By on April 2, 2012

Murilee’s piece on the Acura Vigor brought back some fond memories for me involving that car, and an utterly bizarre bit of automotive trivia that was thought to be lost forever – a Japanese-market commercial for the Honda Vigor that features sexual deviancy (panty sniffing, anyone), Italian art house cinematography and the requisite badly-garbled English slogans.

My father’s old job as General Counsel for Honda Canada didn’t preclude him from enjoying some of the fringe benefits of the job; an NSX company car that was passed around to executives, the chance to drive pre-production prototypes and right-hand drive engineering mules, and a steady supply of Japanese language brochures and magazines, most of which would be passed on to me, in an attempt to placate my unrelenting, Aspergers-like obsession with the automobile.

At some point in my early childhood, my Dad got his hands on a copy of a TV commercial for the Japanese-market Honda Vigor, and brought it home for my Mum to watch. In her words, the ad remains “unlike any other car commercial I’ve ever seen. It’s more like a men’s cologne ad.” My father made a VHS copy of the tape, and the ad’s tagline “Vigor: For Men” (yes, much like a fragrance) became an inside joke in my family.

The VHS tape containing the ad was lost for a number of years, until one day, when I searched Youtube on a whim for “Honda Vigor”, in the hopes of finding the theme music used in the ad. Instead, I found not only a series of 30 second spots for the Vigor, but also the original, long-form advertisement. I was floored.

Yes, it really was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The plot seems to revolve around a courtesan who is being chauffeured to an appointment with a wealthy client – who happens to be a woman. This may be blasé in an era of MTV-broadcasted same-sex smooches, but in 1991, it must have been pretty racy. Amidst all the smouldering shots of stocking-clad gams, we see that the working girl’s chariot of choice is the JDM Honda Vigor, or the “FF Midship Straight-5 4-Door Hardtop Speciality” as the title card shows. The video ends with an implied Sapphic rendezvous and the client’s butler inexplicably getting a whiff of the call girl’s undies.

To this day, nobody really has any answers as to the genesis of this ad. My parents likely chalked it up to the ahem…strange predilections that permeate certain regions of Asia. But the biggest question, still unanswered, is “why in God’s name did they let their 3-year-old son watch this ad?” Perhaps it explains a lot.

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17 Comments on “Vigor: For Men. The Story Of The Strangest Automobile Ad...”

  • avatar

    Double-U Tee ef

    Could have been directed by David Lynch.

  • avatar

    Oh brother. This crap.
    Yeah – around this time there was a kind of fashion fad that had the shelf life of a Yugo, in where some fashion icons presented themselves as post-AIDS beings who didn’t need men. It was fashionable in Europe for a while, and it was very popular with Madonna back when she was doing her “Girly Tour”, Sex book, and her album “Erotica”.

    YUCK. How embarrassing. Even MDNA is now pretty embarrassed by her fling into S&M fashion.

    This ad was way too into that kinky bondage meme hitting the circuits back then.

  • avatar

    Yeah, that was a bit weird and etherial. A couple of the scenes put me in mind of “A Man and a Woman.”

    BUT NOW go back and view the credits which roll about 5:52 or so. Evidently the Japanese crew shooting in Italy adopted Italian names as a spoof.
    I found Prosciutto Morita credited as Mixer and Buon Giourno Takita as sound engineer. Poco Poco Ishii was a producer; there are many more in the same vein. Must have been fun to work on that shoot.

  • avatar

    One of the most bizarre things I’ve watched in a while.

    I noticed the names in the credits, too. All the Japanese last names have Italian words or phrases listed as their given names.

    And I still don’t get how a clip where the only man was the Dirty Old Man butler is supposed to sell the Vigor to men.

  • avatar

    Was I the only one expecting elbow sex around 5 minutes in?

  • avatar

    To quote Walter Matthau in Grumpier Old Men. “Oooh, Lesbians. Yummy.”

  • avatar

    Weird ad, indeed. Sex sells itself, but sex doesn’t sell products.

  • avatar
    kid cassady

    The resemblance of the driving segments to the music video for Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur” is remarkable.

  • avatar

    Of all the strange choices made in that ad, I’m a little concerned that I’m mainly wondering why the chauffeur is driving around with his hand on the automatic transmission knob.

    • 0 avatar

      Might the driver needed a bit more power for the tight turns and the jump. Reminds me of BMW Films: Star, but Madonna isn’t being driven around town in the Vigor.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll answer this one, premium jdm hondas back then had an sport mode button mounted to the where his index finger is resting. This would change the shift points for sporty driving under part throttle acceleration, great for hills. D3 is replaced by S3, and S3 mode is like D3 on all hondas, one notch down from drive and locks out fourth gear, the button by his index finger brings back fourth gear, but keeps sports mode on. A fancy-shmancy overdrive button for the 80s.

      We only got them on the 3rd generation Prelude (from 89-91, 88s having them mounted on the shifter faceplate), and the 1st Generation legend coupe. Hitting the s4 switch with his finger will bring fourth gear back into the mix, but he’s probably toggling into third, hence the surge forward shown right after. That’s the explanation, ignoring the phallic symbolism they’re going for.

      I love this promo, I’ve watched it countless times back when I had the later version of the 89 vigor shown here. Is tokyo faces a real band?

  • avatar

    This ad makes me think of the Honda Legend ads starring Harrison Ford. They seem just as forgettable. The only reason I remember the ad was because they were filmed in Lakeland/Winter Haven, Florida. Meh, it was big news in the paper back then.

  • avatar

    I think I saw the rear of an old rwd MkII Ford Escort.

  • avatar

    Vigor: For Men (Who Like to Sniff Women’s Underwear).

  • avatar

    I think I just witnessed the convergence of Blade Runner, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hart to Hart and Ronin.

  • avatar

    I’ll be in my bunk.

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