It’s hard to imagine a time when Hondas didn’t dot American roads, but in 1966 there were no cars from the Japanese manufacturer built for the American market. They realized how important first impressions are, so they carefully crafted an image and engineered the perfect vehicle as a second car or as an affordable car. They settled on the N360 for their American introduction but the small displacement economy car didn’t stand a chance against big block Fords and massive Cadillacs. They needed a little more oomph, so they upped displacement from 360 ccs to 600 ccs to cope with the fast, straight American highways. The car was still smaller than most available in the American market and had a much smaller engine, but it was affordable, reliable, and fuel efficient. This would be a formula that has proven successful for Honda to this day, and with such little mass to carry around that 45 horsepower engine went a long way.
The very first car Honda imported was N600 serial No. 1000001. It was used for testing but was eventually forgotten, left to waste away in a scrap pile. That is, until Tim Mings came along. Tim is likely the most knowledgeable person in the world when it comes to N600s and he just happened to pick up 1000001 without knowing its significance at the time. It wasn’t until he brushed away the decades of dust covering the car’s chassis number that he realized its significance. He had discovered the Holy Grail of Hondas, the genesis of one of the most successful brands to ever hit the American market.
When the history of the car came to light, Honda stepped up by helping with the restoration and documentation of every step along the way. Tim slowly dismantled, cleaned, repaired, and rebuilt the little N600 to its original specification, the way it was introduced to American soil in 1967. It took 18 months the restore, but the finished product was worth it. It is Tim’s masterpiece, the crowning achievement after a lifetime devoted to the N600.
Since its restoration the little car has toured the country in celebration of Honda’s 50th anniversary in the United States. It now resides at the Petersen, rightly sitting among the giants of automotive history. To those who don’t know, it looks like an old Honda, but for enthusiasts and scholars of automotive history it represents much more. It is the first in a long line of great cars, the start of something great.
By: Jeremy Malcolm