Honda Motorcycles One Man's Vision

Honda Motorcycles One Man's Vision  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

Once people realized they could get around on dirt roads without peddling, the invention of the motorcycle was a given.  Unfortunately early motorcycles left riders pushing and peddling more often than they cared to do. 

Honda motorcycle was the result of one man’s vision, Soichiro Honda.  The technical wizard loved vehicles and in 1946 founded the “Honda Technical Research Center” in a wooden shed in Japan. 

Motorcycles were an idea whose time had almost come.      

The size and rough terrain of the United States in the early-20th century called for a machine to replace the horse that was both tough and dependable.  Harley-Davidson and Indian filled the niche in America as the top manufacturers.  But there was still room for small companies like Honda to move in and capture a piece of the market. 

Honda motorcycle was the result of one man’s vision, Soichiro Honda.  The technical wizard loved vehicles and in 1946 founded the “Honda Technical Research Center” in a wooden shed in Japan. 

Soichiro began making motorcycles by bolting army surplus engines onto bicycle frames.  His first Honda engine, a 50cc two-stroke, actually powered his Model A automobile. 

Even then he was looking to the future and the possibility of a complete machine. 

The market was ripe.  The Japanese were looking for a cheap alternative to trains as they recouped their losses after World War II. 

“There is a Japanese proverb that literally goes 'Raise the sail with your stronger hand,' meaning you must go after the opportunities that arise in life that you are best equipped to do,” Soichiro said.

That’s exactly what he did.  In 1949 Soichiro came up with a crude but successful first bike--the model D, the first Dream.  Soichiro and his 20 employees built a cycle with a 1930s European style pressed-steel frame and a 98cc engine.

Sales were good but Soichiro was upset by the noise, smell and fumes from the two-stroke motorbikes including his own that crowded Japanese city streets.  In response, the company created its first four-stroke motorcycle, the Dream E (146cc).  

In 1958, Honda launched the Super Club C100.  With its big wheels, convenience and reliability it became one of the best-selling motorcycles of all time.  It was a small capacity bike but solid.

The “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” advertising slogan and the decision to sell the motorcycle in America was a huge boost for the company.  Honda moved up in the ranks and eventually went after the big bike market in 1965 with its CB450.  The motorcycle was smooth and comfortable with a top speed of 100mph.

By the 1960s Honda was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.  Its motorcycles were affordably priced, clean, reliable, and fun to ride. 

One of Honda’s biggest successes came in 1969 with the introduction of the CB750.  It was the first mass-produced four-cylinder motorcycle.  It was also the first bike with disc brakes and one of the few big capacity bikes with an electric start.  In 2007, Honda was also the first manufacturer to offer a motorcycle with air bag crash protection.

On Jan. 6, Bonhams featured its Las Vegas Motorcycle and Memorabilia sale held at The Auto Collections at The Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino.  Featured in the auction was a collection of vintage Hondas. 


C110; 1963; non-US model with aero turn signals;  $1,521.

CB750/4; 1972; “No factor in fast, comfortable; safe cycling has been overlooked in making the Four,” said Cycle Magazine;  $3,510.

CB750/5; 1976; clean four-pipe; low mileage, just over 18,000 miles;  $3,744.

CA77 300 (Dream); 1968; clean example of Honda’s touring 305cc Twin;  $3,744.

CB750/4; 1970; second-year edition of blockbuster CB750 Four;  $4,914.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Basketball Legend

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Basketball Legend

Golden Age of Illustration

Golden Age of Illustration