June 15, 2015
Honda has a unique history compared to other automotive brands. Honda started out as a motorcycle company after WWII in Japan and quickly became an engine innovator. In fact, the first few vehicles from Honda all had motorcycle engines under the hood! Frank Ancona Honda wants to showcase the vintage Honda and take a look at the first two production vehicles – the T360 and S500.
Before there was the Honda Ridgeline, the T360 was the Honda pickup truck of the day. The T360 was the first production vehicle ever from Honda, introduced in 1963. It stayed in production until 1967 and 108,920 were made. The T360 had a small 356-cc straight-4 gasoline engine which was also found in the Honda S360 roadster prototype that never made it to production. Top speed was 62 mph with this engine, producing 30 hp at 8,500 rpm.
The T360 is a very small pickup because of Kei regulations. Kei allowed the T360 to be in a lower tax bracket, so Honda followed regulations that restricted the size of the truck. There were no color choices – people who bought the T360 could only purchase the “May Blue” color.
The T360 was a rear wheel drive pickup and was offered in three different styles. The T360F was a flatbed, the T360H was a flatbed with folding sides and the T360V was a covered van. A rare version of the T360 is called the Snow Crawler which had tracked propulsion units in the back. it was a useful car for Japanese climate and terrain, but its price tag was hefty, so they were only seen in certain areas of northern Japan.
The T360 was the start of the Honda automobile line and its pickup popularity spurred the T500, a similar pickup truck that was slightly larger in many ways. The T500 had a 38 hp 531 cc version of the T360 engine with a top speed of 65 mph delivering 7,500 rpm with a redline at 9,000 rpm. The T500 was also 20 centimeters longer than the T360. Instead of “May Blue,” the T500 trucks were all painted “Moss Green.”
The Honda S500 is the second automobile to be put into production and is also the first sports car that Honda produced. A sports car was a natural option for Honda’s new automobile line since they started as a motorcycle company. The S500 has chain-driven rear wheels and four-speed manual transmission point heavily to Honda’s background and expertise in motorcycles.
The engine was another high-tech motorcycle engine with a dual overhead cam straight-4 with four carburettors. The engine is a 531 cc and produced 44 hp at 8000 rpm and a redline of 9,500 rpm. The S500 engine was meant to displace the 492 cc that was supposed to be in the S360 that never reached production. The S500 was a mere 1500 lb and could reach a top speed of 80 mph.
Honda innovated with the S500 and impressed with the four-wheel independent suspension, front torsion bars and rear diagonal coilover shock absorbers. The S500 was so unique that many competitors raced to get their own version of the sports car, including Toyota.
The S500 was released four months after the T360 in 1963 but was only in production for one year. 1,363 Honda S500 were produced, making the sports car a complete rarity. In 1963, the S500 cost $1,275 and also came with a hardtop version that was slightly pricier.