Good things indeed come in small packages -- the Honda S800 is proof of that. For a brief stretch in the late 1960s, this diminutive vehicle wowed industry experts with its advanced technology, thus helping Honda, still new to automotive manufacturing, on its way to industry dominance within the next few decades.
It all started when a team of young engineers came together to create a tiny car ideal for the Japanese consumer base, but with more visual and performance appeal than the others then in the market. The idea was bolstered by the tax incentives at the time given to people who owned cars with limited engine capacity. The new car, dubbed the S800, made its debut at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show, replacing the S600, which had made history as the first Honda vehicle with two trim levels. In addition to Japan, the S800 went on sale in Great Britain in 1967.
Competing with other like-minded entries such as the Fiat 850 Spider, Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget, and Triumph Spitfire, the Honda S800 was available as a two-door roadster or a coupe. The engine installed on the vehicle was a small but peppy four-cylinder that pumped out 70 horsepower at 8,000 RPM, with the redline extending to 11,500 RPM. Such capability made the S800 the first 100 mph car from Honda, and in Martin Buckley's book, The Illustrated Book of Classic Cars, it was described as the fastest 1-liter car in the world. The earlier S800s used a chain drive, with independent suspension in the rear, although later models switched to a conventional drive shaft, which consisted of a live axle rear end with four radius rods and a Panhard rod. Also, the car eventually got disc brakes instead of front drums.
What doomed the Honda S800, however, was its lack of success in the United States market. British small cars had an unshaka dominance there; and the engine power of the S800 was compromised when Honda adhered to the U.S.'s safety regulations by introducing recessed door handles, hazard warning lights, dual circuit brakes, and side marker lights. Production ceased in 1970, and Honda would never produce another S car until 1999, when it introduced the S2000.