Soichiro Honda is the visionary who strived to bring motor cycles to the masses. He was a racer, a businessman, and a manufacturer. Soichiro Honda founded a small company that sought to make better piston rings. He dreamed of providing people of post World War II Japan, an affordable means of transportation so he made small motorcycles. At the time, public transportation was severely overcrowded and gasoline was rationed. A solution to this problem came when Soichiro came across a job lot of 500 war surplus two-stroke motors designed to power electric generators; nobody wanted them so Honda got them cheap. By October 1946, his small factory was making complete, makeshift motorbikes adapted to run on turpentine, a fuel distilled from pine trees. The first bikes sold out so Honda decided to build his own motors. His new motorcycles gave off a lot of smoke and a stench of turpentine so they were known then as the “Chimney.”
In 1948, at the age of 41, Soichiro Honda started Honda Motor Company, hooking up later with financial whiz Takeo Fujisawa to build a motorcycle empire. The company came up with a two-stroke motorcycle D-type “Dream” that was a better vehicle than the earlier makeshift push bikes. Eventually the motorcycle evolved into a 146cc, OHV four-stroke E-Type Dream capable of 50 mph. By 1951 Honda produced 130 bikes per day.
Over the next years, Honda would make more sophisticated and faster motorcycles, breaking out in 1958 with the C100 Super Cub, a practical and cheap motorcycle anyone could use. Styled like a scooter, it was the first Honda motorcycle sold in the U.S., eventually becoming the world’s best-selling vehicle (30 million bikes to date).
In 1961, Honda surprised the racing world with victories at the Isle of Man. Honda’s dedication to racing paid off by helping them develop groundbreaking production motorcycles. At the Tokyo Motor Show of 1968, Honda unveiled a 750cc bike with four cylinders and a disc brake that was obscenely fast—becoming the first production “superbike,” proving that a high-performance motorcycle could also be a reliable machine.
By the 70’s, Honda sold its first automobile, introduced a cheap moped and a three-wheel off-roader—inventing a whole new vehicle category, the ATV or “All-Terrain Vehicle.”
More technological and design achievements were made in Honda’s motorcycle products—the GL1000 Gold Wing, a touring bike that set the standards of comfort and sophistications. By 1979, Honda put up its first full-scale Japanese production facility on U.S. soil.
In 1982, Honda introduced the first production turbocharged motorcycle—the biggest single leap in the sportbike industry, elevating both technology and performance available in a production motorcycle.
In 1986, Honda pioneered the first Japanese luxury car in the Acura line.
Through the 90s, Honda racked up more motorcycle racing honors and came up with better custom production bikes, making the company both the technological and sales leader in motorcycles and even scooters.