1972 Honda 1300 Coupe 7 engine bay & dashboard. Click image to enlarge
Speaking of modern standards, the little Honda 1300 had the following: front disc brakes, fully independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, an electric fuel pump, and it was front-wheel-drive in an era of rear-drive machines. All of these features were very advanced for its time, and the combination of advanced suspension, low curb weight, and revvy engine would become hallmarks of all the best Hondas.
And then there was all the weird stuff. First, the 1300’s all-aluminum engine was air-cooled. Here’s a list of every air-cooled, front-engine, front-wheel-drive machine ever made:
– Honda 1300
– Citroën 2CV
1972 Honda 1300 Coupe 7 headlight. Click image to enlarge
So, just as odd as a French car, but built to a bulletproof standard, and with power levels that had Toyota’s engineers green with envy. Thachuk’s little Honda was also incredibly economical – he produces a notebook he kept tracking fuel and maintenance, and notes both stellar fuel-consumption and service bills that were little more than a basic oil-change.
When he moved back to Canada, Thachuk looked at selling his Honda, but something stopped him. A friend suggested that finding space in a shipping container would be easy enough, and after a long sea voyage, the little Honda rolled onto Canadian soil. It remains one of only two such cars in the country, one of only three 1300s in all of North America, and is likely the only single-owner Coupe 7 in the entire world. “Like to take it for a drive?” You betcha’!
Those Japanese home market fender mirrors had to be removed for pedestrian safety reasons, so there’s not much adjustment to be done other than cocking the rearview and scooting the seat back. The Honda’s interior has that excellent 1970s cologne of vinyl and plastic. Every generation of car has its own smell, and this isn’t that far off the whiff of an MGB or an old Chrysler land yacht.
It drives far more like the former than the latter. Light on its feet, the Coupe scurries through the curves with a deftness that has a grin creeping across my face. If you’re a Honda fan, this is where it all began. The effortless steering, the easy composure; a dancing chassis paired to a singing engine. The quicker versions of this car actually had some racing success at Bathurst, where they diced it up at high speed with fast Fords and the like. Because the 1300 was so stable at speed, even with those skinny tires, it held its own against more powerful machinery.
1972 Honda 1300 Coupe 7. Click image to enlarge
Old cars can often be a bit alarming to drive, but despite the all-original nature of this machine, it’s a sparkling delight. It doesn’t get much use these days, and a spin down this old stretch of former highway is about as much exercise as it’s had in months. Thachuk uses it for brief runs about town, but because parts are nigh-on impossible to come by, he doesn’t risk it on longer journeys.
And that’s as good a point as any to return to some sad reality. The 1300 wasn’t a success at all – in fact, it was something of a financial boondoggle. Honda lost his temper at the engineering staff frequently, and kept backing up the production line as he thought of some other feature he wanted to introduce. It was never quite good enough, and the endless delays and complete reversal of the assembly line nearly bankrupted the company.
After the 1300, Honda stepped back and his engineers produced the Civic. A far more pragmatic vehicle, the Civic is probably the first vehicle that pops into anyone’s head when they hear the word “Honda”. It was a huge success for the company, of course, and gave rise to a huge fanbase.
The 1300 is something else, an odd little misfit of a car, but one that is infused with the foreshadowing of greatness. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of futuristic ideas, but you can sort of see it hinting at the audacity of cars like the Acura NSX, or the engines that would power Senna to victory in the McLaren-Hondas.
Audacious. Audacious is the word. If Honda is struggling a bit with dialing a bit of innovation back into some of their everyday products, they need look back as well as forward.
This scrappy little 96-hp 1970s coupe embodies the very soul of Honda’s founder. Dream big. Demand excellence. Always keep striving. A lesson any automaker could take to heart and maybe, too, a lesson for us all.