Unsung Heroes : Honda TN/Acty Van

Mike Humble

One of the very few light commercials to put a broad smile on your face – The Honda Acty van.

The vehicle I have chosen for your delectation this time is for sure one of those ‘when did you last see one of those’ motors in every sense. Most of us I’m sure will give a little smile merely at the mention of the Honda Acty van and many of us may have even rented one from MFI in order to get your purchases home – and no doubt ragged the poor little thing senseless, after all it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it?

Another good reason to raise a mug to the Acty was the fact it was the official mode of transport for Matthew Corbett and Sooty, Sweep and Sue, known as simply ‘The Sootymobile’ (below) and that reason is good enough. In fact, if you ponder long enough, it seems that every time you saw one on the move, it was being thrashed within an inch of its life. With very good reason – owing to the fact your Dad’s Suffolk Punch petrol mower was blessed with more power, torque – and refinement – the truth be told.

Sooty & Sweep explain to Matthew the finer details of their remote control Honda Sootymobile.

Initially offered in the UK in 1977, the Acty van featured a mid mounted twin cylinder water cooled single OHC engine pumping out a heady 28 -YES – 28bhp measuring an almost laughable 545cc. The simple reason for such a small van was due to crippling Japanese taxation laws regarding trucks and commercial vehicles. The Acty met all the requirements as not be classed as a commercial – and besides, there was a huge market for a minuscule van with the emphasis on volume, rather than payload.

Here in England, the Acty van built up a steady loyal customer base that included Florists, Bakeries, Local Councils and mobile caterers, who required nothing more than a nimble, agile van that literally could squeeze through a gap that even a stray cat would fear to tread. It was offered in two basic formats – a simple drop-side pick-up, or a panel van that featured a sliding side loading door. Think the Bedford Rascal was small? Think again – the Acty was so weeny, you could loose it in an empty car park.

The Honda Acty van even sufficed the comedy Palate when it featured as the company vehicle for ‘The Dreamytime Escort Agency’ in the cult classic Mr Jolly Lives Next Door with Rick Mayall and Ade Edmondson behind the wheel. In this brilliant short film, the van is seen mercilessly thrashed, crashed and trashed almost to the point of oblivion. But this is what the Acty was designed for, as Tokyo city driving makes Paris or London look like a Sunday drive in the countryside.

The neat conversion on the ‘Romahome’ Acty van (Image: Tony Swann)

Robust and dependable as a hammer, the Acty ended up simply vanishing from the marketplace. This was partly due to forthcoming safety laws, but also because of the fact that more driver-friendly vehicles, which didn’t sound like an amplified bumble bee in a jam jar, were now established on the market. All its rivals, such the Bedford Rascal and Suzuki Super Carry offered a compact size like the Honda, but with vastly superior performance and payload potential. And a hard day behind the wheel in them lessened the risk of  the driver committing Hari Kari.

For those who liked compact and bijou accommodation, the Acty could even be bought as a mobile camper. Notable builder ‘Romahome’ was famed for producing motorhomes based on the most unlikely of vehicles such as the Morris Marina van and the Citroen C15, also made a natty Acty conversion (above).

But I miss these tiny little buzz boxes with their engine note akin to trapped Lego brick stuck up the hoover. So Imagine my surprise to see one today in leafy Horsham – and my equal disappointment to find an elderly man behind the wheel, and not Sooty!

Mike Humble


  1. These vans were pure comedy. When I was growing up, a neighbour had the Sootyvan style cube van version, and it was laughably slow. I think I could out drag it on my Grifter. He seemed to treat it like absolute crap, but it never, ever seemed to let him down

  2. One of its spiritual successors is the DFSK – another Chinese brand now in the UK. http://www.dfskuk.com/. A local milkman (now there’s a dying breed) has one. Just waiting for some owner to replace the his DFSK badge with a BMW one…

    Reminds me also of the Honda N360 – could have been my first car until the seller told me its maximum speed was 40mph… There’s a nice beige one dumped at a local country garage parked behind a couple of Mark 1 Fiestas and going nowhere at all…

  3. Made more sense as an urban van than the French equivalent, the 2CV van and marginally more upmarket Dyane van. Both had similar power output but took up much more space on the road. And vastly more spacious than our own Mini van.

    For poor rural roads (for which France was then known for) the Citroen would have been a far better choice.

    Never been in an Acty, but I’ve been a passenger in a Rascal, and for a six-footer, its really not a comfortable place to be. That said, I knew a couple of guys with an estate agency sign erection business who used an Acty, and they were both big blokes.

