This article was first published in July 2001.
Phil Penny - the owner and creator of this amazing Honda - is no stranger to building a show-stopping car. He's owned a grand total of 58 cars - each one well and truly done up. In the last ten years, he's had a business called Auto Art, focussing on vehicle restoration. His somewhat unusual decision to embark on this S600 project was motivated by the fun he'd had with a Honda S600 convertible a few years ago. Of course, the extreme light weight of the li'l Honda also made it easier for him to extract the decent straight-line performance that he'd become accustomed to.
Phil was lucky enough to find this particular S600 - albeit just the body - sitting beneath someone's elevated house. It'd been waiting there for over 20 years; it even had the 1980 registration sticker still attached to the windscreen! After exchanging sufficient money for the collectable little Japanese sportster, Phil took 'er back to his workshop and took the first bite of a thorough 2½-year build-up.
The first move was to put together a suitably potent driveline. Interestingly, Phil went for a Fiat 124 twin-cam 1600 motor, primarily due to its extreme strength. Just look at the power that Vince Rigoli is achieving with near-stock internal Fiat engines - truly unbelievable! Likewise, Phil left his motor pretty much standard inside. The block was O-ringed, the head cc'd to lower the compression ratio (to 8.2:1) and a copper head gasket went in. All of the standard pistons were left in the bores. The Fiat engine installation also called for a V6 Audi coolant radiator with dual 10-inch thermo fans and a trick looking Jaz overflow bottle. Braided lines, polished components and colour-coding keeps it all looking beautiful. Detailing abounds.
Knowing that an induction boost was needed if he wanted any real power, Phil made another unusual move of installing a Sprintex S102 displacement blower. This gives maximum torque at all revs. He fabricated the intake manifold himself and went to great lengths to ensure that nothing stood tall of the bonnet line. This called the blower to be mounted well back from the front crankshaft pulley - which meant an elaborate step-back drive mechanism had to be constructed and the oil filter relocated. An engine oil cooler is now situated in front of the radiator as well. Indeed, Phil is very happy with the result of his efforts - not too many people could install a displacement blower below the bonnet line of a Honda S600! Induction air is fed into the blower via a mandrel bent length of tube that locates a Finer Filter pod in the nosecone.
With intake flows forced through at up to 8 psi, Phil then set to work fabricating his own extractors. These use heat wrapped 1¾-inch primaries leading into a 3-inch collector and a 2½-inch mandrel system. Muffling is left to a SuperTrapp baffle at the rear.
Injecting fuel into the blown Italian Stallion are four high-flow Bosh injectors situated in the custom intake manifold, with another squirter located up-steam of the supercharger. This kicks in under boost to help cool the charge air temp, as there is no intercooler fitted. Maintaining fuel pressure is a SX adjustable regulator, while reaching further back, there's a Nissan fuel pump submerged in Phil's custom-fabricated aluminium drop tank. Inside the tank are numerous baffles and fuel sponge to ensure there's isn't fuel slopping all over the place. Note that no primer pump is required.
Controlling the fuel and ignition is a Link programmable ECU that's been installed and tuned by Graham at Julius Electronic Injection. A 7200-rpm limit is enforced - though Phil says the engine is capable of revving to 9000... Also teaming up with the Link programmable ECU is a high-energy coil and modulator. MSD heavy-duty leads were being fitted - literally - at the time of our shoot.
When it came to selecting a gearbox, Phil again took bits from the Fiat parts bin. Strength was the keyword when it came to choosing the Fiat 131 5-speed 'box - which, we're told, is a copy of a Getrag unit. Teaming with the stock gearbox is a lightened flywheel, ceramic 4-button clutch and heavy-duty pressure plate. A 14-inch long 3½-inch XY GT tailshaft takes drive to a mega rear-end.
