The Honda CB450 Black Bomber
The Honda CB450 Black Bomber.
Photo by Gary Phelps
Honda CB450 Black Bomber
Years produced: 1965-1968
Claimed power: 43hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 102mph (period test)
Engine type: 444cc DOHC air-cooled parallel twin
Weight (wet): 430lb (195kg)
Price then: $1,000 (approx.)
Price now: $3,500-$6,000
MPG: 40-45 (est.)
“All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.” — Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”
Widely recognized as one of the most important motorcycles ever launched by Honda, the Honda CB450 Black Bomber is celebrated as the company's first “big twin” and as the first volume production double-overhead cam. Lauded and hyped by motorcycle and car magazines as one of the most remarkable machines ever, it was in fact a slow seller, never quite lighting the market on fire as Honda might have hoped. To understand the impact the CB450 had, it’s important to understand the U.S. market of the early 1960s and what led Honda to introduce the 450.
In the beginning …
Honda started exporting motorcycles to the United States in 1959. At the time, Honda was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, selling 500,000 small motorcycles a year, mostly to Asian countries. Honda wanted to sell even more motorcycles, and astutely recognized that the U.S. market, where motorcycle registrations totaled a modest 500,000 or so, had great untapped potential.
Americans were buying some 60,000 motorcycles a year, about 12,000 of which were Harley-Davidsons. A large percentage of the rest came from England. Harley-Davidson was running on a tight budget and had little money for advertising, and the British companies were basically content with the market as it was; efforts to increase the numbers of riders were hamstrung by the refusal of English management to spend money on improving the product or on aggressive sales efforts.
By contrast, Honda was designing bikes to meet the specific needs of the American market. Teenage baby boomers were interested in speed and offroad competition, and so the 1961 product lineup featured the 305cc Super Hawk, a peppy little overhead cam twin, and the CL72 Scrambler, a 250cc OHC twin with a smaller tank and high pipes.
American Honda embarked on a marketing effort that, like a successful military campaign, was well funded and carefully thought out. Targeting non-riders, Honda placed ads in general interest publications marketing its bikes as a means of fun, carefree recreation. Honda was introducing motorcycles to a new leisure market, and great effort was made to promote a squeaky clean image through its “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda” campaign. It worked. In 1962, only three years after renting a storefront on West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, U.S. Honda motorcycle sales were up to 65,000 units. A year later, sales reached 150,000. By itself, Honda had more than doubled total U.S. motorcycle sales.
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