month video series from RPA tells the rebirth story of America's very first Honda

In 1969, Honda made its first entry into the American car market, importing 50 compact N600 two-door sedans. But the first batch or cars weren’t up to snuff—they had bad brakes and weak heaters. Honda scrapped the lot quickly, and only three were actually sold.

An updated model was released shortly thereafter, and it sold well until it was eclipsed by the Civic three years later. Still, the N600 remains a storied piece of Honda’s history, a firm tie to Americana and the heyday of muscle cars. But those first vehicles were thought lost, until just a few years ago.

For the last six months, Santa Monica, Calif., agency RPA has been chronicling the restoration of the very first N600 in America, discovered by Tim Mings, a mechanic who specializes in this model. Tuesday marked the end of that journey with the release of the 12th and final entry in a documentary video series that has racked up half a million views on Facebook and YouTube. The social media campaign also included a dedicated microsite where fans could follow Mings' progress, as well as sharables and gifs. 

Dubbed "Serial One," for its unique model number N600 – 1000001, the car was a lime-green, undriveable wreck when Mings began tearing it apart and putting it back together earlier this year. "Fans have been able to witness firsthand how meticulous the process has been to bring the first N600 in America back to its original form," said Alicia Jones, social media manager at Honda. "Sharing the restoration process with car enthusiasts and Honda fans everywhere is what this program has been all about."

The first video, released in March, explained the provenance of Serial One and Mings’ plans for its rebirth—a six-month restoration and a public debut at the 12th Annual Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, Calif., in late September. It was an ambitious schedule; previously, Mings had guessed the process would take between 18 and 24 months.

Each time Mings was about to take a difficult or potentially momentous step in the restoration, a team from RPA journeyed about an hour from Santa Monica to his garage in Duarte, Calif., to film it. They used a smaller film crew than typical for a shoot, since it was impossible to fit everyone inside his cramped space.

The films document Mings’ meticulous work. His careful reverence echoes the way handcrafted furniture sometimes features internal embellishments that customers will never see. "No one will ever see that part again," he says, after sending pieces out for a powder coat paint job, "but if it’s restored like it was new, this is going to be here in another 50 years for people to see."

Most subsequent videos focus on a different aspect of the restoration or a particular part of the car that was difficult to repair. The original N600s had a specialized flywheel that Honda swapped out later, so in one video, Mings needs to improvise to remove it. He also adds a bit of percussive maintenance.

Other videos are more conceptual, like one that edits the sounds of tools and metal into an homage to the musical "Stomp."

Now that Serial One is complete—with a new ceramic white paint job—it will take a place of honor at the Honda Museum, where admirers can check out Mings’ handiwork in perpetuity. And hopefully, occasionally rev its engine.

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