Some believe there are nine circles of Hell, each addressing the various sins of human beings against one another. But for those of us who hold a driver’s license, there is a tenth ring for the most cardinal of trespasses:
Failure to observe signs bearing the inscription: Slower Traffic use Turnouts.
Pardons may be offered for those that stay within spitting distance of the posted speed limit. But no mercy shall be granted unto those – pilots of motorhomes, rental minivans, tyrannical Prius’ – who not only crawl through the twisties at half pace, but pass turnout after turnout without the slightest acknowledgement of the vehicular train building behind them.
If you’re in a Miata for the above situation, you’re pretty much hosed. Same for an AE86, or any champion of the “slow car fast” ideology. The solid yellow lines break into a fractured taunt as a peek around the offending car reminds you of your ineffective power to weight ratio.
The divider turns solid again, flat line, like your fun for the afternoon.
But if you’re running a HONDA TWO-THOUSAND…you eye that approaching passing zone. From lugging in third, you down-shift to second. But dropping the hammer from this point in the rev-range would get you dusted by a two-point-slow Jetta. So a practiced blip of the throttle and a flick of the wrist bring you to first gear. In your head, you explain the essence of your people’s anthem to the erratically braking Crossover in front.
Two liters, four cylinders, sixteen valves, and 240hp at 8300RPM…I shall play it for you….
Two shifts later and the obstruction is a speck in your rearview. Where moments ago Dr. Jekyll’s obvious relation to a Civic DX was getting to you, Mr. Hyde’s identity as a precision sports car is now all consuming. The wind rushes by, attempting to keep up with the scenery. The digital tachometer plays cat and mouse with the flashing limiter, and the unmistakable banshee howl of a VTEC mill echoes off the canyon walls.
On your way out of Southern California, State Route 33 is fast, but not too fast. Technical, but not stressful. Combined with a well-maintained surface and open sight lines, it’s a happy medium between the tight switchbacks of the Malibu canyons, and the eons long climbs of Angeles Crest. It’s curves are easy on the brakes, while at the same time allowing for healthy exploration of the rev-range. The open views enable you to pick your line, and the gentle sweepers sided by rock formations are seemingly designed for the aural climax that is the last thousand RPM at the top of each gear. No sooner does the limiter begin to flash than you find yourself easing into the middle pedal, blipping down a gear or two, and soon back on the throttle and eyeing the next straight.
I savored this progression. Again, and again, and again. Until I descended into the Cuyama Valley, comfortable in my conclusion that I’d just driven the best S2000 road in the state.
Perhaps, the worst conclusion I could have come to.
I didn’t name my S2000 Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, but referring to the tale is the easiest way for me to explain my frustration with the car. Previous to owning it, its dual personality was actually a draw. On multiple test drives I played with both characters. In traffic, and at low speeds, it drove like a Civic. Mute and powerless, but possessing enough motivation to keep with the rush hour slog. Given a free lane however, it was a different car. The induction noise after 6000RPM was the best sort of naughty, as was the flight after nailing the two-three shift. While courting the S2000, this duality seemed like the best of quality one could find in a sports car.
But living with it turned out to be the biggest pain in the ass. Finding a gap in faster moving traffic meant going down two gears, or spending a bothersome amount of time above 5000RPM. The same complaint applies to a spirited drive. Although I’m all for peaky motors, the legs on this one need a lengthy place to stretch. And the on-off engagement of VTEC at 6000RPM meant my home road would be spent lugging the poor F20C, or driving the entire route in second gear.
Complain, moan, whine, wheeze, whatever. Even period reviews of the car relay the need to wind the ever-living mess out of the motor to make progress. The issue rather is the famed KICK IN, YO crossover itself. Anything below that point, and you’re driving that damn Civic you forgot was part of package. With only a third of the motor’s entire rev-range being suited to having fun you spend two thirds of it doing an overweight impression of a Miata.
On a tour of Southern California, I got to drive some of the best enthusiast routes this state has to offer. Mulholland, Angeles Crest, and Pacific Coast Highway are the most recognizable names. But there was also Topanga, Latigo, Tujunga, Decker, and many more only identified by numbers. In the end, a barely marked two-laner just north of Oxnard lead to my favorite drive in the S2000. It’s also the one that put the nail in the coffin.
There aren’t just slow cars, there are slow roads. And a fast car on a slow road is as painful as a Lancer Evo at 6PM on the I-405. Where a Miata or similar is happy at speeds legal in school zones, the Honda S2000 lives for roads with room to scoot much, much faster. Roads that you could let Mr. Hyde out, and just run with him for as long as you wanted. Roads where you’re never in danger of spending time down in the rev-range of mere mortals. Roads where it’s just you and third gear, and fourth gear, and maybe even fifth. Roads that locally just aren’t available to me.
State Route 33 handed me and the S2000 off to State Route 166 which, by way of Highway 101, eventually saw me heading up Highway 1, back to the Bay Area. Some of the more entertaining bits were spent on the right end of the tach, with the setting sun to my left. But as I settled into top gear for the last stretch I knew my mind was made up.
A few miles north of San Luis Obispo I gave up roads that were not mine.
And a car that belonged to them.