  4. The DFSK looks like a re-nosed Suzuki Carry van. I’m surprised BMW UK hasn’t said something about that nose

    • Allegedly the new Honda Acty is still 660cc but it has a 3 cylinder 12 valve engine with a turbo. Power is almost 50 HP instead of 28. just what a Romahome needs! The problem is the cost. Presumably the brakes will be better as well. Daihatsu Hijets have disc brakes and bigger wheels but possibly the Suzuki Supercarry or a non-Kei clone is the one to have as these have 1300cc and 16 valves (a true Kei is 660 cc maximum) As to the Piaggio Porter Diesels, the pump-duse Lombardini engines are so complicated that most mechanics will run a mile.(pump -duse means unit injectors in the cylinder head and getting an equal fuel delivery is a nightmare as a motorised lathe-type flow-bench with burettes is needed. Once the fuel deliveries have been equalised the cylinder head can be refitted to the engine, duh! A diesel engine with the ubiquitous Bosch VE injection pump is the one to have.

  5. Other sreen appearance was in Mr Jolly Lives Next Door (1984) – a Comic strip film with Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson and Peter Cook. The Van went backwards all the way from Nicholas Parsons house to Hemi Hendersons Off-Licence “faster, faster, faster, faster”!! a Classic

  6. Beyond the Mini Traveller / Countryman, Minivan and Mini Pick-up, has BL ever looked into building something akin to an Acty or Rascal?

    The closest any Western Carmaker has got to building Microvans like the Acty appears to be the Fiat 850 Familiare / Kombi or Suzuki Supercarrys being rebadged as Beford Rascals.

  7. I recall the Axty a problem with bearings, the bearing would work loose and turn within the casting, wearing away the casting

  8. When I was an apprentice a local plumber that we used to do some work for had 3 Honda acty’s, and had them for years.
    And at the same time I started to drive and my father had from new in 1984 another long forgotten mini van, the daihatsu 850 cab. My first ever time behind the wheel was in that van an experience I will never forget.
    The daihatsu 850 was available in low roof and high top all mated to a 3 cylinder 850 engine as was fitted to the charade.
    My father has stayed with the mini vans and owns a 2002 suzuki supercarry with only 40000 miles and is almost mint

  9. My youngest son bought a Charade 3 cylinder thingy when he first got a licence. Although we were a family of car nuts with yanky’s, kit cars, classics and sports cars being worked on relentlessly 24/7 (according to the neighbours) we never had the enthusiasm or drive to help him use 16 pounds of filler in the bonnet and get the thing on the road!
    I’m sure somebody loves ’em though – just like the Actyvan.

  10. Not quite a Honda Acty, but I was once towed 2 miles behind a Bedford Rascal – now that’s terror!!!

  11. I never drove one of these but I did drive one of the Diahatsu competitors in the late 80s in my first job.

    These little things were almost unbeatable up to 30mph when they seemed to reach maximum speed.

    Stability was also an issue – especially with a canvas back – a gentle breeze would blow the thing around like a struggling yacht.

    Great fun when 18 but now – I think I’ll stick with the Jaguar Estate

  12. I drove a Rascal a couple of times – we had a battered old one at a company I worked for. How it kept an MOT was beyond me – you could see the road rushing past below the hole in the footwell, the steering had more play in it than the complete works of Shakespeare, it was slow, cramped, vibrated your teeth out, was noisy and had a ride like being chucked down a hill on a tea=tray. I loved it! We used to call it the Sootymobile as well!

  13. Google ‘Hanbury Turn’ (near Bromsgrove) on Google Maps – you will see the pub called the Hanbury Turn, and three houses down, a shop with four Suzuki tinyvans parked outside – one even has an fridge unit on top. I presume the shop sticks with this little fleet because they are the only vans that can be slotted into their tiny parking area. They’ve had them for years, always raises a smile when I drive past.

  14. My dad had a 1984 Honda Acty with the Romahome conversion on it. I think the engine was one half of a Gold Wing. The underbody at the front had a tendency to dissolve into rust and it required frequent attention with a mig welder to stop the front parting company with the floor pan I did not drive it much, but the brakes nearly gave you a heart attack. A tiny little brake pedal and no servo and quite a lot of weight with the camper van body on the back ! The engine was fitted underneath the body and the air intake was very low down which made it less than ideal for going through floods as my dad found out to his cost when he bent both con rods. It is interesting to see the image from Tony Swann (the Acty expert) We took my dad’s Acty to him to have the engine rebuilt. It came back with an oil leak and it would not tick over and Tony refused to fix it !

  15. A friend had a pick up. He took the pick up body off, for some reason. He had to perform an emergency stop. It tipped right up, with the cab front on the road!

    • This is why Bedford Rascal pickups had a lump of concrete fitted to the back of the chassis. Some bright spark in Purchasing decided to delete this component, the engineers had to educate him. Land Rover Forward Controls could also perform this party trick.

