The Making of the Honda CB750 | "The King of Motorcycles"

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Bob Jameson Archives

Bob Hansen, American Honda’s former national service manager, remembers very well the frst time he heard about Honda’s CB750, then called “Project 300.” It was 1967, and Hansen was in Japan to discuss products being developed specifcally for the American market. Hansen’s visit began at Honda’s Wako R&D facility, where the group had lunch with Soichiro Honda.

The day began with a tour of Wako. Hansen says the group saw the entire facility except for a test block in a darkened corner. “I can’t take you over there,” the guide explained. “We’re testing a new engine for a big motorcycle.” Hansen wondered about this new machine. He guessed Honda was adapting the engine from its N600 automobile—a 598cc, 45 horsepower vertical-twin that was then Honda’s biggest—to a motorcycle.

Lunch was served in a conference room. Mr. Honda sat at the head of the table and Hansen, who knew Mr. Honda well from previous meetings, was seated directly to his right. Midway through the meal, Mr. Honda leaned over and said, “Mr. Hansen, we are hard at work on a new motorcycle, a big motorcycle, the King of Motorcycles.”

“Like a typical, brash American, I said, ‘Great—I just hope it’s not a twin!’” Hansen remembers. “This went through the translator, then Mr. Honda looked worried. ‘Why would you say that?’

” Hansen said twins were outdated, and even old-fashioned Triumph was developing a three-cylinder. If Honda wants to build the king of motorcycles, Hansen explained, it should build a four-cylinder. “’We have experience racing four-cylinders,’ Mr. Honda said. I said, ‘Exactly.’” Hanging on Hansen’s wall today is a framed letter from Honda R&D, dated September 16, 1968. It reads: “Because it was your idea to Mr. Honda to build the four cylinder CB750, we are sending you the very first pictures of the production version.”

Honda Japan called Hansen in fall of ’68 and asked for two American Honda representatives to assist with final validation testing of the CB750, to make sure the new bike would satisfy American expectations. The plan was to take bikes directly from the U.S. dealer show at Las Vegas and conduct reliability testing in the Nevada desert, then return to Japan for a full battery of performance tests. Hansen nominated Bob Jameson and Bob Young.

Jameson and Young left the dealer show with three pre-production CB750s and a van loaded with tools and Japanese engineers, including engine designer Minoru Sato. “They were all named Sato,” recalls Jameson, laughing. “M. Sato did the motor, C. Sato did the chassis—there were something like four Satos in the 750 program!”

The team quartered in a hotel near the Hoover Dam and rode nearly 5000 miles in five days. “We rode from Boulder City to a place called Searchlight,” recalls Jameson. “Fifty miles one way, and our only instruction was never leave the red zone on the tach. They wanted to run the machines to death and see what broke first!”

So, what broke? “Nothing,” says Jameson. “Our only concern was the drivetrains—when you snapped the throttle shut, the top strand of chain would sometimes climb over the sprocket, breaking the crankcase or the chain.” Unfortunately, Jameson notes, this issue wasn’t properly resolved before the bike went to market.

Jameson was blown away. “It was a total breakthrough in motorcycling. At that time I’d ridden just about everything. These first CB750s were like going straight from the Stone Age into the Computer Age. And they were so fast!”

After a week in the desert, Jameson and Young boarded a fight to Japan. This round of testing began at Honda’s Arikowa facility, where they completed acceleration and brake drills. “We accelerated hard through the gears to 100 mph,” Jameson says, “then pulled in the clutch and squeezed the front brake as hard as we could, with the front tire howling.” Jameson and Young repeated this procedure 200 times, and then the bikes were disassembled and inspected.

Next came high speed stability testing at the Yatabe oval, followed by a trip to Honda’s famed Suzuka Circuit for a comparison test against Harley-Davidson’s FL, Norton’s Commando 750 and Triumph’s all-new Trident 750. “The Harley was parked immediately. It didn’t belong there,” says Jameson. “The Triumph and the Norton didn’t stop worth a dip. The Triumph couldn’t corner without dragging everything, and the Norton vibrated so badly it shook the transmission fller right out!” The CB750 was deemed superior in every way.

Bob Young and Bob Jameson spent more than a month in Japan, assisting 63 other engineers assigned to Project 300—Honda’s biggest efort to date. Bob Jameson received a special birthday present on March 15, 1969, when he watched the first production CB750 roll of of the Hamamatsu assembly line, just two years after development had begun. On March 17 Jameson and Young returned to America, confident Honda had created a machine that would forever change the motorcycle world.

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