Market Finds: Can A Vintage Honda Econobox Make Your Morning Commute More Exciting?

Can A Vintage Honda Econobox Make Your Morning Commute More Exciting?

By Andrew Golseth
May 20, 2016

Photography courtesy of The Finest

If there was any automotive good that came from the 1973 oil crisis, it was the rise in popularity of Japanese imports. Prior to the fuel shortage, Americans bought ponderous, plush, and prodigious land barges, which were whatever you want to call the polar opposite of efficient. When gas (which we yanks foolishly call the flammable liquid) turned from a disposable and abundant luxury into a rationed necessity that quadrupled in price, Americans desperately needed something more efficient.

Despite a few S series roadsters making their way into the country via grey market, the N600 was actually Honda’s first officially imported vehicle for sale in the USDM. The N600 first went on sale stateside in 1970, but despite being incredibly efficient, compact, laughably slow-but-fun-to-drive, and affordable ($1,395 new), sales tallied just 25,o00 some odd units. Due to low sales and the sub-800-cc emissions exemption being abolished, production ceased in 1972—ending just before the oil crisis.

In 1973, Honda released the N600’s successor, another compact you may have heard of: the Civic. If the oil crisis had happened a year earlier, speculatively the N600 name could have carried the Civic’s oil crisis saving grace, but I digress. What I do know is this cherry final year 1972 Honda N600 is one of the last of Honda’s first car in America, and likely one of the nicest left. Though it had low sales figures, the N600 paved the way for future Hondas—at an eye watering 19-second zero-to-60 pace.

The history of this particular N600 is vague in the auction description, but its 12,xxx miles since new certainly infer it’s had a pampered life. Oddly, a Honda/Acura technician traded in this H-car time capsule to Bridgewater Acura based in New Jersey after completely restoring the car using NOS parts. An NSX owner discovered the car through a forum and purchased the classic compact shortly after.

Masters in motorcycle engine mechanics, the N600 received a peppy ~40 horsepower all-alloy air-cooled four-cylinder capable of revving to 9,000 rpm, thanks to its roller bearing crank. Due to the compact packaging and weight savings—to include a plastic dashboard, rear hatch, and parcel shelf—the N600 achieved an impressive ~28.8 pounds per horsepower. Low on power doesn’t equal low on fun. With a top speed of 80 mph, the Japanese Mini makes an argument for the “it’s better to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow” mentality.

It’s 2016, and although we’re not exactly in an oil crisis (or are we?), fuel isn’t cheap. If you’ve got a boring commute, why not liven things up with a charming Japanese classic? With the priciest N600 trading hands for $23,000 back in February 2013, they’re still relatively affordable. Easily achieving 32+ mpg, it’s not even that unreasonable to consider making this your new daily driver—just be sure to use all of the onramp to build speed before merging, and keep a few spares with you.

– Final year of the first Honda sold in America
– Restored using NOS Honda parts
– 12,xxx miles since new

~40 horsepower four-cylinder engine, four-speed dog leg transmission, independent front and dead-axle leaf spring rear suspension, servo-assisted front disc and rear brakes. Wheelbase: 2,000 mm.

Vehicle information
Chassis no.: 00000AN6001051822

Auction house: The Finest
Estimate: (no reserve)
Price realized: Auction on June 11

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Larry Brantingham
Larry Brantingham(@sns)
5 years ago

The N600, and its sportier stablemate the Z600, had a 600cc twin, not a four cylinder engine. I used to drive a friend’s when they were new. It was a ball of fire compared to my similar Lloyd Alexander TS with its 25hp and even that was a step up from the standard Alexander with 19hp.

5 years ago

I see relatively rolling examples on Craigslist occasionally here in California. Thought about getting a totaled Fiesta SE from an auction and just swapping the entire front end. Figure 123hp and 148lb ft would just make for the greatest auto cross car ever made.

Linda N Brian Schick
Linda N Brian Schick(@sparkey60)
5 years ago

Progress is my ’09 Toyota Yaris 2 door hatch with 5-spd manual. It’s still small, fun to drive, makes 106 HP, and can cruise at 70 mph all day long and return 42 MPG with the air conditioner on. It’s kind of like a modern Bug Eye Sprite but far more reliable.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
5 years ago

The N600 was definitely a ground breaker as well as game changer here in the US . But as far as a modern day commuter … well …. fun the little buggers are … its also a major league polluter despite its fairly high mpg . Which errr … kind of means that donked out Escalade with the hip hop blaring out at a 190 db’s next to you is putting out substantially less emissions than you are . Hmm ..

5 years ago

These little old Hondas a really fun to drive. There are a lot of great traits in N600, but fundamentally, it’s all about that engine. Considering that that engine came out in the mid-century always makes me wonder what the meaning of progress is.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
5 years ago
Reply to  JB21

Progress is ……as itty bitty as the N600’s motor may be a fully optioned full sized AWD V8 SUV puts out less emissions per mile driven . Thats … err … progress .. albeit the distasteful side of progress .