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When Do the Four Designers of This Japanese Wonder Car Say 'Fill 'er Up'? Very Infrequently

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And now, for the economy-minded motorist, the all-new-for-1988 Wonder Car from Japan. Gas consumption will vary, depending on whether you’re talking city or highway, but either way, this car gets an astonishingly frugal 6,000 or so miles per gallon. And that’s no Joe Isuzu hyperbole. At the Shell Mileage Marathon held at the Silver-stone racing circuit in England last June, the three-wheel wonder car got precisely 6,409 miles per gallon.

But don’t expect to see this little baby at your new-car showroom anytime soon. It’s a one-of-a-kind vehicle—and not a very practical one at that. “An engine that can operate on a starvation diet Is almost like a person on a starvation diet,” explains Hiroyuki Ogura, 40, one of the car’s four designers. “It’s too moody and temperamental to be useful. It needs constant care from engineers.”

Luckily that’s what Ogura and his three associates—Masaki Oka, 28, Masanori Umeda, 37, and Toru Hamanaka, 38—happen to be. All four design motorcycle engines for Honda in the city of Suzaka, more than 200 miles from Tokyo. Competing not as Honda employees but as private citizens, they spent four years perfecting their tiny fuel sipper. Countless thousands of hours went into their quest for superhigh mileage. “We became nuts,” says Ogura. “We did all the designing and building in the backyard of a friend who runs an auto shop.”

What they came up with was a 63-pound car built of ultrastrong carbon fiber and powered by a single piston engine the size of a small pumpkin. Averaging a stately 9.3 mph, the wonder car cruised 141 miles on 100 cubic centimeters of gas—barely enough to fill a coffee cup. Aside from their splendid engineering talent, the design team was aided in the British competition by one further factor, the lean and hungry attitude of Oka, their designated driver. “English foods were so terrible,” says Ogura, “that Oka could hardly eat.” Oka weighed just 84 lbs. when he stepped into the gasmiser’s cockpit on the day of the trial.

So far the car has no name, so here’s a suggestion: The Honda Lite—as in “Drives great! Less filling!”