***** (K|C|F) *****
The kei sports car was born by the ‘bubble boom‘ in the latter years of the 1989’s, although a few sporting iterations had appeared prior to this . . .
1962 Honda S360:
The Honda S360 sports car was unveiled on the 5th June 1962. However, it was never put into production. It used a 356cc AK250E series DOHC inline 4-cylinder engine which it shared with the T360 truck. The car was on display at the 2013 Tōkyō Motor Show.
1970 Honda Z Coupé (1970-74):
The Honda Z was also marketed as the ‘Z600‘ and was a sport coupé version of the ‘N600‘. The 598cc single overhead camshaft (SOHC) engine was rated at 36PS (26kW/36hp). The front engine front wheel drive (FFR) car featured coil sprung independent front suspension and leaf springs on a live beam axle at the rear. The interior accommodated two adults with a very small rear seat.
The Honda Z600 (Evil Tweety) set a new Land Speed Record on August 19th 1971 at the Bonneville Flats Speed Week. The stock 600cc engine was bored to 700cc, so not strictly a kei-car and achieved a speed of 103.978 MPH driven by Eric Burns. The next day Chris Clay took Evil Tweety to a new record for altered petrol cars with 750cc engines to 106.531 MPH. These records were broken 3 yrs later by a Saab 96 !!
1989 Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ-4:
The Mitsubishi Dangan ZZ-4 (1989-93) had an advanced new turbo charged engine with double overhead cams (DOHC). It was the world’s first mass-produced 5-valve per cylinder engine producing 64PS (47kW). It was also available naturally aspirated. ‘Dangan‘ translated means ‘Bullet‘.
Nicknamed the ‘Ladybug‘, the SS had the same enhancements as the Young S, 4-gears instead of 3; bucket seats; tachometer; along with a black & white striped roof with a dent along the middle on which to put your surfboard !! The Young SS had the EK32 ‘S’ engine with chromed cylinders and duel BS32 Mikuni Solex carburetors, producing 36hp (27kW) and 100bhp / litre.
The 1968 Suzuki Fronte SS 360 LC10 was 1 of 2 cars driven by ‘Stirling Moss‘ and TT motorcycle racer ‘Mitsuo Itoh‘ (伊藤光夫), 1-red, 1-pale yellow, in a promotional high-speed event. The stunt involved a high-speed demonstration journey along Italy’s 750 km (466 mile) Autostrada del Sole, leading from Milan to Napoli. They maintained an average speed of 122.44 kph (76.08 mph), very respectable for a 360cc 36hp (27kW) motor. The SS was the first kei-car to break the 20 second barrier, with 0-400 meters in 19.95 seconds. The original car currently resides in the Suzuki museum in Hamamatsu. An even sportier Fronte the SSS followed in April 1970.
In September 1971 the ‘Giugiaro‘ designed Fronte Coupé arrived, the predecessor to the well known Cervo range. Based on the Stingray ‘LC10 II’ model, it was only ever offered with the water-cooled rear-mounted LC10W engine. Initially only available as a 2-seater, it gradually altered to 4. The 2-seater version was discontinued in October 1972 and was discontinued altogether in June 1976.
The Alto Works had a turbocharged multivalve 543cc engine. With a maximum power of 47.5bhp @ 6,000rpm and torque of 69Nm @ 3,500 rpm, it was the first kei-car to reach the legal limit of 64PS (47kW).
1988 Suzuki Cervo & ‘Team Angela‘
In 1988, an all female motorcycle racing team ‘Team Angela‘ raced a turbocharged Suzuki Cervo in the ‘7th Rallye des Pharaons‘.
The Rallye des Pharaons which is French for ‘Pharaoh’s Rally‘, is an FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme), cross country RWC (Rally World Championship) event that takes place in Egypt. Cairo is both the starting and finishing point at the foot of the Pyramids of Giza, a distance of around 5,400 kms (3,355 ml). It is similar in format to the Dakar Rally in that it takes place in desert conditions and cars, trucks, and motorcycles are all eligable.
[ Suzuki takes on the Desert ]
The 1988 edition of the Rallye des Pharaons, featured an unusual entry alongside the rally superstars, motorbike daredevils and super trucks sponsored by the likes of Camel, Marlborough & Mitsubishi. They were ‘TEAM ANGELA‘, four Japanese women piloting two of the latest 550cc turbocharged Suzuki Cervo kei-cars !!
The Cervo CGX 4WD
Tired of being told ‘You can’t do it because you are women’, team leader Angela Uchida (内田アンジェラ), proprietress of a high class Ginza *ryōtei restaurant, and her three friends, all motorbike shop workers, decided to prove their doubters wrong by entering the 5,400 km (3,355 ml) race through the Egyptian desert. * A ryōtei (料亭) is a type of luxurious traditional Japanese restaurant.
