Monday October 2, 2017
In March 1967, Honda launched a new car that proved to be a key model in establishing the marque with car buyers around the world.
The N360 - the N stands ‘norimono’ - was the model that paved the way to the Civic and it was not the first Honda car to be officially marketed in the UK.
That honour goes to the S800, it was the first of an extensive line of their compact saloons to find favour with British drivers.
In its homeland, the N360 was to be Honda’s entry into the ultra-competitive Kei class of miniature cars; Japanese motoring taxation laws favoured vehicles under 10 feet in length and with an engine sized under 360cc with lower taxation and insurance rates.
The new Honda proved to be a formidable rival to the Subaru 360, the market leader of that time, not least because it was an entirely fresh design.
A transversely mounted light alloy SHOC two-cylinder engine drove the front wheel and despite being a mere 354cc this power plant was still enough to propel the Honda to a top speed of 72 mph – just one mph slower than BMC’s 848cc Mini.
When British sales commenced in early 1968, the fact that the Honda was cheaper than a Mini 850 Mk. II at £529 did not pass unnoticed.
It came equipped with a heater, a removable back seat, and crude but effective air vents in the front foot wells.
The gear lever sprouted from beneath the dashboard and many owners found the box to be a delight to use despite it lacking synchromesh – the system was operated by dog clutches.
Although the N360 was not the most refined of small cars.
Motor Sport went so far as to suggest that prospective buyers needed ‘a "flat" battery in your deaf-aid’.
In July 1968, the N360 was joined by the 598cc N600 which Honda devised with export markets in mind.
The dynostart of its less powerful stablemate was replaced by a starter motor, there were dual circuit brakes with front discs while advertisements of the time claimed that ‘if you’ve just bought a new small car, this will break your heart’.
At a price of £589, the N600 was extremely good value for money and Motor magazine found that ‘the acceleration is really remarkable for 600cc; not even a Mini 1000 can stay with it, let alone a 850cc’.
Sadly, the delightful LN360 was never sold in the UK but the N600 could also be ordered with three-speed Hondamatic transmission operated by a steering column selector.
At £610, this made the Honda one of the cheapest automatic cars in Britain although the option was mainly developed for US drivers as the N600 was the first Honda car to be sold in the USA.
However, its potential in the States was restricted by being available only via the company’s motor cycle dealers and by its dimensions in an era of Detroit ‘land yachts’.
The thought of the N600 dicing with Pontiac Bonnevilles and Duel style Peterbilt trucks on the freeway is indeed a moderately terrifying one.
In Japan, the N360 was largely succeeded by the short-lived life while the N600 was replaced by the Civic.
Today, far too few of these rather amazing little cars remain on the road and if you want an idea of just how entertaining they could be, this television commercial says it all.