Thanks to all of the time I’ve spent in the moneyed beach enclave called “The Hamptons,” I’ve become fascinated with and longed over the perfect “beach car.” These cars should have removable tops and aren’t technical performers in any way. Some can be driven on the beach itself, while others cruise through idyllic oceanside towns at slow speeds. Of these vehicles, there is a genre of tiny roofless beach cruisers that was initially popularized by the Fiat 500 Jolly and the Mini Moke.
The Fiat Jolly was the first of this type of car to hit the market in 1958. They were few in number, they cost nearly twice as much as the Cinquecento, and they were defined by their wicker straw seats and fringed canopy covering the door-less body. They were manufactured until 1966 in very small numbers.
In the United Kingdom, the Mini Moke was the second vehicle of this type, and it became available starting in 1964. Production of the original Moke continued until 1993, with many more produced than the Fiat Jolly. Originally intended as a light military vehicle, the Moke was not successful in this regard, as the front-wheel drive layout and limited amount of power rendered them unsuitable for duty. But while it wasn’t utilized by the military, the Mini Moke found popularity as a leisure vehicle on Caribbean Islands and in tropical countries with substandard roads.
After World War II, many Japanese citizens were unable to afford a full-size car and, in response, smaller “kei cars” were introduced to the public in 1949. Kei cars originally were limited to 150cc — though, by 1969, displacement was gradually increased to 600cc. Borrowing from the small size, the removable top and the rugged appearance of the popular European beach vehicles, Honda rolled out its own kei version of the beach car in 1970 called the Vamos.
Based on the popular cab-over Honda N360, the Vamos (Spanish for “Let’s go”) was produced in very limited number for a brief 3-year period from 1970 to 1973. Offered in 2- and 4-seater options as a rugged work truck/runabout, it was criticized over its lack of 4-wheel drive, and it was discontinued after only 2,500 units were produced. Because the Vamos shared mechanicals with the N360 and was beholden to that platform, it was eventually discontinued in 1972 after the higher displacement N600 (600cc) began production in 1969. The N600 then became the first Honda car for export to the U.S., where it was the precursor of the immensely popular Honda Civic.
Although the Honda Vamos is incredibly rare today, two models have graced the popular auction site BringaTrailer in recent years. The first was offered in 2014 in “serviceable condition” for a mere $5,000, and a second Vamos from Hong Kong was offered in 2017 at just under $20,000. While you can get a whole lot more car for $20,000, I’m drawn to the Vamos for its rarity and simplicity. It has a mid-mounted, air-cooled 2-cylinder engine — and although it’s a vintage JDM kei car, it shares mechanicals with the N360, its mass-produced sibling, suggesting parts may not be impossible to come by. I, for one, will be keeping my eyes open for the next Vamos to come up for sale, as another chance to own this rare classic kei car may be the last.
Sam Keller is a visual artist from Brooklyn. He runs the Instagram account @hamptonwhipz, capturing classic cars in the Hamptons, New York City and anywhere else his travels take him.