Honda 1300 Coupe
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
The 1300 in Japan
The 1300 was Honda's first attempt at producing a conventional sedan to compete with the Toyota Corona and the Nissan Bluebird, and the company was very ambitious, with Soichiro Honda involved in many aspects of the car's design, to include engineering efforts for both the product and assembly procedures. Changes were made multiple times, sometimes on a daily basis, which hampered efforts in production. Mr. Honda was adamant that the engine needed to be air-cooled
instead of water, claiming that "since water-cooled engines eventually use air to cool the water, we can implement air cooling
from the very beginning."
The Series 77 and Series 99
In May 1969
final specifications and prices for the Japanese market were announced. There were originally two engine versions, being the "Series 77" with a single carburettor 100 PS (74 kW) engine and the "Series 99" with a four carburettor 115 PS (85 kW) unit: the less powerful car was listed with four levels of trim offered, of which the top three were also available with the four carburettor engine. The manufacturer's ex-works prices ranged from ¥488,000 for the entry level "Series 77" standard saloon to ¥710,000 for the "Series 99" Custom saloon. Automatic transmission and air-conditioning were optional.
Six of the seven versions offered were priced comfortably above the Toyota Corolla 4-door deluxe, then retailing at ¥520,000: for this price Toyota included delivery to the Tokyo area. The car had been introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1968, but production only got under way during the early months of 1969
. In May 1969
the Honda 1300 went on sale in Japan. It was reported at the time that launch was delayed by a couple of months because company president Soichiro Honda found the styling of the car as presented at the Tokyo Motor Show the previous year unacceptably bland and called for a redesign.
It was not lost on contemporary commentators that Honda himself at the time owned and frequently drove a Pontiac Firebird
, and the split air intakes on the front of the Honda 1300 as it came to market suggest that Honda design personnel were also aware of the boss's fondness for his Pontiac. Despite enthusiastic imprecations from Honda's US dealers the Honda 1300 was not sold in the USA. Nor is there evidence of any sustained effort to sell it into Europe. Surviving examples appear mostly to be located in countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. In European terms, the car's engine size and dimensions would have placed it in the competitive sector of small 1300cc family sedans, although its 57-inch (1,400 mm) width, reported to have been selected in order to qualify for the lower tax class on the domestic (Japanese) market, was significantly below the European standard represented by cars such as the Ford Escort of the time.
Superb and Incredible
Superb and incredible. Not our words, but those of motoring journalists after getting behind the wheel of the diminutive front wheel drive air-cooled
Japanese Coupe. There were two models of the 1300 Coupe on sale in Australia: the "9" and its baby brother, the "7". The cars were identical in body and trim specification and shared the 1300 engine capacity. But the 9 had 9.3 to 1 compression instead of the 7's 9.0 to 1, timing set 10 degrees earlier, and four little Keihin carbies, instead of the 7's one. Thus the "9" had 116 bhp at 7300 rpm and the "7" 100 bhp at 7000 rpm.
The 1300cc engine was mounted to a special sub-frame that in turn bolted up extremely firmly to the car's body. There was an extension of the sub-frame jutting rearward, not only to house the gear shift, but to provide extra rigidity. The motor/sub-frame was exceptionally well-located just slightly in front of the wheels. The suspension itself was a delight – very simple: Front A-arms rubber- mounted to the sub-frame and McPherson struts. At the rear Honda used a system unique to road cars. Each rear wheel was on a swing axle that pivoted on the opposite side of the chassis, and was therefore almost as long as the track was wide. The axles were sprung and located longitudinally by semi-elliptic with a floating connection to prevent the leaves twisting as the axle rose and fell.
Handling On Par With RWD
The advantages of this system included much lower roll centres, reduced camber change and less susceptibility to undesirable jacking effects than with shorter swing axles. These long cross beams were, at the time, only to be found on the U2 sports-racers and at the front of Ford F-100 250/350 series commercials. Some described the suspension as being “one of the best-sorted of any car, regardless of size or configuration”. Exceptionally well sorted, the suspension set-up would allow the Coupe to enter corners with plenty of speed, demonstrating just a shade on the understeer side of neutrally.
It felt like a very well set-up front-engined, rear-drive car. It was so well set up that pouring on the power at the apex of some tight bends brought the front in tighter, just as rear-drive did - and up until the release of the 1300 that was never a FWD
characteristic at all. Backing off in a tight bend brought only a very mild and pleasant transition to oversteer. Pounding over dirt the Honda was able to travel much faster than what should have been comfortable for such a small car. Despite terrible surfaces, it would rarely move offline, and when it did, only minute correction would be necessary to bring it back where it should be. But the 9's ride is not without fault. Some testers described it as a little too pitchy on rough bitumen, which was probably a result of the short wheelbase. The 1300 7s suspension was set considerably softer than the 9 – obviously as it was a little down on performance, Honda had decided the 7 was better suited to city driving. That meant it could not handle corners or dirt nearly as well. It showed definite front wheel drive traits when pushed hard.
