When was Honda founded?

The Honda story

"From moped hobbyist to multi-world champion"

After the Second World War, Japan developed into
leading industrial nation. Made a sensational career
Soichiro Honda. His "backyard garage" became
the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer.

Text: Winni Scheibe
Photos: Winni Scheibe, Archive Honda

Whoever speaks of "milestones" means Hondas. Soichiro Honda has revolutionized motorcycle technology with clever ideas and conquered the world market with clever instinct. It all started very modestly. In 1946 he proudly called his "one-man operation" the "Honda Technical Research Institute". The trades took place in a tiny wooden barracks. Here the 40-year-old company founder mounted small 50 cc two-stroke engines on bicycles. The business was worth it, in the devastated post-war Japan, motorized vehicles were urgently needed everywhere.

Soichiro Honda
(Photo: Archive Honda)

Soichiro Honda, born in Komyo in 1906, completed his automotive mechanic apprenticeship in Tokyo. After completing his training, he went into business for himself in his hometown of Hamamatsu in 1928. First of all, whatever came into the workshop was repaired. However, after a serious car racing accident, Soichiro Honda had to think about his future career. After recovering, he attended technical college for two years and then began to manufacture piston rings. It wasn't long before he was the piston ring specialist in Japan. Shortly before the end of the war, his company was badly damaged by US bombs, barely recovered from the shock, and in early 1945 a severe earthquake destroyed the remains.

First Honda "motor bike" from 1946
(Photo: Archive Honda)

Soichiro Honda had backed the right horse in 1946, and his company was soon at the top of the competition among more than 100 moped and motorcycle manufacturers in the island kingdom. The "Honda Motor Company" was founded with his partner Takeo Fujisawa in September 1948, and in 1950 almost half of all motorcycles built in the country bore the Honda logo on the tank. In the early 1950s, the agile company boss went on a business trip and bought state-of-the-art manufacturing machines in the USA and Europe for over one million US dollars. At the same time, he also visited the major vehicle manufacturers. Honda-san (san, Japanese gentleman) was particularly impressed by the NSU plant in Neckarsulm and the high-speed four-stroke racing engines of the world's largest two-wheeler manufacturer at the time.
It didn't take long for the excursion to bear fruit. At the end of 1951, Honda launched its first 150cc four-stroke motorcycle, which, however, was very reminiscent of well-known machines from Germany. The next 250cc and 350cc single-cylinder motorcycles were also very similar to the German Horex Regina.

Prototype Z├╝ndapp: Honda Type E from 1952
(Photo: Archive Honda)

Prototype Horex: Honda 250 Dream 1956
(Photo: Archive Honda)

But soon there was no longer any question of "copying" at Honda. The 250 Dream C70 from 1957 was a 100 percent in-house development. The OHC twin developed 18 hp, and this design would pioneer many other Honda models. But that was just the beginning. The next highlight in 1960 was the 24 hp 250 Dream CB 72 Super Sports, and in 1965 came the Dream CB 450. The 43 hp 450 DOHC twin had it all. The "Black Bomber" easily achieved 180 things. Only machines in the premier class over 500 cubic meters achieved such performance at that time.

"Black Bomber": Dream CB450 from 1965

Million thing: Super Cub from 1958
(Photo: Archive Honda)

But it was to get a lot better. But first a short introduction. Before Honda became known worldwide, the big business was with mopeds. The best seller was the Super Cub. In 1958 the four-stroke fifty-year-old came on the market and since then around 35 million (!) Cubs have left the factory. And with this 50 cc "hopper" of all things, the agile company boss began to conquer the world market in 1959! In that year Honda founded a factory in Los Angeles / USA. With an advertising campaign costing around two million dollars, the land of opportunity was conquered. The advertising slogan "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" went down in history.

Milestone in motorcycle history: Honda CB750 Four

The next prank also became history. At the end of 1968 the factory presented the CB 750 Four. It was the world's first large-scale four-cylinder machine, and with this bike, Honda wanted to finally conquer the motorcycle market. Honda had enough experience with mass production, and by 1968 more than 10 million (!) Machines had been built. But the know-how was also right. After all, the company boss could look back on a total of 16 world championship titles in the four solo classes, 50 cc, 125 cc, 250 cc and 350 cc. His racing machines were technical works of art. In the 50 cc class, a two-cylinder racer with two overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, nine gears and 14 hp at 21,500 rpm was launched. In the 125 cc, Honda used a DOHC five-cylinder four-stroke engine with 34 hp at 20,500 rpm, and in the 250 and 350 World Championships it was DOHC six-cylinder engines with 60 and 70 hp, respectively. In the premier class up to 500 ccm, Honda relied on a DOHC four-cylinder unit. However, without winning the coveted 500 World Championship title, the plant withdrew from GP racing at the end of 1967. It wasn't until 1983 that Freddie Spencer won the 500 title on the three-cylinder two-stroke works machine NS 500. If you were to list all the titles that Honda works riders have to this day in the off-road sector, in endurance sport in the Superbike World Championship and in road racing Having won the World Cup, it would be easy to fill a thick book. Racing was and is for Honda the best advertising medium.

But back to the CB 750 Four. Soichiro Honda actually achieved their breakthrough with this bike. But not only that. At the beginning of the 1970s, the motorcycle market experienced an unexpected boom around the world. The CB750 Four became a bestseller, and by 1978 over a million machines rolled off the assembly line! For years it was top of the class, today it is a cult bike. The "Four" was Honda's first major "milestone" and many more were to follow. Off-roads, superbikes and touring machines, bikes that can be used comfortably and reliably to the end of the world.
When the first Japanese motorcycles appeared in our country, they were labeled as cheap, mass-produced goods, and when the Japanese set out to conquer the world market, people spoke of the "yellow danger". Today it is hard to imagine life here and elsewhere without the Japanese offering. It is impossible to imagine what would have become of the motorcycle market if Soichiro Honda had not existed. The tireless designer and company founder died in August 1991.

His legacy is in good hands. There are now 89 branches in 32 countries around the world, 20 of which are in Europe alone. Honda produces around 4.2 million motorcycles annually, of the legendary "Cub", a good 35 million mopeds have rolled off the assembly line since 1958. Neither the Ford T-Model nor the legendary VW Beetle managed that. In racing, Honda has broken all records with over 500 GP victories and the company's history is also honored with all its success. The Honda Museum in Motegi offers a gigantic world of experience. Almost everything that Honda has built in the company's 50-year history can be seen in the three-story exhibition building. A better place that brings "yesterday" and "today" so close together can hardly be imagined:
"You meet the nicest people in the Honda Collection Hall"