Honda Odyssey


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Is it a Family Van or a Screaming Off Road Vehicle?

Well, BOTH!  These days, when most people hear the terms "Honda Odyssey" or "Honda Pilot", they think about something very different than thoughts it might have conjured up 10, 20, or 30 years ago.  Now a days, the Honda Odyssey is a popular van produced by Honda automotive; however, the original Honda Odyssey was not a minivan.  In the past, the Odyssey and Pilot were popular off road dune buggy type vehicles made by Honda. 

Honda Odyssey Van

Honda Odyssey Van

The Honda Odyssey was first released in 1977 as a 250cc off road ATV kart that was different than any other machine at the time.  The Odyssey was initially produced with a 250cc 2 stroke, air cooled, pull start engine mated to a CVT transmission that helped provide seamless automatic shifting into higher and lower ratios.  This type of transmission is very similar in operation to the CVT's found on snowmobiles.  Notoriously hard to pull start, an aftermarket electric start system was offered in addition to many other accessories for this popular off road buggy.  Even today, their popularity still remains with loyal fans, and you would be surprised at the number of parts that you can still find for these old machines.  The 250 model was produced from 1977 to 1984. 

The author of this article has ridden and owned one of these old Honda Odyssey 250s.  I remember the first time that I drove one years ago at the dunes.  It was a blast to drive.  The engine was not a real powerhouse, but it had decent power.  Some buddies and I were driving around the beach looking for ways to catch air.  At one point, I spotted some sand drifted up against a log or something, and proceeded to head straight for it at full throttle.  I launched off and was soaring through the air.  Lots of fun until the Honda Odyssey nose dived into the sand and began to flip end over end.  I wasn't hurt but the roll cage on the Odyssey was bent.  Thankfully it had a roll cage!  The old Honda Odysseys were a lot of fun, but later in life when I had one, the lack of a rear suspension got really old after a short time.  Every time you hit a bump or jump, the Odyssey would violently react by bouncing around.  It was like riding a bucking bronco.  Fun in some ways (especially if you're younger), but the older you get, the less appealing this sort of ride is to you (and your lower back)!  Fortunately, Honda realized that the lack of a suspension in back and a poorly designed front suspension were not good selling points.  Read on below to see Honda's answer to the shortcomings of the Honda Odyssey 250.  Even with all it's limitations, the Odyssey 250 was still a great seller for Honda.    

Honda Odyssey 250 FL250

Honda FL250

Since it was so popular, Honda made some major revisions and released a newer version of the Odyssey in 1985.  It was the FL350, and it came equipped with a more powerful 350cc 2 stroke engine, electric start, reverse, and a better frame design.  The Honda Odyssey FL350 also came with full suspension front and back that was a far cry from the minimal front suspension  and total lack of rear suspension on the FL250.  The Honda Odyssey 350 was a big step in the right direction, but unfortunately is also had some issues.  Just like the FL250, the FL350 had the air cooled engine mounted right behind the seat.  This was a terrible location in terms of engine cooling.  A hot, air cooled 2 stroke engine sitting behind the seat meant that overheating was a constant concern.  In fact, when it was first released, the 1985 Honda Odyssey 350 did have problems with overheating.  As a result, Honda later issued a redesigned cylinder head to try to minimize the overheating issue.  This helped some, but the location of an air cooled engine behind the seat was still a weak point of the early Honda Odysseys.  The aftermarket tried to address this problem by producing liquid cooled cylinder heads to try to keep these engines cooler.  Even so, the Honda Odyssey 350 was only sold for 1 year before it was discontinued.    

Honda FL350

Honda Odyssey FL350

Once again, Honda learned from their experiences on the FL350, and they released a new machine known as the Pilot FL400.  This new machine was vastly improved over previous versions of the Honda Odyssey.  The engine still sat behind the seat, but unlike it's air cooled predecessors, the FL400 now had a liquid cooled that helped deal with the earlier problems of overheating.  Not only did the new engine help address the overheating problem, but the 400 engine was also more powerful.  This newer kart came with many additional features on top of the FL350 improvements.  The Pilot was re-styled further and had a more refined and modern look than either the Honda Odyssey 250 or 350 models.     

Honda Pilot 400 FL400

Honda Pilot FL400

The Honda Pilot was capable of speeds around 60mph!  A more sophisticated suspension helped soak up the bumps for better control and also a more comfortable ride. Unfortunately, the Honda Pilot FL400 was not cheap, and it was only sold for the 1989 and 1990 model years.  After this, Honda dropped these type of vehicles and they have not offered anything like them since.  It's too bad, because these off road buggies were great fun to drive!  These buggies still have a strong following of enthusiasts behind them.  They are powerful and fun off road vehicles that provide ATV fun with the safety of a full roll cage and seat belt.  Even though they are now discontinued, they live on with those who still enjoy these fun vehicles.  It is still possible to find these Pilots for sale used, and you can also still find parts for maintenance and repair to help keep these great machines running for years to come.  So, the next time you hear the term Honda Odyssey, think "minivan" AND "off road machine"!