Smart Money: 1990 Honda RC30

Not so much a race-replica as a TT-F1 racer you could hang a license plate on, Honda's RC30 had come and gone before most of us realized what we'd missed. As the 1980s gave way to the '90s, V-four engines replaced the inline layout as Honda's corporate performance signature. Developed to show the world what Honda could do if cost was no object, the RC30 was originally offered in Europe in '88. By the time Honda brought it to America in '90, the bike had won two World Superbike titles under expatriate American Fred Merkel.

Distinguished by RC30 decals rather than the VFR750R designation used elsewhere, U.S.-spec RC30s came with all the requisite emissions plumbing. Hand-built by special teams of workers in Honda's HRC works in Hamamatsu, the bike was tiny, powered by an exquisite 748cc Vee. Honda claimed 118 horsepower at 11,000 rpm for the 488-pound (wet) package. That's porky by modern standards. But 15 years ago it was 24 pounds lighter than a ZX-7 and 9 pounds lighter than Suzuki's GSX-R750.

At that point the Honda stood out like a Rolex in a sea of Timexes, and it was easily the trickest production bike we'd ever seen. It featured titanium connecting rods spinning a 360-degree crankshaft, a single-sided swingarm lifted from the Elf Honda endurance racer and loads of nifty touches such as quick-release fasteners for the front axle and bodywork.

Buffering a 24-degree rake with just 91mm of trail and measuring 55.5 inches between contact patches, handling is predictably quick but surprisingly forgiving. A preposterously tall first-gear--more suited to the Bol d'Or than American pavement--explained a disappointing 11.8-second best at the dragstrip, but the bike was stunning everywhere else.

Good for 153 mph tapped out in sixth gear, Honda's sporting flagship ran a single mph ahead of Kawasaki's speedy ZX-7.

The real RC magic is subjective.

Aimed down any twisty road or racetrack, it raised the proverbial bar with performance that was out of reach for Suzuki's blue-collar GSX-R or Kawasaki's ZX-7. So was the $14,998 sticker price--a tall stack of cash way back when The Simpsons started showing up on Sunday nights. And aside from being a twinge down on power, a well-preserved RC30 can still upstage various allegedly modern sportbikes.

Internal engine tolerances were exceedingly tight. Spinning the V-four hard before it was warm could seize it. Merciless high-rpm running can stretch the valves, wreaking subsequent havoc downstream. Fed by four 38mm Keihin carbs, RC30 engines run hot despite dual radiators. The temp gauge rarely dips under 200 degrees F. The front brake rotors are prone to warp as well. As with any hand-built bike, cosmetic imperfections are common. The trailing edges of original fairing panels have a distinct, rounded lip. Aftermarket replacements will drive the price down.

Price? Knowledgeable SoCal collectors say a typical example--clean, ridden occasionally with 15-20,000 miles--usually goes for between $12,000 and $15,000. A perfect RC30 with zero miles can sell for more than $25,000. But for devotees of the breed lucky enough to find an RC30 that hasn't been converted into a racer, crashed or both, price is less important than owning 488 pounds of pure Honda V-four history.

Impeccable handling, HRC pedigree and staggering street status
**JEERS **
Some parts are still available from Honda, but they're scarce and expensive. Crashing reveals the many faces of painwatch forWarped brake rotors, partial seizures, clunky engine noises

The quintessential collector's 750 Superbike, if you can find one
Value: $12,000-$15,000+