Honda's Urban EV concept has recently lit up the Frankfurt auto show. Our own Jacob Black called it "the prettiest EV yet." And Honda announced that it will be making it to production as soon as 2019.
The web is full of comments about where the Urban EV's styling comes from. Some say it looks like a Volkswagen Rabbit, others say it's a Peugeot 205. But this styling comes straight from Honda. The Urban EV is a retro look at the Honda N600 and the first-generation Civic that followed it.
If you want an Urban EV, you'll have to wait. But if you want its grandfather, the N600, we can help. Our Find of the Week this week is a fuel-sipping, wood panelled, 1971 Honda 600.
Soichiro Honda started building motorcycles in 1946. Twelve workers in a shack made motorized bicycles using surplus 50 cc generator engines. But Honda wanted bigger. In 1949 he started making motorcycles using his own frame and engine. It was called the D-Type, for Dream.
In 1963, the company built their first automobile. The T360 was a Kei-size mini pickup that used a 356 cc four-cylinder engine. The S500 sports car and L700 wagon followed soon after.
Then, in 1966, a three-door hatchback. The N360. Like Honda's previous cars, it was designed to meet Japan's tiny kei car regulations.
After the war, the kei car standard was introduced to help more people move from motorcycles to cars. Originally limited to 150 cc, they were gradually increased to a maximum of 360 cc by 1955. That's when the cars started to sell well. In addition to the small engines, the cars were tiny. There was a maximum length of 3,000 mm and width of 1,300 mm.
The N360 was small, and while its 31 hp was a lot for a kei car, it wasn't close to enough to sell anywhere else. So Honda developed the N600 alongside. It was the same car, but it had a bigger and more powerful engine. It launched in 1969, intended for export to markets like the US.
The N600 was the first Honda to be imported to the US. The N600 was about a metre shorter than anything else on the road. It weighed about half of what domestic cars did. But it was simple and well designed.
The larger 598 cc engine was still just a two cylinder. And the whole engine had less displacement than the average V8 had in just one of its cylinders. Despite that, the aluminum engine was a relative powerhouse, for its tiny size. It made 42 hp, 37 lb-ft of torque, and could get impressive mileage. It could rev to 9,000 RPM, and it was air cooled.
Not a lot of power, but the tiny dimensions and having some plastic body panels kept the weight down around 500 kg. City performance was good, but 0-100 was better measured with a sundial than a stopwatch (19 seconds). Top speed was 124 km/h.
Honda sold 25,000 N600s in the US - Honda didn't import cars to Canada until 1973 - before it was discontinued. Its replacement was the Civic, and the Civic's story still goes on today.
This N600, for sale in Windsor, ON, is a 1971 model. It's from California, and looks like it has been fully restored. The wood trim appears to be an original option, but even if it isn't it's period correct and looks great. This N600 is immaculate inside and out and won't take up much space in your garage.
If you're looking for one of Honda's originals, or just a really cool way to get around town, then this Honda N600 might be just what you're looking for.