Sat. Dec 4th, 2021

Ray Hamman, 75, a retired information technology executive living in Clarkston, Mich., on his 1972

Honda

Z600, as told to A.J. Baime.

My wife, Joan, had a

Volkswagen

when we got married—an unreliable VW for whatever reason. One time we were on a trip, driving from where we lived in Ohio to Denver, to visit her brother. We saw this little yellow vehicle on the highway. She said, “Hey, look at that cute little car.” I said, “Yeah, I wonder what it is?”

We got close enough and saw that it was a Honda Z600. We had to replace my wife’s VW, so when we got home, I went on a mission to find a Honda. In February 1973, a few weeks after our Denver trip, I found a yellow 1972 Honda just like the one we had seen, at the Hugh White Chevrolet dealership in Columbus, Ohio. It cost $1,759, plus $69 for the AM radio, $74 in taxes, and $12 for registration. So $1,914 out the door.


Crowd-Pleasing Car

Ray Hamman’s 1972 Honda Z600 draws smiles and laughter from passersby

Ray Hamman calls his 1972 Honda Z600 ‘Happy Little Car.’ Everywhere he goes, he says, ‘people are laughing and smiling and pointing’ at the tiny, two-cylinder vehicle.

Erin Kirkland for The Wall Street Journal

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At the time, few people had heard of a Honda car. Honda motorcycles were hot, and in fact, this car had basically a two-cylinder, roughly 30-horsepower, 600-cubic centimeter motorcycle engine. The 600 series (starting with the N600 and later the Z600) was the first mass-market Honda ever imported into the U.S. My car got 35 to 40 miles a gallon—very good for the time.

My wife drove it for five years, and then it broke a CV Joint. I thought it was going to be expensive to have it fixed, so I thought I would do it myself when I had time. My wife got a new car and we put this one in the garage. Well, that is where it stayed. Twice we moved, and both times, the Honda was the last thing on the truck. We put it in the next garage, and the next. It fit in the moving trucks, and we were too lazy to get rid of it.

When we moved to Michigan, I started a hobby of restoring old muscle cars. At one point, I finished a 1970 Pontiac Trans Am, and I was thinking, ‘OK, what’s next?’ Then I thought of the Honda. It took about six months to restore, starting in the early 2000s. Believe it or not, Honda still had some parts for it. The sheet metal was mostly fine but the front fender was rusted out. The rear bumper was gone. It needed new shock absorbers. The Honda had all these mysterious dents on the roof. My younger son later admitted that he liked to walk on it. I fixed all those too.

I have restored eight muscle cars, but I never did the paint work myself. This car, I did paint myself. I stripped it down to bare metal and primed it. I took a piece that had original paint into a paint shop and a woman there put a lot of effort into matching it exactly. I had all the equipment I needed to paint the car in my garage.

Nowadays, on a nice day, I’ll run errands in it. There are cruise nights all summer in Michigan; it’s definitely car country here. One time, I took it to the Woodward Dream Cruise in Metro Detroit, one of the biggest car events in the country. There are places with bleachers set up so people can watch the cars go by. All these muscle cars were doing burnouts [hitting the gas to make the wheels spin and create smoke] in front of some bleachers. So I pulled up in the Honda, with its tiny front-wheel drive wheels, and tried to do a burnout. It managed to spin the wheels and did a little chirp. It brought down the house. People could not stop laughing.

The car is like a puppy in that everywhere I go, strangers come up to me to talk about it. One time this woman came charging up and said, “Oh what a happy little car!” So that is what I call it: ”Happy Little Car.” I have had a number of nicely restored, relatively valuable muscle cars. None of them has ever gotten the attention that this little Honda gets.

Write to A.J. Baime at [email protected]

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