If a twin-cylinder engine is good, and a four is better, what do you get with a six? In 1979, you got the trickest road rocket around — Honda's six-cylinder CBX Super Sport.
The CBX was a rolling statement of Honda's technical expertise, with some seriously impressive numbers. It had a transverse-mounted 1,047cc engine that went two cylinders better than the usual Japanese four. Dual overhead cams. Six carburetors. 24 valves. 100-plus claimed ponies. A 140-mph top speed. Quarter-mile times in the 11s. And a muscular look that made no bones about the bike's pavement-ripping mission.
The key to making the six work was a jackshaft that turned an alternator mounted piggy-back behind the engine. The unusual arrangement made the six only 2 inches wider than the side-alternator four in the CB750s.
Though it may have come out in the late '70s, the idea for the six was actually born in the mid '60s, with the introduction of Honda's ground-breaking six-cylinder 250cc grand prix racer, which Mike Hailwood rode to world championships in 1966 and '67. But it would be more than a decade before the company would get around to applying that technology to the street, allowing the early '70s Benelli Sei the honor of being the first road-going six.
The CBX was certifiably big, weighing nearly 600 pounds, and it got more massive with a factory fairing and saddlebags in 1981. Still, the six carries its weight well, says Ron Rarey of Lewis Center, Ohio, who owns this '81 CBX previosly on display at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio. "Even in high-speed sweepers," Rarey says, "it was adequate."
While the CBX hit big with the motorcycle press, it was never a great seller. It was expensive, complex and not very responsive to aftermarket tuning attempts.
Even in its second incarnation as a sport-tourer, with a detuned engine, a single-shock rear suspension, better brakes and air-assisted suspension at both ends, the CBX, by then being built at Honda's Marysville, Ohio, plant, remained a niche bike.
Honda dropped the CBX from its line in 1982. Since then, though, the six has become a much-sought-after cult bike. There are CBX owners clubs worldwide, and, says Rarey, the owners tend to be a little fanatical about their machines.
"As soon as I get my house built, I'm putting both of my '81s in the living room," he says. "It's a sickness."