The Honda City and Motocompo Are Supremely Tiny '80s Urban Besties
There’s no dense Japanese urban maze that this pair can’t navigate.
Peanut butter and jelly. Ume and shiso. Some things just go together. And there's no way you can talk about the first-generation subcompact Honda City without talking about its dorky-cool folding sidekick, the Motocompo scooter. Like a animal companion plugged into some fantasy anime for comic relief , the adorable Motocompo could be stowed in the City's trunk, ready for the sort of adventures we now call, in our less whimsical reality, "last mile trips." Park the City in, well, a city, and ride the Motocompo the rest of the way to your destination. Or so the idea goes.
The City itself is a fairly basic front-drive econobox, blessed with an adorable and charismatic front end that made even the low-level versions charming—even if, with as little as 44 horsepower, they were slugs. Several variations of the ER-series 1.2-liter inline-four brought increased horsepower, but the truly exciting models are the Turbo and Turbo II, which more than doubled the output of the wheeziest single-barrel carburetor models. Both featured fuel injection, and the Turbo II was even intercooled to pump out 108 horsepower.
That doesn't seem like much, but the thing weighed a meager 1,650 pounds. The "Bulldog" nickname it got back in the day seems a little more appropriate when you consider its power-to-weight ratio. But the Motocompo is the same regardless of which City you put it in.
The Motocompo is a design icon in its own right, a useful little device that excludes charm unintentionally. It's a brightly colored rectangle with wheels, really, but the clever use of the trim housing the grab handles, the bold and fanciful "MOTOCOMPO" logo on the side, the improbable proportions, all make the very minimalist scooter pop. The handlebars and seat fold down, providing a flat top that makes it easy to slip inside the City's cargo area. Tie-downs attach to convenient loops on the Motocompo to secure it. The whole thing weighs just under 100 pounds, motivated by a 2.5-horsepower, 49-cc two-stroke engine.
Could it get more 1980s than this combo? Well, yes. Have you seen the Japanese home market ads for the City? They're legendary. Western celebrities have been a big part of Japanese advertising for a long time, and for the cheap-and-cheerful City/Motocompo combo, Honda's ad agency recruited then-hot U.K. ska outfit Madness—best known here for the hit "Our House"—you know, the one in the middle of our street. Good luck getting that out of your head now. Their Honda ads remain popular online, a slice of the intersection of late 1970s/early 1980s ska movement and the light-hearted absurdist advertising of the time.
For the right person, a clean City/Motocompo team is a hypnotic combination—funky, practical, attention-grabbing, and frankly easy to store. Never sold on these shores, the best bet to find a good one is to look to a Japanese car importer, or find one already over here. This one, on Bring a Trailer, was brought over by Nippon Imports. The City has low mileage, and the Motocompo is in great condition and even comes with the amazing dust cover and a matching, "MOTOCOMPO"-emblazoned helmet.
The City is a carbureted, non-Turbo model, but pop the hood and the little 1.2 has some serious attitude, sporting a red valve covered with a big "COMBAX" badge—an acronym for "Compact Blazing-combustion Axiom," a successor to the non-catalyst CVCC engines. When has stratified-charge combustion ever been so cool?
These are cult classics, with a legit following, and we've seen lots of examples come up for sale. If you have a bigger budget, hold out for a more fun Turbo or Turbo II, or even the cabriolet version. But if you just want to make a big statement with a (very) small car and its even smaller two-wheeled companion, any City will do.