The Original Commuter: 1972 Honda Z600

honda-z600

If you have any memory of how big Honda’s Civic was in the 80s, you likely recall a small, tin-like structure that was as efficient as it was compact. The thing is, the Civic has lost much of that tossable form in favor of a more refined vehicle that isn’t nearly as light on its feet and suffers from poor sight lines, due to the airbags stored in the a-pillars and a high beltline that extends into the rear door windows. Of course, if you take the lineage back one step further, even the game-changing lineup of hatchbacks, coupes and sedans from the 1980s look heavy by comparison. That’s why I felt it was important to profile this 1972 Honda Z600 found here on eBay – a barn find kept by the same owner for 41 years!

2-cylinder-engine

I’ve seen the values on these cars start to creep up for well-preserved originals and freshly-restored trailer queens. I suppose if you drove one of these when they were new, seeing a restored version in your driveway would bring back happy memories of youthful motoring. Although it wasn’t anything special, I think about the Jetta I drove in high school quite a bit. Whenever I see one parked in a lot or more commonly in a junkyard, I always have a fleeting thought of how much fun was had in it. Unfortunately, I checked the VIN on mine a few years ago and learned it had been scrapped; if that’s what happened to the Z600 you drove in college, here’s your chance to bring one back!

z600-interior

The seller isn’t overly-descriptive in the listing for this Honda hatch, but I suppose with a car this small there isn’t much to tell. It also shows you that barn finds come in all shapes and sizes, as there isn’t a single car ever made that someone hasn’t thought of putting into the barn for some extended storage. Though I can’t see a ton of visible rust, the seller does disclose that some exists so asking for additional photos would be a wise choice. The body isn’t in terrible condition, but the interior looks filthy and ready for a good cleaning. I love the vintage pin stripes and graphics that remain on the car – a very period-correct detail.

honda-z600-rear

Bidding is already heating up on this classic commuter, though not at the price point the seller wants in order to lift the reserve. I know of two people within my personal network who would love to have one of these in their collection, and I’m sure there are others like them – making it likely that this barn-find Civic ancestor will find a home sooner rather than later. And when our grandkids are driving Civics that are the size of a  Mercedes S-Class, we can reminisce about the days when Civics only had four airbags and weighed under 3,000 pounds. This ’72 is a pleasant reminder of a simpler time, and surely simpler mechanics!

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Comments

  1. Dan Farrell

    I tried to sit in once on the drivers side, could not get my L/knee leg inside even with the seat all the way back.

  2. Scott Allison

    I remember seeing one of these in a highway accident. The front half was gone, and the rear section had a little boy trapped inside it. I have never even wanted to sit in one of these little death traps.

    • jim s

      yes you are right, these did not do well in accidents and Honda got into lawsuits over them. i test drove one went they first came out and they were fun to drive. the transmission was interesting as the shift lever came out from under the dash and it was a constant mesh, i think. might be fun on an autocross course. nice find

      • jim s

        sorry left off part of my comment: but just as safe as the midget/sprites i drove and a lot of other cars from that time frame!

  3. Eric M.

    A friend of mine drove a black one in high school. It had a bumper sticker on the back window that said “When I grow up I want to be a Cadillac”.

  4. Vince Habel

    These never appealed to me. I started out driving a 53 Studebaker coupe. I still love them after all these years.

  5. Dave Wright

    I test drove the boxy version of these that were a year or two older. I was racing SCCA at the time and did a hand brake turn with the salesman in the car……..he was pretty shaken up. They were cheep light cars, the only thing more unsafe was a motorcycle. There was one that raced IMSA in the northwest that had a racing motorcycle engine in it. There was a great film of a practice session of him playing with a A production Corvette…….off course the vet had all the brute power but the Honda driver would draft him in the straight aways and the Honda would pass him in the twisties. Eventually the Vett went too deep on a straight and went into the weeds, The Honda made a victory lap. I think the Honda race engine had something like 135 HP and 11,000 RPM.

  6. swm

    My sole memory of these is when a bunch of students at Edmonds Jr. High lifted Mr. Powell`s (shop teacher) orange version onto the stairs of the shop building.

  7. Jim

    Some guy I worked with had one of these. He saw them coming into New York Harbor & wanted one as soon as he saw it. It was a cool littlr car, couldn’t believe all the room in it, than again my car at the time was a 64′ MGB.

