By the early sixties the name Honda had already become world famous for its achievements in the production of motorcycles. Soichiro Honda was a self made man, who started his own technical research institute in 1946 and became a motorcycle producer in 1948.
His first attempts at the four wheel market were presented at the 1962 Tokyo Motor Show and consisted of the T360 and the S360. The T-car was a small pick-up, while the S360 was a cute two-seater spider. Both cars were fitted with the smallest four cylinder engine used in a car. In spite of its small size 360cc, the engine produced 30 bhp; comparable to the output Volkswagen Beetle, which had an engine three times the size.
While the T version went into production in 1963 (and became a big seller), the S360 was developed further into the S500. Originally intended to be powered by a 491 cc, the production versions had a 530 cc engine, producing 44 bhp at 8000 revs. Amazingly the red-line was at 9500. The body of the car maintained the same general proportions of the original S360.
The engine was based on proven motorcycle technology, with a crankshaft fitted with roller bearings and four individual Keihin Carburetors. Suspension was fully independent front and rear. Motorcycle experience was used at the rear where the wheels were attached to two swing arms, which contained the chains used for the final drive. The S500 entered production in October 1963 and production stopped in September 1964, after just over 1300 cars.
The S500 was superseded by the similar, but larger engined S600. Power was up to 57 bhp at 8500 revs. This model became also available as a fastback coupe and remained in production from mid 1964 to mid 1967.In total 13084 cars were made, including 1800 Coupes.
The final and most famous version appeared in 1966, and was called S800 pointing at the engine which now had a capacity of 791 cc. It produced 70 bhp at a more modest 8000 rpm. Initially the chain drive system was maintained, but after the first 1000 cars were delivered, Honda fitted a conventional live axle. It was kept in place through trailing arms, coil springs and a Panhard rod. Both body versions were kept in production, although the roadster was by far the most popular one.
Exports had started with the S600 and for the S800 a larger market was envisaged, including the USA and many more European countries. It proved to be a popular car, although its revving ability (and reliability) was something met first with skepticism and disbelief. Those who could stand the engine noise were rewarded with a very agile and for the time relatively fast sports car, which also scored several successes in the smaller engine racing classes. In standard form it could reach 100 miles, with a 0-60 mph in just over 13 seconds.
In 1970 production finally ceased after around 11400 S800s (both versions) had left the factory. Honda's first sportscar will always be associated with the sound it produced, which varied from a large vacuum cleaner in standard form, to a pure jet fighter in race trim. Yet, its revving capacity should be seen in comparison to the Honda motorcycles, which, in GP-trim, ran well over 22000 rpm.
While living in German in the early '70's, I found a S800 Coupe for sale, which I purchased. It was in excellent shape and I loved the size (very small), and the eager to rev engine. The car was a later model with a live rear axle. I had the car for a short while, when the engine gave out. There had been a Honda dealer in the town where I lived (Bitburg) but had dropped Honda, due to the amount of warrenty work required - a lot as it turns out. I found a dealership in Luxemburg who was willing to rebuild the engine. At the same time I had a set of Koni adjustable shocks installed. After having my car for over 2 months, I picked it up. All was fine for the first 40 or 60 kilometers, then the engine let go again. That was enough. The car was quickly sold. It's a shame as the car was a lot of fun when it ran.
Country of origin
1966 - 1970
Front, longitudinally mounted
aluminium block and head
0.792 liter / 48.3 cu in
Bore / Stroke
60.0 mm (2.4 in) / 70.0 mm (2.8 in)
2 valves / cylinder, DOHC
4 Keihin Seiki CVB 36 N 30 A 1 Carburettors
67 bhp / 50 KW
@ 7570 rpm
69 Nm / 51 ft lbs
@ 5800 rpm
85 bhp / liter
sheet steel body on box-type frame
wishbones, adjustable torsion bars, hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
rigid axle, longitudinal swing arms and Panhard rod, coil springs, hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers
discs front, drums rear
4 speed Manual
Rear wheel drive
782 kilo / 1724 lbs
Length / Width / Height
3335 mm (131.3 in) / 1400 mm (55.1 in) / 1215 mm (47.8 in)
Wheelbase / Track (fr/r)
2000 mm (78.7 in) / 1150 mm (45.3 in) / 1150 mm (45.3 in)