Honda Roots: a motoring community created for enthusiasts, by enthusiasts
When he bought an original 1974 Civic on eBay for just £90, Jay Spendlove had only a passing interest in Honda. But by the time he’d sourced, bought and fitted all of the rare parts he needed to restore the Civic back to factory spec, he was head over heels. Today, he’s admin of Honda Roots, a massively popular network of fans carrying the torch for vintage Hondas. Here we talk to Jay about his love affair with Honda, from restoring – and racing – old-school classics, to spreading the love of Honda heritage all over the world.
The roots of heritage
A die-hard Honda fan, Jay’s no stranger to the car club scene – but Honda Roots holds a special place in his heart. “I’ve been in many car clubs over the years, and some can feel regimented and stuffy,” he says. “But most of the Honda Roots meets are suggested by anyone and everyone, and some have been very spontaneous – I would rather it be like that. I would never consider myself to be in charge.”
Yet, to a certain extent, he is. Jay was asked to join Honda Roots as an admin and contributor in 2016, and in the months following, the group grew from strength to strength. Starting out in 2012 as a Facebook page to connect vintage-Honda enthusiasts, the community has grown to almost 200,000 worldwide. They’re a regular fixture at some of the UK’s biggest motor shows, including the Japshow Finale, the Really Retro Show, and Mimms Honda Day, where we recently bumped into Jay – and his pride and joy – ourselves. (Click here to see the full video.) Then there was Honda Roots’ most recent get-together: an Oulton Park track day with five first-gen Civics racing side-by-side. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.
Though the group consists mainly of car nuts, Jay’s relationship with Honda began as a two-wheeled affair. He passed his test at the age of 17 on a Honda CG125, then bought a CB125T, followed by a CB400n and, most recently, a CBX550. Even as a teenager, Jay recognised that Honda motorcycles were something special. “I could tell a lot had gone into the rider experience. Plus, the engines where absolutely bulletproof.”
Bikes piqued his interest, but the “four-wheeled marque projects” awakened an obsession. His first proper project was a banged-up 1974 Civic he picked up on eBay for 90 quid. The plan: restore it to working – and even racing – condition, using only original components.
“It really was a global effort,” says Jay. “The members at 1stgencivic.com were a big help with parts, and it was actually a Finnish member, Jukka Kettunen, who sourced replacement panels for the rear arches.” The Honda first-timer mucked in with fellow Civic fans, and by the time a Florida member had donated a replacement camshaft and rocker arms, he was in love.
But the ’74 Civic was just the beginning. To date, Jay has also worked on restoration jobs for a ‘75 Civic, a ‘79 Civic, a ‘77 Honda TN360 (TN7) pickup truck, a ‘81 Prelude, a 2014 CR-V and, most recently, a 2015 CR-V. His dream project: restoring an ultra-rare 1300 Coupe 9.
“It’s such an unusual vehicle from an engineering standpoint,” says Jay. While the world was moving away from air-cooled passenger car engines, Soichiro Honda was convinced that, by solving the issues associated air-cooled engines through advanced engineering, he could produce a car that was as powerful as a contemporary water-cooled car. Production was constantly delayed due to developments on the production line, and very few were built as a result. “It’s one of the rarest cars Honda has ever produced,” says Jay. “And I think it’s an absolutely beautiful car.” Hear, hear.
But as the old saying goes, it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. Although he holds Honda responsible for introducing him to his greatest passion, it’s the friendships he’s made along the way that he’ll treasure forever.
Shortly after starting work on his ‘74 Civic, Jay tracked down the founder of the Old Civic Club of Japan, Tomio Chiba. Chiba – a retired Honda engineer who worked for the company all over the world, including at the Honda UK plant in Swindon – signed Jay’s car in 2010 with the following message: ‘as approved by Honda.’
“I’ve since become good friends with Tomio. Initially our contact was via email, where we would share pictures of old Civic meets. I was in awe of the number of Civics in Japan. He has visited me in the UK, and I’ve visited him in Japan. We even went for a tour of the Honda Collection Hall at Motegi.”
Words of wisdom
According to Jay, the trick to restoring any car is to love the vehicle you’re working on – and there’s no car he loves more than the original Civic. “I love its shape. I love the thought that has gone into its engineering. Even by today’s standards, its 45-year-old design looks modern, fresh and contemporary.”
Speaking of which, he’s a fan of the new one too. “The new Civic continues that same ethos of innovative engineering and build quality. The thought that goes into every single aspect of the new car – and every Honda product for the matter – is remarkable.”
Click here if you want to become a member of Honda Roots – and here if you want to learn more about classic Civic restoration. But if you’re interested in a more modern classic, then click here to register your interest in the brand-new 10th generation Honda Civic Diesel, due out in February.