The Art of Miniature: Honda Z When in the early 70s the car first appeared in the USA at Honda motorcycle dealerships, it looked unbelievably small. The front drive hatchback, designated with bare “Z”, featured wheelbase of only 2000 mm / 78.75 in – some 2/3 of a full-size American sedan. That is, Honda Z dimensions nicely fitted into the strict limitations (then 3000 mm / 118.1 in long and 1300 mm / 51.2 in wide) imposed in Japan upon the so-called Kei-car category. (Though export Z600 was extra 125 mm / 4.9 in long – due to reinforced bumpers). The happy owners of Kei-car vehicles benefitted from drastically reduced tax and insurance rates, and since the 60s, minuscule models gained impressive market success. New Honda Kei-car was even smaller than original Austin/Morris Mini – in both length and width. Just imagine… Yet it was positioned as a 4 passenger sport coupe, and Honda’s “mini” indeed took aboard two adults and two kids (2+2 seating formula). The driver and the front passenger were seated quite freely, unless the interior felt somewhat narrow in shoulders… There was also a handbag-sized trunk in the back, accessible via hatch window. While with the rear seat folded down, the sport coupe could carry a load of week’s groceries. A cutie, though as for air-con or power windows; there was nothing of the kind. All in all, the inexpensive Z looked attractive and economical – with an expressive sporty note to it, too… Sport coupe Honda Z debuted in 1970 as a model built on the platform of the earlier Kei-car N360/N600 III. Yet in contrast to utilitarian boxy design of its predecessor, the sports Z looked smooth and refined. The car resembled somewhat a lightweight wrestler in fighting shape – trained and athletic. The comparatively long hood and extremely low roof line (the unloaded coupe was only 1275 mm / 50.2 in high!) created quite a dynamic image. And the sport coupe performed well – at least for a Kei-car with a miniature power unit. Under the hood there was a 2-cylinder air-cooled engine neatly placed – a marvel of Honda’s extensive experience in motor bike engineering and racing. The all-alloy 4-valve OHC twin displaced 355 cc / 21.65 cid and, equipped with 2 side-drought Keihin carburetors, produced up to 31 hp (JIS) at unusually high 8500 rpm. The export Z600 featured a single carb 598 cc / 36.5 cid 2-cylinder engine, which was rated at 36 hp (SAE net) at rather modest 6 thousand revs. Then in 1972 an advanced liquid-cooled twin 358 cc / 21.8 cid was introduced. The new engine was equipped with 2 counterbalance shafts and delivered - with a pair of Keihins - up to 36 hp at insane 9 thousand rpm. The air- and liquid-cooled twins were mated to 4- or 5-speed manual all-synchromesh gearbox; 3-speed Hondamatic was also available. All the aggregates and components were assembled upon pressed steel unibody. As for the running gear, McPherson struts with coil springs were applied at the front. While the rear end featured simple and light “dead” axle located with longitudinal leaf springs. Just like this on the grand Oldsmobile Toronado; the both were front drive cars, though it’s so hard to suspect any similarity between them. The Z360 rode on minuscule 5.20-10 tires (diagonal cord), while export Z600 was equipped with 145SR10 radials. The rack & pinion steering needed no servo, and the wheel made 3.1 turns lock-to-lock. The Z360 brakes were of drum type - with no trace of ABS. While the Z600 featured front discs and stopped from 60 mph, by independent test-drive, on 42 m / 137.7 ft distance. Gone too far, by modern standards… The little Japanese handled accurately and demonstrated decent roadholding. Still the ride was quite harsh – due to the vehicle’s insignificant weight and firm leaf springs. The Z600 tipped the scales at 595 kg / 1312.5 lb at the curb and provided fuel economy in the 5 to 7 l/100 km (40 to 47 mpg) range. The car with 4-speed manual accelerated from 0-60 mph /96.5 kph in 23.6 seconds (independent test-drive) and was capable of 78 mph / 125+ kph top speed. And as test-drivers noted, the real time pace was limited rather with penetrating shrill of the engine, than with its power… Hardtop For the 1972 model year Z car switched from the approved N360/N600 platform to this of new Honda Life. The wheelbase was therefore stretched to 2080 mm / 81.9 in (though the length of Kei-car remained unchanged); valuable addition to the rear leg room. However, the catch was quite different: the 1972 model evidently lacked the B-pillars… In other words, the sports Z became the smallest hardtop coupe in the automotive history – and remains so nowadays. It was a bright individuality, this little cutie… Honda N360/N600 and Z models were exported all over the world – with both right- and left-hand steering. On total, 40.6 thousand units of Z360/Z600 were assembled in 1970-73, and in the early 70s sports Z600 were even imported into the United States and Canada. Naturally, the tiny Z made no sensation there; anyway, it broke a trail for the next in turn model of Honda Motor. And in 1973 started the continuing story of the renowned Civic name… Honda Motor is alive and kicking - in spite of the recent world financial disaster. The mighty corporation is doing well with Kei-car (among other classes): since the days of Z360/Z600, the category has progressed considerably. While in the early 70s, the tiny sport coupe, designated by the ABC last letter, bravely pushed the idea of Kei-car to the very limit. The fine art of Japanese automotive miniature. V.P. Images: Honda. In late 1970 new sport coupe Honda Z appeared fresh and daring. The hardtop coupe Z of 1972 model year was unique to the Kei-car category. The cockpit was designed in a functional and sporty style. The architecture of Honda Z (never mind hieroglyphic characters) is now common to compact front drive cars. The liquid-cooled twin was equipped with counterbalance shafts. The miniature Z accurately fitted into the Kei-car standards.