GRAN TURISMO CAR REVIEWS

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Honda S500, S600, & S800

red_s800.jpg

Specs
 
Year: 1964 (S600), 1966 (S800)
Class: Sports Car
Type: Roadster
 
Host: GT5
Country: Japan
 
Price: $55,532 (S600), $53,507 (S800)
 
Mileage: 9,309.3 (S600), 9,682.2 (S800)
 
Body Construction: steel
 
S600 Length: 129.9" // Width: 56.3" // Height: 42.4"
S800 Length: 131.3" // Width: 55.1" // Height: 47.8"
Wheelbase: 78.75"
Track: 45.3" [F] 44.4" [R]
Ground Clear: n/a (S600), 6.3" (S800)
Test Weight: 1,576 pounds, 1,587 pounds
Steering: unassisted rack & pinion (S800, earlier S cars probably also had this)
Layout: Front Engine/Rear-Drive
 
Tires: 5.20 x 13-4 PR (S600)
F. Suspension: dual wishbones, torsion bars
R. Suspension: trailing arms, coils, live axle
Brakes: Drums for S600, Disc / Drum for S800
 
Both cars were given oil change (but no engine rebuild) before all specs & testing below
 
S600 Engine: 606 cc DOHC inline 4
Aspiration: natural
Fuel Syst: 4-barrel carburetor
Valves per Cyl: 2? 4?
Bore x Stroke: 2.15 x  2.56"
Compression: 9.5:1
 
Final HP: 56 @ 8,700 rpm
Fnl Torq: 37 @ 5,500 rpm
 
Credits per HP: $991.64
Pounds per HP: 28.14
Pounds / Torq: 42.59
HP per Liter:   89.1
 
Idle Speed: 800 // Redline: 9,500 // RPM Limit: 10,000
 
S800 Engine: 791 CC DOHC inline 4
Aspiration: Natural
Fuel Syst: 4 single-barrel carbs
Valves / Cyl: 2
Bore x Stroke: 2.36 x 2.76"
Compression: 9.2:1
 
Final HP: 68 @ 8,000 rpm
Fnl Torq: 48 @ 6,000
 
Credits per HP: $968.22
Pounds per HP: 23.34
Pounds / Torq: 33.06
HP per Liter:   86.0
 
 
Transmission: 4-speed manual
 
                           S600                                 S800
0-60 mph: 23.383 seconds                      16.222 seconds
0-100 mph: Nil                                          56.820 seconds    
0-150 mph: Nil
 
400 M: 25.139 @ 62 mph                      21.131 @ 69 mph
1 Kilom: 43.328 @ 83 mph                    37.955 @ 97 mph 
 
100-zero mph: no test possible                   6.733 seconds
Top Gear RPM @ 60 mph: 3,100              4,800
 
S600 Top Speed at Redline
1st: 47.x mph
2nd: 85.6
3rd: 98.5 @ 7,200 rpm
4th: Nil
 
S800 Top Speed at Redline
1st: 30.0 mph
2nd: 47.0
3rd: 73.0
4th: 105.1 mph @ 8,700 rpm
 

bnw_s800.jpg

-----------------EXTERIOR / HISTORY--------------

Yeah, that's right, another slow car. Gran Turismo 6 is going to be out in a matter of days, yet here I am driving (testing, and racing) yet another slug. I don't plan on getting a PS4 or GT6 anytime soon, and I haven't even bothered to read about the latest Gran Turismo at all. I'm going to be sticking with GT5 for a long, long time, I think, until I feel I am truly done with it.
 
But here we go in the original Honda S series, a far cry from the modern S2000s of today, eh?  The originals aren't just slow, they're REALLY slow. There are Kei cars that blow the original S away!  Still, it's an interesting feat to have a look at one of Japan's first attempts to make a sports car, in an evolutionary sense, at least. So let's go.  
 
