Though sleds of chrome and Nihon steel will always be at the heart of JCCS, in 2011 organizers began accepting vintage Japanese motorcycles as well. It’s fitting, anyway, as two-wheeled vehicles are still hugely popular in Japan, and is how much of the Japanese motoring industry got its start.
Unlike the US, where personal transport began with the car, most Japanese citizens got their first taste of mobility on two-wheeled vehicles. Many early “cars” were nothing more than bikes with enclosed cabins or pickup beds grafted on. Before cars, Honda and Suzuki were building motorcycles and used that know-how to enter the world of automobiles. This obsession manifests itself with a staggering variety of two-wheelers still prowling the streets of Tokyo today.
Michael Hogan of Vintage Honda Painting brought his 1970 Honda CT70, also known as a Mini Trail 70. The small off-road bike sports a 72cc, four-stroke OHC motor and 3-speed automatic clutch. Its distinguishing characteristic is its unique T-bone frame. Though the largest of Honda’s mini-bikes, it’s still very small and can get smaller with a set of foldable handlebars.
In Japan it was called the Dax, a name that was reused for the 2001 Honda Bulldog Concept, which stowed two e-Daxes in the trunk much like the Honda City and Motocompo (top, end of row) did back in 1981.
According to Hogan, when the 1971 Honda SL70 debuted with a loop frame design, it kickstarted the dirtbike craze in the US. Though many were modified, Michael’s shop restored this important piece of history to all-original spec, in an exquisite Aquarius Blue. It used the same 72cc 4-stroke as the Dax, but is equipped with a 4-speed manual clutch.
Beside it was a 1964 Honda CT200, also belonging to Hogan. CT stands for “Trail Cub,” which should come as no surprise as it’s basically an off-road version of the hugely popular Honda Super Cub. Gone are the wind-deflecting fairing; knobby tires are here instead.
When it debuted in 1968, the Yamaha XS 650‘s advanced horizontally-split crankcase and unit-construction of the engine-transmission was considered by many to be an engineering masterpiece. It also made it a rarity in its class. At launch, the only paint available was green and white. Today, it’s one of the most popular vintage Japanese bikes for modification, and Bob Klemme built his into a modern cafe racer with clever twist on its original colors.
Dick Kartozian’s 1968 Yamaha DT-1 Enduro is a mid-displacement example with 250cc. Scramblers, or road bikes modified for off-road use at the time, were popular but Yamaha was able to create an instant hit with a bike that served that purpose right out of the box. It was the first of its kind and spawned many imitators. Dick also owns a super clean Honda N600.
James Cargill brought a pair of matching Honda CR250M Elsinores, one of which he’s owned new since 1974. The bike was named after the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix, the southern California off-road bike race.
The goal of the bike was lightness at all costs, which meant a chromoly frame with a single-cylinder two-stroke mounted within.The aluminum fuel tank was finished in metallic silver with a green stripe, the only color they came in. And if all that wasn’t cool enough for you, Steve McQueen was a fan.
Honda built a number of trail bikes adapted from street ones. Gary Parker’s SL350, based on the popular CB350, was further customized in “So Cal Style,” which includes modifications like a 362cc race motor, desert bars, alloy rims and race shocks, not to mention a gorgeous white on red paint job.
You may recognize the the original Honda Z50 by its more common name, the Monkey, named so because that’s what the rider looked like while sitting on it. Introduced in 1961 for use in the Tama Tech amusement park and then adopted for light trail use, Soichiro’s original mini-bike is an icon in Japan. Though Tama Tech closed its doors in 2009 the Monkey lives on in the Honda lineup, modernized but still tiny.
Brian Omatsu’s restored 1969 Monkey is as beautiful as they come, and as it happens he’s also the owner of the stock orange Datsun 620 we saw in Part 06.
With the popularity of the Monkey, Honda decided to expand the family with the Ape, which used the same 50cc motor but had a larger frame. Phuong Trac’s 1988 Honda Ape has been fully customized with a custom swingarm, fork, shocks and an engine tuned by Takegawa, one of Japan’s most respected small-displacement bike shops.
A pair of red and chrome Honda CB77s owned by Dick Kartozian and Gerald Prendergast were among the most breathtaking. The 9,000 rpm 305cc Super Hawks were considered Honda’s first sportbike, revolutionizing the motorcycle industry by outperforming many rivals with larger displacements. Some say it was the mold upon which all modern Japanese bikes were built. Though it’s never explicitly mentioned, a CB77 is the bike that serves as the subject of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, who still owns his Super Hawk today.
In the end, Gerald took home the Best Motorcycle award, presented by Motul, with his gorgeous 1966 Honda CB450. The “Black Bomber” was notable for being the first “big twin” bike built by Old Man Soichiro. Its engine, with a roller bearing crank, 36mm constant vacuum carbs and dual overhead cams, was very similar to the same unit powering the Honda N- and Z-Series cars.
Our 2014 JCCS coverage continues, but in case you missed it check out Part 01 — Debut Builds, Part 02 — JDM, Part 03 — The Sixties, Part 04 — Modified Machines, Part 05 — Made in the 80s, Part 06 — Trucks, Vans and Wagons, and Part 07 — Taking Stock.
Photo Editor: Ryan Senensky.