Honda has come a long way over the years. Appearing on a recent episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage,” this Honda Z600 is an example of one of the automaker’s earliest production models.
Either a 1970 or 1971 model, the car was rebuilt by Buck Woodruff and his son Harrison. The elder Woodruff was one of the first Honda dealers in the U.S., and still sells the automaker’s wares today in Georgia. The two thought it would be nice to find an early Honda to display in the showroom to represent both their family history and Honda’s.
The Z600 was marketed as a coupe version of the N600, the first Honda car sold in the U.S., which in turn was a larger-engined version of the Japanese-market N360. The N360 launched in 1967 with a 360-cc twin to comply with the then-current version of Japan’s kei-car standards which incentivize small cars with small-displacement engines. For export markets like the U.S., Honda developed a 598-cc version of the N360’s engine, which went into both the N600 and the Z600 and developed a mighty 36 hp in the N600. And, as you’ll hear in the video it does that with a buzz of revs.
This car hasn’t been restored, but simply returned to running condition with its original paint and many original parts—including, remarkably, a 1970s-vintage washer fluid bag. It had sat for three years before the Woodruffs got their hands on it and still needs some shaking down, as shown during the test drive when a blocked fuel vent caused the flow of fuel to be interrupted.
While it didn’t have as much of an impact as its follow-up act, the Z600 helped Honda establish itself as an international automaker. Honda only sold the Z600 in the U.S. from 1970-1972, after which it was pulled from this market to make way for the Civic, which launched in 1973 with Honda’s revolutionary CVCC engine. Short for “Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion,” it used clever engineering tricks like pre-chamber combustion to meet the first round of U.S. emissions standards (which came into effect for the 1975 model year) without a catalytic converter. But that’s a story for another time.