  16. Typical Japanese van, though, as well equipped as a car, which proved it stole a march on the very basic European vans of the time. A local builder used an Acty for ten years and it never let him down.

  17. the rascal pickup had a 38pound wieght over the back axel to help stop the truck flipping over in a emergency stop ,the van had more wieght ,,the Acty neeeded oil changes at 3500 miles

  18. The thing is, this van has character by the bucketload. And you could treat it like crap, and it wouldn’t complain.

  19. When I had the ZX, I worked in a petrol station where the local laundry business was a regular with their Suzuki Carry.

    One day, was pottering down to Anstruther, this white streak comes blazing past, the Suzuki at full warp!

    He said that that little van could really fly. Not sure if they made any modifications to it.

  20. The Suzuki Super carry van in its various iterations has been the mainstay of driving instructors here in Barbados for the 30+ years they’ve been offered in this market. They always feel ready to tip over, but once you have driven one without flipping it, you can pretty much handle anything!

  21. A family friend in the 80s repainted his Rascal in the style of a certan grey & black GMC van, anp painted the wheels red. Bloody nutter he was

  22. My neighbour had one in the 80’s – a pick up which he used in the building trade. All I can remember was that it rusted away in the car park that use to side onto his house.

  23. That nasty Dungfling Chinese thing is never worth £7700, it’ll be broken and worthless in less than 6 months. I;d give you £1500 for one new but no more…

  24. The TN Acty’s predecessor was the mad T360, Honda’s first four wheeler, and effectively a S360/500 with a pick-up body, even unto the tiny twin-cam four cylinder engine and chain final drive.

    First four wheeler in August 1963. In just under 50 years the firm’s made fair progress.

    Pity it all got a bit dull after 5th August 1991…

  25. @ Chris #2: Back in the 80s, a relative of mine used an N360 to get to work and back. One Christmas the wife and kids (my second cousins) piled into the family car and came to stay with us while he laboured a few extra days at work. When the time came to join everybody else, he got in the N360 and drove it from New Plymouth to Whangarei (if you’re not familiar with the map of New Zealand, take a look!). God alone knows what madness came over the man, but he completed the return trip without a hitch.

  26. How can they justify £7700 ?

    You could get a European Sandero for 6k, take out the rear seats and tint the back windows for less.

  27. £8K+VAT gets you a delivery miles pre-reg diesel Doblo or Partner. Even if you don’t need the space, the passive safety features are compelling.

    I can’t find DFSK on the SMMT’s monthly LCV sales charts. Possibly under “Other Imports”

  28. Some Actys were built as ice cream vans – there was one that had a giant ‘Uncle Sam’ head grafted onto the back end!!

  29. We had a Suzuki ‘half-loaf’, as they were called in South Africa , as a works repair van in the late 90’s. Great fun to drive and even better when the engine blew and we had a 1200cc engine from the Suzuki 4×4 fitted.

    I had thought that all these derivitives i.e. Honda,Diahatsu, Bedford,Suzuki were all the same bodyshell. Are we sure they are not?

  30. Similar ideas, different vans. The Suzuki Carry and Bedford Rascal were the same, GM badge engineering at work.

  31. I seem to remember there being an Acty being driven around Cheltenham in the ’80s with a giant wind-up toy key grafted to the roof, and the word ‘Tonka’ across the front of the cab…

  32. I have an Acty Pick up, 1985 in my garage, in West London, and need to get rid of it. Any one interested in buying it for spares or restoration? Ben

  33. I had loads of the honda actys pick up & vans stretching from mid 80s until up to a couple of years ago. My dad and me had them for private milk rounds in Bristol. Have worked on them over the years from simple jobs to complete engine rebuilds. It’s fair to say I know my way round a honda acty. I imported a honda acty from japan a few years ago cost me loads but was unique

    • what are the basic tools to keep in a honda acty van? i need an owner’s manual for the acty, where can i download 1

      • Allegedly the TN550 engine was adapted from the CB450 motorbike. The trouble is that in the UK the motorway speed limit is in effect 80 mph as most Chief Constables allow 10% plus 2 mph so one can drive at 79 mph all the time on motorways! One also NEEDS a vehicle that can cruise at least as fast as the HGVs as if one’s vehicle cannot do this the HGVs will be “frog-hopping” in and out all the time. Take Care!

  34. The original Honda in the UK was the air cooled predecessor to the Acty, the TN-7 in the mid 1970s.
    Our local milkman had the 360cc version (they also came in 600cc version). I loved the vertical stacked twin headlamps.
    There were loads on Britain’s roads but they didn’t seem to last long.
    I think the Acty replaced them about 1979.

  35. The original Honda van in the UK was the air cooled predecessor to the Acty, the TN-7 in the mid 1970s.
    Our local milkman had the 360cc version (they also came in 600cc version). I loved the vertical stacked twin headlamps.
    There were loads on Britain’s roads but they didn’t seem to last long.
    I think the Acty replaced them about 1979.