Duo Dyna Air Cooling
With the brilliant little motor, Honda proved they had overcome all the problems previously associated with air-cooling. The engineers devised a system called Duo Dyna Air Cooling. The head and block had "airways" - passages just like the water channels of liquid-cooled engines - that were cast with short, thick vertical fins. A multi-bladed impeller mounted directly to one end of the crankshaft pumped air through the passages, providing the main cooling. It was assisted by more fins on the exterior of the motor. Because Honda made the fins thick and stubby, they did not ring with high-frequency vibrations - a major problem with previous air-cooled
engines. So the motor was in fact far quieter than many small water-cooled units. The lubrication system - and it’s beautiful-looking dry sump - also helped the cooling. There were two oil pumps: one feeding the oil from the dry sump tank mounted high up inside the right-hand mudguard to the motor, and the other pumping it back from the crankcase to the tank. The tank, like the rest of the engine, had the stubby cooling fins.
The 1298 cc engine with its OHC hemispherical-chamber, cross-flow head was all alloy, considerably reducing weight. This was a major reason the car is so well balanced. The four Keihin side-draught carbies had just the one air cleaner and were canted slightly on their inlet manifolds. At the other side of the head, there was a beautifully cast extractor that flowed down in front of the engine into two pipes, then one. The engine's performance was incredible: it developed 116 bhp (88 bhp per litre) and 75.9 lb/ft of torque. Second gear would pull strongly from as low as 700-800 rpm and wind out to its maximum very rapidly. Third and top performance was just as impressive, letting you potter down to 1000 rpm if you wanted to. There was never a hint of complaint from the motor, just smooth, silent power. And because the motor/gearbox was so well-mounted, there was absolutely no vibration as the little motor lugged away from 1000 rpm.
On The Road
On the open road you would quickly be tempted to keep the engine running in the 5000-7500 rev range in third and top if you wanted to clock impressive times. Third gear ran out to 79 mph, so it was the perfect overtaking gear, and also good for many high speed corners. It was under such conditions that the motor's smoothness and quietness would again impress. Not one road tester ever commented that the 1300 lacked power. And this, at a time when they had likely just reviewed the latest bent 8 or lusty 6. The 1300 could pull 17.9 second quarter miles times and hit 80 in 20.8 seconds. The 0-60 figure was 11.7. And yes, we are talking the old Miles Per Hour here.
The 1300 was frugal too, getting around 24.5 mpg when sinking the boot, and offering around 30 mpg for less spirited driving. The brakes
were just as good as the performance: they would stop the car from 60 mph in just 3 seconds. You really had to step on them though, even if they were power assisted, and they were not as progressive as you would expect. Inside the steering wheel was mounted very high, but not to the point that you could not get into a comfortable driving position. The 7500 rpm red-lined tacho, speedo and fuel gauge were straight in front of you, with oil and amp gauges to the left, in a section of the dashboard that wrapped around towards the driver. The right-hand end curled back towards you too, giving an aircraft-like effect and making the entire gauge/control layout among the best of any car.
The pedals were well-placed, but perhaps could have been located a little further forward for longer legged drivers, although in typical Honda fashion the important toe-and-heel set-up is wonderful. The gearstick would nestle too closely to the left leg for some drivers, but your hand would fall automatically on to it. The box itself was reasonably good, except for quick changes into second gear. The syncro was, however, poor, and if you changed through quickly it was liable to crunch nastily. Fortunately it had flow-through ventilation, however without fan assistance it was not up to the job of providing any sort of comfort in peak hour traffic. Things were even worse if you were demisting in summer, when you had to use heat to clear the fog.
As for the styling, the 1300 was, to our minds, head and shoulders above the competition. But even if it wasn’t quite your cup of tea, it was very well put together. All nuts and bolts on the car are tightened to correct torques, it was proof-coated throughout (this also helped with sound deadening) and the trim and paint work were by any measure superb. Honda claimed the 1300 would carry three adults comfortably in the rear. They must have been Japanese adults, because when we looked at one at a recent car show there was no way in hell we would try to fit 3 in, and then describe it as comfortable. What Honda should have said was that it was possible, provided they performed some kind of human origami. But at least the seats themselves were very comfortable, as were the front reclining buckets. When released, the 1300 9 costs A$3180 and the 7 A$2984 – and by any measure, that was brilliant value. Little wonder then that the few examples that have survived are so highly regarded, and sought after.