Honda’s behind-the-scenes motorcycle manufacturing doc from 1962 is a must-see

Honda has released an astounding documentary from its early days of motorcycle manufacturing. The 34-minute This is Honda dives deep into Honda’s factories, depicting every step of the production process, from raw steel to finished bike. Arguably the most amazing part is that the film was made in 1962, a year before Honda would even release its first car. The quality is massively impressive, with full color, a soundtrack that belongs in a kaiju movie, and a comprehensiveness that even includes the employee cafeteria.

The film begins a few years prior, at the 1959 Isle of Man TT. Honda had won the Constructor’s Prize at the world’s most prestigious motorcycle race, catapulting a company little known outside of Japan to global stardom. At the time, many Brits looked at the Hondas with curiosity, surprised that Japan could even build a motorcycle. Honda’s success then and in the years after soon made it the top motorcycle builder in the world.

From there, we delve into Honda’s R&D facility, where engineers draft blueprints, conduct materials testing, and analyze engine sounds. There’s even footage of a young Soichiro Honda watching over engineers perform dyno testing. The best part is a sudden cut to a test rider with a telemeter strapped to back of his race bike. The device records acceleration, rotational speed and so on, transmitting the data via radio to a funny little bus with a giant antenna on it.

What was particularly striking was the fact that Honda had a dedicated machine tool manufacturing department. The narrator explains how Honda wanted to create their own specialized machine tools, rather than relying on the same general-purpose machinery that other manufacturers were using. By bringing tool development in-house, Honda was able to design and manufacture specialized machines very quickly and fast-track them to the factory floor.

Speaking of which, the film even shares Honda’s factory floor plans to demonstrate how efficiently it could move raw materials and parts around. It’s mesmerizing to watch powerful presses stamp out a connecting rod in a matter of seconds. There are piston machining jigs with micron accuracy, but parts are randomly taken off the line and examined to ensure they are within spec. Finally, it’s time to assembly all the assorted pieces together into an engine.

Suddenly the lunch whistle blows and all the workers flock into the employee cafeteria, which has its own rotating server dispensing trays of food. Talk about efficiency! A couple of workers get some character development as we get a peek into how they spent their time off. Unsurprisingly, it involves Honda products!

One takes his Trail Cub to go fishing and hunting, sharing some of his spoils with an elderly couple that live in strangely middle America-esque corporate housing. Another worker visits Honda’s Tama Tech, a motorcycle theme park where the Monkey originated as a child’s ride.

Then it’s back to work pressing plastic, welding, plating, and assembling everything into actual bikes. All finished motorcycles are taken to a testing room for evaluation. Randomly chosen examples are also road tested at an average speed of 150 kph. Finally, they’re loaded onto the coolest double-decker Hino transporters we’ve ever seen. Imagine showing up at the track with your Civic Type R in one of these babies. The haulers are then dispatched in perfect Wes Anderson formation, taking the bikes to container ships for distribution across the globe.

It’s an incredible document that we’re grateful has survived 60-plus years. Honda sometimes talks about its “spirit of manufacturing” and it really comes alive in This is Honda. And to think, this was only the beginning.

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3 Responses to Honda’s behind-the-scenes motorcycle manufacturing doc from 1962 is a must-see

  1. Fred Langille says:

    Never mind the (interesting and informative) documentary … I want one of the buses they used!

  2. Tom A. says:

    Also worth mentioning are the fantastic views of Suzuka Circuit from the year of its completion.

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