By on March 24, 2012

The AHoF today honors automotive notables from around the world so seeing displays devoted to Armand Peugeot and Eiji Toyoda wasn’t that surprising. The AHoF, though, didn’t always have such an international flavor. It was only in 1989 that the Hall inducted its first Japanese auto executive, Soichiro Honda. Racing was near to Soichiro’s heart so currently on display in the exhibit dedicated to him is the 1968 Honda S800 RSC race car that won its class in the 1968 12 Hours of Suzuka endurance race.

It might be easy for a car enthusiast to overlook the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan. With fewer than a dozen vehicles on display, their car collection is literally overshadowed by the adjacent Henry Ford Museum and its new Driving America and Racing in America exhibits. However, it’s a hall of fame, not a car museum. The AHoF is dedicated not to cars but to the people who have made, sold, raced, serviced and written about those cars. With just about every significant automotive personage represented one way or another, even without a large number of vehicles, it’s worth a visit if you have an interest in automotive history.

The S800 RSC finished an impressed third overall in that race, against cars with more than three times the S800 RSC’s engine displacement, like the Toyota 2000GT. RSC stands for [Honda] Racing Service Center, Honda’s racing enterprise in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The S800 RSC is a legendary car to early Honda enthusiasts. Among general car enthusiasts, due to the Gran Turismo video racing game and scale models, the S800 RSC is also one of the better known vintage Japanese race cars.

The S800 RSC was most recently on display at Honda’s own museum, the Honda Collection Hall at the Honda-owned Motegi race complex, and it’s one of the oldest existing Honda race cars. The loan of the S800 RSC to the Automotive Hall of Fame shows that Honda Motor Co. must consider Soichiro Honda’s induction and membership in the Hall to be a great honor for their founder and, by extension, for Honda Motor Co.

The Honda S roadster started out as the S360 but when Honda was refused certification as a kei car because the certifying agency thought it was too sporting, they started increasing displacement of the DOHC inline four, eventually making the S800 with a 791cc engine putting out 72HP and an insane for a street car redline of 8000 RPM. To allow that kind of revving, Honda used a roller bearing crankshaft, just like in their motorcycles. To go racing, they increased displacement to 873cc for a boost in power to about 100 HP with a redline of 10,500 rpm. The embedded video of the S800 RSC being started up will give you an idea of what it sounds like.

Surprisingly, the Honda Racing Service Center did not base the racer on the more aero appearing S800 coupe, which has a fastback roofline. Instead Honda RSC raced a roadster with a removable hardtop. The S800 roadster is a tiny car, but when you’re up close it doesn’t look quite so small. At a fraction of an inch under 11 feet long, it’s actually about a foot longer than an original Mini. The S800’s proportions are great, with a long hood and short deck. I see quite a bit of the original Lotus Elite in the little Honda roadster, particularly around the back of the car and in the fender lines. That’s not too surprising, since Soichiro Honda himself owned one of only seven Lotus Elites imported into Japan. Japanese sports cars of the early 1960s were fairly derivative, often looking to British roadsters for inspiration, though the headlights make me think of Kaiser Frazers. On the other hand, the S800’s very nice looking racing wheels may have been copied by Campagnolo a decade or so later.

More pics of the Honda S800 RSC can be seen at Cars In Depth.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS


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4 Comments on “Look What I Found! (In Dearborn, of All Places): Honda S800 RSC Racer...”

  • avatar

    These little cars were incredible. The four side-draft carbs fed a twin-cam hemi with either a 600 or later an 800 engine. I had an 800 coupe which I sold before I got it running, however, the engineering revealed during disassembly was pure wonder. The needle-bearing crank allowed a 9700 rpm redline. The gearbox had a little internal oil pump that fed roller bearings through the drilled shafts. The differential was mounted to a subframe and the axles had sprockets on the ends which rotated in one end of alloy chain drive cases – the cases doubled as trailing arm suspension elements. The combined reduction of the differential and the chain drive drove 13 inch wheels at reasonable rates for the normal straight through top gear. The steel body was mounted on rubber bushings to a separate steel frame. It was amazing for a first car that everything was fully production engineered and looked just as mature as any high volume producer would make it yet with even more attention to detail.

  • avatar

    I can imagine poor Soichiro spinning in his grave from Honda’s recent missteps … at over 9000 rpm, obviously.

  • avatar

    Thanks for bringing back some memories of long ago.

    Back in the early 1970’s when I first left home and moved to Cambridge (England) to work, I bought a base S800 second hand.

    What a fun car – as I recall it revved like the dickens making a buzz like a motor cycle – however it developed practically no power below 2,500 revs.

    I drove it for about six months, but then the frustrations of the (exceedingly)small battery which had a propensity to discharge + its overall diminutive size relative to my 6’2″ frame persuaded me to exchange it for something more practical.

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