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‘Bonsai’ Honda: Cute but astute

2013-05-06 07:22

HONDA S800 COUPE: It was a hot little number back in the 1960's; this one was spotted outside a Cape Town shopping mall. Image: DAVE FALL


I’ve taken to keeping one of those small compact cameras in my car – you never know when you might spot something worth shooting. The very rare Honda S800 coupé (above) was one such and spotted at one of Cape Town’s shopping malls.

I doubt very much if there's more than a handful of these superb little cars left in South Africa. I well remember they had quite a following in the UK during their heydey in the mid/late 1960's.

The car was aimed directly at taking sales from the likes of Austin Healey Sprites, MG Midgets and even Fiat’s very pretty 850 Spider and the diminutive Honda managed to find many friends and admirers. After all, it was cheaper to buy new than a Mini Cooper or a Triumph Spitfire – both very good cars – but (has to be said!) nowhere near as reliable.


Two models of the S800 were available from 1966 to 1970, a roadster and a coupé (that's one in the picture) with total sales of 11 536 achieved globally during that rather short lifespan. Honda sold  about 1100 coupés to UK fans but only 250 convertibles.

The S800 had an all-aluminium 791cc engine with double overhead camshafts, a pair of twin-choke carbs and a roller-bearing crankshaft, a beautifully engineered mechanical masterpiece. Even the transmission was over-engineered and perfectly capable of accepting a bigger engine, if need be.

Strangely, they were only sold at selected Ford dealers in the UK and I well remember checking one over… the Honda car brand still had to “make its way” in the corporate world of assembling great cars; motorcycles were a completely different matter!


What also attracted buyers to this steel-bodied ‘bonsai special’, apart from the remarkable engine, were its outstanding creature comforts. It could rev its four-cylinder heart out to 6000rpm and then really get a move-on as the rev counter headed past 8000 mark – unheard-of figures when compared to the competition.

As far as top speed went, it could stay with an MGB – the benchmark performance car of the day – in an open-road dice yet the MGB had a litre more in engine capacity (1800cc). Get both cars on a quiet country road and the S800 would show the “B” a clean pair of heels every time.

In 1970 Honda Motor Company decided to concentrate its efforts almost exclusively on motorcycle production – the outcome of which we all know very well! The next Honda S-class sports car was only to come 30 years later with the arrival of the S2000 in the year 2000 – a car that gained much respect from the likes of Porsche, Jaguar and Ferrari.

You can’t get a better recommendation than that!

Honda S800 coupé (1966-70)
Engine: 791cc/4-cyl
Power: 53kW at 8000 rpm
Torque: 67Nm at 6000 rpm
Top speed: 160km/h
0-100km/h: 13.5 sec
Fuel consumption: Seven litres/100km
Transmission: Four-speed manual
Length: 3.34m
Width (inc mirrors): 1.40m
Weight: 755kg

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