Iíve always had a weak spot for the Honda N600 micro-car. I was in the service at the time they were new, and wanted to buy one, but couldnít quite muster the $1,400 that it took. But, many years later, and with a few more bucks in my pocket, I saw one come up on the Bring-A-Trailer auction site. I bid and won the auction for a price lower than I was anticipating Ė the seller had not set a reserve, and I was lucky that there werenít other serious bidders the day the auction closed.
What is a Honda N600? Well, it was the first car Honda imported into the United States. They were imported from 1970 until 1972, and then were replaced by the first Civic in 1973. About 40,000 of the 600ís were sold in the US, but few remain. Similar to the N600 Sedan, a swoopier version introduced in 1971, called the Z600 Coupe, accounted for about a third of the sales. Both were based on the 360cc KEI car originally sold in Japan, where regulations were friendly to small-sized, small-displacement cars. A larger 600cc motor was introduced for US sales, which allowed sub-800cc cars of the day to be exempt from emission requirements.
This is what the Z600 coupe looks like...
The N600 and Z600 had the same air-cooled, two-cylinder, 600cc (about 36 cubic inch), 32 HP engine with 4-speed manual transmission. Internal to the engine is a chain drive between the engine and transmission. Some folks get a chuckle out of this, but it is common practice for motorcycles with much more power than these little cars. The engine and transmission share the same oil sump. And, they are, of course, front wheel drive. Patterned after the British Mini, no doubt, but with a little different approach.
How big are these cars? Really small is the correct answer. About 118Ē (9í-10") long, and 49Ē (4í-1Ē) wide, and 1,350 lbs (with fuel). How does this compare to other small cars we might see? Compared to the original BMC Mini, it is about 2Ē shorter and narrower, and about 100 lbs lighter. Compared to the Smart car, the Honda is about a foot longer (keep in mind that it's a 4-seater, and the Smart a 2-seater), a foot and third narrower, and several hundred pounds lighter. Compared to the new BMW Minis, it is about three feet shorter, a foot and a half narrower, and lighter by about half. So, street-legal cars donít get much smaller than this!
Unfortunately, I live north of Seattle, and the Honda was located in Los Angeles, and I needed to get it home. I decided that Iíd give it a go to drive it home, even though itís winter, and many miles away. I discussed this with the seller, and he figured it would probably make it, but suggested that I get new tires since the old ones, while having good tread, were old and weather-checked. I asked him if the heater worked, but since he was in warm LA, he hadn't used it. He volunteered to have tires installed if I could find some replacements. Turns out that these are 10Ē tires, same as on the original Mini, but very hard to find in the States. I found some at a classic Mini supplier, imported from England, and had them shipped to the seller.
I bought my plane ticket, and the seller agreed to meet me at the airport. When I showed up, the tires were mounted, and to help in the case of a problem, he presented me with a gift of some metric wrenches, flares, tire-patch kit and some extra oil. Very nice guy! He showed me some spare parts for the car in the trunk, including some trim and seals, seat-belts, etc, then gave me a brief orientation to the car. We mounted up the Washington license plate that I had brought along, and I fired it up, ready to head out of LA during a weekend.
First thing I noticed was that the seat belts in the trunk werenít spares, they were THE seat belts. And while this is certainly a dangerous car to have a crash in with or without seat belts, I suppose itís no more dangerous than my motorcycle. I pulled off to the side of the road to plug in my GPS for finding my way out of town. Turns out the cigarette lighter is non-operative, as is the horn and interior lighting. No biggie, but it sure would be nice to have an all-day GPS.
I headed out the Pacific Coast Hwy, then up Hwy 32 north, trying to avoid freeways. First impressions of the car:
(1) lots of noise and vibration inside,
(2) adequate room for my 6í-1Ē body, however room is limited for my left leg Ė wheel well keeps you from extending it far,
(3) brakes seem OK (good by Morris standards),
(4) very leisurely acceleration,
(5) shifter, extending from the dash, is odd, but works OK if you donít plan on shifting fast,
(6) NO heat comes out of the heater, no matter what the settings are,
(7) the wipers work, but are glacially slow, and
(8) it seems happiest at about 50-60 MPH or less, not that these speeds are an option if you are on an incline. It is supposed to be good for about 80 MPH, but it sure would be buzzing along at that speed Ė about 9,000 RPM. Once you get up to about 60, the steering in this car has some play, and it can feel a little darty. Not sure if they are all that way.
After a stop at Maricopa for the night, I checked the fuses in the fuse box, and found that one was blown. Replaced that, and now the cigar lighter works, the interior lamp Ė and maybe the horn. But I figured it was risky to try the horn, what with no more spare fuses, and a likelihood that the horn may have caused it to blow. The fuse hasnít had to be replaced since, and I still havenít tried the horn. There was also no rear view mirror on the car, so I stopped to get a replacement and cement it to the windshield. Also got some Rain-X to preclude wiper use as much as possible.
Via back roads, and some freeway, I made it to Redding that night. In the morning, I checked the oil and itís down the better part of a quart. There is also some oil dripping here and there in the engine compartment, and a film of oil building up on the rear of the car. It continued to use oil along the way, but Iím not sure yet whether Iíll need to refresh the motor, or maybe this is an artifact of running it at high RPM all day rather than itís more normal environment of running around town. Without a heater, Iím getting colder every day, so I stop by a store and buy a few more layers of clothes. The high for the day is supposed to be less than 40 degrees.
Rather than try to drive over the Siskiyouís on I5 (for several reasons), I decide to head to the coast on Hwy 299, about a 140 mile drive through twisty mountain roads with snow along the shoulders. Along the way, I stop and get some better gloves and hat. I make it 18 miles short of the coast, and the road has just washed out. A U-turn heads me back almost to Redding. Thereís half a day shot! So I try again on a road south of that (Hwy 36) which requires about 150 miles to get to my original target at the coast. Thereís the other half of the day gone, but I drive into the evening hours and make it to Grants Pass Oregon, and a warm hotel room. Speaking of warm, at least the car is the same temperature inside and outside, so I donít have a problem with the windows fogging up.
The next morning, I head north again, this time on I5 since there arenít too many good alternatives, and the truck limit on I5 in Oregon is 55 Ė and actually, a few trucks go that slow, and I can keep up. On hills, I even passed a couple trucks Ė go N600! I would want to stop often to warm up, stretch, and have a cup of coffee in any case, but with the 6.9 gallon tank of the Honda, itís necessary to stop about every 160-180 miles, if you want to have some reserve left to get to the next station. Itís like traveling on a motorcycle in this regard. Iím not sure what character defect causes me to enjoy old cars with no luxuries, marginal reliability, and seven gallon or less fuel tanks. I have three such cars, this one, the Morris Minor, and the Bugeye Sprite.
Originally planning to stop in Portland for the night, weather reports showed snow and icy conditions for the next day, so I soldiered the rest of the way home, arriving in the evening. It never got above 34 degrees that day.
The trip took a little over three days, so I averaged almost 500 miles a day, using secondary roads often. The total trip was 1530 miles. I averaged 38 MPG, and used about three quarts of oil (500 miles/qt). Would I make the same trip again? Well, yes, but next time Iíd wait for summer and warm weather.
The Honda, while the farthest thing from a Lexus that you could imagine, made for a reliable, albeit slow, travelling partner Ė with encouragement along the way with lots of thumbs-up and two offers to buy it. Now that it is home, Iím looking forward to tweaking up this and that to take it to a little better condition yet. Thanks for coming along on the drive!
PS - The heater issue turned out to be a combination of a control cable not connected, and a faulty connection to the heater fan motor.