CC Capsule: 1986 Honda City (FA) Cabriolet – Summer In The City

Ever since the ‘70s, a sword of Damocles has been hanging on convertibles. They even disappeared from many carmakers’ ranges, especially in the US and Japan. Yet here we are, five decades later, and cabriolets are still very much alive and kicking. Even the retractable metal top fad of the early 2000s didn’t manage to eradicate the old fabric tops, here since the dawn of motoring. Our CC is a great representative of the ‘80s rebirth of the Japanese convertible.

Honda’s first proper car was a roadster, so the company would have a deep historical attachment to open-air driving. Yet since the S800 went out of production in 1970, Honda seemed to forego convertibles, as did other Japanese carmakers in the ‘70s. The reason was obvious: Japan’s main export market across the Pacific was rumoured to be on the verge of outlawing soft-tops altogether for safety reasons. Ultimately, the threat never materialized, and both American and Japanese carmakers started to realized that they had gifted a niche to those inscrutable Europeans, who were laughing all the way to the bureau de change for many years.

Considering the Golf Cabriolet, Honda probably figure that their City hatchback, launched in 1981, was a great candidate for a dropping of the topping. And so the carmaker, having devised a tall-roofed City and a sporty Turbo variant, got in touch with one of the aforementioned European specialists to devise the cabriolet, set for a 1984 unveiling.

Pininfarina made their reputation on convertibles. In the early ‘80s, they were involved in manufacturing them for Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Fiat, Peugeot and, most recently, Talbot. That last one was especially notable, as the Talbot Samba was very similar to the Honda City, being a small FWD hatchback. And PF seems to have basically applied the same solutions for the City that they did for the Samba, with that “basket handle” anti-rollover bar and that overall chunky appearance.

One difference with the Talbot was the rear window, which in the Honda was made of glass – a much better solution on the long run. The design was made in Italy, but the bodies were made by former aircraft maker (and now Mitsubishi-owned) Toyo Koki in Gifu. The body kit used for the Turbo II, minus the bulging hood, was adapted for the Cabriolet, although the car was only given the standard-issue 1.2 litre OHC 4-cyl. producing 67hp, as opposed to the Turbo’s 100hp.

A 3-speed auto or, as in our feature car, a 5-speed manual were available. Vinyl upholstery could be ordered, but most Japanese clients preferred the cloth kind that we see here.

Dearer that the Turbo II, the Cabriolet reigned at the apex of the City range, though its extra 100kg weight made it the slowest of the breed. It’s legally a four seater, but the rather straight rear seatback, due to the space needed for the fabric top, coupled with the limited legroom, would make it more of a 2+2 anywhere but on the JDM.

Nevertheless, the appeal of a domestic drop-top was such that the City Cabriolet, only produced for two years, ushered a welcome return of the mass-produced convertible in Japan. According to some Japanese sources, without Honda’s humble City Cabriolet, perhaps Mazda would not have attempted the Miata, and Honda might not have done the Beat or the 2000. Small by size yet huge by influence, our City Cabriolet.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1985 Honda City (FA) Turbo II – Hey Bulldog, by T87

CC Capsule: 1981-86 Honda City – They Grow Up So Fast!, by William Stopford