Vintage Views: Honda Beat


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Two seats, a mid-engine layout and individual throttle bodies. Redline: 8700 rpm. Styling by Pininfarina.

Sounds exotic and expensive, right? Well, only part of that is true. Welcome to the Honda Beat, where starting prices currently hover around the $5000 mark.

The Beat was built to take advantage of Japan’s kei car regulations. Since 1990, kei cars have been limited to 660cc engines producing no more than about 64 horsepower. The body’s dimensions are restricted, too, to about 11 feet in length and no more than 4 and a half feet in width.

Kei cars first came about just after World War II. The goal was to incentivize the public into car ownership by offering insurance and tax breaks. The actual vehicle restrictions have evolved over the decades, but all these years later the discounts remain. (Between 1976 and 1990, for example, kei cars were limited to 550cc.)

The kei class welcomes all kinds of vehicles, from family sedans to small trucks and vans. The rules don’t restrict innovation, however, and over the years we’ve seen pint-sized performers ranging from roadsters to rally specials and retro machines. The Beat falls into that first class, placing fun above practicality. Cargo room? Very little. Zebra-print upholstery? Factory.

Was it that fast? By normal standards, no, not really. The Beat needed at least 13 seconds to reach 60 mph. Top speed was not quite 85 mph. But it was fun, playful and pocket-sized. And the top went down.

Honda released the Beat for the 1991 model year, and production lasted until the beginning of 1996. It was only sold on the Japanese market.

Here’s why this car matters to U.S. enthusiasts, though: 1991 was more than 25 years ago, meaning it’s now legal for those first Beats to be imported stateside. Production peaked that first year, too.

Where to find a Beat? Many have already been imported. JDM specialists like Duncan Imports and Montu Motors regularly stock them. They show up on Bring a Trailer, too.

Honda built more than 30,000 Beats. Expect to find lots of yellow cars, although red and silver were also popular. Special-edition Beats came in cool hues like Aztec Green Pearl, Captiva Blue Pearl, Blade Silver Metallic and Evergrade Green Metallic. Be warned that the stock tire sizes are a bit odd: 155/65R13 fronts and 165/60R14 rears.

Right now Beat prices seem to start around $5000 and peak near $10,000. And, as you’d expect, the less expensive cars tend to be rather, well, beat. As with some other early-’90s Hondas, rust can be a problem for the Beat, especially around the rear wheels. Even though the Beat was never officially imported, there are enough cars out there that with some patience you’ll find a good one.

Practical Guidance

Chris Nicholson, assistant shop manager at the Lane Motor Museum, has spent a lot of time with the Honda Beat, one of the many rare and unusual cars in their collection.

As you might imagine, Beats (and other Honda JDM kei cars) share very few parts with American-market Hondas. My advice for people importing such cars is to have them checked out and serviced by a shop in Japan prior to shipping. Have the shop include a few filters and belts for future service. Some exporters have their own shops and can even do the biannual shaken inspection if needed.

Two such shops that I have used are F.C. Autosource in Adachi, Tokyo, and Suruga Performance in Shizuoka City. Danny (F.C.) and Nick (Suruga) can help buyers out, from finding and inspecting potential purchases to servicing the cars and even handling the actual export of the car. Danny is originally from Dallas, and Nick is from Switzerland.

When we’ve had an emergency parts failure, such as a radiator hose giving out, we simply took the old hose to the parts store across the street, found something close, and cut it to fit.

We haven’t had to deal with replacing a top yet, but such items can usually be made by a local upholstery shop–including the back window for the Beat. If someone doesn’t have access to a quality shop, complete tops can be found on Yahoo! Japan auctions. Danny or Nick can buy them and ship them to the customer for a small fee.

Two of the worst things that can go wrong with a Beat both involve the ECU. It is mounted on the firewall behind the passenger seat. There are six canister-style capacitors in the ECU that can fail (or even burst) due to heat from the engine. This issue is exacerbated due to age. The other issue is the ECU getting wet from being caught in a heavy rain with the top down (or a really leaky top or back window). Also, the main relay can have cracked solder joints. Capacitor and relay issues can be solved by anyone talented with a soldering iron. But an ECU damaged by water should be replaced prior to exporting. As with anything made with plastic parts, those parts are aging (and the sun-exposed parts are aging faster), and production ended years ago. Replacing those bits will likely require searching the Yahoo! and eBay auctions.

