Growing up, we had a 1980 Honda Accord four-door sedan, a rolling tribute to rationality if there ever was one. As reliable as noon and almost as exciting, the Accord was a great, sensible car that defined Honda in my young brain. Perhaps that’s why I’m so smitten with the Honda Vamos, the least-rational four-wheeled Honda ever made. It’s also arguably the least car Honda ever made and sold, at least in terms of how much raw “car” you get for your money.
The Vamos was Honda’s take on the “fun car” concept, an automotive niche made up of mass-market economy cars stripped down and ruggedized to become sort-of-off-roaders: carefree things with no roofs that you’d take to the beach to cavort while you were young and beautiful.
Honda made their fun car out of their interesting little mid-engined T360 pickup truck, the first four-wheeled vehicle Honda built, starting in 1963.
The T360 was a really clever design for a little truck, with the engine low and in the middle and plenty of room above it for cab and bed. When the Honda Vamos was introduced in 1970, Honda had only been building cars for seven years, and the tool they used to turn the T360 into the Vamos seems to have been an eraser.
Mechanically, the Vamos retained the 354cc, 30-horsepower engine of the T360, and, really, most everything else as well. The body was edited away to almost just a platform and a front face with lights, a spare tire, and the windshield.
On that platform sat a pair of bench seats, some hinged tubes that pretended to be doors, and if you were such a spoiled little prince or princess that you didn’t want to get soaked in rain, then you had a choice of convertible tops: single cab, double cab, or full van:
I feel like the process of raising or lowering that full van canvas body/top had to be quite an ordeal.
Honda marketed the Vamos as a sort of general-purpose work and fun tool, and they weren’t wrong—something as basic as the Vamos really could be made to do pretty much whatever you needed, as long as those needs didn’t include a lot of comfort or weather protection or the ability to make everyone around you think you were a big shot.
I’ve wanted to drive one of these for so long, so using a Jason Drives as an excuse seemed as good an idea as any, and the always-accommodating Lane Motor Museum tossed me the key to theirs which, despite sitting in their basement for who knows how long, eventually spluttered to life and performed like a champ.
I think the Vamos is just a fantastic little brute, a wonderful experiment in minimalism, and a great reminder that the formula for fun is much simpler than you’d think.