Honda was established in 1948 by Soichiro Honda in a Japan struggling to rebuild after World War Two. Initially, the company made only piston rings before concentrating on inexpensive motorcycles. Today, Honda is the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles, a position it has held since 1959. It is also the second largest automobile manufacturer in Japan and the eighth largest in the world.
The first Honda motorcycle appeared in 1949 and was powered by a two-stroke 98cc engine. When one employee at the Honda factory saw the first one assembled, he is said to have exclaimed, ‘It’s like a dream’, after which the bike became known as the ‘Dream’, although its official name was the Model D.
The two-stroke Model D was successful for the next two years, but Soichiro Honda was dissatisfied with its fumes, smell and noise. So, in 1951 Honda released a cleaner and quieter four-stroke motorcycle known as the Dream E with an engine size of 146cc. This was soon followed in 1952 by Honda’s first motorised bicycle, the Cub F, which was made until 1954.
In 1953, the 90cc, 4-stroke, Benly J was released. The Benly series was a marked improvement on previous Honda bikes and was very popular with amateur racers.
1954 was the first time that Honda announced his intention to create a world-beating racing motorcycle and work began on its design. In 1958, the four-stroke 50cc Super Cub appeared on the market, which would become not only the world’s most popular motorcycle, but also the world’s most popular vehicle of any kind.
Honda first entered the world famous TT race on the Isle of Man in the UK in 1959 and was successful in winning the manufacturer’s trophy in their first season. Success in F1 proved elusive, but Honda went from strength to strength on the motorcycle circuits, winning world championships in several classes.
Soichiro Honda retired in 1973 just before the launch of the classic and innovative GL1000, the first ever Gold Wing. The GL1000 was a huge success and production was moved to Ohio in 1981. 1986 saw the release of another instant classic, the VFR750F “Interceptor”, which was generally considered to be the best road bike in the world for around the next decade or so.
1991 saw the death of Soichiro Honda and this seemed to spur the company on to even greater feats as it produced the CBR900RR sportbike in 1993 and the legendary EXP-2 in 1995. An era of even more success began in 2001 when Valentino Rossi won the final 500cc Championship of the World on a Honda NSR500. The next year, he won the first ever 990cc MotoGP World Championship on the four-stroke, five-cylinder RC211V.
A major landmark was reached in 2006 when the 50,000,000th Super Cub was sold. In 2007, the company introduced the first ever motorcycle with an airbag. The VFR1200F went on sale in 2010 and was the first production bike to feature dual clutch transmission, an innovation that allowed true push-button shifting. Recently, in 2011, the CBR250R was introduced, which was aimed at the beginner-biker market and was powered by a single-cylinder 249cc engine and manufactured entirely in Thailand.