It isn’t uncommon for OEMs to design their cars from the inside out. Oftentimes, sprawling interiors or oversized engine placeholders are doodled onto drawing boards long before body lines are signed off on, even crafted. Honda, though, just might be the only car company to ever design a hatchback from the inside out because of a wee motorbike.
Tokyo’s inhabitants no doubt appreciated what Honda had hoped to accomplish with its trunk bike, formally identified as Motocompo. The toy-like cycle lends itself well to such cramped metropolises where parking spaces are luxuries and even the smallest of hatchbacks are not immune to traffic jams. Introduced in 1981 to accompany Honda’s just-released City hatchback (precursor to the Fit), the trunk-bike-turned-accessory was as groundbreaking as the three-door, boot-shaped subcompact was. To be sure, the City’s then-revolutionary raised rear roof and panoramic rear window that quite literally defined the word hatchback allowed occupants to sit upright and increased interior space, leaving room for Honda’s motorized, fold-up city bike to fit snugly into its trunk, with room to spare. A fuel miser, an emergency support vehicle, an alternative city commuter--Motocompo wore many hats. One such hat Motocompo wore and is arguably one that Honda hadn’t intended is that of pit bike. Famed Honda specialist and renowned supercharger expert Oscar Jackson of Jackson Racing and KraftWerks notoriety is among the minority elite to lay claim to this rare cycle breed and is who we called upon for this unlikely review.
Not unlike Autobots and Decepticons of the same era, Motocompo folds up tidily, its handlebars and foot pegs tucking nicely into its plastic-bodied, box-shaped physique. Convenient handles allow the average human to hoist the just-90-pound frame into the City’s boot about as easily as you’d expect. Perhaps questionable by present-day safety standards, each of Motocompo’s handlebars features threaded shafts driven by simple twist-knobs that allow each to quickly dismount and stow within the body; no tools necessary. Its foot pegs fold up and submerge themselves within the plastic structure with little effort. Its service manual resides in front of and beneath the lone seat for easy access. Its anti-theft system, consisting of no more than heavy-gauge wire, reveals itself once unclipped and tugged from the body’s front left corner. If nothing else, Motocompo is simple, clever, unique.
Honda’s Motocompo changed little during its three-year production span that ended in 1983. The air-cooled, 49cc, two-stroke engine measures in at just 2.5 hp at 5,000 rpm with nearly 3 lb-ft of torque available at 4,500 rpm yet manages to push its single-speed, automatic gearbox to an unsurprisingly sketchy 30 mph. When not pushed to its limit, though, Motocompos yield other-worldly gas mileage. Sold in red, white, or yellow, and brilliantly yet cornily co-marketed by London ska band Madness in ways that only 1980s Japan could manage, Motocompo buyers not interested in the accompanying subcompact car could switch one on, open its fuel valve, and kick-start their own for about $350.
Honda of Japan conservatively projected it would sell little more than 10,000 Motocompos: 8,000 to accompany said-equipped Cities and another 2,000 destined to be sold separately. Its visionaries couldn’t have been more wrong. By 1983, the once motorcycle company had handily sold more than 53,000 Motocompos.
Perhaps Honda would do well to relive its Motocompo days, retrofitting a modern-day trunk bike to the likes of its Fit, Insight, or even CR-Z; for as far as optional accessories are concerned, a trunk bike’ll beat a pair of floor mats any day.