  36. the ones they make today have 100cc bigger engines ,small bonnet and longer wheel base to give better crash protection.

  37. I just got myself ones of these 1985 vintage with a Romahome on the back.
    got it with faulty brakes and blowing exhaust ops!

    so after a 50 mile drive home had the brakes apart only to find the brake linings desintergrated so new brake shoes and all is good again (as long as you don’t want to stop in a hurry.

    The exhaust you can’t get anymore so spent a day welding the one that was on there plugging up any gaps and putting a new flexi bit in.

    Cool I thought but the first time I drive it to work the exhaust split at the joint to the flexi pipe so more welding to do next week but bodged it with a bean can and exhaust clamps.

    so to yesterday decided first camping outing off to Surry for the night got there no problem and the camper worked quite well the bed is HUGE! over 6 foot long and about 5 foot across. The cooker wrked but there is a smell of gas which needs to be looked into.

    Then off to Sidcup to pick up another (new) toy a 1965 Moped this was a bit more of a problem as it decided to shread the alternator belt so the thing started to overheat. But thanks to a very nice man for the RAC who came and had a belt that fitted we were soon on our way again and thanks to the Satnav went for a mistery tour of London until we made it home to Reading.

    So What can I say about the van?

    It’s Great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    It’s Small (I’m 6 Foot) and need to start it with the door open otherwise I can’t reach the key.
    No Radio as the size used in the van is non standard and without doing some major mods or hanging one under the glove box. But Dr Dra Pill and PM£ player came to the rescue.
    It’s Slow but did manage to hit 60 at one point down hill with the wind behind me.

    So some more maintenance is needed but we’ll be ready for some fun this summer

    So thats 1 more on the road was SORN whe I got it.

  38. IF you’ve never owned a ACTY you’ve never lived!
    I have 1987 PANEL 130000 on the clock, same engine, started a bedcentre the” little” van could deliver two single beds or one double (mattress on top)
    I fitted a tow bar for trailer collected bunk beds from suppliers ,full load around seven sets of double bunks and two double three single pine beds motorway speed around 40/45! NO PROBLEM!
    IT had the edge on RASCAL & CARRY because it did’t have wheel arches!

    • Sweet. I imported a 1997 acty van this month from japan. Please tell me the secret to keep it longer. Especially on the African roads. I love it. I have been driving it for 1 week now

  39. i have acty pick up trucks for 25 years now, most reliable little moters ever, great to drive in city or countryside, nice smooth gears, i also had a rascal and a suzuki, hated them, trouble is they are very hard to find now, i’m always looking, so if anyone is selling????

    • I have been owning a 1997 acty van for 5 days here. I am happy to read your inspirational words about 25 years of ownership. I hope to own mine for longer.

  40. Hello to all on this site. Just purchased a HONDA ACTY REG: C215BJT. any info would be brilliant. Driving it with a great big smile lol. Thanks. Phil

  41. I passed my test in my dads in November 1981 – wrote it off January 1982. (It did actually get repaired). Then while out in it one night the oil drain plug somehow disappeared and the engine did not react well with no oil, oops.
    It stood on drive for a year or two, then some guy bought it for a hundred pounds.

    We also had a TN7 pick up before that. (Wow)

  42. Passed my test in my dads 1980 acty van, Nov 81 – wrote it off Jan 82, oops. (My 1st endorsement)

    It was actually repaired, then a while later when I was driving it the engine sounded ‘a bit rough’ . Ended up pushing it home. The oil drain plug had mysteriously dissappeared and it did not react well to no oil in engine.

    It stood on the drive for a year or so until some lunatic bought it for £100 and that was that.

    We also had a TN7 pick up, my dad let me drive it round the block a few time when I was just 15! We rebuilt the 360 engine completely. Eventually it sat in the garden and I used it for target practice with my air rifle (sorry). It too was taken away for scrap. Very sad, if I’d known now etc etc…….

  43. Alex Moulton had one, used at Bradford-on-Avon as a transporter for those exquisite AM space-frame bicycles

  44. I told my mother that one of these Japanese minivans would be a great shopping car – lots of room for shopping, dead easy to park, easy to see cross traffic at T junctions. She said no, I’m not buying Japanese. Things have changed in the last 40 years, thank goodness.

  45. Thought the later 3-cylinder engine used in the Honda TN/Acty was technically capable of being enlarged to about 1-litres by way of the 995cc ECA1 used in the Honda Insight, which would have put it on par with the 970cc Bedford Rascal and Suzuki Super Carry or was 995cc ECA1 engine otherwise unrelated to the 547-656cc Kei Car sized engines?

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