The Honda Z600, is a two-door hatchback made by Honda between 1970 and 1974. It was marketed as the sports coupe version of the N600, but there’s a chance you’ve never heard of that either, since they’re the first Hondas in America, a bridge between the motorcycles and the first Civics.
The early Civic was tiny, but the Z600 and N600 were even smaller, true kei cars measuring about 123 inches from bumper to bumper. And while the Japanese models struggled with 360cc engines, the imported ones got a whopping 600cc of displacement, producing about 36 horsepower.
Making matters worse for the reputation of the little Honda, it arrived right at the peak of the American muscle car era. People were obsessed with large displacement V8s, and this must have looked like a toy car, sold at Honda dealers which only sold motorcycles at the time.
In 1973, the Civic arrived, and Honda began looking for car dealers. Buck Woodruff became the youngest in the country at 25. He’s still in the business of selling Honda and Acuras, and with about a year to go before his son Harrison joins the business, the two found a bonding experience in this Z600.
They found it for sale on Marketplace out of California, Jay Leno’s backyard. Of course, this is just the kind of car that appeals to the denim-clad car expert with 200 classics in his world-famous garage. It speaks about the spirit of that ear and how Honda began making cars.
The Z600 has a modest engine displacement, only a couple of cylinders, a 4-speed manual, and a tiny interior without air conditioning. Like the Beetle, it was seen as disposable transportation, but unlike the German Bug, it’s not a household name that gets dropped in every movie.
Unlike the Beetle, these early Hondas didn’t really take off. The N600 which this is based on was introduced in 1967 but it took until 69 for them to shift 50 examples. Sure, the company is known for engineering and Jay Leno praises the boss of the company, but he neglects to mention a few things. While the engine was a four-stroke and air-cooled it didn’t originally have a fan. It was small even compared to a Mini or Beetle, so you can imagine that not a lot of features were installed.
And then we arrive at the breakdown portion of this story. Every Jay Leno fan knows that in the second part of his YouTube show, there’s some driving going on. Jay sets off with the younger Woodruff in the 1970/71 Honda Z600, and while things are fine at first, the engine starts running really rough, like it’s having a misfire. Jay shows you what decades of working on cars will get you, as he immediately finds the problem: a blocked gas cap breather hole. “Honda’s don’t break down, it’s got to be something simple,” he jokes.