  8. Jim

    “I suppose if you drove one of these when they were new, seeing a restored version in your driveway would bring back happy memories of youthful motoring.” Absolutely! I loved this car. In 1977 I was the third owner of my blue one—second owner was a pizza shop that used it for deliveries! It was my first choice many days when the other cars in the driveway were an MGB-GT and a VW double cab. It was a lot of fun to drive. Transmission (yes, shift lever came out of firewall) was perfectly matched to the engine- a 600cc twin cylinder re-purposed from Honda motorcycle division. One weakness (other than crash-worthiness) was that the engine had an endless chain timing chain–had to take the engine apart to replace it.
    Mine never made it to the top of the stairs, but one day I came out of the restaurant where I worked to find that the kids who worked in the kitchen had put it up in the air on four beer kegs. Because I appreciated their joke, they took it off the kegs safely as well…

    • z1rider

      You didn’t have to take the engine apart to replace the timing chain. The service replacements were not endless, so you cut the old one at one of the links, then wired the end of the new one to one end of the old one and fed it through. I have first hand experience with that repair.

      The engine was not derived from a motorcycle engine, as Honda’s biggest ever vertical twin was a DOHC 450. To be sure, the engine used a lot of Hondas design conventions from their motorcycles but it was totally unto itself. For one thing, the final drive which included a differential (which a motorcycle of course did not need) was in unit with the entire powertrain. Valve adjustment was unique as well, I am not aware of any other Honda engine which used eccentric rocker shafts the way they were used in the 600 engine.

  9. rancho bella

    Dave Wright………..the square one was called the N600. I sold mine about five years ago when I got tired of hunting for suspension bits as the poor dear was worn out.
    I liked it as a grocery getter…….two bag max and would put my little buddy Scout in the car and go to the bay for walks. Scout was the only one that would take the chance with me on the road.
    Sold it to a young guy that had plans of putting a late model Honda drive train in it. It had Cosmic wheels.

  10. mtshootist1

    I had a girlfriend in Wichita back in about 73-74 that had bought one of the orange ones, I never remember driving it, but was riding with her one time, and the back window fell inside the car, as we were going down the street. Highly impressive at the time, I never wanted one ever, at all. Death trap city…

  11. RayT Member

    Okay, now we’re talking!

    I bought an N600 new in 1970 and loved it. Drove it several times from L.A. to San Francisco, and ran it pretty hard. Saw the Z “Coupe” in ’72 and had to have one. I was very satisfied: decent equipment (like disc brakes, which were optional on Chevy Vegas of the day) and excellent build quality for the price ($1795 new, as I recall). Wonderful gas mileage (I recall 40 mpg or so) and good handling.

    If I could find a solid original, and if the parts supply would support it, I’d buy another, make it mechanically solid and use the daylights out of it. And you could play Hero Driver all day without attracting the law; the things weren’t all that fast but, like an Autozam AZ-1 I drove many years later, you always felt as if you were driving at eleven-tenths….

    • Dave Wright

      Well……..you have identified the rub. Oriental car makers do not make spare parts. A machine of this age would be next to impossible. Now, if it were a Mini Cooper of a similar vintage, you could buy every part down to the smallest nut and bolt from many suppliers they were built more robustly when new and just as fun to drive.

  12. krash

    My dad kept one of these in the glove compartment of his 60’s Chrysler Imperial…

    .

  13. David G

    Thanks for featuring this, one of Honda’s early motorcycle-y cars. Fond memories of driving either a Z600 Coupe or N600 Sedan as a daily back in the mid-80s, super-cheap to find back then and as i remember, a super-reliable machine.

    Knew i could be in trouble if i ever wrecked but the thing had such great handling (read: evasion) capabilities that if you drove it hyper-defensively (as if it WERE a motorcycle), and always kept good attention on everything going on around you (i could do that fairly well in my 20s), you could be content while having a helluva lot of fun. Bottom ends of both my N600 and Z600s got weak after a while since their C-rod bearings were weak-ish needle-type iirc. That was the achilles heel for me, on both. But before that happened i enjoyed them immensely.

    This one may be a good get up to maybe 1.5k since it needs a bunch we can see and whoknowswhat that we can’t. Good points about the spares, may need several cars in the hoard to keep one super-reliable for the road today. I’ll bet there are decent quants of parts in Japan, just gotta use the illustrious www and a trusty Japanese-English translator pal to find the right contacts.

