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Honda Beat. 30 years of this mid-engined Kei Car with sporty verve

Conceived as a model for the Japanese market, the Honda Beat mixed the benefits of a tiny Kei Car with the agility and joy of a sports car with a mid-engine and a very low center of gravity. An interesting mix capable of offering sensations more similar to those offered on a motorcycle but going on four wheels. In addition, one of Pininfarina's heavyweights intervened in the conception of its design.

Since humanity conquered sedentary lifestyle thanks to the dominance of agriculture and livestock we live increasingly alienated from our environment. A fact that is understood by our ability to alter the environment according to our whim. Nevertheless, processes such as climate change or the growing scarcity of resources remind us to what extent our daily life depends on the geographical environment where it takes place. In this sense, the automotive world also has its own particular geopolitics, as if we were talking about international relations.

For this reason, the natural environment of the large volumes has been the United States, due to the abundance of oil and plains. While the small and nervous sports cars find their natural space in Europe due to the large number of small and twisty mountain paths. Nevertheless, Beyond these two great scenarios of the automobile industry there is a third where geography has influenced even more. We are talking about Japan. A country dominated by huge urban concentrations with a high population density, separated from each other by steep and mountainous reliefs.

Thus, Japanese manufacturers have adapted to a context where small urban vehicles are the priority. Of course, never leaving aside the sports whims that they cultivate so much in diverse and venerated mountain routes such as Hakone Turnpike. Two totally opposed ways of understanding the car, which however have sometimes been cited to generate such interesting models as the 1991 Honda Beat. A tiny car with little more than three meters. As simple for the city as it is extremely fun and personal to play by linking curves.

HONDA BEAT. FOUR WHEEL MOTORCYCLE SENSATIONS

Beyond its complicated geography, Japanese motorsport has also been very marked by the years after World War II. A time when the great need for industrial vehicles for reconstruction alternated with the demand for motorcycles and microcars by an urban population that is both growing and impoverished. Years in which the western world lived with its back to what was happening in Japan. Only coming out of his ignorance when models like him Toyota 2000 GT or the Mazda Cosmos attracted the attention of the American and European markets.

In that context of microcars more indebted to motorcycling than motorsports, the Kei Car category was born. A specifically Japanese segment, for which the administration established very specific limits in terms of size and power. Designed for cities and their enormous traffic congestion, the Kei Car enjoyed tax exemptions and other provisions such as not having to have their own parking space. Thus, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Honda launched the sale of these small vehicles. So much so that, even today, they account for almost half of sales in Japan.

However, at the end of the eighties, Honda saw the possibility of adding something new to this segment thanks to certain legal modifications opened in the definition of Kei Car. A context where it was possible to manufacture a microcar with sporting whims. Perfect for defending yourself in a city with little parking, but also for go out and ride on the mountain roads having a fun time for lovers of open-air driving. Just the formula of the Honda Beat, trying to offer the sensations of a motorcycle in a format of four wheels with a central engine.

THE CONNECTION WITH PININFARINA

If we suddenly say that there is a more direct connection between the Honda Beat and various Ferraris than one might think, it seems too daring. Yet it is so. Since the designer of the Ferrari Mythos, 456 GT and even F50 is Pietro Camardella. He was the one responsible for the lines of the Honda Beat, which was commissioned because of the relationship that Pininfarina and Honda had established since the 1984 HP-X. The concept car that many consider the touchstone for the 1990 NSX. A Futuristic model and not intended for mass production, which was totally different in the case of the Honda Beat. Also facing the challenge of creating a proportionate and apparent car within the allowed little more than three meters.

With these proportions, the weight of the Honda Beat would not be high, reaching only 760 kilos. Thus Its naturally aspirated engine with only three cylinders and 660cc is more than enough, pushing with 64CV to 8100cc. And it is that the engine of this car likes to go high of laps. Showing off a nervous and cheerful demeanor. Always looking for acceleration thanks to an almost immediate response due to the situation of its throttle butterflies stuck to the intake valve. An almost motorbike verve, which gave the Honda Beat an extremely funny character.

Of course, never wanting to be a sports car in excess. Proof of this are the suspensions. Not very harsh as can be seen just by taking a look at images of the Honda Beat in motion. In this way, this car was as fun as it was easy to drive, being able to easily play with inertia thanks to the low weight, the central engine and the low center of gravity. All this made the Honda Beat a fantastic whim that was only sold in the Japanese market. Place in which it sold 22.000 units the first year -and 11.000 more until 1996- before falling victim to the bursting of the stock market bubble in the country.

Photographs: Honda

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Miguel Sánchez

Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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