The cars we loved.
Back in the days before Honda became the globally known and respected company that it is today, it was known for its quirky little cars that were intended mostly for the Japanese market. The post war auto industry in Japan was starting to shape up with Toyota, Nissan and Honda being the major players. Toyota had an immensely popular Corona sedan while Nissan did equally well with its Bluebird. Honda needed a ‘full sized’ car to compete in the Japanese market and later to be seen as a global player on the export market.
The ambitious 1300 was the answer. Full sized was a relative term as the 1300 sedan was a bit larger than the VW Beetle. The 1300 was Honda’s first ‘large’ car and came in front wheel drive sedan or sporty coupe versions. There were basically two series of the coupe; the single carburetor Series 77 and the quad carb Series 99. Both were front wheel drive and used the same 1.3 liter four cylinder engines. Sometimes the coupes are known as the Series 77/99 or Coupe 7/9, depending on where they were sold in limited markets.
The coupe was an ambitious effort in that it combined many technologies into one car. Conventional tech like transversely-mounted engines, forced induction air cooling and a dry sump oil pump was mixed with the unconventional like a cross over swing axle. The air cooled SOHC engine in the Series 99 had four carburetors for 115 hp from 1.3 liters. The lightweight design featured a die-cast aluminum engine block. For 1970, that would have placed it close to the vanguard of engine design. There was enough power to push the 1991 lb. car to a top speed of 110 mph. The rev limit of 8000 rpm made the Series 99 a natural for racing, which it did on a limited basis in Japan. 11.7 seconds to 60 mph sounds slow now, but for the time it quite was fast. The suspension was typical of small cars of the era; independent MacPherson front and swing axel with elliptic leaf springs in the rear. Performance overall was said to be un-typical of Japanese cars. Tight and responsive steering, like a European car was a trait in both the sedan and coupes.
In an effort to build a would be flagship car, the 1300/Coupe would have many thoughtful engineering touches like separate left and right hand side wiring sets. It was thought that if the car was ever in an accident, at least one side of the car’s hazard lighting would still work. There were also rare features for small cars like a retracting radio antenna and a cable driven tachometer. The interior was simple and straight forward highlighted by glare free gauges. A novel approach to heating the passenger compartment was provided instantly via a fan attached to a flywheel that pulled warm air from around the exhaust manifold. There were a few luxury items like air conditioning and automatic transmission available in the Series 99. All versions came standard with a synchronized four speed manual gearbox.
The lessons Honda learned resulted in a change in approach to engine cooling. Newer models after 1970 that were intended for global export were increasingly becoming water cooled. Only a few 1300/Series77/Series99 cars have survived with most in Japan and a few Asian markets. The 1300’s replacement, the 143 coupe and eventually the US bound Civic would be water cooled. Interestingly, Honda would not produce another proper coupe until 1978 with the Prelude.