Honda introduced the CB750 Four in 1969. It was an immediate critical and commercial success. It has been called one of the most important motorcycles of all time. The CB750 represented a number of firsts, including the first mass-produced motorcycle with an in-line four-cylinder engine, and the first to use a front hydraulic disc brake. Between 1969 and 1978, Honda sold 400,000 CB750 motorcycles in the U.S.
Background of the Honda CB750 Four
In the early 1960s, annual sales of large-displacement motorcycles in the U.S. were around 60,000 units. The majority of those were British imports. In 1965, Honda released the CB450, with a twin-cylinder, 450 cc engine, to compete in the large-displacement portion of the market. Even with the CB450, Honda motorcycle sales in the U.S. dropped in 1966.
Honda executive Yoshiro Harada went to America to visit American Honda in 1967. On that trip, staffers at American Honda impressed Harada with their belief that “bigger is better.” Shortly after that trip Harada learned that the British company Triumph was developing a bike with a three-cylinder 750 cc engine. Based on that information Harada began planning to have Honda develop a motorcycle with a 750 cc engine, capable of producing 67 horsepower, which would best Harley-Davidson’s 1300 cc engine’s output of 66 horsepower.
Development of the Honda CB750 Four
In February, 1968, Honda assembled a development team of 20 to begin working on the CB750 Four. The objective of the team was to design a motorcycle that made long range touring safer and more comfortable and that could be manufactured in superior numbers. To encourage consumers to associate the new model with Grand Prix performance, Honda based the design around a four-cylinder engine with four mufflers. Honda also set out to give the bike a high handlebar to take advantage of that popular design feature in the American market. One of the targets of the team was to provide a reliable braking system. That prompted the inclusion of a front disc-brake system.
Launch of the Honda CB750 Four
Honda unveiled the CB750 to rave reviews in October, 1968, at the Tokyo Motor Show. Early in 1969, executives from Honda in Japan, including the president, Soichiro Honda, attended the first North American Honda dealer meeting. At the time, large-displacement motorcycles in the U.S. were selling for between $2,800 to $4,000. When the CB750 Four was announced at the meeting with a retail price of $1,495, the 2,000 dealers applauded enthusiastically.
The CB750 Four was Honda’s first attempt at marketing a large-displacement motorcycle, so setting sales projections was difficult. The initial forecast was for 1,500 units a year. After the North American dealership meeting, orders were so high that the forecast was shifted to 1,500 units per month. That figure was soon upped again, to 3,000 units per month. In 1973, Honda sold over 60,000 of the CB750 Four models.
Honda CB750 Four and the Competition
Prior to the 1969 release of the Honda CB750 Four, American motorcyclists who wanted a large displacement, high-performance bike could choose between the Harley-Davidson Sportster or a British import from Triumph or Norton. The CB750 Four changed all of that. It is credited with marking the beginning of the end for British performance motorcycles. (See References 4) By 1976 Honda was selling five motorcycles for every one sold by British manufacturers, and the Triumph Trident went out of production in that same year. (See References 5) The CB750 Four is also credited with inspiring the “Universal Japanese Motorcycle,” or UMJ, as the other Japanese manufacturers, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha all eventually introduced motorcycles similar to the CB750 Four. (See References 1)
Honda CB750 Four Specs
At the heart of the CB750 Four was the air-cooled, SOHC, inline four-cylinder, 736 cc engine. The engine generated 67 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and had a top speed of 125 mph. Four carburetors fed the engine its air-fuel mixture. The transmission was a five-speed with a chain final drive. The front brake was a hydraulic disc-brake and in the rear there was drum brake. (See References 5)