Starting in the early sixties, Japan's economy was beginning to build steam after nearly two decades of rebuilding from scratch. Although lacking in raw resources, somehow Japan managed to step ahead of the rest of Asia in the automotive department. Eventually Taiwan, Korea, China, and other Asian countries would all get more and more involved with exports, electronics, industry, and manufacture. During the 1970s (my youth, basically) "Made in Japan" or "Made in Taiwan" became something of a fixture, something we all expected to see many toys, appliances, and other such goods to have stamped or printed on them somewhere. But only Japan seemed to have the means to start building (and exporting) their own vehicles. Perhaps it's due to the fact that Japan is an island, and therefore shipping is one of its top priorities. Once it started building and refining its own vehicles, getting them all over the world was merely the next step, and this step wasn't so hard for Japan to take, in comparison to some countries which were located on the main continent.
 
I am guessing here folks, so bear with me.
 
Anyways, the Honda S seems like it began its life because, well, Japan was often keen to imitate. Importing an MG, an Austin-Healy, or a Porsche would cost a lot of money, so why not build their own sports cars?  And why not make them fun to drive?  Nissan began building their low-production line of Fairlady sports cars in 1959, and by 1963 were gaining sales. Honda wanted to join the party. Also, according to the info provided when we buy these, Honda decided they'd like to build a sports car first, for a variety of reasons, one of them being that it would not take as many resources to manufacture than a sedan or wagon. Less steel, less glass, less copper, etc.
 
Another fact: Honda already had experience building motorcycles, and had some success racing with them, so the first engines in the S-series actually were motorcycle engines. We can laugh at the slow speed of these cars in modern times, but back then, it must have been pretty exciting and fun to drive a Honda S. I imagine most Japanese folks back then had very few choices to drive, so far as sports cars go...
 
I just paid ten dollars to the Wikipedia conglomeration of websites, because I agree they deserve some money, and Wikipedia is one of the last bastions of Internet that is completely ad-free (along with Gran Turismo Car Reviews). So I boast no shame in telling you all that all the info I'm about to state comes primarily from Wikipedia!  ... and a few other random information sites, as well.  
 
The Honda S500 came first in 1963. In our games, Honda S500s, 600s, and 800s command extremely high prices (for the lack of power we get) so it may come as a shock and surprise to learn that back in their heyday, the first Honda S only cost $1,275. This is actually less than the cost of a typical American car. Why on Earth are these slugs so expensive in Gran Turismo, then? Because they are rare. Ultra-rare. Just 1,363 S500s were created, and these were only in production for just one year. How many original S cars still exist?  Not many, I am assuming. I read somewhere (not on a Wiki site) that about 200 of these are in America nowadays, snapped up no doubt by collectors.  
 
Starting in 1964, the S got (amazingly) a mandatory engine upgrade, and now boasted 606 cc instead of 531. The 600 could be had as either a roadster or a hardtop coupe. We don't get coupes in our games, unfortunately. The S600 gained 75 pounds over the S500, and a total of 13,084 cars (roadsters and coupes) were built over a three-year period. Since this was Honda's first mass-produced car ever, they must have learned lots of valuable lessons during this time.
 
Like, here's what seems as if it could have been a "valuable lesson". One of the first things I'm noticing about the Honda S600 is it's got three mirrors: two on both front fenders, and one above the dash. In an era of cars which sometimes had maybe one, maybe two mirrors, Honda already seems as if they were ahead of the game in certain ways. 
 
But of course, this probably stemmed from their involvement with motorcycles. I'm no expert, but perhaps they realized that somebody riding a motorcycle should have as many safety precautions as possible, and the ability to see behind oneself (without actually turning one's head) is a safety precaution. Adding this level of ingenuity on a car only became natural, perhaps. 
 
None of this helps in the game, by the way. We cannot see the two external mirrors at all while using the in-car view, and though these can be seen while driving with the hood cam in use, these two mirrors are merely decorative. They seem to reflect, but their reflections are too dull and too far away to be useful. Kinda neat that they are there, though. By the way, using the in-car view while driving one of these creates a rather claustrophobic feeling!  Such a narrow windshield; it almost seems as if the driver might be able to sit in both seats, this one's so small.     
 
The final example of this era was the Honda S800, which first appeared in 1966, and lasted until 1970. The S800 was similarly-sized to earlier S-cars, but featured a different grille, oval-shaped marker lights inside this grille, and had a slightly more pleasing look to it in my opinion, without adding any extra chrome or features. The S800 grew slightly in size (as many cars do) and also in weight, but overall this was still a pint-sized mobile.  
 