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Comments
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Trackmouse
Trackmouse UltraDork
5/7/18 1:51 p.m.

I wonder how easily old parts can be obtained? I know it’s a 3 cylinder, so some parts may cross over to usdm civics. Body parts, I’m sure, are long gone. There doesn’t seem to be a cult following for performance for these. But it was never intended to. Honda had cup races for them in the 90’s in Japan. A turbo would surely make it really fun. 

Edit: check this out. https://www.google.com/amp/s/jalopnik.com/honda-to-produce-new-parts-for-the-beat-so-it-can-be-wi-1797733968/amp

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
5/7/18 1:55 p.m.

I saw one of these buzzing around the Boston area over the weekend! When the wife asked what it was, I told her it was a "sports car for ants". 

Very cool to see these little things over here! 

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
5/7/18 2:24 p.m.

So...who in Japan makes swap kits?

Trackmouse
Trackmouse UltraDork
5/7/18 3:15 p.m.

In reply to Appleseed :

‘Busa engine. 

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
5/7/18 5:40 p.m.

I'm thinking 1 liter 5 valve Yamaha snowmobile engine that was based on a generation or two ago R1. No integral transmission. 

te72
te72 Reader
5/8/18 9:12 p.m.

Am I misremembering, or did this get posted about on here recently? Could have sworn how I posted that I wanted one, but the zebra print seats were almost a deal breaker.

fatallightning
fatallightning New Reader
5/8/18 10:21 p.m.

Beat vs Cappuccino? Who has real world experience.

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
5/8/18 10:22 p.m.

Wah choo talking about, mang?

didget69
didget69 New Reader
5/9/18 6:33 a.m.

In reply to Trackmouse :

The Beat engine doesn't have a lot of crossover to US Honda models from similar era. 

didget69
didget69 New Reader
5/9/18 6:37 a.m.

In reply to te72 :

Per Honda Beat designers: it's not Zebra print upholstery, it's the Siberian White Tiger / Snow Tiger skin pattern that was the concept for the Beat interior.

didget69
didget69 New Reader
5/9/18 6:39 a.m.

New convertible tops have been available for purchase in the US well before the car was elligible for import.

 

didget69
didget69 New Reader
5/9/18 6:42 a.m.

In reply to Trackmouse :

There was a large performance parts aftermarket for Beats in Japan for many years. Suspension parts, headers, cams, ECU mods, body panels, wheels, etc. Many of those parts are still available via Japan Yahoo auctions, Amazon Japan, Rakuten, etc.

te72
te72 Reader
5/9/18 8:25 p.m.
didget69 said:

In reply to te72 :

Per Honda Beat designers: it's not Zebra print upholstery, it's the Siberian White Tiger / Snow Tiger skin pattern that was the concept for the Beat interior.

Well that just made the car even cooler! All about perspective, I suppose... Thanks for sharing.

 

Soooo... how long before somebody has a K20 swapped in? Would be a frightening little thing if you could figure out how to get it to fit.

thestig99
thestig99 Dork
5/9/18 9:08 p.m.

Went for a short ride in one of these today.

- That 3cyl noise is hilarious... in a good way.

- Shifting left handed is less weird than I would have thought. 

- Not many cars make my NA Miata look that big

 

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
5/9/18 9:20 p.m.

This is not helping my Beat/Cappuccino/Autozam infatuation.

Flynlow
Flynlow HalfDork
5/9/18 9:40 p.m.
thestig99 said:

- Not many cars make my NA Miata look that big

NA?  They make an Elise look big haha:

te72
te72 Reader
5/10/18 10:17 p.m.
Appleseed said:

This is not helping my Beat/Cappuccino/Autozam infatuation.

That kinda is the trinity of cool kei, isn't it? On the plus side, they're all reasonably affordable, if you wanted one of each, and small enough that you could put all of them in a shoe box in the corner of the garage with the rest of your Hot Wheels haha!

