1999 Daihatsu concept Kopen, Tokyo Motor Show
During the mid-nineties, Japan was producing some of the greatest sports cars ever like the Acura NSX, Toyota Supra, Nissan 300zx, and the Mazda RX-7.
While these cars reached our shores, and some of them only briefly, Japan’s car manufacturers were making some awesome cars for their home market. Unless somebody has played the Gran Turismo games, they probably have never of a Mazda Autozam AZ-1, Suzuki Cappuccino, or Honda Beat.
These were the kei-sports cars.
Keijidosha (軽自動車) or kei cars are popular in Japan due to their tax and insurance costs. These cars are built within certain size regulations (11’ long, 5’ wide, and 6.5’ tall) and have under 660cc (.66l) capacity engines only making 63 hp.
Most are upright boxes that power the front wheels. But during the nineties Honda and Suzuki threw out this convention and built small rear-wheel-drive sports cars.
Honda’s foray into the sports-kei market was the Honda Beat. The mid-engine roadster was based off of a Pininfarina design. The 656cc three cylinder engine produced 63 horsepower at a screaming 8300 rpm. The engine utilized individual throttle bodies and a system called MTREC (Multi Throttle Responsive Engine Control.) With a weight of around 1700 pounds the car was was nimble and quick.
Here’s an old video from Motorweek driving around a Beat.
Another kei-sports cars was the Suzuki Cappuccino. The car offered a conventional front engine, rear-wheel-drive setup. Power came from a three cylinder turbocharged engine, which could be modified to produce 250 horsepower. The roadster had a four-way top, allowing it to have a closed, targa, or t-top roof or a full convertible. The car weighed roughly 1600 pounds. During production, the car was even sold in the UK.
Here’s another Youtube video of a Cappuccino.
The Autozam AZ-1 was actually built by Suzuki but sold by Mazda. The car used the same engine as the Cappuccino, but placed in the middle and laterally. The car was most notable for using gullwing doors. The car was not as well received as the other two cars, only around 5,000 were produced.
Here’s Another Motorweek video of the AZ-1 in action.
Today the closest thing being produced is the Daihatsu Copen, as pictured here. It has a sporty appearance, but with front-wheel-drive is not that sporty to drive. Hopefully the Japanese manufacturers will start making the sports kei cars again, and possibly bring them to the US.