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The road jinks and heaves over the rolling hills, a gray ribbon carelessly tossed upon a rumpled green-brown sward. Grazing sheep bow their heads in the bracing wind. God-rays stream through occasional breaks in the ominous cloud cover. Rain threatens. We're deep in hot hatch country, in one of the best hot hatches in the world—the 2018 Honda Civic Type R.

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We've made no secret of our love for this car, especially now that Honda finally deemed it available for sale in America. From a two liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine, 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque rush forth. Sixty mph arrives in just over five seconds, carrying a top speed of almost 170 mph (274 km/h). Its N rburgring Nordschliefe lap time makes older Porsche 911s look... slow.

This little Gundam hot hatch—with its preposterous array of wings and vents, edges and angles—is perhaps the most impressive, most rounded high-performance Honda since the original NSX. And it costs about as much as a loaded Accord.

We've taken the long way 'round en route to the birthplace of the Civic Type R, just for the sheer hell of it, to let that mighty little engine off the leash, to delight in the snickety-snick gearshift and the crisp, tactile steering, to play with a chassis with grip and poise and purpose equaled by few performance cars built on quotidian underpinnings. We're in Wales, home of some of Britain's best driving roads, and our drive isn't going to take as long as you might think. We're not headed for Japan, but rather the town of Swindon, 90 miles (145 km) east of here, just across the border in England. It's where every new Civic Type R in the world is made.

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Unless you're a Brit (or a fan of post-punk art-pop band XTC), chances are you've never heard of Swindon. Situated 80 miles (129 km) west of central London, it traces its beginnings back more than a thousand years, to the time of the Anglo-Saxons. The Industrial Revolution transformed the town in the 1800s, bringing canals and the railways. In 1841, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Victorian Britain's most celebrated engineer, established a workshop in Swindon to repair and maintain locomotives for the Great Western Railway. Thus began the town's association with manufacturing.

Trains, planes, and automobiles have all been made in Swindon. Today, though, it's only automobiles: The last steam engine built in Britain, the Evening Star, rolled out of Swindon Works in 1960, and the sprawling Honda of the UK Manufacturing plant on the northeastern outskirts of the town is built on the site of the old Vickers Supermarine factory that made the legendary Spitfire fighter plane during World War II.

The late 20th century hasn't been especially kind to Swindon. What's left of the old town is surrounded by a suburban sprawl dotted with big-box stores and identikit industrial parks. We cruise the Type R through town to the Honda plant, negotiating Swindon's famous Magic Roundabout, a giant two-way traffic circle ringed by five mini traffic circles. Even the Brits, who can barely drive a mile (1.6 km) without encountering a traffic circle, are a little flummoxed by this one; Lord knows the chaos it would cause in Los Angeles.

Honda began selling Civics in Britain in 1972, and to get around restrictions on Japanese imports, formed a joint venture with British Leyland in 1980. The mid-80s Rover 200 and 800 models used a lot of Civic and Acura Legend hardware; the 1993 Rover 600 was basically a reskinned Accord. Honda's decision to establish a factory to build its own cars in Swindon was a direct result of its links with British Leyland: A stamping plant that made body panels for BL had been in the town since 1955. (Now owned by BMW, it makes panels for Minis.)

The first British-built Honda, an Accord, rolled off the Swindon line in 1992. Today, the factory sprawls across 370 acres, employs 4,000, and is Honda's Global Production Hub for five-door hatchback versions of the 10th generation Civic. Every single five-door Civic hatchback sold around the world is made right here—one every 69 seconds. And because the current-gen Civic Type R, code-named FK8, is based on a five-door Civic hatch, it's made here, too.

A Type R starts life like every other Civic five door—a collection of steel stampings to be stitched together on the Assembly Frame line. To improve body rigidity, Type R bodies get an extra helping of structural adhesive, as well as short pitch welds—spot welds placed 0.8 inches apart instead of the 1.6 inches used on regular Civics. Then the body-in-white rolls through the paint shop to get sprayed one of six colors before it is lowered onto a 1300-foot long, 120-station final assembly line.

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Type Rs are typically built in batches of 75, and are treated no differently than any other Civic going down the line, says Phil Haydon, Honda's manufacturing operations boss. With cars exported to 90 countries, in left- and right-hand drive and different powertrain configurations, Swindon builds about 500 unique versions of the five door hatch. Keeping all the Civic variant builds to small batches means everyone on the assembly line gets the crack at building a Type R, and not just because it's good for morale.

