When Honda's first fleet of 50 prototype N600s finished winter testing in 1967, they were sold for scrap to a junkyard, a few days later a Honda employee saw one heading down the road—it turns out the enterprising scrapyard owner decided to make a little money on the side as America's first bootleg Honda dealer. Honda made sure the remaining 47 cars were crushed, but three N600s had already escaped into the wild.
"They took 50 [Japanese market] N360s off the assembly line," Tim Mings says, speaking from his shop in California, "And installed these hot-rod 600cc engines. You can see how many of the parts are early prototypes, lots of sand-cast metal."
Mings found one of the three escapee '67 prototypes sitting on a trailer in Pomona, and made an offer. As it turned out, the owner had another N600 in his garage and asked if Mings wanted that one, too. He bought the car sight unseen and took it back to his garage where it sat for several years. Until one day he scraped off some of the debris covering the VIN, and there it was: N600-1000001.
If you want your own chance to see the first Honda in America, jot the Long Beach Japanese Classic Car Show on your calendar. Now in its 12th year, Mings calls the show a must-see event. After that, serial number one will be tucked away in Honda's private museum in Torrance, which isn't open to the public.
Followup, Apr 2017: