HONDA S-600: TIDY, LIVELY, ENDEARING
IT WAS 1965 and an American serviceman returned from two years in Japan with Honda’s latest sports car, the S-600. What’s more, he offered his car to R&T for a road test. Here are tidbits from that April 1965 article.
This and the following images from R&T, April 1965.
The Honda sports car began in its home market with a 360-cc engine, but as that adage has it, there’s no substitute for cubic inches (even if the jump is from 22.0 to 32.4 to 37.0). That is, the S-600’s 606 cc is diminutive contrasted with displacements of other small sports cars of the era: The Austin-Healey Sprite II’s eventual 1098 cc, the Triumph Spitfire’s 1493 cc, the Lotus Elan’s 1588 cc. But, as R&T commented about the Honda’s engine, “Everything about it bespeaks sound engineering, high-quality production and excellent workmanship.”
The Honda S-600’s inline four had double-overhead camshafts, hemispherical combustion chambers, four single-throat slide-throttle carburetors, and a needle-bearing-mounted crankshaft.
“Driving the S-600,” R&T said, “is highly enjoyable—provided you like sports cars with buzzy little engines…. The horsepower peak of 57 bhp is reached at 8500 rpm and the red section of the tachometer begins at 9500 on a dial that goes to 11,000. This is a passel of revs for a passenger car these days.”
On the other hand, recall Honda’s motorcycle heritage.
Another example of cycle practice was in the S-600’s final drive: “The drive is delivered to the rear wheels through ‘axle’ stubs with sprockets on the outboard ends at the front of a chain case. This chain case serves as the lower member of what is essentially a trailing link independent rear suspension.”
R&T continued, “Though seldom used in automobile final drive systems, a properly aligned and properly lubricated roller chain results in less power loss than even straight-cut gears and thus is no bum idea. There is a bit of chain noise, especially on the overrun, but hardly sufficient to bother the dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast, to whom this sort of highly specialized noise is probably more endearing than annoying.”
Yes, I’ve used similar logic in praising Morgan handling, its willowy chassis being part of its suspension.
A handsome cockpit, but check if you’ll fit.
The S-600 had tidy instrumentation and even a requisite wood-rimmed steering wheel. However, any description also called for the word “snug.” Back in those days, R&T Data Panels contained “Driver Comfort Ratings,” in which 85–100 was good; 70–85, fair; and less than 70, poor. For a 5’ 9” driver, the S-600 scored an 80. For one of 6’, a 65. If you were 6’ 3”, forget it.
It was a nice place to be, though, if you fit.
And, relative to other small sports cars of the era, the S-600 got you other places reasonably quickly. The S-600’s 0–60 time beat the Sprite’s, and its quarter-mile results bettered the Spitfire’s as well.
No fair bringing the Lotus Elan into the discussion. An Elan went for around $4200 in 1965 dollars. A Sprite cost around $1900; a Spitfire, $2155. And the U.S. serviceman paid the equivalent of $1600 for his S-600 in Japan. R&T guessed it could be priced at less than $2000 in the U.S.
Alas, the Honda S-600 was never officially exported to the U.S. However, examples today are only a Google away…. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020
Great minds think alike!
I am reminded of my Suzuka Grand Prix hotel right next to a railway underpass. All night long prior to the grand prix, kids would buzz through on their bikes at full revs. Only 8500? Ha.
There are always a couple of beautifully presented S600s at the Little Car Show in Pacific Grove during the Monterey Car Week. I always imagined they must have been delightful to drive up US1 between Ragged Point and Bixby Bridge.