2016-10-26

Australian Enthusiasts Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Honda N360

 It is something of an understatement to suggest that Melbourne-based car enthusiast David Prince, lives, eats and breathes everything Honda.

N360

His passion for Honda vehicles stretches back more than 45 years. He’s the event secretary of the Honda Car Club of Victoria and has owned more than 20 different Hondas.

He’s also the proud owner of a near-original Honda N360, or Kei* car, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month.

Along with club committee member, Cliff Pritchard, they’re among a group of Australian enthusiasts who fly the flag for Honda and the N360.

In the 1960s, the two-door Honda N360 — cheekily sold as the “Scamp” in Australia — was among the first wave of Honda automobiles to arrive in the country and represented Honda’s first foray into the “family car” market. It arrived a few years after the S600 sportscar, and just before the sporty Z360 and the four-door Life. All showcased the company’s precision engineering and expertise for four-wheeled vehicles beyond motorcycles.

The Honda N360 featured front-wheel drive and an air-cooled, four-stroke 354 cc, two-cylinder engine derived from the Honda CB350 motorcycle. In the N360, this engine provided a diminutive output of just 23 kW yet still enabled the car to reach a top speed of 115 km/h.

By comparison, the smallest Honda sold in Australia today, the five-door Honda Jazz hatch — which is in a different segment to the N360 — develops 88 kW from its sophisticated, fuel-injected 16-valve 1.5-litre i-VTEC four cylinder engine and has a top speed that easily eclipses the Honda N360.

The Honda N360 also had some cool features for the day; precise rack-and-pinion steering, aluminium alloy overhead camshaft engine and the choice of a three-speed Hondamatic automatic, which allowed the driver to choose between manual and automatic shift operation, something buyers take for granted in cars today. To allow maximum interior and luggage space, the spare tyre was mounted in the engine bay, while still allowing easy access to the engine for servicing.

Excellent air circulation was also a highlight with flow-through ventilation and rear air vents. Australian customers could choose any colour as long as it was red, white or blue — known as Scarlet Red, Ivory White and Adriatic Blue — while foglamps, carpeting, tachometer, clock and reclining seats were optional.

The Honda N360 “Scamp” also proved itself perfectly adapted to Australia’s harsh conditions, receiving praise from the auto media of the day for its clever design, fuel efficiency and excellent performance, in part because it tipped the scales at just 505 kg in its Australian specification. 

The Honda N360 was very much an early example of the Honda product development philosophy that still exists today — man maximum and machine minimum — ensuring maximum space for occupants and minimal space for machine. When Honda Motor was designing the Honda N360, designers and engineers pushed the wheels out to the four corners of the car, which ensured maximum available interior space. The man maximum, machine minimum philosophy also provided a relatively long wheelbase of 2,000 mm.

The Honda N360 first debuted at the 13th Tokyo Motor Show in October 1966 and it went on sale in Japan on March 6th, 1967. Full-scale production started in 1968 and by September 1970, the cumulative production volume of N-series vehicles, including the more powerful N600, had reached one million units.

When the stylish Honda N360 went on sale in Japan, the response from customers was phenomenal. Within three months it had topped Japan's list of registrations for mini cars and earned the affectionate nickname — “Enu’koro” — or Little Puppy N.

Apart from the passenger version, a Honda N360 Panel Van was also sold in Australia, known as the LN360.

David says his Scarlet Red Honda N360 drives like a dream and he has a real soft-spot for the pint-size Honda. “I first fell in love with them as a youngster, peering into the showroom window not far from my home. I’ve always loved small cars and they didn’t come much smaller than the Scamp,” David said.

Having recently driven the new Honda Civic RS, David says there’s a ‘connectedness’ in the way both cars drive. “The Honda N360 might be a micro car and light years away in performance when compared to today’s Civic RS, but you do get a sense of the quality and precision in each car’s engineering, despite the fact that they are separated by 50 years.”

In comparision to David’s N360, Cliff’s is all-original, right down to the Maurie Quincey dealer sticker in the back window and original hubcaps. Maurie Quincey was a Honda dealer in suburban Moonee Ponds, Melbourne.

“It hasn’t really taken that much to get the car back into tip-top shape,” Cliff said. “The engine is still all original and the car starts first time, every time. It’s really fun to drive too.”

Apart from Cliff and David’s examples, there are only a handful of Honda N360s surviving on the road in Australia and their cute, individual style still has strong appeal from Honda enthusiasts. “They were a very low-cost car when new, and as a result many were neglected and not cherished like the rare survivors that exist today,” David said.

Australian deliveries of the Honda N360 started in early 1968 and the diminutive Honda quickly established itself as a well-built and ultra-frugal city car, capable of around 4.7 L/100 km in today’s language.

When it landed in Australia it was claimed that the Honda N360 was also the lowest priced car on sale — with a price of just $1,397. This low price, extensive feature list and Japanese build quality signaled to the established and traditional ‘British is best’ Australian market that a new challenger had arrived.

Honda Australia Director, Mr. Stephen Collins, said: “In the 1960s, cars like the Honda N360 helped establish the Honda brand in Australia. The N360 laid the groundwork for the type of cars we build today; vehicles that are well engineered, technically advanced, fuel efficient and have features and quality customers want and expect.” 

Mr. Collins said Honda N360 and other Hondas like it established a benchmark in Australia for reliability and durability. “You cannot buy that degree of credibility in today’s market and it’s something we’re very proud of and something our customers can rely upon in today’s Hondas,” he said.

“Thanks to enthusiasts like David and Cliff, and the passion of clubs like the Honda Car Club of Victoria, the story and role of the Honda N360 in Australia will never be forgotten. It’s great to share their enthusiasm and celebrate such a milestone.”  

*Kei cars is a Japanese category for micro-cars or minis that meet specific certification requirements in Japan.