About a week ago, we shared with you the story of Porsche building cars for Mercedes-Benz. This time around, it's Mercedes-Benz building a car for a different automaker. If you thought the Porsche-Mercedes collab was amusing, this one is almost unthinkable.
So which automaker did Mercedes-Benz help out back then? That would be Honda. So how did the German manufacturer end up doing this favor for Honda? We have to go back to the early-'80s for the start of this story, specifically in South Africa.
Honda wanted to make an entrance in South Africa and they wanted to build cars there as well. However, they had no facilities at the time, making things a little difficult for them. Enter Mercedes-Benz.
The German automaker has been in South Africa since 1948, making them an established brand in the country. They also have a massive facility in East London. With that, the two brands struck a deal with Mercedes-Benz building and marketing Hondas and the latter helping boost the luxury marque's production figures. The result of that deal was the Ballade, and it benefited both brands.
At the time, Mercedes-Benz needed to sell a relatively low-priced model in South Africa. However, the 190E wasn't exactly within easy reach for the masses. With that, Mercedes-Benz South Africa placed Honda Ballades in their showrooms and pitched it as an entry-level luxury car. The Ballade's role was to serve as the stepping stone for Mercedes-Benz cars with the promise of high levels of build quality along the way.
The marketing ploy worked, and it is said that most Mercedes-Benz owners bought a Ballade as a second car. Mercedes-Benz's brand cache also helped cement Honda's reputation in South Africa as a marque that offers Benz-like quality.
Mercedes-Benz would continue to build the Honda Ballade well into the '90s. By this time, they made a few special edition variants, and even badged them like their own, too. They called those cars the Ballade 160i and 180i to make it sound similar to the 190E and 230E models sold at the time. Also, the Ballades of that era were essentially the fifth and sixth-generation Civics.
Whereas the Civic is marketed as an economy car, the Ballade was touted as a junior executive sedan. The Ballades of the '90s had niceties such as power windows, velour seats, and a hi-fi audio system, just to name a few. But there was also a unique model that not a lot know about outside of South Africa. That was the Ballade 160i (and 180i) AMG. Yes, even Mercedes-Benz's in-house tuning division did something special for Honda.
The AMG-badged Ballades had sports suspension, unique alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler. Some versions even had a lightly-tuned version of the B16A engine, the same one used in the SiR. Whereas the standard B16A engine put out 160 PS, the one used in the Ballade AMG made 173 PS. The AMG version also came with leather seats and anti-lock brakes.
Mercedes-Benz stopped building the Civic-based Ballade in 2001, replaced by the seventh-generation Civic in South Africa. The Ballade name returned in the late '00s as the South African version of the City, and it's been that way since. But its initial discontinuation marked the end of the Anglo-Japanese collaboration. Nonetheless, it's an interesting footnote in automotive history, and it's not something we might never see again.