Honda – It Ain’t A Dream Without Everyone Being A Part Of It

Our childhood and to be very honest our entire history thrives on the classic rags-to-riches stories of exceptional individuals rocket to the top of the world based on seemingly nothing but a dream. “The power of dreams” Honda calls it. Once a century, a visionary is born who actually see’s technology for what its worth, understanding the true definition of a machine – Anything that performs or assists in the performance of a human task in turn reducing the amount of human effort required to complete the particular task. What people tend to forget is that the aforementioned humans aren’t a group of select individuals but humanity in general. This is the cornerstone on which one of the most revolutionary automotive empires was founded.


Soichiro Honda was born on November 17, 1906, in Komyo Village, Iwata County, Shizuoka Prefecture, as the eldest son of Gihei Honda and his wife Mika. Gihei was a skilled and honest blacksmith and Mika an accomplished weaver. As a toddler Honda was fascinated by the first ever car he saw and would later in his life often say that he would never forget the smell of oil it would give off. When he was about to leave higher elementary school, Soichiro Honda saw an advertisement for Tokyo Art Shokai, an automobile servicing company, in a magazine called Bicycle World (Ringyo no sekai). The ad itself was not for bicycles but for “Manufacture and Repair of Automobiles, Motorcycles and Gasoline Engines”. Even though it wasn’t a recruitment ad Honda hopefully wrote a letter stating his will to work there, receiving positive reply.

Enthusiasm for hard work, a quick appreciation of the need to improvise, thinking for oneself, the ability to come up with a wealth of new ideas, a good feel for machines. The owner of Art Shokai, Yuzo Sakakibara, soon spotted the young man’s star qualities and began to take notice of him. Soichiro Honda, too, learned from his boss, not just how to do repairing work but how to deal with customers and the importance of taking pride in one’s technical ability. Sakakibara was the ideal teacher, both as engineer and as businessman. As well as understanding repair work he was also skilled in more complicated processes such as the manufacturing of pistons. Whenever Honda was asked who he respected the most, he would always mention his old boss Yuzo Sakakibara.

The Second World War left Honda’s birthplace struggling for basic human necessities and resulted in an acute shortage of gasoline and an overcrowded public transport system. One day in September 1946, Mr. Honda visited the home of a friend, Kenzaburo Inukai. There, by chance, he came upon a small engine. He had come to know Mr. Inukai through automobile repair work he did when he was running the Hamamatsu branch of Art Shokai and Mr. Inukai was running a taxi company. Mr. Inukai happened to have a generator engine designed for a No. 6 wireless radio from the former Imperial Army that an acquaintance had left with him. When Mr. Honda saw it, he was immediately inspired with an idea. It was a moment of destiny. This encounter determined his whole future direction, and it was from this decisive moment that the later Honda Motor Co. would be born.
Honda-A-type“Lets use this to power a bicycle”, were the words that changed the automotive universe forever. This 1/2 horsepower, 2-stroke 50 cc modified engine that represented the beginning for Honda Motor Co. was among the first of such products to appear.Mr. Honda immediately set to work on a prototype. It was at this time that he took a Japanese-style hot water bottle that he found in his house and used it as the fuel tank. The initial prototype had the engine attached to the bicycle forward of the handlebars and applied driving power by means of a rubber friction roller pressed against the side of the front wheel. This concept was very similar to that of the Vero Solex, a best-selling moped in France. However, this method quickly wore down the poor-quality tires of the time from the friction, resulting in frequent blowouts. The driveability was also poor, and this method was quickly abandoned. Instead, he recast his idea in a conventional engine layout with a V belt driving the rear wheel.  “In the late summer of 1946, a small, barrack-like building was erected amid the bending clumps of plumed pampas grass in the burned-out open plot at No. 30, Yamashita-cho, Hamamatsu City. Inside was an old belt-driven lathe, and outside were about ten machine tools in a row. At the entrance, a signboard proclaiming the Honda Technical Research Institute was hung. The president and twelve or thirteen employees were hard at work.” This is the text that appeared in the opening passage of a Honda Motor Company history published for the seventh anniversary of the founding.