Well, I didn't just raid Wikipedia to write this article, www.sportscarmarket.com explains a few interesting facts as well.
 
Apparently, the Honda S800 (which was the first to be exported to Europe) also tried to land on American shores. Despite its 35 miles per gallon rating, the S800's high-revving engine spewed out more hydrocarbons than was allowed at the time, and this is one of the things that kept the S car from America, interestingly enough. I also read on some other site that Honda tried hard to make the S ready--beefing up its safety standards and whatnot. That is something I have wondered; why Honda's development and production of 2-seaters ended in 1970?  Could it be they were eager to conquer America most of all?  To the point that they were willing to drop anything as impractical as a sports car? Hmm. Maybe so. Let's keep in mind that after 1970, Honda mostly concentrated on cars which were practical, after all.
 
Another interesting factoid: in 2010, a 1966 Honda S600 with an S800 engine sold at a British auction house for $63,915, so here we do have some evidence on how PD seems to calculate the high prices for these cars in our games. 
 
During its day, the Honda S (as slow as it seems in our games) was actually one of the fastest choices one could buy amongst cars with engines less than 1 liter in size. Well that's all good, but can we actually make these slow but pricey vehicles useful for modern racing? Or even vintage racing? 
  
 
  

flying_s800.jpg

---------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN---------

 
It all starts here. Those who were wondering (as I did) whether or not the Honda S can actually make waves can rest assured that it can, but let's keep in mind that we're rather limited with our selection of events, of course.
 
I probably raced a few Honda S cars in GT4, I really don't remember. I certainly don't have the spec sheets for any of these cars, which means actually that I didn't race them. In theory, they should at least be able to participate in a handful of forums: perhaps the Sunday Cup and Lightweight K Cup are doable in this game. Really not sure.
 
In GT5, the S cars can definitely see usage, though, since GT5 features a shockingly easy selection of early racing to try. Off the top of my head: the Sunday Cup, World Compact Car Cup, Japanese Classics, portions of the World Classic Car Cup, and perhaps the Clubman are all possibilities, and of course there are occasional Seasonal events we can place these into. In some cases, we might have to search for an easier grid to race against, but I've won a few in my S-cars here and there, so there.
 
After seeing modern Honda S2000s with 9,000 rpm redlines, it's interesting to learn Honda didn't just develop this trait for modern times. Amazing for their day, the air-cooled miniscule engines powering the sixties-era 2-seaters featured dual-overhead cams and quad carburetors, two advancements which were solely derived from Honda's motorcycle experience. The S500, S600, and some S800s used a chain drive to send energy to the rear wheels, but once Honda began seeking out worldwide sales, they switched the latter S800s from chain-drive to regular driveshafts. A chain drive is great on a motorcycle, since it's mostly external, and therefore easy to access if something goes wrong, but if a chain breaks (or somehow slips off its gears) in a car, that's not so easy to get to, I would imagine. So Honda changed this within just 5 years of S production.
 
 Smart, eh?  It's this sort of flexibility with design which has placed Honda near the top of the automotive food chain, starting in the '60s, and building during the '70s, '80s and '90s.
 
But ... we still have some problems: uh... since I've currently got a '64 Honda S600, I've got 56 of them, as in just 56 horsepower to start, and they don't even show up until we're nearing 9,000 rpms!  The S800 starts with more: 65 hp before oil change. Since these are motorcycle engines, they'll rev up to the troposphere with ease, which is amazing to have in a car (and a classic one at that) but what good are these revs if we've got to wait so long before we get to their sweet spots? 
 
Another problem, and this one's even worse: tall gearing in the S500 and S600. Extremely tall. During my track testing, the car's not even able to use 4th gear, let's notice, and it struggles in 3rd. Overall top speed of 98.5 mph is actually higher than quoted by real-life accounts. The S800 did make it past 100 miles per hour during my track testing, since it's got a more sensible gearing scenario. The S800 (despite having just a few extra horses) accelerates whole seconds quicker than its predecessor. The real-life S600 could make 80 miles per hour, the S800 closer to 90 according to what I've read. Back in the sixties, this was considered amazingly fast for such a small car, with such a small engine, but that's like saying the cheese made back in the 1700s was better than the cheese made today. What good is that gonna do us now?
 
