Honda’s First Car Was This 1963 T360 Mini-Truck | Nostalgia
But then, it had brute 9,000 rpm DOHC engine from a sportscar! I ain’t kidding.
It is often true that most of the influential bigwigs had a very humble beginning. That was the case with Honda, who quite ambivalently started their car business in 1960s with a prior experience of manufacturing motorised bicycles in the post-war period. Soichiro Honda, the man behind the Japanese brand, wanted to build a sporty roadster S360 with a revolutionary engine only people with racing in their hearts could make – a DOHC 4-stroke unit with four cylinders and four carburetors generating up to 44 hp at max 9,500 rpm. Because, even the top-spec Porsche Super 90 at that time made only 50-55 hp per liter, but this Honda touched an unbelievable 100 hp per liter!
But he wasn’t sure of its commercial viability, and so pragmatically decided to build a light truck whose market was booming at that time in Japan. As an unlikely happening of automotive history, one of the top-spec engine of that time finally ended up on a rear-wheel-drive mini truck! Thanks to the remarkable engineering, the monstrous engine did perform a remarkable job on the truck, making the T360 and the brand name alive for the years to come. In spite of trading-off some power for fuel economy, it still had a top speed of about 100 kmph. It’s reliability was appreciated, that too amid a fractured post-war road infrastructure clogged with snowy winters. The truck even a ‘snow crawler’ variant with snow tracks instead of rear wheels.
Meanwhile, the S500 roadster also entered production. Its larger 38 hp engine gave birth to an another iteration of the tiny truck – the T500 with a slightly longer wheelbase and extra torque. A year later with new enthusiasm, the iconic S600 roadster entered production in the company’s first dedicated manufacturing facility in Sayama city of Japan. This was followed by mass-market ‘kei’ passengers cars N360 and N600 with two-cylinder engines. Over the next two decades, Honda expanded its product line-up with some extra-ordinary cars like Civic (1972) and Accord (1976), later entering into the luxury segments with its sub-brand Acura.
In fact, the T trucks did save Honda from any debacle during its take-off as an auto brand. As expected, the S-series sports cars pulled-off just 26 thousand units in sales, far lower than 108,920 units of T360 mini truck Honda made, that too in “May Blue” paint scheme only! Some of them were exported to other markets as well.
Now when we trace the trail backwards, Honda has come a long way since the T360 model. This week, the company has reached the milestone of producing 100 million units of automobiles globally. They make around 14 million engines every year, most likely to top the car engine makers list in terms of volume. And, Honda is the largest producer of motorcycles in the world as well.