|In-line four-cylinder, 791cc
Honda’s diminutive sports cars of the 1960s were a surprising blend of motorcycle racing technology, a relatively conventional chassis and pretty, Italianate styling. Beginning with the S500 of 1962 - only the second car ever made by the fledgling Japanese manufacturer - the series evolved into the S600 and later S800 models, all powered by the same little jewel of an engine. Drawing on Honda’s motorcycle racing experience, the S500’s engine boasted features unheard of on the most exotic European sports cars and more akin to contemporary Formula One practice; an alloy block and heads, roller bearing crankshaft, twin overhead camshafts and no less than four tiny carburettors. Drive was through a four-speed gearbox (with synchro on all but first gears) and enclosed chain drive to the rear wheels, independently suspended by cast alloy trailing arms that also served as oil bath chain cases. Front suspension was via torsion bars and finned drum brakes were fitted all round, another nod to racing car technology. The S500 was built in limited numbers and never exported, but its successor, the S600 introduced in March 1964, became the first Japanese sports car widely sold around the world, breaking into new markets like North America and even Australia. Honda increased the S600’s capacity to 791cc with the introduction of the S800 launched at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show, initially retaining the smaller model’s chain-drive before switching to a conventional shaft-drive, live axle rear end. Front disc brakes were a later addition, while an updated Mark 2 version appeared in February 1968 with a host of improvements inside and out. Production ceased in May 1970 after 11,536 had been sold in both roadster and coupe guises and these beguiling little cars number amongst most collectible early Japanese cars ever made, with a cult following around the world.