DO the numbers 1300, 77, 99, 7 and 9 bring up any images of motor cars in your mass of grey matter?
They make the eyes of a very few Australians, and even fewer Americans and Europeans, sparkle, because they refer to a few wonderful Honda models of the 1969-1973 era.
It started with the launch of the 1300 sedans, which rocked the automotive world with their radical hi-tech engineering, followed by a pair of strikingly styled coupes, the 7 and 9.
They were the biggest vehicles produced by Honda at that time, aimed at taking on the domestic market, then dominated by Toyota Corona, Mitsubishi Galant, Mazda Capella and Nissan Bluebird.
The move followed Soichiro Honda’s great success in motorbike production, which was followed by the tiny 360 and the two-seat 600 and 800 sports cars, all powered by his motorbike engines.
Then there was Honda’s success in building a Formula 1 car that debuted in the German Grand Prix of 1964, and had its first win in Mexico the next year, with Richie Ginther at the tiller, and John Surtees drove one to victory in Italy in 1967.
Soon after, Soichiro decided it was time to produce a car for the masses and the 1300 was born.
However, despite his hopes of exporting them worldwide, most were sold in Japan.
They could be had in several levels of spec as the 77, which had a 74kW 1300cc motor, single carburettor and four-speed gearbox, and the 99, which came with a quartet of carburettors, a slightly higher compression ratio and produced 85kW.
Soon after came the elegant Coupes, the 7 and 9.
Unusual for the time, the cars all had front-wheel drive, were air-cooled, had independent suspension all-round and their engines, which could howl to more than 8000rpm, knocked the socks off their rivals.
Indeed, the 99 and Coupe 9s produced more power per litre than a Chevrolet Corvette, the muscle car of the time.
Mr Honda was adamant the engine needed to be air, rather than water cooled, arguing thus: “since water-cooled engines eventually use air to cool the water, we can implement air cooling from the very beginning.”
He had earlier owned a Pontiac Firebird and word is the distinctive split-grilles of his sedans and coupes followed the style of the Firebird.
The air-cooled 1.3-litre had a special Duo Dyna Air Cooling system which employed a multi-bladed impeller on the end of the flywheel to direct cool air around the inside of the finned engine block and the heated air was then redirected into a duct in the cabin.
Interior heat was also boosted by an electric fan which extracted hot air from the exhaust manifold.
The engine was also futuristic. Derived from Formula 1 technology, it had a dry-sump design, using a pressurised oil tank to collect and air-cool the oil.
Also there was an electric fuel pump on the petrol tank, which eliminated the ‘vapour’ lock that plagued so many cars of that era.
The electrical system comprised two complete sets of wiring – one for the left side of the vehicle and one for the right. So if you had a mishap of sorts, you always had lights.
It was also the first car to use what became known as Mohican structure.
Soichiro learnt that the gas generated by soldering was not particularly conducive to longevity, so he ordered the complete elimination of soldering, which apart from being dangerous, seemed to be an inefficient way of building cars.
His alternative was the Mohican structure, in which new presses stamped out complete exterior side panels.
The revolutionary plan resulted in precision stamping which not only enhanced the appearance, but also yielded greater strength – and saved a lot of time.
The Mohican structure is now used by many brands around the world.
These Hondas were pricey, selling for about the price of a big-six sedan in Australia at the time, but were decades ahead in technology.
Australia was one of a very few countries to get supplies of the beauties.
About 43,000 of the Coupes were made, with only 1053 being exported, 731 of which arrived in Australia.
The rest went to other Asia-Pacific countries.
They were subsequently raced and rallied with some success at various Australian circuits, Bathurst included, by enthusiasts who appreciated their performance and handling qualities.
None made it to the US or to Europe.
However, a few still exist in Australia today and Albany resident and competition driver Thomas Benson has both a Coupe 7 and a Coupe 9.
‘The one I race is a Coupe 7, which is homologated for racing,’ he said.
‘It’s a pretty quick car. The Coupe 9 is a rally car because it doesn’t comply with Australian Touring car requirements.
‘They are of course very special, being the 4-carburettor cars.
‘Other than slightly higher compression and camshaft they are the same as the 7: dry sump, air cooled with rear swing axles on leaf springs to make sure there’s plenty of rear space.
‘The body is identical except for kick plates and cabin heater duct, the four carby car has too much going on in the firewall to accept the ductwork.’
Thomas knows of one former Australian-registered car ‘somewhere in Eastern Europe’ and another in Canada and four are known to be in the US.
There’s also a collector in Perth who has four Coupes and one has surfaced in South Africa.
Chris Lake, in Adelaide, is the ‘custodian’ of a Coupe 9 that used to belong to a Sydney Honda dealership principal. He parked it in his garage at home – and that’s where it stayed for the next 34 years. Chris is now restoring the still lovely vehicle.
It’s been about 50 years since the 731 cars were landed in Australia, so many might still be around?
‘I believe there are about a dozen on Australia’s eastern seaboard and probably a few more tucked away, unlicensed, or in bits in garages,’ Thomas Benson said.
‘Plus there would be a handful of them left in Japan.’
What are they worth?
‘It’s impossible to establish value,’ he said.
‘Most people don’t know anything about them and the few folk who do have them won’t let go. It’s like selling love.’
An internet hunt showed one was for sale for $24,000 a couple of years ago and a rusty one is on the market at present for $8000.
But to most of the few who have the privilege of owning such a game changing car, their Coupe 7 or 9 is pure gold.
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