Falling for kei-van madness: Driving the 1989 Honda Street 4WD in South Carolina

1989 Honda Acty with slammed VW Transporter

With 547 screaming cubic centimeters of all-wheel-drive Honda power!

Last weekend, I worked at the sixth annual Southern Discomfort 24 Hours of LeMons in South Carolina, and for driving around the Carolina Motorsports Park facility I had the use of a 1989 Honda Street 4WD kei van. This is all part of the LeMons Judgemobile tradition — most of the time we get hilarious but not-so-functional or historically interesting yet still terrible vehicles loaned to us by the racers.

Last weekend, however, the Street— which is the luxury passenger-van version of the Acty kei truck— proved to be such an amazingly good vehicle that I’m in a frenzy of research with importers to see about getting a legal-to-import-to-the-USA 1990 or earlier Street 4WD for myself.

1989 Honda Street 4WD

The interior of the Street is weirdly non-cramped, given the fact that this van is roughly the size of a refrigerator laid on its side. Four large adults fit quite comfortably in the seats, and there’s room in the back— with the rear seats folded— for a (short) person to sleep. I didn’t drive it at any speeds above about 25 mph, but the owner tells me that it’s capable of long highway drives, if you’re patient.

1989 Honda Street front seats

The seat materials and interior plastics of the Street will be very familiar to anyone who has driven a Honda Civic made between about 1983 and 1990. Durable stuff with no upscale pretensions. With just under 40,000 miles on the clock, this van is in astonishingly good shape.

1989 Honda Street air-conditioning switch

For those hot days of driving on Hokkaido logging roads in August, the Street has air conditioning. You probably wouldn’t want to use the AC on a long highway drive in America, though, because the wide-open top speed with the AC off is only about 60 mph. Still, it’s impressive that the Street has all the amenities of much larger vehicles.

1989 Honda Street 4WD sliding doors

The rear hatch is huge, essentially the entire rear of the vehicle, and the Street offers sliding doors on both sides. It’s very easy for passengers to enter and exit this van, and the cargo capacity is impressive as well.

This van was imported by Japanese Classics, and it has Virginia license plates and is fully legal to drive on American roads. I’m already looking into getting a Street of my own… although I have to wonder if there’s some way to get a Mitsubishi Minicab Bravo Route 66 instead. So many great kei trucks in Japan, it’s hard to choose! Let’s watch a few ads, shall we?

Here’s an ad for the extremely funky 1984 Mitsubishi Minicab. Obviously a very wise choice for the kei van shopper.

The ’82 Subaru Sambar Try ad featured a bunch of dorky-looking gaijin.

If you prefer your steering wheel on the left side, there’s always the Korean-market Daihatsu Hijet aka Asia Towner.

The Suzuki Carry pickup for ’79 featured adjustable seats and was pitched by a squabbling couple.

The ’77 Hijet ad gets a very catchy jingle and exuberant cheerleaders.

The mid-70s Carry was ideal for hauling stuff around crowded Japanese neighborhoods.

Giugiaro designed the 1969 Carry, and Suzuki celebrated by making this puzzling emu-chased-by-cartoon-Indians ad for their kei van.

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