    Again, thanks to BF for featuring this one and thereby rekindling many happy remembrances for some of us!

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Glad to rekindle some memories, Dave! That’s just part of the fun for those of us with the “disease” known as being a gearhead!

  14. Don Andreina

    Cool. We had these in Melbourne in the 70s. Love that rear window.

  15. Paul B

    I had an N600 (the square-bodied sedan version). Yes, a death trap, and when a Lincoln Continental clipped the back corner one time at speed, the driver didn’t even know she’d “connected”, as she put it, when I waved her over to stop! But the truth is all small cars except Volvo 122s and Saabs were pretty much death traps in those days. The Honda was reliable, fun to drive, not a really great handler but OK (I’d expected better from such a light FWD car). It was no Mini in the handling department. Ride was extremely harsh with that beam rear axle so near, and the seats nearly wrecked my back. I loved the shifter. The engine was willing but not really that high-revving or flexible as I recall. Sounded good though. I actually kind of adored the 600, but eventually sold it and went back to a used ’66 Saab 96, which I drove comfortably and safely for another 9 years until … I put it under my BARN shelter because it had become annoyingly tough to get parts! OMG. Yes, happy ending there: I sold the Saab, and my stash of bits for it, years later to a young guy who found just the prize he’d wanted, and got it running again.

  16. Keith IH

    Like many of the commentators here, I too owned both a 1972 Z600 and an AN600 when I was in college in what seemed like a hundred years ago. The AN600 was my driver and the Z600 was a parts donor. It was a fun car to drive and a bit scary on the highways of Detroit. As a ten year old used car, it was pretty reliable for what it was. I remember getting 36 MPG pretty consistently with it. The starter died at one point and the Z was buried in snow in my back yard so I had to wait for the thaw to get my spare starter off of the donor. No worries!, the 600 was so light that I could very easily push start it by myself. I made it through the whole winter of ’82 that way. Speaking of winter, the air-cooled twin and it’s associated heat riser was so ineffective that it made a Beetle seem toasty-warm by comparison. I did crash it racing a friend in his Riviera. We entered a tight curve and I came in way too hot and the tiny little Michelins couldn’t manage enough grip for my idioitc ham-fisted lack of driving skills. I managed to take out an arrow sign that warned of impending doom and almost rolled the little mouse. All in the car were miraculously OK and the car needed just minor subframe work. Sold it much later for exactly what I paid for it. Ahhhhh, those were the days!

  17. Woodie Man

    So…hitchhiking one day outside Princeton New Jersey I was picked up by one of these. Even as a high school student, and granted I was driving a ’47 chevy around in the back woods and used to my lumbering old beast, I remember thinking how the hell am I going to get into this! And I was just an average sized kid.

    I remember how low it was to the ground. But hey….I got to Princeton. And I’m here today!

  18. John

    I had an N600. Bought it brand new. Drove it from Kansas City to Colorado Springs and up Pikes Peak. The final grade up to the visitor center took two tries — had to back up and build some speed. It needed a high altitude jet for its carburetor.

    It had rust problems. Its exhaust system literally rusted off at about 2K miles — the dealer took almost a month to get a replacement. Parts were always an issue. I used a motorcycle muffler while I waited. The body also had rust issues. I was worried about its rear spring mounts and the strut towers were also kinda scarey. This was another car where we were convinced that it was dissolving rather than rusting away.

    It was also noisy. We used to make jokes about knowing that everything was working because you could hear each of its parts. And the plastic in the seats had the most horrible smell that never went away all the time I owned it.

    But the drive train was bullet proof. I drove it to college, 110 miles a day for my final two years. It never missed a beat. I knew that if I hit anything or if anything hit me, my day would be over early. But it was better than my Honda CB350 motorcycle, it kept me dry in the rain and had a heater.

    I finally traded it for a four-year old Volvo 144 that had a bad valve and 94K miles. I fixed the valve and drove the 144 for almost another 100K miles.

  19. Jason

    Nice looking Honda. I remember seeing one like this in Kirkland, Washington, at a Honda dealer. I didn’t know whether it was for sale or not. But it looked like it would’ve made an awesome display/demonstration car, to show people what Honda cars were like 40 yrs ago. I actually got to sit down inside behind the wheel. Surprisingly, I found it quite comfortable. :)

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