For today's CTTF article, I went somewhat more mainstream after pleasing my inner fanboy by talking about a Lamborghini. Being more common doesn't mean we still remember it, though. This car was only sold in Japan and, as a kei car, it is pretty much impossible to find outside of it. BUT! Fear not! Its import restrictions due to age will lapse soon and hopefully this glorious little car can zip around our streets like it did in its home country. What is it? Why it's the Honda Beat, of course!
An appropriate epitaph
Enzo Ferrari famously approved the F40 as the "last" car to be built before his death. Whether this is 100% the truth or not, I'm not sure. But it does seem fitting. Much in the same way that the Beat was the last car personally approved by Soichiro Honda before his death in 1991. Despite being small and efficient, the car was packed to the brim with personality and fun. A mid-mounted, 660CC inline three cylinder engine powered a two-seat chassis through the rear wheels. Each cylinder had its own throttle body to help it make the kei-car standard 63hp. However, ALL were equipped with a manual transmission. You just read that correctly. All Honda Beats send power through a 5-speed manual no matter what model year or options were checked. I think that for a crotchety italian man who headed up a formula one team and car builder, a limited production and high-strung race car for the street is what you want to be remembered by. But for the head and founder of a company that helped mechanize a nation after being devastated by a war, you want something a bit more.....attainable.
Putting some fun in your commute
For the whole 10 of you reading this in oppo who don't know what a kei car is, let me break this down real quick for you. In Japan, cars are taxed and licensed based on a few different things like engine size, car size, emissions, etc....To make things simple, the government created a "class" of vehicle often referred to as the "Kei" cars. These follow a set of maximum guidelines for manufacturers to follow. They change from time to time but let's go over the most common set followed. 1) No engine bigger than 660CC (0.66L) is allowed. 2) Power is limited to 63 hp. 3) The dimensions of the car can be no greater in either direction than 1.5 x 3.4 meters. These are the current regulations and besides dimensions, are identical to the set followed for the Honda beat.
The benefit of those regulations is the freedom it allowed. Look at what was NOT listed - body type, # of seats, engine technology, drivetrain, etc....So you have the full gamut of motor vehicles you expect....just fun-sized. Mini pickups, SUVs, wagons, vans, and even 2-seater roadsters were made. So that's where the beat comes in, a little 2-seater that sips gas, costs next to nothing to register (compared to say a silvia or an eclipse with a turbo), and can give you a smile all day long with a cheery demeanor and a mid mounted design.
Why was it forgotten?
Well to be honest, this car is probably still well known in japan. I'm sure some still roam the streets but their numbers are dwindling as Japan is a culture where used things are considered to have less value and the government provides incentives to buy new and recycle the old. Great for stamped out vans and sedans used for the urban grind. Not so great for a mid engined roadster. Plus its competiton on the sales floor was surprisingly stiff. The Autozam AZ-1 from mazda and the suzuki cappucino were both turbocharged where the honda had a high revving NA motor. Oh and let's not forget that the cappucino enjoyed a surprising guest starring role in a number of places including appearances on Best Motoring (always an underdog favorite) and a little-known series called Initial D
What about the beat? Well it is playable in Gran Turismo and it is a personal favorite of mine there. But besides maybe an odd mention here or there......Nothing. I can't think of anything made in the past decade or so that had the beat do anything of importance or worthwhile of seeing.
Why should I remember it?
Those 25 years are coming up fast for the earlier models so right off the bat, if you want a cool runabout you don't see too often, this one will fit the bill. It was made from 1991 to 1996 so start your countdown calenders now. Plus you can up the power and remove the 84 mph limiter and it will handle freeways just fine when you get it over here (estimates on the stock cars are a top speed of over 100 with no limiter). Oh and of course this is a lightweight (1700lb !!!!!!) mid engined two seater with a high revving motor meant to be driven all day long.
If the FR-S hype is any indication, we should be showing our love for this type of car as often as we can. Otherwise we'll just end up with another CR-Z. A good idea but half-baked execution. The idea of a mid-mounted "commuter" was tried before in the pontiac fiero.....but really it was a way of labeling a sub-par sports car as something besides a sports car while they got the fiero GT ready. By remembering the honda beat, and maybe giving it another try, honda could bring some magic back into their lineup. With no type-R, no CRX, no S2000, and only a future NSX coming up, there is a dire need in honda for a good shot in the arm of fun. Even if it had a hybrid drivetrain, I think this formula could work again. 1.0L, engine with a hybrid system for launches (VTEC does power, electrics do torque). Two seats with an open top and power going to the rear. Add some cargo area in the front. Done.
As always, thanks for reading and here's the angry little beast storming an autocross course.
EDIT: Wooooo! Front page! And yes, I am aware this car has a small fan club. Out of the 5 or 6 of these articles I've posted, THIS is the one that hits front page....