For a great many car manufacturers, their DNA has roots in the distant past. It is hard to imagine Ford without the Mustang and GT40, it’s equally hard to imagine Nissan without the 240Z and C10 Skyline GT-R, and of course Mazda wouldn’t be the same without its long and proud history of rotary engined cars that stretches right back to the 60s.
But what of Honda? To most enthusiasts, an “old school” Honda is a mid 80s Integra. Think back and you might be able to conjure a mental image of the ground-breaking 1st Gen Civic, but that would be it for most people. And that’s a shame, because there are many interesting Hondas made before the Civic, and an examination of them tells you a lot about why the company is where it is today.
The first four wheeled Honda is not actually a car at all, but a small delivery truck, the T360. As you can see, it’s small….and if I told you that it had a mid-engined, DOHC, alloy block, quad carbed and dry sumped engine with a roller bearing crank, then I’m sure you would see clearly that Honda’s high-tech, VTEC image began here. But there’s much more to this little truck than meets the eye.
The truck first was released as the T360, with 360cc four cylinder that made 20kw at 8500rpm. This was superceded by the “big block” T500, which raised power to 28kw, but still at a VTEC-like 7500rpm (check out that torque curve!). Redline was 9500rpm and the T500 was famously known in the 1960s as “the only truck that revs past 10,000rpm”. Because, you know, it’s really important for trucks to be able to do that…
Firstly, if reading the specs makes you think it’s some sort of RWD drift truck, a cross between an NSX and an S2000…..well, you might want to read the rest of this article before you go out and buy one. After all the ambitious tech specs, it is really quite slow. For something that would be dwarfed by a Jazz, it’s quite heavy and weighs 640kg. So 20kw doesn’t get you very far and top speed for the big-block T500 is a paltry 105km/h (the T360 probably didn’t even break 100).
On the one hand, it’s quite cool that a working truck’s brochure says things like “quad carbs….just like racing cars have”. But on the other hand, max payload is 400kg, so with a full load, you have a 20kw, 1040kg vehicle that probably wouldn’t have had enough power to get out of its own way. Imagine a Jazz/Fit with a quarter of the power (and you have to rev it all the way to 10,000rpm to get that power) and you’ll understand why even the T500 takes a whole 25 seconds to sail down the quarter mile.
But the T360/500 trucks are an important part of the Honda mission statement. Soichiro Honda led the design team himself, and the final form of the little truck reflects Mr Honda’s obsession with high technology solutions over all else….and in so doing, setting in stone a Honda design path for decades to come.
The challenge that Honda faced in the 1960s, was harnessing that engineering enthusiasm and know-how and packaging it all into cars that the public actually wants to buy….a journey not completed until the 1st Gen Civic in 1973.
We’ll cover more 1960s Hondas in the next few instalments, and watch Honda grow into the global force that it is today.
Hmm….VTEC juct kicked in, yo?