The Honda S800 Coupe Is a Tiny Bundle of Outrageous
Honda’s high-revving, jewel-like coupe and roadster were actually its first roadgoing cars.
There are some car stories that are so cool, you don't want to stop hearing them over and over again. Ford whupping Ferrari's ass at Le Mans is a great one—and half a century later, Hollywood still made a blockbuster film about that tale. There's also Soichiro Honda's story, where the ass-whupping part involved his one-two punch against the establishment with a ludicrous explosion into making automobiles. In short succession in the 1960s, for example, there were the S sports cars and, of all things, a full-fledged Formula 1 car, both from a company that had no prior experience in four-wheeled vehicles, and even then had only just begun to field factory race motorcycles.
Those cars, the S360 road car and the RA271 race car, were suitably bonkers. The RA271 has a 1.5-liter V-12 mounted transversely—wild stuff for the time, representing the sort of unconventional thinking Honda was known for at the time. But in some ways, the S series was even wilder. The S800 seen here is the last evolution of the series, ditching the peculiar chain-driven rear end for a conventional live axle, and with a relatively large engine—791 cubic centimeters. It's also the fastback coupe body style, which wasn't the lightest but definitely the most practical, and much rarer than the already rare roadsters.
The tiny water-cooled inline-four engine really shows off Honda's innovative philosophy. The crank is supported by tiny needle-type bearings, and the powerplant breathes through four individual Keihin carburetors. It exhausts through four equal-length exhaust headers. Making 70 horsepower from just under 0.8 liter of displacement, the power density is about 1.5 horsepower per cubic inch. That's monumental stuff. Its S360, S500, and S600 predecessors were less powerful but even more motorcycle-like, screaming further into the stratosphere with improbable redlines.
All of the S cars are a pleasure to drive, tiny and visceral and much more polished than you'd imagine a company's very first sports car attempt could possibly be. We drove an S800 roadster a while back and marveled at its brilliant engineering and charming demeanor. Its bug-like cute factor doesn't hurt things any, nor does its connection to the brilliant modern S2000, its great-grandkid. For another wild, tiny sports coupe of the era, check out our review of the Toyota Sports 800.
This particular example of the Honda is for sale on Bring a Trailer, the kind of place where these impossible-to-find oddities crop up with some frequency. This one spent some time in South Africa, apparently, and looks clean with some expected wear, especially in the interior. That said, it's probably too clean to be a donor for a project like Daniel Wu's outlaw S800 Coupe built for SEMA back in 2019. Hopefully someone will preserve it while enjoying it as Soichiro Honda intended: wide open on a winding road.