For some reason, just because I always seem to seek out slow, miserable, painful failures of cars to drive on Jason Drives, the idea has gotten around that I like to drive slow, miserable, painful failures of cars. That’s only half true. While I do, perversely, like that, I also like driving things that are, you know, delightful to drive. This week, I’m driving a car that’s a joy to drive, and has another machine that’s a joy to drive nestling inside it: the Honda City Turbo and the Honda Motocompo scooter.
These two vehicles were created symbiotically; the little Motocompo scooter was designed to fold into a compact, suitcase-like oblong, and the size and shape of the folded bike defined the size and shape of the Honda City’s cargo area when it came out back in 1981.
While the little scooter is the real star of this tiny-vehicle show, the Honda City Turbo itself is a fascinating little beast. It was the creation of Hirotoshi Honda, son of the legendary founder Sochiro Honda. Hirotoshi started the tuner Mugen, who took the humble Honda City economy car and tuned it into a formidable and fast hot hatch.
Honda the company saw this, liked it, and adapted the concept into a production version, using a turbocharger to more than double the 44 horsepower engine output to a staggering-for-the-size 100 hp.
The little hatch was seriously quick, hitting 60 MPH from sedentary in 8.6 seconds, and backing that speed up with improved handling, using progressive rate coil springs, stabilizers at both ends, and better wheels and tires.
It’s a genuinely entertaining car to drive, and still quite practical. Really, the essence of what a hot hatch should be.
Of course, what Honda offered as a $360 option to go in the hatch of that Honda City is what’s really special: a motorcycle.
Well, more of a scooter than a motorcycle, but just as cool. The Motocompo was a 99 lb, 49cc, 2.5 hp little suitcase that you could ride around.
It’s a design masterpiece; everything origamis into itself and turns into an easy-to-carry box, and then you can pop up the seat, pull up the handlebars, flip up the mirror, kick the start pedal and off you go, buzzing happily through places no car, even one as small as the Honda City, could take you.
You could almost check the Motocompo on an airplane as overweight baggage, get to your destination, and go buzzing away. Well, if they let you check something full of gasoline on a plane, which they don’t.
Maybe you could just swallow a couple of condomfuls of gas, and then when you get to the airport, go to the bathroom and—
Stop. Just stop. You’re ruining this, Jason.
I loved driving around the City and the Motocompo. They’re both such clever, novel designs, they work so well both apart and together, and they’re just motorized delights, both of them.
Unlike most Jason Drives episodes, I’m not struggling with balky shifters or being asphyxiated by exhaust or holding up long lines of angry traffic. I caught a break this time, and got to enjoy some really well-designed bits of machinery.
Sometimes, that’s a nice change of pace.
(As always, thanks to the glorious Lane Motor Museum!)