It’s hard to imagine the glee that lovers of high-performance motorcycles must have felt in 1969. Suddenly, almost every major manufacturer was introducing a new big-bore bike that was leaps ahead of anything ever built before. And 1969 was transformed into the Year of the Super-bike.
The most refined and sophisticated of them all, though, was Honda’s CB750. Four cylinders. Four megaphone exhausts. A disc front brake. An overhead camshaft. Amazing fit and finish. The Honda was so revolutionary, in fact, that it overshadowed everything else in the market—the Triumph Trident, the BSA Rocket 3, the Norton Commando Fastback, the Harley XLCH, the Kawasaki Mach III.
Honda made this landmark step by applying what it learned from small-bore bikes and grand-prix racing to a machine clearly designed as a big-bore flagship. Engineers realized that several low-mass, smaller pistons could move faster than a few heavy ones, turning increased RPMs into more power.
The Honda four-cylinder engine, like those from Indian, Ace, Henderson and others back in the teens and ’20s, also had one more advantage over a twin—it was smooth.
"At the dealership I went to, the sales trick was for them to stand a nickel on its edge on the engine cases with the thing running," says Mark Mederski, the AMA’s vice president for marketing, who owns this machine, previously on display in the Motorcycle Heritage Museum at AMA headquarters in Westerville, Ohio. "If the carbs were in sync, even at idle, the nickel wouldn’t fall over."
The bike was more than a rolling, 67-horsepower statement of technological pride from Japan’s largest manufacturer, though. It was also Honda’s first marketplace shot at the big-bore Brit bikes and Harleys. For the first time, and often for less money, you could run with "serious" motorcycles while riding a Honda.
The new model even won the Daytona in 1970, its first time out. The long shadow cast by the CB750 is visible even today. Transverse-mounted four-cylinder engines still power many of the most popular bikes in the ’90s.
That engine configuration now seems normal, commonplace, expected. In 1969, though, there was only one. It came from Honda.