That's where the parts shop (and GT Auto) comes in, of course. The S500 will eventually get added to this review, but for now let's see what our potential is with an S600 or 800. "Starting" power and torque includes the car with its power downed as far as possible, fresh from the used car lot without any maintenance. And "Final" power and torque was recorded after a visit to the specialists at GT Auto (oil + engine rebuild). "Tuned" includes all parts installed except engine stages.  
 
Starting HP: 53 @ 8,700 rpm       Torque: 35 @ 5,500 rpm
Final HP:     56 @ 8,700                Torque: 37 @ 5,500
 
Tuned:       76 @ 9,100                               47 @ 6,100
Stage 1:     84 @ 9,200                               52 @ 6,700
Stage 2:    98 @ 9,300                                 59 @ 6,800
Stage 3:    108 @ 9,400                               65 @ 6,400
 
And sadly, 108 is it. for the S600, we don't get no turbos. Aww. Although the S500 is not up yet, let's keep in mind it's gotta be even worse than the S600!  On the other hand, the S800's gotta be better. More powerful. :)  Let's see...
 
Starting HP: 65 @ 8,000 rpm       Torque: 45 @ 6,000 rpm
Final HP:     68 @ 8,000                Torque: 48 @ 6,000
 
Tuned:       93 @ 8,600                               61  @ 6,600
Stage 1:     96 @ 8,700                                62 @ 6,700
Stage 2:    103 @ 8,800                                66 @ 6,800
Stage 3:    107 @ 8,900                               68 @ 6,900
 
Uh oh. As we can see, the S800 is slightly worse than the S600, which makes 108 tops. But...
 
Stg 1 Tbo: 114 @ 8,900                               76 @ 6,900
Stg 2 Tbo: 117 @ 8,900                               81 @ 6,900
Stg 3 Tbo: 132 @ 8,900                               78 @ 7,400
 
That's right, we get turbos in this car, which could make all the diff. Certainly the Clubman race at Route 246 is now possible, along with who knows what else?    
 
 
 Getting that transmission tuned is also another really good idea; the stock box in the two earliest models is all but useless so far as racing goes (yes, I've tried). Close gearing can be a decent substitute in some cases, like at super-tight tracks like London or Autumn Ring, but full-custom tuning is really the best way to go. To really get the best out of a motorcycle engine, which cannot even be powered much beyond a hundred horses, it's best to apply all the help we can. Below 6,000 or 7,000 rpms is death in this car, so it's important to keep those revs high at all times as we're racing.
 
The S800's got a closer gearbox, but it's still a 4-speed, so it might work in some cases, while in others it'll become a burden. 
 
Drivetrain parts (clutches, flywheels, and carbon driveshafts) might help a little, but we can possibly save some money on limited-slip tuning. With just 65 foot-pounds of torque at best in the S600 (78 in the S800), there just isn't enough going on that'll possibly ruin this car's traction. Right?  On the other hand, limited-slip tuning comes in handy if we want an S-car that doesn't feel so flimsy, because (as we'll see), these are rather flimsy vehicles. But LSD's not needed so far as pure traction goes.
 
Bottom line? We can help this one to some degree, but in the long run there's only so much we can do. It's like trying to create a vaccine for cancer with a budget of a few thousand dollars. Or credits, as it were.  
   
     

black_s800.jpg

--------------CHASSIS / HANDLING------------

 
Real-life S cars have been described as amazingly-good handlers, which isn't such a surprise since the same has been said about MG Midgets, Austin-Healey Sprites, and other low-powered 2-seaters. The modern S car (the S2000) also follows in this tradition. So far as handling goes, it's damn-near impossible to think of anything bad to say.
 
