The Honda Vamos Is Japanese Kei Weirdness

Estimated read time 3 min read

It looks like something out of a cartoon but is all too real.

Most people have seen at least a few Japanese Kei vehicles in their time even if they don’t realize it, although they’re rare imports. The Scion xB would be the closest a car made for the American market has gotten to these small, low-powered, and cheap models that are quite common in Japan. But even in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Honda Vamos is one of the rarer and stranger Kei trucks out there.

See the lowrider culture in Japan.

Unlike many other Keis, the Vamos was designed for open-air use, like Jeeps of old. While consumers got a fabric roof and doors for these vehicles, Honda designed all the switchgear and the gauges to survive exposure to water and dust.

The rest of the simple interior was also created for harsh use, so it’s no difficult to see how this little thing was viewed as a weekend toy or a wilderness runabout. Buyers had the option of getting this Honda with either two or four seats.

While having the spare tire mounted to the slightly raked front nose, combined with the cutesy round headlights, invited open comparisons with the Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus, the Honda Vamos didn’t have a rear-engine layout. Instead, this vehicle has the 354cc engine located mid-ship in the chassis.

Most people could never quite figure out what the Vamos was all about. Like other strange vehicles that seemed to be a confused straddling of several market segments, this was not entirely a pickup truck, beach car, jeep, or economy car. That might have been why Japanese consumers didn’t take to it more readily.

Despite what the British guy in the included video erroneously claims, “Vamos” is Spanish for “let’s go.” This was hardly the last time a Japanese automaker used a Spanish word for a model name, with the Mitsubishi Pajero as an excellent example of another. Still, some find this revelation unbelievably odd, but it’s possible they’re just taken aback at the strange nature of this beast.

It’s claimed only 2,500 of these strange contraptions were ever made. In other words, they failed to really catch on with the public. Some have attributed that to the lack of four-wheel drive, conflicting with the rugged, albeit diminutive, image of the runabout. Had Honda sent power to all four wheels, perhaps more people would’ve been all about a lightweight, small, maneuverable, and affordable vehicle to take out in the wilderness for weekend playtime.

Production only lasted from 1970 to 1973 with zero sold brand new outside of Japan. Supposedly, Honda decided that being a Kei car, foreigners wouldn’t be that interested in such a vehicle. The automaker was probably correct. Today, there is a small cult following for the Vamos in North America and elsewhere, but most still don’t know of its existence.

Steven Symes

Steven Symes is an accomplished automotive journalist with a passion for all things related to cars. His extensive knowledge and love for the automotive world shine through in his writing, which covers a diverse range of topics.

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