But that was not enough. Mr. Honda wasn’t satisfied with the use of a readymade engine, he wanted to engineer and invent the future of his company. The first of their prototype engines was the legendary “chimney” engine. President Honda thought up a thoroughly unique concept for a new engine, and showed it to Kawashima by “drawing it on the shop floor.” Crouching down and sketching out conceptual drawings on the floor was an unchanging habit throughout his life. With the chimney engine development suspended, Honda had to hasten the work of coming up with the next plan. This turned out to be the Honda company’s first original product to be sold on the market, the Honda A-Type. Compared to the radically innovative chimney design, this appeared to be a rather orthodox 2-stroke engine. However, as Kawashima explains:

“The intake assembly didn’t use the piston valves you saw elsewhere. Instead, it had rotary disk valves attached to the side of the crankcase. Therefore the carburetor was also attached to the crankcase rather than next to the cylinder. At this time, this was revolutionary. I thought the Old Man was incredible to come up with an idea like that.” Furthermore, the manually-operated belt transmission mechanism that also was used for the clutch was patented. This was just one of the ways in which this product showed itself as a true Honda Motor Co. product. The A-Type engine has not attracted much attention for anything other than its distinction in being the first Honda product. However, looking at it from another angle, it was this A-Type engine that suddenly brought out the extraordinary characteristics of Honda Motor Co.
Honda-D-typeOn September 24th, 1948 he company was incorporated and the Honda Motor Co. was founded. The cumulative total of the motorcycles produced by Honda passed the hundred million mark in October 1997. This is counting from the very first motorcycle Honda made, the D-Type which debuted in August 1949. It was named the Dream, a name that seemed to symbolize Honda itself, and this machine was the embodiment of the company’s dream of becoming a motorcycle manufacturer. It is no longer known who gave the D-Type this name. Years later, President Honda said, “I can’t remember. I was always talking about how Honda would become a world-class manufacturer, which was like a dream. So somebody probably just started calling it that.” “I think the Old Man was really happy about it. After all, it was a real motorcycle,” said Kawashima. Kawashima was in charge of drafting engineering drawings for the D-Type engine, as well. The D-Type was an offshoot of the C-Type, but it no longer had the look of a bike with an auxiliary engine. The design had evolved into something appropriate for a motorcycle. The D-Type assembly line also used a powered belt conveyor. This was an original company design.

In January 1954, HONDA’s Juno K-Type made its debut. This was the most advanced scooter so far, making the most of many innovations in its mechanism. At that time the scooter industry was dominated by Fuji Heavy Industries with its Rabbit and Shin Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with its Silver Pigeon, which had a major market separate from motorcycles and auxiliary engines for bicycles.

Into that market, a fully prepared Honda placed its Juno K-Type. This product was packed with new features not seen in the scooters offered by the rival manufacturers it was going up against. It had the world’s first self-starter on a two-wheeled vehicle and a large, all-weather windscreen which was further equipped with turn-signal lights, another first. It was practically the scooter version of an automobile. An especially original feature was its FRP body panels. FRP is a plastic reinforced with polyester and glass fiber, and at that time it was a brand-new material. The first vehicle to use it had been the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette, of which only about three hundred were produced, and mass-production techniques using this material were still under development, even in the United States.