Racing a gold-colored S600 in the Beginner Series World Compact Car Cup at London, I can't say I share the glowing words of drivers past, exactly. This one (as fore-mentioned) feels flimsy at a track like this. Braking is effective, but one must be careful not to place too much steering input while slowing, or a rear-slide can easily happen in this lightweight. Bumps and grids can also easily disturb the S-car's handling orbits, causing a need for spontaneous countersteers, and occasionally delicate throttle taps in a car that would normally be able to handle the mouse-like torque its 600 ccs puts out. Although it's risky putting a limited-slip in a vehicle like this, I gotta admit it's a lot clumsier of a drive than I thought it would be, meaning that LSD might not be a bad idea.
 
The S also leans heavily while cornering, really heavily. Body-sway type oversteer therefore does become a problem at times, sometimes even after braking is over. I haven't been able to find any specs for the S600's ground clearance, but the 800 floats 6.3 inches (160 mm) above the ground, and that's a lot for such a small car. We can see this during replays. Despite their lowish body heights, these often feel like they're leaning a bit too much.
 
This comes down to suspension settings, though. We've got torsion bars rated at 2.0 kg/mm up front, and those rear coil-over shocks are even weaker at 1.8 in the S600; the S800 has 2.1 and 1.9. We've seen such numbers in cars which are much heavier, of course, and I didn't think these sort of numbers would be bad in such light cars. But the bottom line: These suspensions need to be firmed up and maybe lowered with a sports kit, pronto.
 
On the other hand, there are some good things to mention, at least at a slow track like London or Cape Ring. Almost zero understeer, for starters. And though the S600 is shod with tires just 132 millimeters in width, it is a pretty grippy car mid-turn, assuming no bumps upset it, and no brakes have been locked. In comparison, a modern S2000's got tires which are 205 mm in width up front, and 225 in the rear.
 
I drove an S800 in the Clubman Cup, desperate to find a weak automobile to compete here, but also one which is not too weak. The S600 cannot do this series of races, for instance. Anyways, now we get to see what happens when we push an S-car to its limits on medium-grade sport tires instead of radials.
 
At first, everything feels great in this ancient 2-seater sports car, and we might get the impression that we're about to drive a handling demon. It turns-in when we want it to, it feels nice and grippy mid-turn, and it exits with a lack of drama. At first. ... But it's the little things that we might start to notice which will cause one to sit up a little straighter and take notice. The mini-slides, the mini-wiggles, the mini-skews and jogs.... 
 
Understeer now becomes a bit of a problem, once we're pushing this car during the first Clubman race at Tsukuba, up against others which possess a lot more horsepower. It's those narrow tires again! I tried using a height-adjustable sport suspension to get the S800 behaving just as I'd like, yet it was understeer which now was on the list, not so much oversteer. We're not talkin' about the sort of understeer which causes trains to de-rail, but when really pushing the 800 at Tsukuba, I found I had slightly more problems with pushing (using medium sport tires) than I had with body-sway or any other types of oversteer.
 
There was also a rather unpredictable amount of grabbing on-entry, which causes a light car like this one to take a sudden arc into Tsukuba's hairpins that winds up being too tight. Trying to correct this is difficult: in a flash, the car's going too wide if I let out that steering a little too much, its super-light front-end obeying my commands as it's supposed to. Again, a limited-slip was not actually needed during that first race at Tsukuba, (not for traction, anyways) but it might help keep this car from being too flexible.
 
Also, the variety of small, unseen bumps during the final long right curve at this particular track caused the Honda to lose some very small amounts of grip while cornering extra-hard, subtly changing its cornering line just enough to cause concern on occasoin. There was one time I braked a bit late into this turn, causing the rear to step out a bit. A little bit of body-sway can be caused by braking too late, which can become something to watch for, but otherwise this super-light automobile managed to swap places with a lot of others which are bigger and heavier, in and out of tighter areas. Assuming there was a way to drive through traffic, the S could take it. I managed to win this first race by the way, a Toyota Celica SS-II challenged the '66 Honda during the final lap during horsepower (straighter) sections, but as the '66 zipped in and out of those three hairpins and Turn 3 (the right-hand swerve) that Celica didn't have a chance.
 
