Honda history and facts
Unlike BMW and Harley-Davidson which increased their profile during World War II by making motorbikes for the military, Honda did not exist until the late 1940s.
As Japan struggled to rebuild following the end of the war, company founder Soichiro Honda (who had previously manufactured piston rings which he supplied to Toyota) turned his attention to inexpensive motorcycles.
With co-founder Takeo Fujisawa, in 1949 in the city of Hamamatsu, Honda introduced his first original designed and engineered two-wheeler - named the ‘Dream’ D-type motorcycle.
Despite the breakthrough that the D-type represented, Honda disliked the noise and fumes from the two-stroke motorbike engine so in 1951 the company launched its first four-stroke motorcycle, the Dream E (146cc).
In 1958 the Super Cub known simply as ‘the Honda 50’ was unveiled. With a 50cc four-stroke engine (hence the name) the Cub remains one of the most popular motorcycles ever built – over the years it has been adapted with 70cc and 90cc motors.
The following year was another momentous one for Honda. Firstly, the company fulfilled its founder’s dream of becoming a serious competitor on the racetrack. Honda entered the famous Isle of Man TT for the first time. The year 1959 also saw Honda establish its first overseas subsidiary of Honda Motor Co, when American Honda Motor Co opened in Los Angeles, California.
With racing still very much a passion for Honda designers, in 1964 Honda produced a six-cylinder 250cc model, the Honda 3RC164. The motorcycle took the racing world by storm and in 1966 and 1967 Mike Hailwood won the 250cc World Championship.
If there were ever any doubts about Honda’s success as a global mass-market motorbike supplier, in 1968 Honda produced its 10 millionth motorcycle. That’s just 19 years after the company’s first motorbike rolled out of its Hamamatsu factory.
At the tail end of the 60s, Honda launched the CB750 – the impact of this bike was enormous as it was the first mass-market motorbike to come with a disc brake.
Honda has continued to innovate over the years – in 1974 Honda produced its first Gold Wing, the GL1000. The Gold Wing was the first Japanese production four-stroke to be water-cooled and one of the first production motorcycles to be fitted with a fuel pump.
Other examples of Honda’s pioneering spirit include a prototype motorcycle powered by a fuel cell in 2004 and air bag crash protection, which Honda introduced in 2007. At that time, it was the first motorbike manufacturer to do so.
Though Honda may not be as conspicuous on the silver screen as Harley-Davidson, it still has its moments. Next time you watch the opening scene of the James Bond film Skyfall, look out for Daniel Craig’s bike as he chases a villain over the rooftops of Istanbul. He is riding a Honda CRF250Rs which is now on display at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, in Hampshire.
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