Window Shopper: Honda S2000, Bringing 9000 rpm to the Masses


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Story by Robert Bowen • Photo Courtesy Honda

The Honda S2000 represented an impressive sporting achievement from a company better known for its front-wheel-drive people-movers. Call it a plausible alternative to a Miata, Boxster or M Roadster.

The S2000 debuted in 1999 for the 2000 model year, but Honda had been planning the roadster for years–at least since the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. That’s when the manufacturer took the wraps off a rear-wheel-drive convertible dubbed the Sports Study Model.

That show car appeared again at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, and at a few similar affairs in between. The lines were clean, and the 2.0-liter engine was mounted low and far back in the chassis.

After the SSM got a warm reception from enthusiasts and the press, Honda launched the production version.

Even though the MSRP was north of $32,000, it wore the “H” badge and not an Acura logo. The Honda branding and model name were intended to echo the firm’s first sporting cars–the S500, S600 and S800.

The S2000 delivered on the SSM’s promise. It had a perfect 50–50 weight distribution, six-speed transmission, Torsen differential, staggered 16-inch wheels and a jewel of a naturally aspirated engine. The chassis was stiff, its A-arm suspension tuned for performance over comfort. Ultra-fast steering and Bridgestone Potenza S-02 tires came standard.

This was a car made to be driven and driven hard, an activity enhanced by the Spartan interior and refreshing lack of electronic driving aids.

It did offer some comforts: Leather upholstery, plus electric windows and a power top, came standard. Only one trim level was available, and there were no options. Everything about the S2000 screamed performance, including its cool racing-inspired start button. (Remember, this was before these buttons became commonplace.)

Among all the standout features, it was the 2.0-liter engine that received the most praise. Its design was unusual at the time for Honda, since it had a timing chain as well as a conventional clockwise rotation. Mechanical tappets instead of hydraulic adjusters sacrificed quiet running manners for a high rev limit: That F20C engine whizzed through its rev range to a stratospheric 9000 rpm redline, producing 240 horsepower at 8300 rpm. On a per-liter basis, no other naturally aspirated production engine could touch it.

Honda revised the car for 2004, with the biggest change under the hood: The engine was stroked from 2.0 to 2.2 liters, while the compression ratio was bumped from 11.0:1 to 11.1:1. While the stated horsepower remained 240, maximum torque moved from 152 lb.-ft. at 7500 rpm to 162 lb.-ft. at 6200 rpm. The original engine’s insane redline was replaced by a more piston-friendly 8000 rpm limit.

Honda added a second S2000 variant, the Club Racer, for 2008. The manufacturer claimed that the Club Racer body kit was designed to reduce lift, while weight was reduced by making air conditioning and a stereo optional rather than standard. The base car’s leather gave way to cloth seats, and the soft top and its mechanism were replaced with a hard top.

Just one year later, the S2000 left Honda showrooms, never to be replaced. After passing through initial deprecation, prices have been on the upturn; good examples now sell for $15,000 to $25,000. Small wonder, because they’re great cars.

SHOPPING ADVICE

Alex Doan owns Ballade Sports in Garden Grove, California, and caters specifically to S2000 owners. He has some tips on shopping for and improving these cars.

First of all, you should choose the model year that best suits your needs. Generally the cars became more refined every year, but if you’re looking for the most reliable car, aim for a 2004–’05 model. Those came with the 2.2-liter engine, which lacks some of the complications of the last few versions.

If you want an S2000 that will take more kindly to modifications, target the 2006–’09 cars. They came with drive-by-wire, wide-band oxygen sensors and reflashable ECUs. They’re a little more prone to engine problems, though, as Honda leaned out the target fuel mixture to make more power.

When you’ve found the car you want, be sure to take it to a shop that’s very familiar with S2000s. We offer in-depth pre-purchase inspections for just $100 that check for everything from body damage to axle vibration and engine mount condition. It’s also a good idea to have the shop do a four-wheel alignment. This will shed light on any possible issues.

Since these cars are popular modification targets, be sure to check for any electrical tampering, even if it’s just an aftermarket stereo or alarm. It’s not a problem if done right, but there are a lot of hack electricians out there.

Once your car is bought and parked in your garage, there are a few changes you can make to create an even more enjoyable ownership experience. The best bang-for-your-buck upgrade is probably the throttle body and intake manifold. This combo adds a few horsepower, but the improvement in throttle response and drivability is huge. We charge about $100 for the upgraded throttle body.

It’s common for an S2000 to experience some timing chain stretch. This typically causes the timing chain tensioner to wear out and start making noise. We offer an upgraded timing chain tensioner and an adjustable drive gear that can offset timing by 1.5 degrees and help the engine run more efficiently. It’s literally one of the first things we put on cars coming through our shop.

The bushings that tend to degrade most quickly are the front compliance bushings. We offer spherical replacements, and they actually don’t increase the harshness of the ride much. Other options are also available in polyurethane, but the most cost-effective route is to just replace the lower control arms altogether with new Honda parts.

Engine and differential mounts are common wear items, so keep an eye on them. Other parts to check are the clutch master cylinder and the differential itself. These cars have a tendency to wear out the ring and pinion within.

If the carpet is worn out in your S2000, a Honda Access premium four-piece floor mat set from Honda UK is a great way to freshen up the interior appearance. The mats cover everywhere that a driver or passenger would touch. They can only be imported by a dealer like us.

RESOURCES

PARTS & SERVICE

Balade Sports
(714) 902-9027
balladesports.com

Honda Performance Development
(661) 702-7777
honda.com

CLUBS & INFO

S2KI
s2ki.com

S2000 Club of America
s2kca.com


This article is from a past issue of the magazine. Like stories like this? You’ll see every article as soon as it's published, and get access to our full digital archive, by subscribing to Classic Motorsports. Subscribe now.

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