3rd June 2021

Scream if you want to go faster; the Honda S600

Produced for only two years, the Honda S600 is a highly elusive gem for fans of diminutive topless motoring for two. Launched in March 1964, a hardtop fastback joined the range a year later and in total only around 11,500 were produced. They’re rare and find their way on to the market infrequently, because those who have enjoyed ownership find it hard to part ways.

The driving experience is a huge part of the appeal. Specifically, for many, the engine. Although only boasting 606cc and 57bhp and 37.5lb.ft of torque, it produces peak power at 8500rpm and can scream its way up to 11,000rpm. Like a bike. The advanced and precisely engineered all-aluminium four-cylinder featured a twin-cam, overhead valve head and individual Keihin carburettors for each cylinder, plus a needle roller bearing crankshaft to help overcome packaging challenges and reduce friction, particularly at high engine speeds. Just like a bike.

Thanks to being under 11-feet long and 4.5-feet wide, the convertible weighed just over 700kg and even the fastback in the most plush SM600 form tipped the scales at under 750kg. The SM model came with additional creature comforts – such as a heater as standard, more comfortable seats and reversing lights, for example – than the S600, occupants of which could enjoy vinyl seats, a wood rimmed wheel, brushed metal instrument binnacle and little else. Passers by could at least enjoy the looks and soundtrack.

A top speed of 90mph was possible, but it is on twisty roads where the S600 excels. Road testers of the time praised the Honda’s steering, likening it to the Lotus Elan’s, which as high praise goes is stratospheric. A four-speed gearbox is a conventional choice, but the rest of the drivetrain is anything but. As part of an independent rear suspension, Honda opted to incorporate a chain drive. Just like a… you get the picture.

The reasoning behind the chain drive is that, although noisier and harsher than heavily-damped, propshaft and driveshaft-based alternatives, it reduces parasitic power loss through the transmission. Honda’s engineers wanted every one of those 57bhp transmitted to the road as efficiently as possible. For many, the extra noise from a chain-driven axle just behind the driver’s head perfectly complements the visceral, 10,000rpm cacophony of fun.

Where do you stand on the S600; limited run or limited appeal? Inspiration for a generation of roadsters or MG copycat?

I used to share a car lift to work with a friend of mine. His car one week my car the second week and so on. At the time (1971) we had both been asked to transfer, by our company, from their main site in Derby to the Marine and Industrial division based at Ansty in Warwickshire, both taking up appointments as engineers on Marine Gas Turbine development for the Royal Navy. This move resulted in a daily round trip of approx 90 miles. at the time I was running a "split screen" Morris Minor Traveller, while my friend ran an equally decrepid Ford Anglia. One day he mentioned in passing that he was thinking of buying a Honda sports car from a friend of his but was undecided whether to buy or not. I advised him to buy as anything was better than a Ford Anglia. The following week he turned up in a superb bright red Honda 600. From then on the Minor took a back seat as we travelled in style for the next two years before he transferred to Bristol. Every journey was a joy the rising scream of the engine being accompanied by the increasing roar of the chain drive transmission, coupled with road holding that had to be experienced to be believed. Every lunch time the car was surrounded by our engineering colleagues most of them wanting to buy it. I must have travelled well over 10,000 miles in this superb little car and would have been happy to travel 500,000 more. Happy days.

To rude to mention, 04/06/2021