Honda Enters Into The Isle Of Man TT

Honda-Isle-Of-ManAround the time Honda launched its first scooter they entered the Dream E- Type into the international motorcycle race commemorating São Paulo’s fourth centennial. It was time to prepare their machine for the race, but they had almost no information. All they knew was that the 125 cc class would take eight laps around a course 8 km long. They shortened the stroke on a 150 cc Dream E-Type to make it 125 cc, and since the three-speed transmission was still so new, they stayed with the reliable two-speed. The frame was a special pipe job. The result was more like a dirt track racer than a road racing machine.  “We went to the Old Man’s house to pay our respects the day before we left. He told us, ‘Don’t expect to win. But do finish the race, whatever it takes. That’s all I ask.’ I figured that winning would be a problem, sure, but finishing the race seemed like a pretty tall order, too,” Omura recalled, laughing. There was no time to ship the machine by sea, but air freight was prohibitively expensive. The drastic method they used in the end was to take the two motorcycles apart and carry the pieces in their luggage. Omura finished the race thirteenth out of the 25 entries in the competition and Honda had officially arrived in the motorsports arena. The Declaration of Entry in the Isle of Man TT Race was made public on March 20, 1954. However a sudden change in fortunes saw serious marketing and technical problems appear in all the Honda models simultaneously and hence the impending trip to Europe had to be cancelled. Kiyoshi Kawashima was put in charge of the great project of entering the Isle of Man TT competition.  “When that declaration was made, I was wondering who would handle such a huge job,” he said. “Then, it was given to me. Around that time, there were a lot of engineers who were in their thirties and forties, but the company went ahead and gave the job to a bunch of young guys instead. I wasn’t thirty yet. We were all in our twenties. Although we were given a lot of responsibility, we were so young that it didn’t scare us.” In 1958 Honda bikes finally appeared on the Isle Of Man TT.

In 1958 Honda bikes finally appeared on the Isle Of Man TT and won the constructor’s prize. In 1961 Honda stunned the world with “Mike the Bike” ‘s twin victories at the Isle of Man TT and the world was never the same again.

The American Honda Motor Company :

Honda-AmericanAs Kiyoshi Kawashima returned to Japan from the first challenge for the Isle of Man TT Races, another challenger departed from the country, as though they were trading places. This was Kihachiro Kawashima, who left Japan on June 10, 1959. He was going to establish Honda’s first overseas base, American Honda Motor Co.

“We have now established ourselves on solid ground domestically,” said Senior Managing Director Takeo Fujisawa. “Eventually, we’ll have to aim to be number one worldwide. So, with that in mind, why don’t you go check out the overseas market?” The order had thus been given, and Kihachiro Kawashima, then manager of the Sales Section at headquarters, began preparation for his journey abroad.

Kawashima chose Los Angeles in November 1958 as the most likely location for Honda’s American offices, following a tour of several candidate cities. Los Angeles had a warm hospitable year-round climate, with minimal rainfall. Since climate was a determining factor in sales, the fact that there was so little rain meant the company could be in business all year long. It was the perfect environment for American Honda.

Motorcycles were vehicles for outdoorsmen, racing enthusiasts and hotrodders. Most of the motorcycles sold in the market were large, too, with engines displacing at least 500 cc. What’s more, the motorcycle had an evil image heavily influenced by outlaws in black bomber jackets, commonly called “Hell’s Angels” in reference to the biker society of the same name. Motorcycles had a bad reputation in the American community, and were not embraced by common consumers. Likewise, the motorcycle industry was thought of as being dark and dirty. Most motorcycle dealerships were dark inside, with oil stains on the floors. This was not altogether inaccurate, since it was common to find oil pans on the sales floor, there to catch the fluid as it dripped from the bikes on display. The atmosphere could be far from inviting.
honda-adThat had to change and Honda instead of trying to establish just its own market set out to give the entire American motorcycle market a shot in the arm. And thus was born the legendary “you meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign showing couples, women and everyday working men in cheerful and professional backdrops combined with new dealerships which contrary to their gloomy old selves were sparking clean with suited courteous staff and impeccable bikes. Honda took this a step further and became the first foreign bike manufacturer to sponsor the academy awards. The result was simply overwhelming and Honda became the largest bike manufacturer in America within a few years of setting up shop in an old photo studio in Los Angeles with a cpaital investmen of $250,000 and eight employees selling the Dream, Benley and Super Cub. The Power of Dreams…

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