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.
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.
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!