Profile: Who is Mugen?

Profile: Who is Mugen?

Mugen Civic Type R

The story of Mugen Motorsports is an interesting one – from a direct link to Honda, to mountains of experience on the racetrack, Mugen is one of the biggest names in Japanese tuning.

With several successful decades of both racing and road car endeavours under its belt, it’s easy to get excited about anything when Mugen is involved.

Who founded Mugen?

What is legally known today as M-TEC Company, Ltd., Mugen started out in 1973 in Asaka near Tokyo, and was established by none other than son of Honda founder Soichiro Honda, Hirotoshi Honda, along with Masao Kimura.

Hirotoshi himself came in with a previous passion for motorsport, having built his own race car in his father’s house in 1965 ahead of his graduation from Nihon University. 

Meanwhile, Kimura holds great experience on the track and with Honda, with 50 victories in its sports cars and single-seaters – not only that, but Kimura also built experience with Honda in its R&D team and the Honda Racing Service.

Mugen originally started out by offering special parts for motocross bikes, but it wasn’t long before it started to establish its strong tuner roots as it began modifying Honda engines, starting with the 1200cc Honda Civic powerplant.

Before long, Mugen was developing bodykits for the likes of the Honda Ballade CR-X on its way to meet aspirations to offer its own models, much in the way of TommyKaira.

More models followed, and eventually led to the Mugen NSX prototype in 1992.

M-TEC was established in 2004 following Hirotoshi’s tax evasion controversy, forcing Mugen to restructure. However, M-TEC retained the rights to use the Mugen name and logo, as well as its Asaka-based headquarters. M-TEC is currently led by its former engineering division manager, Shin Nagaosa.

Is Mugen owned by Honda?

Despite its direct family connection, Mugen is not – and never has been – owned by Honda.

However, since Soichiro’s death in 1991, his son Hirotoshi has been Honda’s biggest shareholder.

What does Mugen mean?

As with most (if not all) Japanese companies, you’ll find meaning behind the Mugen name, with the word representing ‘unlimited’ or ‘without limit’.

Mugen logo

Next time you see ‘Mugen’ followed by the word ‘Power’, the meaning of Mugen has a lot to do with that, mainly to denote ‘unlimited power’.

Mugen in motorsport

Mugen has played a huge part in motorsports since 1973, and continues to do so today.

Thanks to its engine-tuning prowess, Mugen has been able to make a name for itself in many disciplines, including a steeped history in Formula 1.

Some of Mugen’s biggest success has been found in Formula 3000 (F3000) and Formula Three. The tuner partnered with Honda to develop an F3000 engine in 1986 to be introduced the season that followed, with the resulting unit being leased out to 14 teams on the grid for the Japanese series.

In 1989, Mugen entered into European F3000, and was able to take the championship with Jean Alesi driving an Eddie Jordan Racing Reynard.

The same year saw Mugen start to develop its first Formula 1 engine, codenamed the MF350.

Formula Three success came in Japan, meanwhile, taking the championship in 1988. Just one year later saw Mugen enter – and win – the French and the British Formula Three titles.

Meanwhile, in sportscar racing, Mugen played a big part in the JGTC with a Mugen/DOME-entered NSX, while also making a name for itself in the subsequent Super GT series. 

Mugen and Formula 1

Mugen entered the F1 fold in 1991, preparing Honda V10 engines for Tyrell, and were units based on the championship-winning engines of the McLaren cars in 1989 and 1990.

After moving over to Footwork in 1992, Mugen eventually made its way to Team Lotus at the end of 1993. However, due to an underfunded season, the Lotus 109 endured a pointless 1994.

Moving to Ligier in 1995, Mugen enjoyed much more success with the 3.0-litre MF301H helping achieve points at nine races, as well as two podiums for Martin Brundle and Olivier Panis at the wheel.

Building on this, Ligier and Mugen took their first F1 win together (and Ligier’s last ever) at the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix, with Panis the victor.

However, Mugen and Ligier’s partnership came to an end after the latter was taken over by Alain Prost, who wanted the team to have its engines supplied by Peugeot.

And so, in 1998, Mugen joined forces with Jordan Grand Prix, Eddie Jordan’s F1 outfit.

The first half of the season was disappointing, to say the least, and caused plenty of tension between Mugen and Jordan, having not scored a single point. The season did gradually improve, culminating in Jordan’s first-ever grand prix victory, with the team famously taking a 1-2 finish at a chaotic Belgian Grand Prix.

In the season that followed, driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen was even able to mount somewhat of a title challenge, the German taking victories in France and Italy, before the might of Ferrari and McLaren eventually outdid the plucky Jordan team.

As the new millennium began, Honda had decided to return to F1, and Mugen fell out of the sport after Honda briefly supplied engines to both the British American Racing team and Jordan, before focussing just on the former.

Mugen at the Isle of Man TT

With Honda such a big name in motorbikes, it was only natural that Mugen would play a part in racing on two wheels.

Mugen has taken multiple titles in the Isle of Man TT races, especially the TT Zero category for EV bikes. Big names to have ridden – and won in – Mugen-powered bikes include Guy Martin and John McGuinness.

Mugen on the road

Most of Mugen’s road car endeavours have been in the shape of bodykits and enhanced parts for existing models, with Mugen of late working hard to make the Honda Fit look like some sort of fantasy Type R model.

However, the tuner has sporadically offered full-on production cars over the years for the general public to buy.

Civic Mugen RR

Most prominently, Mugen developed two variations of the Honda Civic over the years, with one produced for the Japanese domestic market, and the other for the US.

The JDM Civic Mugen RR was built on the FD2 generation of the popular hatch, with the tuner doing a great job to inject some excitement into one of the more flawed eras of the Civic. Despite having a costly expense on top of the regular Civic Type R at the time, all 300 examples of the Civic Mugen RR apparently sold out in around 10 minutes.

It’s easy to notice the RR over the regular FD2 Type R thanks to its use of carbon fibre around its exterior, not least for that massive rear wing. Meanwhile, uprated engine components added an extra 15bhp to put a total of 237bhp through the front wheels.

CR-Z Mugen

Outside of working on the Civic, Mugen has also produced its own versions of the CR-Z hybrid. 

Mugen created two iterations of the CR-Z – the CR-Z Mugen and the CR-Z Mugen RZ.

The most common of these was the former, with the CR-Z Mugen getting a supercharger added into the mix. Meanwhile, sports suspension, a triangular custom exhaust, and 17-in bronze/silver alloys were added, along with the distinctive Aero Package.