Turn the Beat Around

Leafing through the sales brochures of two great Hondas with a mere 25 years between their respective gestations.

All images – author’s collection

During those times when CAR magazine was still led by an editorial team that did not shy away from ruffling a few corporate feathers, the June 1991 edition featured the provocative cover slogan: “Where’s the progress“? In four comparisons, similar cars from the same manufacturers offered in 1971 and 1991 were put to the test to find out how much progress and where, if any, had been realised in two decades. If you spot this issue at your local fleamarket, I recommend you snap it up, because it makes for an amusing and enlightening read.

In a similar vein, encountering the fetching yellow cover of the 1991 Honda Beat brochure while adding the newly acquired Honda S660 brochure to my collection immediately triggered a desire to compare the two, as the cars appear so similar at first sight.

The sixteen-page Beat brochure, a Japanese domestic market item as is its S660 equivalent, does not show the car on its bright yellow cover: it simply features a geometric, vaguely cartoonish layout with the name of the car inside it accompanied by the words “Midship Amusement“.

Inside the lighthearted tone is continued with appealing photography, layout and typography. Only on the last four pages does it become more business-like with the usual technical details and specifications. The dimensions are slightly wider than the A4 format that is mostly used.

The S660 brochure is more conventional both in dimensions – it sticks to the ubiquitous A4 size – and general design. No specific slogan for the car here, simply Honda’s current The power of dreams mantra. It is quite a bit more elaborate with 32 pages, plus a separate accessories brochure.

Photography and layout are competently done but do not surpass the quality or originality of concurrent printed publicity material which is slightly disappointing considering the special character of the S660. The paper quality is also not as nice as the smoother, almost silky feel of that of the Beat item.

The Honda Beat was the final car founder, Soichiro Honda personally approved and signed off. The initial design was supplied by Pininfarina but finished by Honda’s own styling department. To its credit, the S660 – styled wholly in-house – certainly mostly adheres to the guidelines that Soichiro Honda laid out. Although it is not difficult to see which is the newer car, the overall designs are very much along broadly similar principles.

Dimensionally, the Beat and S660 are virtually identical: the newer car is just 10mm longer and girth has increased from 1395mm to 1475mm. The wheelbase has grown by a barely noticeable 5mm. The S660 is a little bit heavier at 830 Kilograms from 760; presumably due to the inclusion of more safety-related equipment.

A manual gearbox was the only way to go with the Beat, while the S660 offers a CVT paddleshift gearbox as an option. The Beat’s luggage space is unsurprisingly minimal but at least it does have a tiny boot – the S660 has none at all.

Performance figures of both cars are very close (84 mph for the Beat, 87 mph for the S660- electronically limited in both cases), which is a logical result of the engines and their respective performance data being so closely matched. Both are three-cylinder engines and deliver the same 64 Bhp; one major difference however being that the S660’s powerplant is turbocharged, something that Soichiro Honda might not have approved of.

Safety technology has moved on considerably since the Beat was introduced, the rollover protection supplied by the hoop behind the seats of the S660 may be somewhat detrimental for looks but doubtless provides more security.

Twenty-five years apart they may be, but Honda’s Beat and S660 are very similar in looks, character, dimensions and performance, although this should not be construed as criticism. Rather, being so nigh-on perfectly conceived for its mission to begin with, it is testament to the essential rightness of the Beat.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

11 thoughts on “Turn the Beat Around”

  1. Call me old fashioned if you like but I prefer the looks of the Beat. Flowing lines rather than angular creases on the body and the wheels look much better too I feel.

  2. Like Mike, I also prefer the Beat and think there’s a bit too much detail on the side flanks of the S660. It’s not bad though and would be much better if it lost the slot in the front wing (and the nasty vertical shut line in the middle of the sill).

    A fully electric 2020 version would be a real advance, however.

  3. I remember that edition of Car – it was memorable and absolutely the kind of show of editorial gumption which the current crop of car magazines (not just Car) are missing. I seem to recall GG comparing a GS with a ZX (or was it something else?) and making the same points that we’ve been making here about the new C4 vs the now 50 year old GS … plus ça change.

    The Beat was a masterpiece in miniature, an original, which is why the S660, nice though it is, can’t compete really.

    1. Yes, the Beat is a beautifully resolved little thing.

      I have recently become tuned into JDM imports to the UK, and here’s another excuse to ponder the prices of used ones.

  4. The Beat is designed with some of the classic product design principles in mind. The newer car has been designed with a more expressive mood in mind; in detail it´s correct but at the large scale it is overburdened with expressive touches that don´t express a great deal. I don´t want to very, very churlish – just a bit. I´m glad the new car exists, that´s something.

    The two cars remind me again of a difficulty in industrial design, which is the tension between the pursuit of what one might call objectively well-resolved shapes (think Dieter Rams) and the confounding wish of consumers for something new. That lust for novelty means that Dieter Ramsism could only have been used once and thereafter it became a style, divorced from it roots (did Ives do Ramsist design sincerely or was he aping the mode? You can´t tell).

    Something like that happened to Modernism. If Modernism had been the architectural mode it believed itself to be we´d still be in buildings that looked like those of Mies van der Rohe and Gropius (to the extent allowed by improvements in technology). The Modernists didn´t figure fashion would drag architecture in other directions. And the same goes for car design, in some ways. All we can expect is that the style the times throws up is well-executed. You can´t really fault Baroque for being Baroque but you can ask is a given example a good version of the mode. By the same token, the S660 is a decent expression of contemporary style.

    As it happens I prefer the yellow Beat while accepting the way the S660 looks. (An Opel Tigra Mk2 is much prettier though),

  5. Given the choice I’d take the Beat any time. It looks infinitely better and has a naturally aspirated engine.

  6. I’m afraid that Honda make a body kit, so that you can give your S660 a retro look.

    Those of a sensitive disposition should look away, now.

    1. Please tell me that this body kit isn’t meant to make the car look like this

  7. Oh dear! That looks like a Ford Escort Mk 1 front end and the wheels are still awful too imho.

  8. I took this video in the spring to market my Beat but due to Covid lockdown have returned it to storage.
    The car is remarkable for a 28 year old unrestored minimal sports car!

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