When you’re faced with fixing up a 1972 Honda N600, you don’t get to go on a forum and get all your answers online. You need to keep an eagle eye on eBay and wait for a holy book to pop up: the shop manual.
In my car repair life, I’ve had it easy. I went down the route of Volkswagen ownership. For me there is the greatest car repair manual ever written. I also have multiple people in my phone contacts who know old VWs by heart, including my coworker Jason. His Bug is almost the same as mine, down to the dual carb setup from the same California shop, the Kaddie Shack. Time after time, when something goes wrong, I have someone to call, something to Google for a guide.
This is not something to be enjoyed by John of The Curb Cut, who picked up a Honda N600 with a spare motor to replace its worn out, original 600cc air-cooled two-cylinder. It’s a treat to have a new engine to swap into a clean old chassis (that’s what happened to my Bug, actually), but you still need instructions.
So John did what you do: Scour eBay until an original shop manual comes up. With a shop manual, you have what Honda mechanics have before them. You have all of your correct procedures, as dictated by the company that put the car together in the first place.
The N600, I should say, is a wonderfully interesting car. It was the first Honda we got in America, a start of many good things to come. It looks like a Mini but rocks an air-cooled engine, good for something around 40 horsepower from two cylinders and 600cc of displacement. You also got 9,000 rpm, though that’s more in the realm of “motorcycle” than Ferrari. As for that power figure, you get similar output from a Volkswagen with twice the cylinders and almost three times the displacement. This Honda company might have something going for it!
A 600cc two-cylinder might sound diminutive for a car, but it was actually a big step up from its sister car, the N360. Not quite a highway star.
As for this particular one in Brooklyn, it is an act of trust to take the manufacturer at its word. All you have are the procedures as they are written. It’s not flying blind, but it’s not far off.
So it’s still satisfying to see the engine removal come together by the book, as they say. Only a few little things in the manual are a hair off, but the whole procedure does work.
There are many people out there who can look at a car they’ve never worked on before and intuit how it went together, and how it should come apart. Some cars make that easy. A radiator replacement on my old Lexus was like that. For the rest of the car world, I’m happy that these shop manuals are still around, giving us all a little hope that something like fixing up a ’72 N600, 9,000 rpm and all, is a feasible project.