Production is all about rhythm, Haydon says. Muscle memory is important. "If you've got that rhythm, quality comes naturally." But Honda's hottest Civic unquestionably gets a little extra TLC. "There's pride in building a Type R," admits Haydon, who drives one to the office, and parks it next to his S2000 roadster at home each night. "There are a lot of petrolheads working here. They love cars, and they love being around the Type R."

It takes 14 hours to assemble a Type R—two hours in the weld shop, 10 hours in the paint shop, and two hours on the final assembly line. Quality control signoff includes a short test drive on a track built on an old runway that once reverberated with the growl of the Spitfire's mighty Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engine. Then it's over to the dispatch yard, ready for shipment. Swindon has manufactured about 12,000 FK8 Type Rs so far, and a third of them have been shipped to the U.S., already the single biggest market for the new-generation version.

The extraordinary thing about Type R production at Swindon is how hands-off the Japanese are in the process, and how uncomplicated it all is. Apart from a few specialist components such as the Brembo brakes, most of the car's bits and pieces come from Honda's existing supplier base, near and far. The seats, for example, are made just five miles (eight km) away by a company called TS Tech. And that wonderful engine? Codenamed AP4T, it's made in the good old US of A, at Honda's engine plant in Anna, Ohio, and shipped to England.

That's right. There's a big piece of American pride at the heart of every Japanese-designed, British-built Honda Civic Type R. This car's home is the global village.

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GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE

Britain's auto industry isn't British anymore

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Situated just down the road from Honda's UK factory, BMW's Mini Plant Swindon is where 90 percent of the Mini's body-in-white components, and 80 percent of its sub-assemblies (hoods, tailgates and doors) are made. It's also a poignant reminder Britain once had its own auto industry.

Built in 1955, Mini Plant Swindon was owned by British Leyland in the late 1960s, when BL was Britain's domestic auto industry. BL made millions of vehicles wearing the Austin, Morris, Jaguar, Rover, Land Rover, Triumph, or MG badge, as well as others lost to the rust of time. Some of these vehicles were interesting, even ground-breaking, in terms of concept and design, yet all shoddily built in ancient, inefficient factories.

Hobbled by incompetent management and intransigent unions, BL was on life support by the late 70s, dependent on government subsidies for survival. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's ruthless remaking of the British economy in the 80s changed everything, however. Glamorous Jaguar was spun off and listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1984, with Ford buying it six years later for $2.3 billion USD. The rest of BL was renamed Rover Group and sold to aircraft and defense systems manufacturer British Aerospace in 1988, which flipped it to BMW in 1994.

BMW boss Bernd Pischetsrieder, an Anglophile car enthusiast, dreamed of rehabilitating Rover, Mini, and MG, pushing Range Rover further upmarket (he had BMW V12-powered Range Rover prototypes tooling around Munich) and even bringing back the Riley and Austin Healey brands. But by 2000 Pischetsrieder had been booted from the top job in Munich. The BMW board, panicked by the massive investments in new products and factory upgrades Rover Group needed to be profitable, wanted out.

Successful Mini became a BMW division. Valuable Land Rover and Range Rover were sold to Ford for $2.9 billion USD. The rest was offloaded to a consortium of four British businessmen for less than 20 bucks, which spoke volumes about the perceived health of the business. As part of the deal, BMW also loaned the consortium, Phoenix Venture Holdings, about $640 million USD—interest free—to help keep the now-branded MG Rover Group afloat. It was Munich's least worst option: If MG Rover went under, BMW wouldn't be on the hook for any more money.

MG Rover collapsed in 2005 with debts of about $2.4 billion USD, throwing 5,300 employees out of work. But not before the so-called Phoenix Four executives had reportedly pocketed an estimated $73 million USD between them. It was a scandalously sad end to Britain's domestic auto industry.

Of the old British Leyland brands, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Rover are now owned by India's Tata; BMW owns Mini, Riley, and Triumph; Austin, Morris, MG, and Austin Healey are owned by Chinese automaker SAIC; and China's Nanjing Automobile Corporation owns BMC, Princess, Vanden Plas, and Wolseley.

Source : http://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/msn/homeward-bound-in-the-honda-civic-type-r/ar-BBJnK76

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