Honda S500

Image Credit

Honda S500 Model AS280, 1964 by Iwao, CC BY 2.0, Color corrected from original.

Sochiro Honda had wanted to build cars since his early days spent manufacturing piston rings for Toyota, but it would take awhile for him to reach his dream. He spent the late-40s and all of the 1950s building motorcycles and transforming Honda into the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer. By the 60s, he was ready to take his company's brand to the next level.

While Honda's first four-wheel vehicle was officially the T360, a mini-truck, it was the S500 (manufactured later that year) that gained worldwide acclaim. The S500 had a twin-cam 531cc engine and had a 4-speed manual transmission. The car was innovative, as it was one of the first cars to have 4-wheel independent suspension. It was tiny, though. The average Japanese man was about 5'5", and it was even a squeeze for them. That being said, the interior boasted a beautiful wood-rimmed steering wheel and luxurious black-rimmed gauges. The seats were also comfortable and firm.

While Japanese journalists didn't think much of the car (they called it, "just a four-wheeled motorcycle"), Western car critics adored it, and this was the first Honda that the U.S. enthusiastically welcomed to its shores. Not many were sold and only 1,363 were produced, but this little car helped Honda gain a foothold throughout the world.

Sochiro became interested in Formula One racing and decided to transform the S500 from a fun convertible into a racecar. He wasn't successful until 1965 when it won the Mexico GP. Sadly, this was its only victory.

Eventually, the S500 gave way to the S600, which sported a peppier engine, but this diminutive convertible will always be in the history books as the car that made the Honda brand a hit in the U.S.


All S500 Models