Honda might not be the oldest car company we still have around, but it is just as legendary as some older dogs like Ford, Dodge, and GM. Americans aren’t as familiar with the older Honda’s because we didn’t get all of them. The S500 is most commonly considered the earliest production Honda automobile, but the strange little T360 predated it by four months.
What was the first Honda car?
The first Honda car was actually a tiny truck called the T360 and T500. These tiny mid-engined pickups debuted in 1963, only four months before the sportier S500 came out. Although Honda had been making motorcycles since 1949, these are the first four-wheeled automobiles from Honda. But even these trucks/cars weren’t very far removed from Honda’s legendary motorcycle building.
According to Silodrome, the T360 was meant for the domestic Kei car class and, as such, had to adhere to strict dimensions and power regulations. As a result, the T360 was a mid-engined pickup truck powered by a double overhead cam motorcycle engine with a 9,000 rpm redline. The T500, on the other hand, was for the export market and had the more powerful 531cc DOHC inline-four making 38 hp. This same engine would later be used in the S500, too.
The T360 and T500 weren’t super popular outside of Japan
Since most other nations didn’t have the Kei car classification, the need for a tiny, underpowered pickup truck didn’t seem all that appealing. From its debut in ‘63 through ‘67, only 108,000 T360 pickups sold. Interestingly, every T360 was painted in the same shade of pale green/blue. Since it would go on to share the same engine as the S360 sports car, it became colloquially known as the “sports truck.”
The T360 and T500’s lack of commercial success wasn’t that big of a deal since the Lion’s share of Honda’s revenue was from the motorcycle business. Motorcycles were Honda’s strong suit at the time. And by 68/69, Honda would begin its domination of the sports bike world with the advent of the CB750, the world’s first superbike.
As with its smaller-engined counterpart, the T500 has a DOHC inline-four cylinder engine paired with a four-speed manual transmission sending all power to the rear wheels. The mid-mounted engine is installed at nearly 90 degrees and accessed by lifting the bench seat in the cab. The idea of a mid-engined pickup is both unendingly fun and a bit silly, by modern standards.
The Honda T500 and T360 had some tricks up their sleeves
These first Honda trucks were super underpowered and gleefully tiny, but there were some really cool aspects to them as well. For one, they look like a million bucks. The Japanese aesthetic mixed with the necessary lines of a pickup truck make for a genuinely great-looking truck, regardless of how tiny it is.
Secondly, although they only came in one color, they came in a variety of configurations. Silodrome says the buyers for the Honda T500 could choose between a conventional pickup body or the folding-side flatbed. There was also a snow crawler version of the T360 offered, with tracks on the rear axle rather than wheels; however, very few are thought to have been sold.
Even though the T360 sold enough to remain outside of the super rare category, the T500 was far less popular due to the lack of Kei car regulations elsewhere. But these days, collectors are going nuts for these little trucks because only about 10,000 sold, making them quite rare.
Honda has come a long way since its first automobile
Honda is a leader in literally every marketplace that offers anything with a motor. From cars and trucks to motorcycles and lawnmowers, and so on and so on. The guys in red crush it in every category. While it may not be known for its pickup trucks, these days, but it did start with them.