At Route 246, it was now oversteer on the menu, along with traction and grip losses caused by 246's enormous rumble strips. This track's got those extra-wide paved areas to safely enter, so understeer was not so much of a problem, although it was occasionally there. I anticipated I might have some problems with the rear at this track, and installed a limited-slip beforehand, but it was set rather weak, which means the poor S800 occasionally suffered a bit of pendulum-like behavior as it transitioned from mid-turn to exit, and throttle was re-introduced. Very exciting stuff!  But also very dangerous and occasionally frustrating, especially if these little wiggles turned smoky.
 
The Honda made 2nd place, barely losing to that same Celica at this track. Oddly, the '07 Mazda Miata which started just behind the Honda did not challenge for the lead at all. Strange. It never even made it to the front lines, despite driving rather flawlessly. 
 
 By now, I had lost some confidence in my S800's handling. It's a lot of work driving this car, especially at a track featuring high-speed dares!  During Tokyo's long walled curves, the poor Honda rocked on its suspension port to starboard, starboard to port, just like a rowboat on a wavy pond. But 2nd place ain't bad for a 47 year-old up against a group of much newer cars. And let's not forget: the final track is up ahead, and it's got some twisty handling areas.
 
I left the limited-slip device in place for Cape Ring Periphery, but it wasn't really needed. Other than a bit of sliding here and there, there was nothing to fear as the weakling Honda, now possessing just 79 horses, wound up with a 4 second lead by the end of the race. If anything, the LSD unit actually caused a bit of pushing during one particular area of the track (the ring part). Nothing horrible, but if this race were actually challenging, this would be something to watch for and maybe address.       
 
I doubt the GT4 versions of this lineage could tell a tale anything close to those in GT5; chances are the career in GT4 for an S-car might be even more limited. Then again, there are the 1,000 Miles races, where we can really get to know these rarities well. In any case, the fact that this car is so narrow, light, and lithe helps a lot, as often we can squeeze by some other idiot, jam that throttle and let them say 'bye bye' as we blast 'em with 60 to 132 horsepower, at our command! 
 

leaning_s600.jpg

PROS
 
1).  Gran Turismo 6 may be out in a few days, but I kinda doubt the Honda S made the actual cut, for some reason. Let's enjoy some early, forgotten sports cars while we can.
 
2). Pint-sized automobile; easy to fit and navigate between other cars.
 
3). Maneuverability of a marble.
 
4). Somewhat unique in appearance. Each S upgrade (500, 600, and 800) looks a bit different from earlier examples.
 
5). Zero understeer at some tracks!
6). Despite its lack of power, the S series definitely has its niche of races it can participate in.
 
7). A lightweight. Less is usually better when it comes to racing.
 
8). Lots and lots of revs. RPMs. Just when you think the engine can't wring out any more, there's still a thousand left to go.
 
9). The horn goes beep! in GT5. Actually it's more like bip!  This might be annoying in some other ride, but in the S-car, it's totally appropriate.
 
10). A good choice for GT4's 1,000 Miles series, assuming nobody too powerful shows up on the grid.    
 
11) Fun to drive!  Zippy as can be.
 
 
CONS
 
1). If you're looking for power in this one, you can just keep looking. Even with all three upgrades in place, we're not breaking any records here.
 
2). No turbos in the S500 and 600. I'm not sure about GT4, but we don't get any in 5 in these two particular cars, keeping them from plundering forth where the S800 can go.
 
3). A transmission that's geared so tall in the two models just mentioned; even in a modern sports car with actual power, these gearboxes might be awkward.
 
4). Some difficult handling traits, despite low speeds. Bumps wreck its course, the wrong move is gladly obeyed by this grippy machine, only to cause the driver to wish he hadn't made that move a moment later.
 
5). Priced for an auctioneering nightmare. Unless you're rich, of course.
 
6). Revs must be kept high, for there's no low-down torque to save us like there might be in a modern S2000.
 
7). Only one useful mirror, and it's really more of a vanity mirror (ooh look at me!) than a driver's mirror.
 
8). Difficult to locate in GT5, for those few who are busy combing the used car lot for an S-car.
 
Published: December 12, 2013   
 

I'll have SOME MORE, thank you