Collectible Classic: 1970-1972 Honda 600
May 10, 2013
"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow" certainly applies to Honda, which last year accounted for almost ten percent of new-vehicle sales in the United States. There was a time when Honda merited little more than an asterisk in such tallies. The "little acorn" that started the Honda oak growing was a car most unlikely to launch a major brand in an entrenched market. The Honda 600, a microcar by any standard, was the seed planted forty-four years ago that begot a veritable forest of Hondas.
In the 1960s, Honda established a bridgehead as a purveyor of two-wheeled transportation, powered by the slogan, "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" -- a counterpoint to Harley-Davidson's outlaw image. The first Honda cars in America didn't even make it across the entirety of the Pacific Ocean; sales of the 1970 Honda 600 began, most tentatively, in Hawaii.
Those first ones, designated N600, were upright sedans that drew inspiration from the British Motor Corporation's original Mini. Of course, those little Brit boxes weren't exactly big sales sensations in the States, either, but Honda had to use what it had on hand to get things going. Powered by a 598-cc air-cooled two-cylinder motorcycle engine driving the front wheels, both the sedan and sporty companion hatchback coupe (Z600), which arrived a bit later, sold for a good deal less than the Volkswagen Beetle. Then again, the Hondas had two fewer cylinders, about two-thirds the horsepower, and were 400 pounds lighter and nearly three feet shorter in length. When a Beetle seems gargantuan in comparison, particularly in a vehicular landscape dominated by domestic behemoths, you're talking niche market. Such was Honda's early lot in American life.