In ten years of driving, 29-year-old Luke Shipp has averaged two cars a year, so what makes his tiny Honda Acty truck a keeper? He tells Charlotte Vowden.
Lacking in luxury fixtures and fittings, the Honda Acty is a tiny truck that was produced by the Japanese automaker between 1977 and 2021. An unfamiliar sight on UK roads, owner Luke Shipp reveals what it’s like to pilot such a petite head-turner..
“Honda Acty mini trucks were designed for the back streets of Tokyo rather than the motorways of Britain but if you’re a lover of all things Japanese like me then buying one will be the best decision you’ve ever made… until it rains, which it will, because it always does. The wipers, you have been warned, are like a pair of chopsticks having a go at the windscreen.
I sacrificed my previous pride and joy, a BMW M140i, to buy the van, which I found at [a Japanese import specialist] called Ignition Imports. It was just shy of £7,000, some mini trucks sell for £12-13,000, so it was meant to be. It’s a 1992 660cc Street model – the Attack version had a lower ratio gearbox so was more suited to using on farms – and a JDM, which means it was designed just for the Japanese Domestic Market. They did release a Honda Acty in the UK but it was a 1.3 engine with a different spec.
I don’t think anyone could just jump in and be on their way without stalling about ten times; the pedals come straight up out of the floor so your legs hover in the air, you can’t put your heels down to change gear. It’s a workout and takes some getting used to. The steering column placement between your legs means no left foot braking.
Once you’re on the move you don’t notice the lack of power steering and it has the best turning circle I’ve seen on any car, I’m fairly sure I can do a one point turn on most roads, and combined with its tininess and four-wheel drive functionality I can get virtually anywhere. I can knock it into two-wheel drive to do some mad skids but unlike the Suzuki you have to physically get under the van and play about with a couple of bolts to disengage the prop. Inside, it’s got all the mod cons, i.e. air con, and that’s it. The worst realisation I’ve had was visiting McDonalds for my bi-weekly wrap of the day meal and realising I didn’t have a cup holder.
Even though the Honda Acty is a Kei car, which basically means light vehicle over in Japan, [with restricted dimensions and engine capacity of 660cc Kei cars are the smallest highway-legal passenger cars in the country], it’s a pick up so you’ll never struggle to get your shopping in the boot again – although if it’s raining, or when it’s raining, and you’ve got a passenger you’re going to struggle because aside from the footwell, the dash and the glove box there’s not much more storage space.
The truck has a 350kg weight limitation (the Honda Acty weighs 700 kilos and my mates have pranked me by picking it up and moving it) but most people see this as a target to beat. I’ve fitted brackets so I can strap things on the back, which has included a big American fridge that was twice the height of the truck. The truck has also got the aerodynamics of a fridge, but if I’ve got the wind behind me the Acty tops out around 70mph at which point it’ll be drinking fuel, anything above 50 mph and the miles per gallon drops off a cliff because these things weren’t designed to break land speed records.
I’d love to figure out a bit more about the Acty’s past and it would be cool to go to Japan and meet the guy who built it in the first place. There’s a history file that needs to be translated but I do know he lived at a level crossing as a sort of caretaker and I’m guessing he bought the truck because he could drive it between the tracks. As standard, it was white, but he painted and modified it with some little trick bits, like the rear spoiler, and the bluetooth stereo brings it up spec – other than that it’s just a tin box on some nice wheels.
The parts are a nightmare to find and cost a fortune because they have to be ordered from Japan, even basic maintenance items like a timing belt (£180 quid) or filter, so my advice is to stock up. Thankfully, the Acty offers simple motoring so there’s not a lot to go wrong and when it does break, it’ll be super easy to fix – it’s just a case of waiting on parts to arrive. There isn’t a supplier in the UK but a company called Yokohama Motors in Japan are great. Sometimes, instead of replacing OEM units you might as well do a bit of an upgrade. If I ever blow a shock [shock absorber] you’re talking £200 for a single spare so it’s cheaper in the long-run to fit coilovers.
I’m a mechanical fitter in heavy industry which has transferrable skills that I can use on cars, it’s all nuts and bolts and bearings. I encourage the apprentices at work to open things up; you can figure stuff out if you look at it long enough and there’s plenty of things on the internet if you get stuck. If you take something to bits, take a photo of every step with your camera phone then you’ll know how to put it back together.
Since passing my driving test ten years ago, I’ve averaged about two cars a year, and this is my second Japanese import. If you buy an imported car make sure you are dealing with someone who knows what they are doing. If you are going to do it yourself, ideally you need to have someone on the ground for you to inspect the car to prevent nasty surprises. Do your research. It was a guy called Mike Festiva who makes YouTube videos about his JDM truck that inspired me to get a van. I’ve just hit 10,000 subscribers on my own channel and my video on what it’s like living with a Honda Acty is one of my most viewed.
My passion for cars is about trying different things and finding something that makes you feel special (especially if it’s rare) and the van certainly does that. I’m used to people staring and pointing at me but now it’s because no one’s ever seen an Acty mini truck before, I know of about five or six that are the same as mine in the UK.
Every time I’m at a petrol station (even at the dizzying height of 5ft 8 I still have to crouch down to reach the fuel tank when I’m filling up) there’s always someone that wants to have a chat about it. My girlfriend Sally is a teacher and I think she’d gain a lot more respect from the kids at school if she drove it to work; they’d be impressed. Our style, what we wear and where we live, is quite vanilla but the truck is a little bit lairy and it’s nice to have something that shows off that side of our personalities. I shocked quite a few people when I turned up in it for the first time.
The reception it gets is amazing, when I see peoples’ reactions I think yeah I’ve done good with this one. I managed to get the Acty into an event called Sportscars in the park and got a spot in the middle of a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ and a Ferrari Enzo, and people just stood around the van, it was brilliant! I dropped the sides down and sat there chilling at the back with my mates eating pizza.
One of my fondest memories is working on the truck with a friend who has no interest in cars whatsoever. We were laying underneath the car on my drive, with the drive shaft off, it was pouring down with rain, we’d run out of daylight, I was running out of patience and I just looked at him and went ‘what are we doing here?’ and he went ‘I know mate, but we’ll get it fixed.’ He wanted to give us a hand to get it going again because he knows what it means to me and our lass.
It’ll be making an appearance at our wedding this month. Me and my best man might stick a ribbon on it, but I’ll definitely give it a good polish after using it this winter, it’s covered in road salt. In Japan, the north gets super cold but down south, where my Acty is from, is really tropical so even though it’s 31-years-old it’s super clean underneath. If I want to keep using it like I have then I need to seal it properly.
I’ve never had a car that my fiancé has been interested in and we’ve been together for 13 years so the fact she wants to have the van at our wedding seems crazy to me, but I’m more than happy to take it even if people assume it was all my idea. We’ll definitely be getting some photos with it. To most people it’s just a lump of metal, but to us it’s much more than that.”
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