The first car, entry No.232, was piloted by Angela with navigator Hiroko ‘Kuro-chan‘ Kurokawa (黒川 ‘くろちゃん‘ ひろ子), the second car, No.233, was driven by Takae ‘Taka‘ Yamamoto (山本 ‘タカ‘ 高板) with navigator Kazuko Ogoke (尾後家 和子).
The race was won by Finn Ari Vatanen & Swede Bruno Berglund, with Belgian Gaston Rahier winning the bike section on a Suzuki. Angela missed the time cut on the special stage and was eliminated, but Taka & Ogoke made it to the finish. Their exploits were recorded in the Japanese documentary: エイジプトの風になれ ‘Egypt no Kaze ni Nare – Become the Egyptian Wind‘. It was available, in 4 segments on YouTube in Japanese only, unfortunately it is no longer available.
1991 Daihatsu Mira X4R:
To break the stranglehold of the Suzuki Alto Works on the ‘All-Japan Rally Championship‘, the Daihatsu Mira X4R was developed in 1991. It had a strengthened engine with a forged crankshaft and flywheel and other detail improvements, a close-ratio gearbox and various chassis improvements. Equipment was stripped, with a minimal interior and diagonal tyres. The Group ‘A’ X4R was sold at a rate of about 10 units/month at a price about 20% higher than the regular X4. ‘Noriyuki Hotta‘ won the class championship in 1992.
The supercharged RX-R & RX-RA were widely used for rallying in Japan. The RA was given a motor sport grade trim level with close-ratio gears and harder suspension than the RX-R. Entrants are still using the Vivio at the WRC Rally of Japan. In 1992, at the Paris-Beijing marathon raid, a private entrant ran the Vivio RX-R with the EN07X engine. Most people who saw the car thought it would retire early but it was faster than the works team Mitsubishi Pajero at the prologue stage, and ran for more than a week until its suspension broke. The car made it to the finishing line ‘unofficially‘ after repairs were carried out, with no other serious troubles.
The most famous appearance of the Vivio in an international motor sport event was in the 1993 round of the ‘Safari Rally‘ under the decision of former factory driver and ‘Subaru Technica International‘ founder and team owner ‘Noriyuki Koseki‘ to promote the car. He made the decision to enter 3 of the sports model ‘Vivio Super KK‘ driven by ‘Masashi Ishida‘, local South African driver ‘Patrick Njiru‘ and up and coming WRC star ‘Colin McRae‘ on his Safari debut.
‘Super KK‘ is the FIA homologation name for the RX-R grade, in rally trim the 660cc engine produced 85 PS (63 kW) @ 6,000 rpm. Only one of the three cars finished where it settled for 12th place driven by Njiru. Colin McRae did manage to set the fastest stage time before retiring with suspension failure. He later said ‘You can hide the whole car in every single pothole along the route!!‘ Ishida later retired with head gasket failure. This appearance was satirised by cartoonist ‘Jim Bamber‘ for the Yumping Yarns cartoon of Car & Car Conversions magazine, when he depicted McRae driving his Vivio underneath an elephant !!
How about a Ferrari F40!! or is it a ’98 Yamaha Ami version of the Daihatsu Opti Mk1 ?
Production Sports Cars . . .
HONDA BEAT (1991 – 1996)
The Pininfarina designed Honda Beat was the final car approved by ‘Soichiro Honda‘ before he died in 1991. It was made at the Suzuka plant at Suzuka in Mie Prefecture. The transverse mid-engined roadster, with rear-wheel drive (RWD) had a top speed of 135 kph (85mph). It was sold exclusively through the ‘Honda Primo‘ dealerships. The total number of cars produced was around 33,600.
There were 3 versions of the Honda Beat, the February 1992 version ‘F’ featured Aztec Green Pearl paintwork and alloy wheels. The May 1992 version ‘C’ featured Captiva Blue Pearl paintwork and white alloy wheels. The May 1993 version ‘Z’ featured Blade Silver metallic or Everglade Green metallic paintwork, 3 black gauges, mud guards, a rear-spoiler, exhaust pipe finisher and alloy wheels. The total produced was 33,600.
On May 9th 2010, a parade of Honda Beats was held at the ‘Twin Ring Motegi‘ circuit at Haga in Tochigi Prefecture as part of an annual Beat owners meeting. ‘569 Honda Beats‘ participated in the parade, which is certified by ‘Guiness World Records‘ as the largest parade of Honda cars ever held.
SUZUKI CAPPUCCINO (1991 – 1997)
The Suzuki Cappuccino was manufactured at the Kosai Plant in Shizuoka Prefecture. The front mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout (FMR) gives the car a 50/50% weight distribution when both seats are occupied. The bonnet, roof, roll-bar and lower front guard panels are aluminium. 3 removable roof panels allow the car to be used as a closed coupe, split-roof, targa-top or with the rear window and roll-bar retracted as a full convertible. The wraparound rear window is glass with demisting elements. Originally, the EA11R Suzuki F6A 660cc turbo charged, intercooled, DOHC, 12 valve, in line 3-cylinder engine was used developing 63hp (47 kW; 64 PS) @ 6,500 rpm.
