The 2024 Tokyo Auto Salon has kicked off, and Honda’s booth is overflowing with modified current-gen Civics and Civic Type Rs. One of the unexpected treats hidden among them, however, was a bright yellow 1966 Honda S800. The subject of a nearly two-year project, the roadster was refurbished by students at the Honda Technical College, which educates future technicians to work on Honda cars, and entered into two rallies upon completion.
The project started with a beat up, rusty S800 that had seen better days. Rather than a strict numbers-matching restoration, students wanted to rebuild the car into a functioning rally car so they could enter it in race events.
The car was stripped down to bare metal and the body separated from the frame. Students were split into several teams specializing in areas like bodywork, transmission, engine, and so on. Significant body work had to be done to repair the damage done by years of oxidation.
One interesting aspect of these very early Hondas is that engineers from the 1960s seemed to be figuring things out as they went along. Changes to body or drivetrain components weren’t released on a schedule like they are nowadays, where upgrades generally occur alongside major updates and facelifts. Important parts like pistons could change from year to year, when engineers found a better solution. The TDC and ignition timing marks on the crank pulley were stamped by hand rather than cast.
Working out the details and getting the freshly painted body, chassis, and drivetrain back together again was just the halfway point. Fine-tuning of the notoriously finicky quad-Keihin carb setup had to be achieved, broken bits like the inner door handle rods had to be fabricated, and various cables and harnesses nearly 50 years old had to be reconnected.
After some shakedown tests, the students sent the S800 to Japan’s super-strict Shaken safety inspection. They creammed after-class and on weekends to make the deadline, because the S800’s first event was coming up. The car actually failed inspection the first time when the inspector docked the rear bumper for being too far away from the body. Apparently, the distance cannot exceed 2 cm. Fortunately, students were able to return to the school and fabricate a bumper stay. On the second attempt, they successfully got their license plates.
The students then went to work fabbing up a roll bar and repairing the decades-old fiberglass top. The S800 was then entered into the Takasu Rally Caravan, a 1,700km (1,055 mile) road rally. Spanning four days, the S800 drove from the Kanto region near Tokyo all the way to Takasu on the northern island of Hokkaido. Even through pouring rain the little S800 chugged along, but as it neared the finish a strange vibration with the differential appeared. The team was able to get it past the finish line, but the car would need additional work back at the school. The culprit, it turns out, was a diff mount stud that had sheared off due to corrosion.
Finishing the road rally was an accomplishment, but the real test would be the upcoming Shinshiro Rally. The event is an actual round on the FIA-sanctioned All-Japan Rally Championship calendar, the highest level of rallying in the country. As such, the S800 had to be further modified to comply with the rulebook. The roll bar had to be swapped out for a regulation roll cage, proper seat belt anchors installed, and shatterproof film added to the windows. A harder suspension was put in place as well.
The team managed to finish the 2-day event without major complications. As it would have been sharing the roster with much newer Subarus and such the students never expected to win. Merely crossing the finish line was reward enough. And of course, the true lesson was building the car in the first place.
The Shinshiro Rally was always the endpoint for the S800 project, and with that completed the students have moved on. The professor who oversaw the project told Honda Style Magazine that he hopes to pass the S800 along to future classes in some way. Getting the spotlight at the Tokyo Auto Salon is certainly another achievement for the S800 and the team. As for the next class of students, a new rally car project has already begun, in the form of a rusty Honda N360.
Images courtesy of Honda Technical College.