Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Kei Class Honda
In Australia, as in Japan, we had two versions of the Honda Z. There was the Honda 360
, and the Honda 600. They were pretty much identical, apart from the engine size. In the USA the two models were sold side by side at motorcycle dealerships until the first 4-wheel Honda dealers opened with the Civic in their showrooms.
The designation "600" was obviously used to identify the 598cc (36 cu in) version. In the UK the car was only available in 600cc form and was called simply "Honda Z" with no mention of the engine size in the name. As with all cars in the Kei class, the Z360's specifications were tightly governed.
The Z360 originally featured an air-cooled
, 354cc, 2-cylinder SOHC engine with a 4 or 5-speed transmission driving the front wheels. Outputs were 31 PS (23 kW; 31 hp) at 8,500 rpm for the Act and Pro versions, and 36 PS (26 kW; 36 hp) at an astronomical 9,000 rpm for the sportier TS and GS models. In comparison, the Z600 model's 598cc SOHC engine was rated at 36 PS (26 kW; 36 hp).
In December 1971
, the Z360 received a facelift and a water-cooled engine, it too producing 36 PS (26 kW; 36 hp) at 9,000 rpm. Only a month later, the 31 PS engine used in the lower spec variants (Standard, Deluxe, Automatic, Custom) also became water-cooled. The engine's technical achievements reflected influence from Honda's larger 1.3 litre air-cooled
four cylinder used in the Honda 1300 coupe
One car magazine recorded an insane 136 mpg (imperial) (2.08 Litre/100 km; 113 mpg-US) when they didn't exceed 30 mph (48 km/h), which came at almost the perfect time with a gasoline shortage looming. Seemingly despite its small size and low-powered engine, the Z had no problem maintaining freeway speeds and serving its purpose as a commuter. The only frequent complaint about the car was that it had a very harsh ride, which was largely due to its short wheelbase.
was coil sprung and independent; the rear utilized leaf springs on a live beam axle. This primitive rear suspension
contributed to the relatively poor handling and ride quality of the car. The interior was able to accomodate two adults in reasonable comfort, though the back seat was strictly for small children or dogs.
The Honda 600 in Australia
Given the price of petrol at the time, Honda's initial 4 wheel assault on the Australian market, with their 360 and 600 micro mini cars, seemed to many to be doomed to fail. Where these cars picked up sales was in the always burgeoning second car market, where affluence and poor public transport in outer areas created a niche for nimble, economical transport. Pity that, after so many decades, not much has changed on the Public Transport front. It was a very similar story with Holden's first HB Torana
Wisely, Honda knew that Aussie taste had moved beyond the 2nd car being completely utalitarian, and for the 600 version they decided to tart it up a bit, by including some mock wood panelling on the dash, tinted windows and sufficient chrome discreetly used to convey the impression that this new baby is not an economy move by the owner. And inside was not such a bad place to be, leastwise when compared to other small cars from the era. Despite the diminutive exterior dimensions there was little discomfort inside, thanks largely to the well-shaped front seats.
The leg-room was good and there were a couple of odds and ends trays, including a parking meter coin tray, positioned ahead of the steering wheel. As mentioned above, the back had a seat but bugger-all leg room - and was really only for small children. The boot was also very small, but space could be increased at the expense of back seat room by swinging the rear backrest upwards. Making the 600 a little more special were the interior carpets and heater. Identifying the 600 model over the Scamp
was easy. The 600 had a bonnet bulge to clear the air intake system, and at the back the spare wheel hung visibly beneath the bumper.
Honda vs. Competition
In the micro-car field, the Honda only had to overcome one real competitor here in Australia. And that car was the brilliant little Fiat 500
. To be honest, the Fiat 500 was the better car on just about every accout - but one. And that was performance. The 600 model performed very nearly as quickly as the original Mini Cooper - although when ringing the neck out of the engine fuel consumption would take a not-unexpected dive. The secret of the car's front wheel spinning power lay in the 42 bhp (gross) engine mounted transversley ahead of the dashboard.
By the late 1960s
Honda had solved the economics of light alloy air-cooled
motors and started slotting these slightly-modified motor cycle engines into mini cars. The 600 engine was a twn cylinder, air-cooled
bike unit wh:ch produced its power through high rpm and very high volumetric efficiency, which meant that if the full 42 bhp was used the fuel consumption figure would slump, but when driven gently it was the literal "running on the smell of an oily rag".
On the Road
The four-speed transmission was located in the sump, and it was also from a motor cycle. This entailed the elimination of synchromesh and the substitution of dog clutches. The result was a gearbox which gave a pronounced clunk when first was selected, and then lightning-fast changes thereafter. There was always a few clunks when running though the gears, but the gearbox was designed to take them. Once you got into the swing of things, you would quickly learn to storm away from traffic lights with the buzz of 8000 air-cooled
revs in your ears, your arms countering the usual front-wheel drive tendency to crab. It was honest, fun motoring. And it took a little skill too - much harder to launch in the 600 than a car with plenty of torque.
Shifting to second at 26 mph and catching the slight dive right as the power switched off, the 600 would keep accelerating smartly to 45 mph. Once beyond speed limit signs, the Honda could cruise at 65 mph - not bad for 600 cc. Top speed was a fairly frantic 79 mph with the motor spinning at 6700 rpm. - which was 200 rpm above the red-line, but well short of the 8000 rpm the engine would happily do, at least in fairly small doses. What let the 600 down was the handling
, which wasn't up to the same standard. Unfortunately the 600 displayed pronounced nose tuck-in when throttling back in bends, a sharp, firm ride and adequate but not startling brakes.
were standard fare, discs up front, drums at the back and there was a power booster. Despite this apparently ample specification for a light car, strong pedal pressures were still needed - and there was never any danger of locking up everything in the wet. Over bitumen the ride was good but jolts penetrated, and over undulations there was some end-to-end pitching. Body lean was minimal on bends, but some care is needed for, in spite of the pleasant rack and pinion steering, the accelerator plays an important part in where the machine is headed. Road-holding on 5.20 by 10 binch cross plies is adequate.
While the 600 Honda wasn't a boy racer's dream, it was a very useful tool for duelling in traffic, negotiating tight car parks or acting as a getaway car. Just ask Malcolm.