The early 1980s were heady days for motorcyclists. Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson were smokin' it up on the racetracks. Bikes were flying off showroom floors in numbers that haven't been equaled since. And manufacturers responded by bringing to their bikes a whole new level of technical sophistication.
One of Honda's answers was the CX500TC — a 500cc machine fortified with the magic of turbocharging.
In theory, a turbo comes as close to producing free horsepower as anything ever invented. It uses exhaust pressure to spin a small turbine that in turn packs more fresh air and fuel into the cylinders. This creates a real-world, on-demand hyperdrive — a very serious, very noticeable performance boost.
Honda and Yamaha were the first of the Japanese companies to capitalize on that potential. Starting with the 497cc water-cooled, pushrod V-twin from the relatively mundane CX500, Honda added a small, 2-inch turbine capable of spinning up to 200,000 rpm and an LCD turbo-boost gauge on the dash.
Kawasaki and Suzuki quickly followed the turbo trend. As with Yamaha, their turbos were based on air-cooled in-line fours, while Honda stayed with the V-twin.
Unfortunately, despite the fuel injection, turbocharger, forged pistons, water cooling and a variety of Honda technical innovations, the CX500TC could not live up to its billing as a liter-bike performer in a middleweight package.
The bike may have been a rocket when on the boost, but around town, its low, 7.2:1 compression ratio and 574-pound curb weight made it sluggish. Then there was the turbo lag — the delay between the time you torqued the throttle and the time the puffer spooled up for monster launches.
Ultimately, CX Turbos like this bike, owned by Mike Bitschenauer and previosly displayed at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio, were no faster than most 750cc sportbikes. And at $4,895, they were pricey compared to bikes with the same performance.
A change the next year to 650cc displacement wasn't enough to save the model, and the bike was discontinued, closing the book on Honda's turbo effort.