At this year’s Japanese Classic Car Show, you may have been wondering why there was a rusty heap of an N600 given prime position in the middle of the Honda booth. Surrounding it were a new Civic Type R and NSX, and clean examples of a first-gen Civic and Legend. This N600 was special, though, because this very car was the first Honda race car in America.
Honda, of course, has a long history of racing machines, from its first competition bikes in 1954 to its first Formula One racers in 1964. And if you want to count the first race car Soichiro Honda built, before he founded his company, well, that was all the way back in 1924 when he was just 18 years old.
However, while S600 and S800 roadsters (and the race cars they powered) were a common sight on Japanese circuits, they were never imported to the US. Honda’s first four-wheeled offering here was the humble N600, churning out 45 horsepower from a 0.6-liter engine and not a particularly quick car by any means. However, that didn’t stop Bill Robertson Jr. and Dave Ekins from deciding they were going to enter it in the most grueling race in our hemisphere at the time, the Baja 1000.
According to Honda, it was “highly modified to tackle the harsh and unforgiving terrain.” Even so, the city car didn’t have a triumphant ending. Honda continues:
A failure in the CV joint drive hub snap rings caused them to come apart when the car would jump, and become airborne… Every time this happened, [Robertson] would get out and shove the hub back into place, and go a bit farther until it would come apart again. He did this until the early morning. Exhausted, he threw in the towel, and the little N600 was returned back home, a little worse for the wear.
It was pretty fortuitous that the car came back. Most broken cars, like Pete Brock’s Datsun 510 Baja racer, were simply left in Mexico and many were lost to time. After it returned to the US, though, like many race cars, it was left to languish and its trail grew cold. It was thought to have been destroyed, but it was recently rediscovered at a Seattle repair shop.
Naturally, the man who found and rescued it was none other than Tim Mings, who in 2015 brought to JCCS the first Honda production car built for the US. That car, dubbed Serial One for its N600-1000001 VIN, was restored by him and returned to JCCS for display in 2016.
Mings drove the Baja 1000 car into the show on its own power, but we’re glad the body has not been touched. A full restoration for the Serial One N600 was appropriate, but a race car should be kept with its battle scars in tact.
It might not be the prettiest, but it is a notable part of Honda’s history, and we’re glad it has been found.
To be continued…