It’s always nice to see a car company recognize its heritage, and that’s easy to do when said heritage includes iconic muscle cars, or a distinguished racing pedigree. The 1969 Honda N600, the first Honda car sold in the U.S., isn’t the sexiest piece of automotive history, but it’s important nonetheless.
The N600 helped launch the shift that saw small Japanese cars successfully challenge the hegemony of gas guzzlers from the Big Three. And now the first of those cars to hit U.S. shores is getting a restoration, which Honda will document in an online video series called Serial One.
The car in question is one of just 50 N600s imported to the U.S. during the car’s first year on sale here. It’s now in the hands of Tim Mings, who describes himself as the world’s only full-time Honda N600 mechanic. He’s restored over 1,000 of the cars in his Los Angeles-area shop, and he bought this particular car sight unseen some time ago. At the time, he didn’t realize he’d purchased the first U.S. N600.
The flood of Civics, CR-Vs, and Accords on U.S. roads today makes it hard to imagine a time when Honda wasn’t an automotive powerhouse. But in 1969, the company was only known for making small motorcycles, and its first U.S.-market car focused on efficiency at a time when consumers seemed to only care about style and performance. This was the height of the muscle car era, and the N600 was decidedly un-muscular.
It had a 598-cc two-cylinder engine and a top speed of just 81 mph. Granted, the engine was pretty advanced for the time, featuring all-alloy construction and the ability to rev to 9,000 rpm. And the N600 put Honda in a good position for the 1970s, when oil crises and new environmental legislation suddenly made fuel economy more important to consumers and other manufacturers.
So while it won’t attract as much attention as, say, a restored ’69 Camaro, the first Honda N600 definitely deserves some TLC. Honda expects the restoration to take 12 to 18 months, and will release videos documenting its progress. Stay tuned to see this pile of junk turn back into a working automobile.