In 1993, the Cappuccino was introduced into the UK market. The cars were either Red (80%) or Metallic Silver (20%). The launch price was £11,995 and 28,010 were sold between 1993 – 1995. There are currently about 340 Cappuccino’s road registered in the UK, with about the same number being SORN’d (Statutory Off Road Notice). There were 23 adaptations to the Japanese model in order to conform to British NTA standards.
In 1995, a revised Cappuccino the EA21R with a lighter engine and chain driven camshafts was produced. It was available with power steering in Manual or 3-speed Automatic. Due to stricter emission laws, it never made it to the UK.
A U T O Z A M (アウトザム)
Autozam AZ-1 Sports Coupé (1992 – 1995)
The AZ-1 was also badged as the ‘Mazda AZ-550′ and as a ‘Suzuki Cara‘ (PG6SS). The mid-engined, sports car with gull-wing doors was actually manufactured by Suzuki but sold by Mazda under its Autozam brand. The car was designed by ‘Tatsumi Fukunaga‘ & ‘Toshiko Hirai‘ who were also responsible for the Mazda MX-5.
Priced at ¥1,498,000 (£9,746), the car failed to sell due to the prevailing economic recession at the time. With a total production of only 4,923 it is the rarest of all the kei’s of that era.
The ‘A-B-C’ of kei-cars
( The Mazda AZ-1; Honda Beat; & Suzuki Cappuccino )
[ The ‘A’Z-1, ‘B’eat & ‘C’appuccino ]
Daihatsu Copen 1st Generation (2002 – 2012)
Daihatsu Copen 1G
The Daihatsu Copen 1G is a 2-door roadster with an aluminium retractable hardtop. With a front engine, front-wheel drive layout, it was fitted with the 4-cylinder in line 659cc JB-DET petrol engine.
The car was tested on the UK Top Gear show by James May but was found to be too ‘toyish‘. The car was withdrawn from the European market on the 13th January 2011 due to the strength of the Japanese Yen causing adverse market conditions. Then on April 2nd 2012, Daihatsu announced that all Copen production would cease in August 2012, with the last 500 cars being limited 10th Anniversary editions.
Japanese manufacturers have recently introduced updated sports cars in the kei segment, namely the Daihatsu Copen 2G in 2014 and recently the Honda S660 in 2015 . . .
The Daihatsu Copen 2nd Generation (2014 ~)
The Copen 2G arrived after less than 1 year of discontinuation. Daihatsu unveiled 2 concept cars at the 2013 Tōkyō Motor Show called ‘Kopen‘ with the tag line ‘Future Included‘.
The re-styled Copen has a new monocoque chassis structure called a D-Frame. The body panels are made of 13 separate resin components, 11 of which are interchangeable, so you could have a car of many colours !! The Copen also has a new suspension system, a new 660cc turbo 3-cylinder engine with DVVT (Daihatsu Variable Valve Timing) a better sounding exhaust system and weight reduction. There are 3 models, the ‘Copen XPlay’, ‘Copen Robe‘ and a special ‘S-type‘ for the Copen Robe.
Honda S660 (2015 ~)
The S660 was first shown as a prototype at the 2013 Tōkyō Motor Show. The 660cc mid-engined sports roadster shares a platform with the Honda N-One.
The S660 is a modern version of Honda’s first mass-produced car, the Honda S500 of 1963. Its introduction signals a return to 2-door sports coupés from Honda. The mid-engine design gives a 45/55 front to rear weight balance (exactly even between the axles). It comes with a choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or a CVT with paddle shifters. Both options being offered on the 2 trim levels available (alpha & beta). Only one engine is available the SO7A borrowed from the N-One, although it has been modified to fit the S660’s more sporting image.
The development team of the S660 was led by ‘Ryo Mukumoto‘ who beat 400 other participants in Honda’s in-house competition. Honda made him the youngest lead engineer in the companies history, even though he had no engineering experience. He was 22yrs old when he was chosen and was given 5 years to develop the car.
‘Mugen‘ (無限) is Honda’s performance partner and is better known for building the Mclaren-Honda F1 engines. It also produces upgrades for Honda production cars including the S660. Customers can only buy original Mugen parts at Honda dealers. ‘Mugen‘ translates as ‘Infinity‘ or ‘Unlimited‘. The company is not actually owned by Honda, most of its parts are developed in conjunction with Honda’s concept cars at proving grounds.
[ M o t o r S p o r t ]
Kei car racing is a popular sport in Japan, along with ‘gymkhana‘ events, which involves driving into coned-off areas, handbrake turns and short sprints. Drift racing is also popular, with cars sliding round corners on opposite lock.