The California Dealer That Risked It All to Sell America’s First Hondas

25 March 2021

Lori and Bill Manly saw their first Honda car at the factory in Suzuka, Japan, in 1967. They’d won a trip to Japan from American Honda, a commendation for the sales volume at their eight-year-old motorcycle dealership, Honda of Santa Rosa, an hour north of San Francisco. “We sold a lot of motorcycles,” says Lori Manly, now 88.

The car, the Honda N360, was unlike anything on American roads. It weighed just over 1000 pounds. It had a transversely mounted, air-cooled, two-cylinder alloy engine under its tiny hood, driving the front wheels through a four-speed manual transmission. It had wheelbarrow-sized 10-inch wheels. It took nearly 20 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph. With just 118 inches of vehicle between its chromed bumpers, it was three-and-a-half feet shorter than a VW Beetle. In fact, it was a foot shorter than the wheelbase of a contemporary Cadillac Coupe DeVille.

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