Brian Baker and his 1965 Honda S600 roadster have been through it all.
Baker, who now serves as president for Formula H Motorworks in Middletown, N.Y., avoided a coup when his mom nearly threw him out of the house when he first came home with the car in 1981. The engine didn’t run very well and the body needed work. And so began the merry-go-round of maintenance for Baker’s pride and joy.
Initially the car sat in storage for five years. Then Baker stripped it and did his best on the engine that had been swapped in by the previous owner. Two years into the rebuild, Baker says the car looked great but the engine wouldn’t allow it to “outrun a sloth.” He was able to track down and acquire the original engine for the S600, but managed to ruin the crankshaft while removing a piston from the engine. From there, Baker says it was a hassle just finding the right materials for the job.
“This was before the Internet and email,” Baker says. “I did everything the old-fashioned way, with long-distance phone calls and snail mail. From the time you started and finished, it could be months. Hunting down parts was always a chore. It could be six months between ordering and receiving a part.”
Baker overcame that adversity, but just as he was putting the finishing touches on the ride, he noticed a pool of oil dripping from the car while it was on a lift.
“It turns out I cut an O-ring, which necessitated me to remove the engine and the head from the block,” Baker says. “This destroyed all the new hard lined gaskets. I had to take it apart and put it back together. I was ready to commit hara-kiri at that point. Five gallons of gas and a match, that seemed like a good idea then.”
Baker didn’t baptise his roadster in fire, instead continuing with its restoration. Now, he owns a show-quality S600 that has gained recognition everywhere from the tour circuit to Jay Leno, who purchased the same model of the S600 from a client of Baker’s.
Leno even got the work done on his S600 at Baker’s shop, and the two bonded over their infatuation with the Japanese roadster.
“Thankfully the previous owner gave [Leno] my name and contact information, and he contacted me through an email,” Baker says. “I thought it was a scam at first. My wife convinced me I should call the phone number there and I had a nice conversation with his car guy. Leno called me and just decided he was going to go through stem and stern on the car. It’s about buying a restored car that needs to be restored again. I ended up flying out and rebuilding the engine and doing a bunch of work for them.”
Baker says his S600 is now a summer car, and he only logs a couple hundred miles on it when the weather is nice. It’s mostly reserved for shows, he says, where it not only attracts awards, but ambitious suitors.
“After 33 years, it’s a treasured member of the family,” Baker says of his S600. “People say, ‘Everyone has a price, what’s your price?’ I was at a Honda dealer meeting in D.C. displaying the car. There was a Honda dealer there who had more money than he knew what to do with. He saw the car and says to me, ‘What’s your price, what would you sell it to me for?’ He said whatever you want for the car, I’ll give it to you. I said I can’t do it.
“There is no amount of money that would make me want to part with that car. I didn’t even have to think about it at all. We refer to that car as my third daughter.”