In the daily life of most car enthusiast we find ourselves searching for something that sets us apart from the norm of boring daily drivers. We seek out high performance, and rare or unique builds. While I am guilty of this as well, it’s nice to break away and scare yourself for opposite reasons. Enter the Honda Beat a Kei car meant for small Japanese roads and commuting. Except this is Texas, a land known for 85mph speed limits and large trucks.
The owner of this Honda Beat, has been a fan of small bore motors for over a decade and hosts a collection of two-stroke motorcycles, including a Moto3 Aprilia RSW and a Cagiva 125. His love for small cc bikes eventually led to getting a Kei car. Japanese carmakers however never exported their Kei cars to America, so we had to wait until after the federal government relinquished importation restrictions on vehicles 25 years or older. The car arrived at the Port of Galveston and easily fit on an 8’x12’ motorcycle hauler. He did offer to let me take the hot wheel home. An offer I couldn’t say “no” to!
I’m handed the keys, and I begin to descend into what most would consider my 1600lb casket if accident were to occur. I quickly find myself surrounded by zebra striped interior that resembles a high school cheerleader’s Dodge Neon. An afterthought of a gauge cluster stares me bluntly in the face, likely surreptitiously stolen from the production line of Honda motorcycles. The car is small, but my 5’10” frame was able to get comfortable and stay below the header bow.
After orienting myself with left hand shifting techniques I begin to enter the concrete vestibule. I do my best to leave enough space between my grand entrance and oncoming cars. The thought of failing to yield results in me subconsciously bracing for impact or orbital launch depending on my collision associates mode of transportation. The small 656cc triple cylinder motor resembles a two stroke power band that was castrated just shy of top end sensation. I begin praying to the god of power upon seeing headlights approaching behind me. A glance down though and I watch the analog tachometer climb with the motor slowly purring into the higher RPMs. While the motor is capable of revving out to 9500 RPM’s it begins to output less power around 7500. A brake and downshift results in a slight decibel change from the motor before entering an increasing radius turn and not a chirp from the 13 inch tires can be heard. The car transmits a slight bit of body roll mid corner, but quickly and smoothly corrects itself as the turn opens. I make my way onto the highway cruising in the far right lane at a mind warping speed of 110 KPH, finding solstice in drafting behind a semi-trailer truck.
The rev-happy Honda Beat was never meant to be a Gymkhana hero nor a highway king, but around town it feels most at home. The suspension enjoys accelerating through tight pin corners. The relatively under-powered 40 cubic inch motor requests to stay high in the power band. A short ratio gearbox forces you to engage with its 3-5 second shift intervals. While modern cars have made the notion of shifting gears and maintaining RPM a nuisance, it’s something I still look forward to. The Beat is above all supposed to be an economical and efficient vehicle, but only if you let it.
Literature and Photography: James Elkins
Edited: Kate Callard