 

If I lived in a more urban area I'd probably have one of them, but it's all highways and high speed roads around here, not enough curves to make one of these fun. Nearly hard to justify a Miata, actually.

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
5/10/18 11:04 p.m.

To be fair, I daily an FR-S, which is supposed to be underpowered. frown

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/11/18 9:41 a.m.
Appleseed said:

This is not helping my Beat/Cappuccino/Autozam infatuation.

Join the club. Last month I went to see some friends perform--they both sing and play guitar. On the way to the club, figured I'd stop for a pit stop. The "car" side of the rest area was under construction, so I had to park with the trucks. This was on the first truck that I saw:

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
5/11/18 9:46 a.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

There is so much win in that picture. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/11/18 10:47 a.m.
Tony Sestito said:

In reply to David S. Wallens :

There is so much win in that picture. 

Thanks. Here's the rest of the trailer:

(Photo taken at the northbound I-95 rest area just south of Jacksonville, Fla.)

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/11/18 10:49 a.m.

And, for the full effect, that night's attraction--my friend Jack, the saddest (yet also most awesome) person ever.

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/11/18 10:54 a.m.

Also, a little while back we came across this one on I-95 heading south towards I-4. (Don't worry, I wasn't driving when I took this photo.)

Trackmouse
Trackmouse UltraDork
5/11/18 3:16 p.m.

Do want. I’d feel completed in life to order a cappuccino, from my cappuccino. Of course, I wouldn’t be the person ordering. Being right hand drive and all. Lol. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/11/18 3:36 p.m.

I think I could justify a Cappuccino. 

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
5/11/18 9:50 p.m.

You know, Wallens, you should do a kei car shootout. Autozam vs. Cappuccino vs Beat.

te72
te72 Reader
5/11/18 10:34 p.m.
Appleseed said:

To be fair, I daily an FR-S, which is supposed to be underpowered. frown

I was just saying that the roads where I live are boring for folks like us that prefer curves. Apart from ONE route I can take that's about a 3 hour drive, it's a LONG way for me to find fun roads. Literally have to leave the state or county, depending on the direction I'm going.

 

FR-S is a good car, I put probably 1000, maybe 1200 miles on a borrowed one for a road trip a few years back. Under powered sounds like under driven, from my experience. Might all depend on the roads you're on, but in urban environments or canyon roads, they are great to drive.

te72
te72 Reader
5/11/18 10:35 p.m.
Trackmouse said:

Do want. I’d feel completed in life to order a cappuccino, from my cappuccino. Of course, I wouldn’t be the person ordering. Being right hand drive and all. Lol. 

Could do what I did a time or two in my youth, go through in reverse... Some don't appreciate it too much, but I'm sure they'd understand with a RHD car.

rchen
rchen
5/13/18 5:35 p.m.
didget69 said:

In reply to te72 :

Per Honda Beat designers: it's not Zebra print upholstery, it's the Siberian White Tiger / Snow Tiger skin pattern

Sorry, it's Zebra. She says it right at 15:51 of this interview.

Doesn't make it any less cool, of course. 

te72
te72 Reader
5/14/18 11:46 p.m.

In reply to rchen :

Worst case you could always swap out the seats, or put seat covers on them. Dunno why, but animal print of any sort just seems a bit of an odd choice to me. This, coming from a guy who for years had blue cow pattern seat covers in his Cavalier haha.

PT_SHO
PT_SHO New Reader
5/23/18 1:20 a.m.
te72 said:
Trackmouse said:

Do want. I’d feel completed in life to order a cappuccino, from my cappuccino. Of course, I wouldn’t be the person ordering. Being right hand drive and all. Lol. 

Could do what I did a time or two in my youth, go through in reverse... Some don't appreciate it too much, but I'm sure they'd understand with a RHD car.

FWIW it's not that long of a reach across a car that narrow!  Pic attached shows a Cappuccino at one of our autocrosses last year.  He had to do the reach to get his timeslip every lap. 

Note how the car does /not/ dwarf the cones....  surprise

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