Super Rat? Road Toad? Combat Wombat? Dirt Squirt? What kind of company would give such outrageous names to its motorcycles?
Only one: Hodaka.
In the early 1960s, Yamaguchi, a Japanese motorcycle company, went bankrupt. Recognizing an opportunity, American motorcycle enthusiast Henry Koepke formed the Hodaka Industrial Company, bought the Yamaguchi factory, and began building motorcycles with an emphasis on fun.
From 1964, when the company’s first model was introduced, until 1977, Hodaka offered a whole range of inexpensive, simple, fun-to-ride motorcycles. In an era when the Japanese manufacturers were growing into giant corporations, Hodaka became legendary as a friendly little brand. And just as famous was the American importer of Hodakas, the Pacific Basin Trading Company (Pabatco), based in the tiny community of Athena, Ore.
Hodaka was best known for its trailbikes, but in 1969, the company brought out the Super Rat, a 98cc model designed for the fledgling sport of motocrossin America. In keeping with the company’s image, each Super Rat buyer received a “Rat Pack” T-shirt and membership card.
The Super Rat enjoyed modest racing success, winning the 100cc Canadian motocross championship in the early 1970s. But as Japan’s big four manufacturers got more involved in the sport, they quickly left tiny contenders like Hodaka in their dust. By 1977, Hodaka was out of business, bringing to an end the most imaginative line of motorcycle model names in history.
Here are 10 more interesting tidbits about Hodaka:
1. The Pacific Basin Trading Company (PABATCO) of Athena, Ore., the company behind Hodaka, was originally established to export agricultural chemicals to Japan.
2. PABATCO got into the motorcycle business by importing the Yamaguchi brand as a way to fill ships returning from Japan. When Yamaguchi declared bankruptcy, PABATCO contracted with Yamaguchi’s engine manufacturer, Hodaka, to make complete motorcycles.
3. PABATCO was also the U.S. importer of Avon fairings and Rickman frames.
4. The name “Hodaka” comes from a mountain in the Japanese Alps.
5. The shift mechanism in the first Hodakas was originally designed for a lathe.
6. The chrome tank on early Hodakas was inspired by the British Greeves brand. Chrome tanks were discontinued in the mid-1970s when the Japanese factory refused to continue manufacturing them.
7. A Hodaka road racer won the 100cc class at Daytona in 1968. It was clocked at 105 mph on the straight.
8. The 1972 125cc Wombat was named by Hodaka’s Australian distributor during the firm’s annual dealer meeting.
9. A prototype 175 that was never produced incorporated such features as a cassette-style six-speed gearbox and a space-saving triangular layout for the clutch, crankshaft and gearbox.
10. The bulk of original spare Hodaka parts was lost soon after the company closed it doors in 1979 when the Pennsylvania warehouse where they were stored went up in flames.