In the volumes of information available on Hondas, most of it centers on cars of the 1980s and newer. There hasn’t been a whole lot written about the earliest models that paved the way for the Civics and Accords we know and love. This weekend Don Laughton, author of The First Honda Automobiles, 1958-1970, will be at the inaugural Cars, Bikes & Coffee event at Honda’s US headquarters, signing copies of his book. We got an (very) advance copy of is book for review:
Quite simply, the book is the most comprehensive history of pre-1970 Honda road cars ever written in English. Laughton seamlessly intertwines the history of Honda with deep technical dives of the early Hondas. That includes extensive details — down to the front and rear track — about the prototypes that existed before Honda ever released their first four-wheeled vehicles, the T360 pickup and S600 roadster, both in 1963.
The book primarily covers the early S-series, the S500, S600, and S800 in both open top and coupe forms, as well as their prototypes. There’s no stone Laughton leaves unturned, as he explores the engineering, marketing, and sales history of these cars. Issues with prototypes and production models, the fixes that resulted in year-to-year changes, and minute differences in various markets are all comprehensively documented. What’s too technical for prose is organized in easy-to-digest tables.
These days Hondas follow a strict regimen of mid-cycle model changes and redesigns. In the early days, there was no such system. Honda constantly made changes to various components of the S-cars as their own research and field data revealed areas of improvement. Do you want to know which range of serial numbers in S600 production had the exhaust valve stem diameter increased from 6.0 to 6.4 mm? Or which sequence of S800s used needle bearings between gears the main shaft of the transmission? This book has it all.
For those curious about the less technical aspects of the S-series, Laughton references plenty of public reactions and magazine reviews from around the world. There’s even an in-depth report from the UK’s Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA), who tested an S800 imported by BMC for over 14,000 miles. Marketing strategies, racing exploits, and owner stories of S-cars privately imported to America are all covered.
Laughton started the book as a project to keep himself busy during retirement. However, the more he delved into writing the more he realized there was much still to learn. It took Laughton 10 years to finish the book, and in that time he’s accumulated binders and boxes of information on Hondas from around the globe. The amount of research required to create such a work is truly impressive. The mental effort to arrange the data into clear and orderly pages and chapters is even more so.
Given the technical details and organization of minutia, The First Honda Automobiles is a must-have for anyone trying to restore a numbers-matching S-car. But those of us who are not fortunate enough to have an early Honda to enjoy, the book is still very much worth a read if you have an interest in Honda cars, the genius of Soichiro Honda, or even the business side of overcoming daunting market conditions as a Japanese car company in the 1960s.
If you cannot make it to Don Laughton’s book signing this Saturday, October 21, you can order the The First Honda Automobiles: 1958-1970 by contacting the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.