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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How Fast Can I Go: The Tale of a Land-Speed Honda NC600


Honda NC600 5

How fast can I go? That is the single driving principle behind this car and for all those that race on salt or dry lakebeds. It’s such a simple concept, but one that actually defines all motor sport. It doesn’t matter if you’re racing Le Mans, NHRA, F1, or on a dry lake bed. The driving force behind all those racing disciplines is how fast can you go. And this little Honda represents the embodiment of that mantra.

This little Kei car started life as a 1960s Honda NC600. The NC600 was originally developed alongside the smaller NC360, however, to satisfy U.S. and European markets, Honda built the car with a larger engine to give better performance. In the end, the NC600 had a top speed of just 77 miles per hour and achieved an outstanding fuel consumption of 36.3 miles per gallon; however, it never really caught on.

Honda NC600 3

This NC600, however, is not stock. Built to compete for land-speed records, this little Honda is absolutely absurd. While the original Honda 600cc engine could rev to 9,000 RPM, the motor that now inhabits this NC600 can rev almost twice as high. Using an engine out of a Suzuki GSX-R 750, the little NC600 sounds like a banshee when pushing the car to 15,000rpm. You honestly can hear it start up from all the way across El Mirage, where we first encountered this car.

Inside, everything has been stripped out. There is only one seat, a racing seat with 6-point harnesses and a full roll cage. There are two fire extinguishers, one to suppress a fire within the cabin, and another to suppress a fire inside the engine bay. All the original Honda gauges have been replaced in favor of the Suzuki gauges and a racing steering wheel. Additionally, the gentlemen that built this kept the sequential gearbox from the Suzuki, making for one hell of an awesome cockpit.

Honda NC600 1

The car was originally built on a lark in the barn of George Callaway with a few friends, and according to them, a ton of beer. Callaway and his friends are part of that old desert racer crowd that grew up on the flats. They’re known throughout the speed record community, and their 40-acre ranch extends right up to El Mirage. According to the friends, they had the car just sitting around collecting dust. Same with the motor. Then one night after quite a few beers, they decided why not meld the two and see what type of records they could go for.

They didn’t really know what to expect from the car. It was initially built for fun, just like their 70 mile per hour couch, or their beer garden that seats 12 and can comfortably cruise at 50 miles per hour. Along the way though, things got serious, and this little Kei car turned into something much cooler.

Honda NC600 4

Due to the displacement and the engine size, they race in the 133-mph class. For a car that still runs 1960s era ten-inch wheels, and a total wheelbase of 78 inches, 133 mph might as well be warp speed. Right now, the car is running at 116 mph, and according to those involved in the NC600, it can easily go a little faster under the right circumstances, and possibly even a record.

It comes back to that same hymn recited above—how fast can I go? The next speed trials are little over a week away on October 17th and 18th at El Mirage. Everything from blown-fuel lakesters, to crazy Suzuki-powered Kei cars will be there trying to push the limits, and see how fast they can go.

Honda NC600 2