As you may or may not know, the Honda S600 came factory-equipped with a chain drive mechanism. This was carried over from Honda's motorcycle design technology. However, Phil's car has gone to other extreme of strength, with a meaty Ford 9-inch rear. This is no ordinary 9-inch though. Based on a Ford Galaxy assembly, it uses a full spool Touring Car aluminium centre spinning a 4.9:1 centre. Yes - 4.9 to 1! Sprouting out from both sides are near-as-dammit unbreakable 28 spline axles. These reach to Series 2 Mazda RX-7 rear discs and calipers. Meanwhile, the front-end sees the discs and calipers pulled from a TD Holden Gemini - which required modification of the tie-rod ends to fit. Suspension wise, Phil's fabricated a custom 4-link rear with a Panhard rod and Bilstein coil-over dampers. The front-end uses the standard adjustable torsion bars and Koni adjustable dampers. It all sits much, much lower than standard. Note that the Honda already came with a full chassis, but Phil's elected to strengthen his considerably.
After this mammoth effort had gone into the driveline and chassis, Phil could take a look at revitalising the cute little Honda body. Interestingly, he tells us that it's easier to do most of the mechanical work and then drop the lightweight body on top. Before any other cosmetics took place, Phil had to first massage out the damage that had previously been inflicted on the car's front and side panels. Any other microscopic dings were also carefully removed. So - with everything returned to the standard Honda look - Phil added his own individual touches.
Just look at the quality job he made of those bonnet flutes, the Le Mans fuel cap at the rear and the custom fabricated Cobra-style stainless side flutes. It all integrates so well you'd swear they were factory fitment!
Once all the hardware looked Mickey Mouse, Phil took to his trusty spray gun and applied about six coats of Ferrari red. The amazing finish is the product of endless rubbing back with 1500-2000 grade wet and dry. Adding more to the shining appeal are re-chromed wiper arms, bumpers, grille, rear hatch hinges, bonnet and door handles and the full-length trim strip. From the rear, you can also spy the aforementioned aluminium drop tank with the SuperTrapp tip nestled in along side. The only other cosmetic mod is the Julius Electronic Injection sticker on the back window. Oh, and the front windscreen still retains that 1980 rego sticker!
Phil didn't need to spend long shopping for wheels. He knew he wanted polished Simmons B45s measuring 15 x 7 at the front and 16 x 9.5 at the rear. His tyres of choice are Bridgestone S02 195/50 15 and 225/45 16 - not too many people have rubber that size under the back of their S600! Interestingly, though, Phil tells us that the standard car already comes with 14-inch wheel tubs anyhow - so it's the ideal candidate for oversized rubber.
With the shed now containing a masterpiece in the making, the only bit left was to deck out the interior. Keen to carry over some of the car's factory style, Phil retained the original low-back seats and dash and treated them to new coverings. It's a contrasting combination of white with black. Phil also fabricated an aluminium dash facia to hold a myriad of Autometer UltraLite gauges. There's battery volts, fuel level, a tachometer, air/fuel ratio meter, mph speedo, boost, oil pressure and water temp. A giant Ultimate tacho is also mounted below the dash. This gizmo gives 2-stage shift lighting and can download into a computer - among numerous other things.
Note the original wooden-rimmed steering wheel mounted on the end of a collapsible Mazda RX-2 column. Also fitted are colour-matched RPM harnesses. In a word, the interior is immaculate.
Once everything was given a final detailing once-over, Phil took the car down for a Dyno Dynamics dyno tune at Julius Fuel Injection. Running on LRP (Lead Replacement Petrol), it eased out 130 horsepower at the wheels in 5th gear. Now 130hp mightn't sound much in absolute terms, but bear in mind that Phil's little monster weighs only 720kg and you can see why he predicts that is should run a 12-second ET. If that's not impressive enough, how about the fact that it's fully road legal and engineer approved?!
This must surely be one of the best creations the modified car scene has seen for a while.
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Phil would like to thank Graham at Julius Electronic Injection and Mark at Star Performance for their help along the way.