Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You meet the nicest people on a Honda. . .

Today I discovered on The New York Times site an article entitled "For Honda in America, 50 Years of Going Its Own Direction." Boring, I thought, and I almost past it by. But, I have a soft spot in my heart for Honda as I owned the biggest, the meanest of Japanese machines back in the mid '60s - I owned a Honda 305 Super Hawk.

If you owned a Yamaha 250 back then, you are probably choking right now. "Biggest? Meanest? Get real!" Yes, that is what I imagine you are thinking and you'd have a good argument. But this is my story after all, and your bikes, with their powerful two-stroke engines did leave a lingering trail of blue smoke as we listened to the "Bwahhhhhhh" roar of your departure.

To many my Honda was simply the big, very big, brother to those plastic marvels, the Honda 55s. Those were the scooters sold under the slogan, "You meet the nicest people on a Honda."

My best friend had a Honda 55, and he was nice. Me, I wasn't so nice; I bought a Honda 90. It was a motorcycle and not a scooter. It was black, not red. I thought I was a biker and not a . . . , uh, whatever people who rode scooters were called. Whatever the word, I knew it had to be something derogatory. (The little scooter has had the last laugh, it is still in production on four continents.)

The Honda 90 didn't live up to my expectations. After a year we parted company. I was moving up. I ordered a Honda 305 called the Super Hawk. This was a twin cylinder, overhead cam, 33 h.p. monster. It was black.

When it came and we got better acquainted, there were some misgivings. It was, as the NYT's said, ". . . without flashy or distinctive styling," it defined "the leading edge of ordinary." Unlike the Yamaha bikes with their red and cream colour schemes, my bike was dull. I painted the gas tank and chromed the front fender. But a tarted up Honda was not a classy, flashy lady but a just an overly made-up tart.

I had a lot of adventures with my Honda. In the end, we did bond. I actually rode it from Windsor, Ontario, to Daytona Beach, Florida, for spring break in its first year. Like I said, we had some adventures.

But, what I most recall about the Honda company was its attempt to enter the car market with the small 2-seater, 4-cylinder, chain driven, S600 roadster; there was a sedan but I recall only the roadster. Chain driven! I thought of it as a glorified motorcycle - well maybe not glorified.

How Honda, the company that made a chain driven car, grew into the company that we all know and admire today has puzzled me since the '60s. Read the NYT's story and you'll find the answer.

If you don't have time for the NYT's article, let me condense the answer down to this: Soichiro Honda.


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